IN September, Abergavenny gears up to welcome the epicurean world for what is the busiest weekend of the year.
Crowds will fill the streets, market places and historic gardens seeking out the best of what the internationally famous Abergavenny Food Festival has to offer. But one quiet corner will be serving up a feast with a difference.
Hidden behind high walls at the rear of the 300-year-old Chronicle building on Nevill Street, a gracious courtyard garden will be echoing to the sounds of what has been described as the world’s happiest musical instrument.
If you think the ukulele stops at ’When I’m Cleaning Windows’ then Blaenau Gwent Rhythm and Ukes will prove a real eye - and ear opener for footsore foodies who fancy a sit down (bring your own chair).
This is not going to be a mere spectator sport either, anyone wishing to bring their own Uke and join in is more than welcome; failing that just sing along to a repertoire so varied there is something for every age and every taste from hits of the war years, through heavy metal to Irish folk/rock.
Founder member of the group, Brian Wheeler said, ’There has been a huge resurgence in the popularity of the ukulele with clubs springing up all over the country.’
Blaenau Gwent Rhythm and Ukes was founded eight years ago and the small group of musicians who formed the core of the club has now swelled to between 15-20 people who turn up to practise twice a week.
They meet at the Senior Citizens and Community Hall in Wesleyans, Nantyglo and welcome complete beginners (tuition is available) and also those who already play, but are looking to play along with others.
Blaenau Gwent Rhythms & Ukes also have a band that perform well-known sing-a-long songs around the local area and are available for booking. The band comprises of a guitar/bass/cajon drum/ukuleles/vocals. They tailor their act to suit a variety of venues from pubs and clubs to retirement complexes, where the clientele generally love a singalong.
Brian’s daughter Lynsey - marketing manager of Abergavenny’s Borough Theatre - said, ’We play anything and everything from singalong tunes to rock and folk. The repertoire is endless and we are always practising new numbers to keep moving forward.’
Devotees of the instrument include former US president, Barack Obama and Beatle, George Harrison who, at the height of the band’s fame, would sit in at his local ukulele club plucking away at Formby classics.
The ukulele is commonly associated with music from Hawaii where the name roughly translates as ’Jumping flea’, perhaps because of the movement of the player’s fingers.
Legend attributes it to the nickname of the Englishman Edward William Purvis, one of King KalÄkaua’s officers, because of his small size, fidgety manner, and playing expertise.
One of the earliest appearances of the word ukulele in print (in the sense of a stringed instrument) is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Catalogue of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments of All Nations published in 1907.
Developed in the 1880s, the ukulele is based on several small guitar-like instruments of Portuguese origin; the machete, the cavaquinho, the timple, and the rajÃ£o, introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by Portuguese immigrants from Madeira and Cape Verde.
One of the most important factors in establishing the ukulele in Hawaiian music and culture was the ardent support and promotion of the instrument by King KalÄkaua. A patron of the arts, he incorporated it into performances at royal gatherings.
Tickets for Ukes in the Garden are available from the Borough Theatre box office on 01873 850805