Improved ukulele profile

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The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain, who play Worthing’s Pavilion Theatre on Friday, September 2, have enjoyed a massive profile in recent years.

But curiously, perhaps, it’s only fairly recently that Peter Brooke Turner has felt confident enough to go full time.

“Until January last year, I was still working at another job as a fund-raiser for charity. I could never quite believe that playing the ukulele was really something that would be lasting. It was rather like saying I could earn my career playing tiddlywinks.

“The turning point was when I was getting up at ridiculous times, playing a gig in Newcastle, say, and then getting up at 4.30 in the morning to get back to my job in Shoreditch. My wife and I looked at my earnings from the regular job and from the Orchestra and decided that I could just do the one!”

And with between 130-150 shows a year, it’s proved exactly the right decision.

Much of it has to do with changes in the way the ukulele is perceived, Peter believes.

“When I started playing in 1989, most of my contemporaries associated the instrument with George Formby and Tiny Tim, entertainers who were very popular in their day. They were goofy entertainers and the ukulele had an association as a novelty music-hall instrument that was associated with the past. George Formby films were always on on Saturday afternoons, and it was fixed as a bit of a joke instrument.

“Come the new millennium and the whole generation that had those associations kind of passed and people started seeing it in a new way, just a really, handy portable instrument. When I got stuck in traffic jams, I would just get my ukulele out and start practising scales. People started seeing it in a different way.”

The instrument started getting a new credibility - and the Orchestra’s rise happily coincided: “We were at the forefront of the ukulele revival, the most visible band playing ukuleles and we were also playing lots of concerts.

“And we were also able to show that you can play anything on them, rock, pop, classical, jazz.”