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28th January, 2021

World Ukulele Day - The Beatles and the Uke

To mark World Ukulele Day, we explore the links between the fab four from Liverpool, and the fab four-stringed instrument played and enjoyed by millions around the world!

The Beatles were fans of the ukulele—they improvised with ukuleles during the recording breaks on Let It Be and on their song, "Free as a Bird", you can, at the end, hear a ukulele strummed by George.

John 

Before learning to play the guitar, John’s mother Julia taught him chords on a banjo-ukulele. This was before he progressed to an acoustic guitar, which he played with The Quarrymen.

John was even recorded playing the ukulele, in the song from the Yellow Submarine Soundtrack "All Together Now".

John and George also jammed on their ukuleles whilst sailing through the Greek islands. George was quoted as saying: "John and I, with ukulele banjos, sailing through the Greek islands--Hare Krishna. Like six hours we sang, because you couldn't stop once you got going. You just couldn't stop. It was like as soon as you stop, it was like the lights went out."


Paul

On the first anniversary of George’s death, Paul played Harrison's "Something" on a ukulele at the Concert for George; he would perform this rendition of the song on many subsequent solo tours.

George

Of all the Beatles, George Harrison was the biggest fan of the uke. In a note from 1999, George affectionately wrote: “Everyone I know who is into the ukulele is ‘crackers, you can’t play it and not laugh!”

He further confirmed his love for the mini instrument when he bought a complex in Hawaii and began buying ukes in batches, which he loved to pass on to guests and visitors to his home. 

Parties at the Harrison residence would regularly turn into singalongs while George strummed along on the ukulele. Paul McCartney fondly remembers; “Whenever you went round George’s house, after dinner the ukuleles would come out and you’d inevitably find yourself singing all these old numbers.”

 

Tom Petty, George’s friend and bandmate in the Travelling Wilburys, recalls the Quiet Beatle giving him his own ukulele. Tom was initially hesitant but relented after Harrison promised to teach him how to play.

A Hawaiian influence is also notable in much of George’s music, ranging from his slide guitar work on Gone Troppo to his televised performance of the Cab Calloway standard 'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea'.

George was a great admirer of George Formby, an English actor, singer-songwriter and comedian who became known to a worldwide audience through his films of the 1930s and 1940s as well as his ukulele-playing. George Harrison performed at a George Formby convention in 1991, and even served as the honorary president of the George Formby Appreciation Society!

George was also a member of the Ukulele Society of Great Britain, and played a ukulele solo in the style of Formby at the end of "Free as a Bird".

Ringo

Ringo, although he loved jamming with George and Paul while they played, had only one love – the drums. He once said: "My grandparents gave me a mandolin and a banjo, but I didn't want them. My grandfather gave me a harmonica ... we had a piano – nothing. Only the drums".

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