Issue 4 - Autumn 2019 Issue

Page 13

ramsgate recorder

The Music Makers


Sean Farell


Photographer Joshua Atkins

Hurdy-gurdies, ukes and viola Ramsgate is a hot-bed of artisans hand-making instruments. We meet four talented locals hitting the high notes with their craft

Rod Arthur The ukulele has had a remarkable revival over the past decade or so and it’s no surprise that there’s a thriving scene in Ramsgate. Gaddzukes at the Montefiore Arms and Thanet Ukulele Club at the Racing Greyhound are just two of the groups that meet up regularly to strum what Beatle George Harrison described as “a machine that kills sadness”. Rod Arthur started making ukes “for fun” out of reclaimed hardwoods in 2013, after playing for decades and teaching the instrument to blind and partially sighted children. His advanced City & Guilds qualification in furniture making also helps. Oh, and Rod’s been a professional actor for 40 years, spending five years with the Royal Shakespeare Company and appearing in Dr Who, Bleak House and Coronation Street. “I wouldn’t describe myself as a luthier but once I realised I could make ukuleles and I got better at it I started to sell them,” he says, standing in his back-garden workshop. So far he’s sold about 30 ukes just through word of mouth. Rod’s signature instrument is the Minimus – a smaller ‘piccolo’ uke. He’s also started making a square-bodied version called the Bo Tiddley – named after Bo Diddley’s

square guitar. “I thought there was a bit of a gap in the market because lots of people were making larger sizes,” Rod says. “It’s also easier to find smaller pieces of reclaimed wood and that means I can keep the price down.” Rod uses wood from skips and bits of old furniture. A builder gave him the mahogany bar top from what was the Ellington Arms pub and his nuts and saddles are made from German pipe organ keys he bought on eBay. “I’m a bit of a tree hugger. Reclaimed wood keeps the cost down and I like the story behind it,” Rod explains. The basic Minimus sells for £150 but there are more ornate versions available. A beerinspired conversation led to Rod enlisting local artists such as Robert Onion and David Smith into decorating 20 ukes that are on show at the Ravensgate Arms. He plans to show off his instruments at the Margate Ukulele Festival in September. Originally from Morpeth in Northumberland, Rod moved to Ramsgate from Walthamstow, east London, 12 years ago. He quickly became part of the town’s social scene and is recovering from his 63rd birthday celebration when we meet. “I knew the town was within easy reach of London for acting jobs and the fast rail link was coming,” he says. “It was the best thing I’ve done in my life.”