Let us play the Banjolele!

George Formby playing the Banjolele

The banjolele (banjo ukulele or banjo uke) has a banjo-style resonator body and a fretted extended ukulele-style neck and was derived from the banjulele-banjo, introduced by Alvin D. Keech in 1917.  The banjolele hybrid combines the unique construction and distinctive tone of the banjo, with the small scale, tuning and playing style of the ukulele.  Although the banjolele achieved its greatest popularity in the 1920s and 30s, thanks to the endorsement from the British singer and comedian George Formby, due to its relative simplicity and portability, there has been a recent increase in demand for the instrument.

The small, light-hearted music often associated with the ukulele and in particular, the banjolele is that of George Formby, who developed his own style of playing in accompaniment to his comical songs.  However, the banjo, ukulele and banjolele hybrid have seen a resurgence in popularity since the birth of indie folk music over the last couple of years, with folk rock bands, such as Noah and the Whale featuring a ukulele and Mumford & Sons featuring a banjo in their most popular tracks.  Therefore it came as a complete and utter shock when TfL (Transport for London) banned buskers on the tube from playing not only the banjo, but now also the banjolele.

Officials at TfL have now labelled the banjolele an “undesirable” instrument and have blacklisted it alongside its larger cousin, the banjo.  Yet it seems highly unreasonable that officials can make such a blanket assumption that all London Underground customers will not want to hear a certain instrument, particularly as it depends on the level of professionalism at which the instrument is played.  Surely we all have different musical tastes and many of us would much prefer to hear the light-hearted sound of the acoustic banjolele played well, than a deafening electric guitar played with little finesse.

Originally this ban also applied to our beloved ukulele, however TfL have changed their position on the uke and as such, it is still a permitted busking instrument.  We at Ukenique want to ensure that this remains the case and that there is an end to such musical instrument discrimination.  After all, the ukulele has been wrongly stereotyped by many as a poor man’s guitar, and it would be such a shame to see this discrimination upheld by enforcing bans on buskers using them, after the instrument is finally starting to get the attention and recognition it deserves.