The Duke of Uke is London’s one and only ukulele emporium, nestled just off Brick Lane on Cheshire Street. The shop truly is a gem for anyone interested in playing, or learning to play the ukulele.
The shop was established in 2005 and has been at its current address since 2011 after moving from a previous location on Hanbury Street. Customers flock there to choose from the massive range of ukuleles and accessories and also to attend group tutoring sessions that are held regularly on the premises.
Paul Raines, who has been a tutor at the Duke of Uke for eight years and now manages the store, told Eastlondonlines more about the ukulele and the store itself: “Really, ever since The Beatles, guitar has sort of cancelled the ukulele out, so when the original shop opened we were dealing with a very niche market. I mean, the ukulele has always been around, but only in the last 10 years has it been seen creeping back and now interest in the instrument is just getting bigger and bigger.”
However, back in 2011 when Spitalfields Market was redeveloped and spiralling rents forced the shop to move, it was almost the end for this now-famous store. Raines explained: “At the time of the redevelopment a lot of independent places dropped away as the rents increased in that area. We managed to hang on for quite a while but eventually we just couldn’t manage it.
“We did a big Save The Duke campaign and got loads of bands in to do fundraisers and with the money we raised we managed to move here.
“It’s been a bit more difficult being here because we don’t really get the same amount of passers by, but thanks to the really strong community we’re still going strong. We also updated our website so we get more business through that and we can ship products worldwide.”
The Duke of Uke prides itself on being the hub of the ukulele community in London and definitely fulfils that role successfully, offering tutoring sessions run by Paul as well as other events. “We run group tutoring sessions over 10-week periods for people of all abilities – from people who have never played an instrument before to people who have played ukulele for years.
“It’s great to learn in a group environment because people help each other and we all play together as a bit of an orchestra. At the end of term we put on a gig and get all of the groups to perform some of the stuff they’ve learnt at the lessons. It’s great seeing people who couldn’t play at all 10 weeks ago stand up on stage playing together.”
The fact that the ukulele can be picked up and played more easily than most instruments is why Paul believes there has been a bigger increase in younger people learning to play the four-stringed instrument.
He said: “The demographic of ukulele players has always been very hard to pin down, it has always been an equal split between genders which is great because the guitar is a really male-dominated instrument.
“Recently there has definitely been a big increase in the amount of kids playing because of how easy it is to learn. Schools are now giving ukuleles out instead of recorders – they’re just as easy to play and don’t make a nasty sound, so that’s great. Children also love them just because playing them is fun. It’s very physical, they can sing along and they’re not just standing there.”
The Duke of Uke was also recently involved in a ukulele flash mob that took place in aid of this year’s Red Nose Day. Over 100 ukulele players assembled outside Spitalfields Market on March 24 and played together, successfully raising over £1,200 for Comic Relief charities.
You can visit the Duke of Uke at 88 Cheshire Street, or visit the website.
You can also check out the next ukulele showcase at Bethnal Green Working Men’s club on Wednesday April 5.