Keep it sim­ple on ukulele

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By JIM CHIPP

Be Mine Tonight puts con­tent well be­fore form.

The Wellington In­ter­na­tional Ukulele Orches­tra’s first full al­bum is about song ar­range­ment and per­for­mance rather than elab­o­rate pro­duc­tion.

The CD fea­tures 14 well­known, much-loved New Zealand songs from the last cen­tury.

They in­clude the ti­tle track, Aaradhna’s Wake Up, Herbs’ Long Ago, Prince Tui Teka’s Ipo and Ray Colum­bus and the In­vaders’ Till We Kissed.

Band mem­ber Gemma Grace­wood said re­duc­ing songs to the ba­sics was part of what the band did.

‘‘We es­sen­tially play cov­ers of other peo­ple’s songs – we have an op­por­tu­nity to dig into what makes them work,’’ she said.

Neil Finn used to play his songs on a ukulele as a test, she said.

‘‘What you’re look­ing at is the pure essence of the song, once you’ve stripped it back to four strings,’’ she said.

Grace­wood has been with the band since its first re­hearsal.

Her neigh­bour, Bret McKen­zie, knew she played the ukulele.

‘‘One day Bret knocked on my door and said, ‘Band prac­tice’. I had never played or sung in pub­lic be­fore.’’

The band’s first per­form-

Eance was just a week later in what is now the Li­brary Bar in Courte­nay Place and Grace­wood was ter­ri­fied.

Nine years later she is still there and en­joy­ing the ride.

The band is not strictly a ukulele orches­tra in that it fea­tures other in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing the dou­ble bass, melod­ica and har­mon­ica, but what sounds like a steel gui­tar on the ti­tle track, Be Mine Tonight, is in fact a steel ukulele. They also use a sixstring ukulele.

Grace­wood said the band got to­gether in Fe­bru­ary to se­lect songs and had two four­day record­ing ses­sions.

Age Pryor did the rest in his home stu­dio.

With such a big, di­verse group, the ne­go­ti­a­tions over songs could eas­ily have taken longer than the record­ings, but no­body had time for that, she said.

‘‘ We have a finely tuned con­sen­sus process. The mu­sic is the most im­por­tant thing.’’

Stephen Jes­sup said some song pro­pos­als were weeded out be­cause they didn’t work well with a ukulele en­sem­ble band and oth­ers had al­ready been cov­ered to death.

The al­bum fea­tures some prom­i­nent guests. Noted Cana­dian ukulele player James Hill emailed in his con­tri­bu­tions to Wake Up and To­day is Gonna Be Mine. Amanda Billing sang E Ipo.

Be Mine Tonight

Photo: JIM CHIPP

Finely tuned: The Wellington Ukulele Orches­tra in ac­tion at the Huia Fes­ti­val in Master­ton. Stephen Jes­sup, front, back from left Sam Auger, Amanda Billing and Age Pryor.

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