Ukulele Tuesdays at the Stag’s Head in Temple Bar have developed a reputation as a great night out in Dublin. Eimear Dodd went to see what it’s all about.
“No seats? It wasn’t like this in the summer.” A woman in the crowded lounge remarks to a friend.
This evening’s Ukulele Tuesday has only just started and it’s already standing room only in the upstairs lounge of the Stag’s Head, Temple Bar Dublin.
Rewind to forty-five minutes earlier. It’s 7.30pm on a damp and wintry Tuesday evening. There’s already a queue outside the side door of the Stag’s Head.
Despite the weather, the crowd was in good spirits. More people arrived with ukuleles in cases or poking out of backpacks. The queue continued to grow. By 8pm, when the doors opened, it had reached past the main door to Stag’s Head.
I met with Jenny Munnelly, one of the organisers of Ukulele Tuesdays before I went along. “It’s a safe environment. If you make a mistake, no one can tell,” she said.
Ukulele Tuesdays is a weekly jamming session open to anyone who plays the ukulele. It’s been running for around three years and has become popular as a free night out in Dublin city centre.
How to describe Ukulele Tuesdays? It’s loud. That was to be expected given that there were anywhere up to 60 ukuleles being played. I also spotted bass ukuleles, banjo-leles and kazoos among the crowd.
As there’s no charge to attend, it attracts people who are curious to come and listen. Some at the bar were singing along. There were a few people in the hallway with their drinks. The lounge might have been crowded but this didn’t take from the fun atmosphere of the evening.
And the music? It was great. The ukulele players were hugely impressive. They appeared to me to be having a great time. The eclectic selection of songs featured favourites from the Beatles, Take That, The Turtles and Amy Winehouse.
They did move through the list of songs fast. Someone who is very new to the ukulele may find the speed a little overwhelming. However, the majority of the arrangements were made up of basic chords.
It shouldn’t be surprising that there are no seats at Ukulele Tuesdays in the Stag’s Head. It’s an enjoyable night where no one cares if you make a mistake or sing off-key. I plan to go again and I might join in next time.
A core group of 20 perform at other events. In 2016, they played at the Clonmel Busking Festival and the Cobh Uke Festival. More recently, they performed a set at the Temple Bar Tradfest in January 2017.
— UkuleleTuesday (@UkuleleTuesday) September 5, 2016
Popular culture and the ukulele
The ukulele has a cult status in popular western culture. Strongly associated with Hawaiian culture, the word ukulele means ‘leaping flea’ and is thought to refer to the rapid finger movements made by players.
During the 1920s, the instrument was favoured by musicians in emerging genres such as jazz and country and western.
Mike Evans lists a number of famous ukulele players in his book Ukulele Crazy. Marilyn Monroe played the ukulele in the ‘Running Wild‘ sequence in the 1958 movie Some Like It Hot. Elvis Presley also strummed the ukulele in his three Hawaii films made in the early 1960s. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were also known to be fond of the ukulele.
The instrument fell out of fashion in the 1970s and 1980s. Its survival was due to a cult following among professional and amateur musicians.
Some uke-playing contemporary performers include Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole, Amanda Palmer, Magnetic Fields and tUnE-yArDs.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain‘s arrangements have demonstrated the versatility and range of this humorous little guitar-like instrument.
The ukulele also appears in the theme song to the popular Cartoon Network series Adventure Time. Lava, the 2014 Pixar short told the story of two volcanoes who fall in love through a song strummed on a ukulele.
The ukulele has a reputation as easy to learn and relatively inexpensive. As Amanda Palmer sings in her Ukulele Anthem, it’s quite possible to learn the basics in about an hour. There are lots of tutorial videos on YouTube from strumming techniques to arrangements of songs.
It is also a relatively affordable musical instrument. A decent ukulele can be picked up for under €50.
Ukulele Groups in the Dublin area
Dublin and the surrounding area has a number of ukulele groups that cater people with different skill levels. Some also offer classes to beginners. You can get more details about some of these groups here.
But remember uke have to practice a little, if uke want to be really good.
This article was updated on 7 May 2017. The original version did not refer to a source used for research.
Feature Image by Eimear Dodd