INTERVIEW: UKULELE DEATH SQUAD TO HIT WOMADELAIDE THIS WEEKEND

This weekend, WOMADelaide kicks off with a stellar line up of artists from our home shores and abroad.

Thanks to our friends at WOMADelaide and in collaboration with Upside News, Expressions Media is running Headliners, a course where young people learn the art of music journalism and then put those skills into practice.

To get ready for the media conference, thirteen eager young journalist quizzed Benjamin Roberts from Ukulele Death Squad about instruments, WOMADelaide and crazy tour stories.

Playing on the Sunday of the long weekend at the Zoo Stage, Benjamin says he is thrilled to be playing at a festival he has admired and attended for many years.

“I grew up in Tasmania and I moved to Adelaide about 10 years ago and for about six or seven WOMADs in a row, I attended as punter. I always thought one day I’d hopefully be able to play there. It’s always been a bucket list thing for me. We tried for many years with other bands that I’ve been in and had no luck, and then once I made the Squad, it happened so quick and in just two years, we’re playing the best festival that comes to Adelaide. So yeah, I’m really stoked,” he says.

“I love the vibe that sort of festival. It’s just a great mix of world music that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. You wouldn’t be exposed to this just in Australia normally. It’s great. No matter where you are, there’s always people dancing. It’s great for kids as well. I’ll be taking my kids along.”

As well as playing at WOMADelaide, Benjamin is also looking forward to checking out the rest of the program while he’s there.

“I’m a big fan of Sharon Shannon who’s a great Celtic performer. I think probably the unofficial queen of Ireland and she’s amazing,” he says. “There’s a lot. Ollie English is a local, S.A. guy, he’s fantastic. Tkay is playing, I can’t wait to see her. I’ve always been a huge fan of John Butler as well.

“I like to keep my programme pretty loose for WOMAD as well. I just wander where the music is good I don’t know too many of the artists and that’s the good thing about WOMAD. You never know what country or what kind of music you’ll happen to walk into.”

But before WOMADelaide, the Ukulele Death Squad have a few other gigs to play around Adelaide’s festive season.

“We’ll be at Carclew tomorrow putting on our ukulele festival called Fruke Festival. And then we’re also doing a Nick Cave tribute show at the Grace Emily. And then we’re also putting on our own festival, at the Regal Theatre at Kensington called 50 shades of Uke,Benjamin says.

And while those shows are on home turf, the Squad has toured extensively around the world, with Scotland and Ireland taking the top spot as the best destinations to play.

“It’s definitely a toss up between Scotland and Ireland,” Benjamin says. “We have been lucky enough to go the Edinburgh Fringe twice and we’ve been to Ireland twice. But I think my favourite venue I’ve ever played would have to be in a small town west of Cork in Ireland. The venue there, I think has been known for 150 years or something run by the same family doing folk music every night of the week.

“We got there and they said we could stay and sleep there and they cooked us meals and looked after us. It was just a perfect night and it was a sold out crowd. That’ll stay in my memory forever.”

Another memory from tour that will stay with the group is when they tried to had to drive cross country in a mystery car.

“We had to drive to England from Scotland and didn’t have a car so we hired one. It was a mystery car option – the cheap option, where you could end up with a big van or, you never know what you’re going to get,” Benjamin says.

“We ended up having to squeeze four of us into a little Fiat 500. All the way, driving for hours from Scotland to England. So that was a fun thing, to squeeze into that with our necks turned horizontally for about four hours!”

As a banjo, ukulele and guitar teacher, Benjamin started Ukulele Death Squad after a jam with friends who had similar interests in music style.

“All the members had been playing around Adelaide in different bands and when I decided I wanted to do something on the ukulele, I knew Julian played the ukulele in the band called the Coconut Kids. So when I was going to put on a Fringe show, I called him up and I said, “Do you want to have a jam? Do you think we could put something together for the 2017 Adelaide Fringe?” and that’s where it all began,” he says

“I like performing with our band because apart from being great friends of mine, I really love the music we’re doing together. So if it’s not fun then it’s not worth doing, right? So we enjoy always having a good time.”

The name Ukulele Death Squad came about due to that high energy Benjamin speaks of, which sets them apart from other uke groups.

“We definitely wanted something with ‘ukulele’ in the name because we wanted to market our shows for ukulele groups. We love the ukulele groups that play around Adelaide. So we wanted something that had ‘uke’ in the name so they would know what we were about. And then because our songs are pretty high energy and upbeat, we wanted something to go along with that to make it a bit different to what people have heard on the ukulele before,” he says.

“I come from a background of heavy metal music, punk music and folk music and Celtic music and stuff like that. All those sort of genres have a big, real high energy about them. I think the ukulele has been conceived for a long time as one of those sort of strummy, happy instruments. But where we like to put a bit of attitude into our show and we have a little bit of a punk attitude because we love that sort of style. And doing it on the uke is a bonus,” Benjamin says.

Having picked up the ukulele after requests from potential music students, Benjamin says he is happy with the current all uke plus sax line up of the Ukulele Death Squad.

“I’m a banjo teacher and a guitar teacher and I started getting inquiries for people wanting to play the uke. I hadn’t really picked one up before and I thought I’d have a look and see how I go. Then I started getting students for it, so I had to spend a bit of time trying to learn it and I thought, ‘This is such a great little instrument’. It converted me.

“And it was just by chance that at one of the festivals we were going to play, our bass player couldn’t make it on the first night and we met Reuben, the sax player and he was just amazing. He could play along to anything. We didn’t have our bass player and we knew how good he was so we said, ‘Do you just want to get up and jam out and see how it goes?’ Straight away, he was already playing the base line and the tenor sax. We just worked so well and it works well with the sound of the ukulele. So we asked him to join the band. That was awesome. It came out from a sporadic evening at a session jam and then it went from there.”

You can hear Ukulele Death Squad play at WOMADelaide this weekend. Get your tickets HERE.

Interview by: India Austin, Zarlia Brown, Kasia Coultas, Kahlia Gilbert, Joshua Elford, Lola Lucic Marshall, Amelie Mobbs, Isabella Smith, Lara Spokes, Francesca Stansfield-Labrin, Keeley Trainor, Niamh Trainor and Alexander Trewartha.

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