Gloucestershire

Ukuleles too popular says top player Steven Sproat

Steven Sproat
Image caption Steven Sproat began playing the ukulele at the age of 10

When Steven Sproat took up playing the Ukulele at the age of 10 in 1970 it was an unfashionable instrument to play.

Now, more than 40 years on, sales of the instrument are booming, with music shops reporting record sales of the small guitar-shaped instrument.

You may think that the singer/songwriter from the Forest of Dean - one of the UK's top ukulele players - would welcome the recent resurgence.

But it is something that he does not fully support.

"In a way it's become too popular," he said. "When I started it was seen as a novelty instrument and that was the attraction for me. Now everyone is playing them."

Sproat will be performing at the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain in Cheltenham in two weeks (June 17-19), along with his 14-year-old daughter Gabrielle.

George Formby fan

He helped to set up the UkeGlos ukulele club in Cheltenham three years ago. Members of that club went on to organise the first Ukulele Festival of Great Britain last year.

He said it took him a while to get interested in the ukulele.

"My dad was a very keen fan of George Formby and he used to insist on playing his cassettes in the car so we would be indoctrinated with hours and hours of George Formby as we went on holiday from Durham to Bournemouth - eight hours of Formby there and eight hours of Formby back," he said.

"We went on holiday to Bournemouth for five years on the trot. I'm not sure I liked it straight away but eventually I liked it."

Sproat has perfected his ukulele technique over the last four decades, and is now considered to be one of the UK's best players.

He has released four albums, played at venues such as Ronnie Scott's in London, the Edinburgh Festival and festivals in New York and Dublin, and has written two best-selling teach-yourself ukulele books.

'Quality instruments'

Sproat also teaches the instrument, and has given lessons to celebrities such as Frank Skinner, Harry Hill, Sir Tom Courtenay and Nicky Campbell.

Image caption Steven Sproat has given ukulele lessons to Harry Hill and Frank Skinner

"[Ukulele music] is everywhere at the moment," he said.

"On about one in every seven TV adverts there will be a ukulele part. It's on documentary programmes. It's been taken up in education - it's a rival now to the recorder [as a first instrument to be taught in schools] - it's being used by celebrities. There are ukulele clubs springing up in every town."

He said the internet and cheaper prices had also played their part in making the instrument more popular.

Gordon Taylor, from Musical Instruments Cheltenham, said it had become harder to get stocks of ukuleles.

"It is really a worldwide phenomenon. I think it's just because it's a fun instrument, people don't take it too seriously, there's no big snobbery around it, but people can still play incredible stuff on it," he said.

'Black Sabbath for the ukulele'

Image caption Sproat's daughter Gabrielle is also a talented ukulele player

"Over the last four or five years it's made a huge resurgence. We've got loads of books for ukulele now. My favourite one is Black Sabbath for the ukulele. I put that in the window and it brings people into the shop."

Mr Taylor has about 50 ukuleles in stock at the moment.

"The biggest problem is getting stock from suppliers," he said. "All our suppliers run out more-or-less as soon as they get stocks in."

A ukulele can be picked up for as little as £25 but you can spend a lot more, with some on sale for as much as £1,000.

"I've got a £500 one in the shop at the moment. It's so expensive because it's made of solid koa, which is a very hard wood to work with.

"The more solid wood involved in any wooden instrument the better it sounds."

Steven Sproat will be performing at the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain in Cheltenham on Saturday 18 June.

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