From the Winter 2016 issue of Ukulele | BY HEIDI SWEDBERG

Two hundred people making music at two pubs, two hours apart. One is a ukulele club, the other, the anti-club, with lots of ukulele. In spirit, they have everything in common: music, community, inclusiveness, and service. Both are well-organized operations, but the letter of their organization makes these two groups very different. In short: to join or not to join, that is the question.

THE WORCESTER UKULELE CLUB

The Worcester Ukulele Club began as an informal gathering of like-minded friends meeting in a pub to continue playing together after finishing a ukulele class at their local music school. (The “local school” is the Elgar School of Music; composer Sir Edward Elgar was a Worcester lad.) As interest and attendance grew they found themselves in need of an organizing charter.

Founding member Colin Box says, “Initially we did not have a formal structure—we just agreed upon everything by having a chat. If something needed paying for, we would club together. If something needed doing, we would agree who was going to do it. We were doing gigs and being paid gig fees, which we wanted to give to charity. We all felt that, as there was money involved, we should formalize how we run the club. In 2015, we raised £8,500 for charity through gig fees, use of collecting buckets (a license needed if used in public places!), CD sales, and sponsorship. Some of our gigs we would not get if we were not a club with a committee.”

“Here we are performing at last Sunday’s St. Richards Festival in Droitwich. The drinks belonged to the audience, honest.” 

The club’s well-organized website includes its busy calendar, a copy of its constitution, and minutes from the meetings. The club’s extensive songbook is available to the public in PDF form, arranged in chronological and alphabetical order. The aims outlined in the concise constitution are noble and achievable; their rules, sensible and comforting. A perusal of the appearances page proves the club has become a viable contributor to the greater community. If you are looking for a template to create a well-run ukulele club, this is your Rosetta Stone.

UNPLUGTHEWOOD

And so it was in 2007 that a man had a vision to bring together like-minded individuals to make music and share songs. Chaos ensued and in the fallout was born “UNPLUGTHEWOOD.”

Mike Hayllor (aka “Krabbers”) is that man. He and his wife Caroline (pictured below) perform together as “The Hedge Inspectors,” and are captains of a loose ship where “no-one is invited, but everyone is welcome.”


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Every week, 20–60 people gather at The Lion Brewery in Ash, about an hour southwest of London, for a few hours to order something cold, pull out their instruments, and raise their voices together. Anyone who visits the pub can watch, join in, and sign up for an open-mic slot. There is no list of members, no dues, or fees. People may come as often as they like, and there are many who do. In addition to the regular Tuesday night meet-up at the Lion, the group is a moveable feast, gathering intermittently at other Surrey pubs and presenting their format at charity events and festivals, including the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival and the Ukulele Festival of Scotland.

While Mike and Caroline load in and set up gear (including microphones, an electric bass, and a laptop computer), a list of song titles is passed around for those in attendance to make suggestions for the evening’s play-along, which opens and closes the night. Choices are vast, and include folk, rock ’n’ roll, pop, disco, Americana, and sea shanties. Lyrics and chords are projected on the television screen above the stage so everyone can join in. There is an original song by Mike for every transition of the evening—a welcome song, a farewell song, and a song for the weekly raffle benefiting the MS Society UK, for whom more than £10,000 has been raised.

Begun as an open-mic night, the sing- and play-along format was added to allow regular attendees to jam together. Participants are not restricted to ukulele (although the uke is the instrument of choice by the majority in attendance) and has included a hip-hop didgeridoo, beatbox, guitar, fiddle, djembe, bodhrán, and just about every other eclectic acoustic instrument that can fit onto the tiny 4 x 8 stage or in the pub.

It’s striking how similar these two groups are. Their focus on charitable giving, inclusiveness, and community are in lock-step. Their songbooks overlap. They are kind, welcoming people, all. Perhaps credit must ultimately go to the ukulele itself, which brings out the best in us, allows us to share song in our own unique way. No matter our differences, music is the unifying force that brings all people together.

Long live music! Long live the ukulele!

This article originally appeared the Winter 2016 issue of Ukulele magazine.

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