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Nantwich band The N’Ukes are riding high on the revival in fortune of the humble ukulele.

PUBLISHED: 10:28 19 June 2013 | UPDATED: 23:01 23 October 2015

Nantwich Ukelele Band (Back, L-R)  Baz Maz,  Amanda Malam,  Charles Belanger,  Corinne Finnan and Andy Pennance.  (at the front)  Chris Clarke and Steve Welsh

Nantwich Ukelele Band (Back, L-R) Baz Maz, Amanda Malam, Charles Belanger, Corinne Finnan and Andy Pennance. (at the front) Chris Clarke and Steve Welsh

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Nantwich band The N’Ukes are riding high on the revival in fortune of the humble ukulele. Just don’t ask them to play anything by George Formby

Nantwich Ukelele Band (Back, L-R)  Baz Maz,  Amanda Malam,  Charles Belanger,  Corinne Finnan and Andy Pennance.  (at the front)  Chris Clarke and Steve Welsh Nantwich Ukelele Band (Back, L-R) Baz Maz, Amanda Malam, Charles Belanger, Corinne Finnan and Andy Pennance. (at the front) Chris Clarke and Steve Welsh

It started out as a jam session in the local pub to which Barry Maz brought a ukulele.

Ukulele fever proved infectious, because soon there were up to 30 ukulele players strumming away at the Black Lion in Nantwich, and the most committed of the bunch formed a band, The N’Ukes, which has been delighting audiences across Cheshire for the last year.

‘I picked up a ukulele for the first time having seen the memorial concert for George Harrison at the Royal Albert Hall, when his pal Joe Brown played George’s favourite song (I’ll See You in My Dreams) on ukulele,’ says Barry, a chartered surveyor. ‘I thought that seemed like fun, so I bought one and took it to the pub.’

There he discovered that his long-time partner in song, guitarist and singer Corinne Finnan, was no stranger to the tiny stringed instrument.

‘I started off playing guitar at eight, but it was a huge thing, so my dad bought me a little ukulele – a Hawaiian thing with a palm tree on it,’ says teacher Corinne. ‘My parents tried desperately to get me to play the ukulele, and when I was 14 they bought me one of those George Formby banjoleles and a George Formby album. But I didn’t want to perform with it publicly because it just wasn’t cool.’

But latterly, the uke has regained some of its cool, partly through the George Harrison concert, but also through a new wave of folk artists such as Laura Marling embracing the uke, and a slew of enthusiasts committing their work to YouTube.

Ranging in age from 40 to mid-50s, The N’Ukes consist of Barry, Corinne, systems analyst Amanda Malam, Steve Welsh and Michigan-born Charles Belanger, who both work in material testing using mass spectrometry, Chris Clarke, the owner of an engineering manufacturing business, and teacher Andy Pennance.

‘ A lot of people associate the ukulele with George Formby and Hawaiian music, and wh en we went to gigs, we always got people asking “Do you know any George Formby?”. Well, actually, we do know a bit of George Formby, but it’s just not our thing,’ says Barry.

Instead, the uke players cover old blues songs, Rolling Stones songs such as Jumping Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Women, Elvis Presley’s That’s All Right Mama, The Doors’ LA Woman, Radiohead’s Creep and The Jam’s That’s Entertainment.

‘We’ve carved our niche as a rock and soul and blues band, and it just so happens we play ukuleles,’ says Corinne.

Barry adds: ‘If it’s good music, we’ll play it and try to break the mould, get away from the George Formby, music hall-type association the ukulele has got.

‘If you go back to the 1950s, music shops were not stocked with guitars, they were stocked with ukuleles. It was the Beatles and rock ‘n’ roll then pushed them out of favour.’

Things have now gone full circle, and Barry knows of at least one music shop which, in the recession, was saved only by the upsurge of interest in the ukulele, which is beginning to replace the recorder as the first instrument children learn at school.

‘There is a misconception that the ukulele is easy to play. It’s not,’ says Barry. ‘But it has a shallower learning curve than most instruments. You can get going on it pretty quickly.

‘It’s growing out of all proportion. I run a website gotaukulele.com, a beginners website, and when I started three years ago I was getting 100 hits a day. It’s now getting 50,000 hits a week. It’s gone completely crazy.’

Corinne adds: ‘Its portability is appealing. I went on holiday and stuck a ukulele in my hand luggage, and had people dancing on the beach.’

For gig dates for The N’ukes, go to www.nantwichnukes.com

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