Ukes in hand, the gang’s all here

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WHAT is it about ukuleles? The small guitar is making a comeback and will be celebrated at a festival in the capital later this year.

Members of the Tuggeranong Ukulele Gang... “There’s an instant sense of gratification that ukulele playing offers because it only has four strings,” says leader Andrew Hackwill. Photo by Silas Brown
Andrew Hackwill runs the Tuggeranong Ukulele Gang (TUGs) and says people get a sense of achievement from playing the ukulele.

“There’s an instant sense of gratification that ukulele playing offers because it only has four strings. People are left going: ‘This is easier than I thought’,” he says.

Many of the members of TUGs are retirees who feel like they’ve missed the musical boat.

“You see these kids aged four and they’re playing the violin for a half an hour every day and for older people there is this sense that if you don’t do that, it’s too late,” Andrew says.

“But we have people come along who are absolute beginners and within a half an hour we have them playing 10 songs.”

Ukuleles also bring a sense of connectedness for the members of TUGs.

“People are really enjoying the sense of community,” he says.

“It’s about networking. Isn’t the ukulele a great excuse to get out and talk?

“As much as it’s the musical aspect and the singing aspect, it’s that thing that’s innate, that’s essential to human beings, which is music.

The other thing that is essential for human beings is to be around other people. It’s about connecting and reconnecting people.”

Playing a ukulele is easy, fun and accessible, says Andrew because it’s not expensive.

TUGs members meet fortnightly at Tuggeranong Arts Centre and mostly play late ‘50s early ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll.

“Our favourites are songs like ‘Run Around Sue’, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You’, ‘Chantilly Lace’ and ‘Eight Days a Week’,” Andrew says.

“These aren’t tunes people really have to learn because the songs are already in their head.”

The Canberra Ukulele Festival of Fun was held for the first time last year and has received funding from the ACT Government for the 2012 event in October.

“This year our focus is on community ukulele groups. We intend to have some quality players and headlining artists, but at the end of the day, it’s about that group of 30 people from the south coast jumping on a bus and playing their way down to Canberra on ukuleles,” he says.

Andrew plans to bring about 2500 people to Canberra during the Ukulele Festival next year to contest the Guinness World Record in Canberra for its centenary.

TUGs has 100 members, but gets about five new members every fortnight, testament to the growing popularity of the ukulele.
Andrew, a former woodwind teacher says many schools are now teaching ukulele instead of the recorder because it’s more fun and simpler.

“The ukulele was invented in 1879 and became huge in the ‘20s and then in the ‘60s. Tiny Tim did a great disservice to it and it’s coming back now,” he says.

The Canberra Ukulele Festival of Fun, October 19 to 21, Tuggeranong Arts Centre. TUGs meets every second Sunday at the centre, 1pm-3pm. Beginner session from 12.30pm. For information go to

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