EARLIER this year I treated myself to a midlife crisis and got a guitar. She’s a curvy little number and looks great resting on a stand in the corner of my living room, where she’s become the ideal replacement for the exotic plant that previously stood in that spot until it died from a deficiency of sunlight, a dearth of water and overall heartlessness and neglect on my part.

But was I going to neglect Taylor Swift? (The name I’ve given my guitar.) I most certainly was not. Although never having learned to play a musical instrument of any sort, I wasn’t yet in a position to tussle with Taylor.

So instead I pounce on the internet, the place where you can learn anything and everything. And I do mean everything. The net is undoubtedly where Boris Johnson discovered the winning formula that bagged him a premiership. (I assume his election campaign began with Boris leaning over his laptop whilst typing the words ‘Win’ ‘How’ and ‘General Election’. Then a few seconds later, up popped the advice: Tousle hair. Repeat phrase Get Brexit Done 300 times daily. Tousle hair. Appear gormless and rambunctious, like a puppy eager to play with an old slipper. Dodge difficult questions. Tousle hair. Pick up keys to Number 10.)

My own particular internet quest leads me to unearth a man delivering free guitar lessons on YouTube. He has a friendly smile, a laidback manner and, most importantly, a guitar balanced on his lap. The very bloke I’m after. Or so it seems. But then the lessons begin, and I’m like a caveman being forced to complete a sudoku puzzle when all he wants to do is club a Woolly Mammoth over the nut and have it for supper.

This guitar thingummy is proving to be a fiddle, a flummox and a faff and a half. Much more complicated than it looks when Keith Richards is mauling the strings of his Fender Telecaster.

Woo it, wow it, win it over

So Taylor Swift and I decide to have a break. Actually I decide. Taylor isn’t so keen on my unilateral resolution to part ways, and she starts mocking me bitterly from her stand in the corner of the room.

“Ha!” says Taylor. “What kind of man are you anyway?”

“A man who knows his limitations,” I reply, beer in hand. (Taylor only has these conversations with me when I’m enjoying a beer or five, curiously enough.)

“A real man wouldn’t give up so easy. He’d romance his guitar. Woo it, wow it, win it over,” she scolds.

I flash Taylor my grumpiest glare. “I never had this problem when it was a plant pot sitting in that corner,” I hiss.

Unfortunately Taylor’s contemptuous words worm their way under my skin, which probably explains why, a few days later, I get in touch with the First Chord Music School in Glasgow’s west end. Though not to learn guitar. I’m still not ready for such a mind-mangling challenge. Instead I opt to have a lesson in playing the ukulele.

The ukulele is, of course, the guitar’s frumpy wee buddy. You know when you watch a Cameron Diaz rom com, and Cameron’s having bloke trouble, so she goes to seek advice from a quirky gal pal who’s half Cameron’s height, twice her weight and in possession of double her share of chins? The gal pal whose sole reason for existing is to stand next to Cameron, making Cameron look more dazzling and unattainable than ever? Well, that’s the relationship the guitar has with the uke.

Saying that, it’s undeniable that the uke also has a few points in its favour. It’s cheaper to buy, lighter to carry, and, most important of all, only has four strings (two less than a guitar!) meaning it must be easier to play.

At least that’s what I’m hoping as I nervously enter the lair of the First Chord Music School, which lurks on Otago Street. What’s making me particularly nervous is that my limitations won’t be hidden away in the relative obscurity of a private lesson. Oh, no. There’s an entire ukulele orchestra sharing the room with me. A group of musicians who regularly play gigs together. They perform as the First Chord Ukulele Orchestra, and their most recent showcase was in a Paisley church, where they apparently stormed it.

Finger plucking

The musicians have varying levels of ability, though even those who are relatively new to the instrument seem to have a good idea what they’re doing. Some have been with the group for several years, and most have experience playing a musical instrument of some sort, even if it’s not the ukulele. Meanwhile, I’ve never even coughed into the mouthpiece of a football referee’s whistle by accident. I’m a musical virgin. A migrant stowaway washed ashore in the Land of Dulcet Tunes, bereft of a passport or even the most rudimentary command of the native language. Next to the dizzying levels of aptitude bubbling away in this room, all I can offer is my lifelong brand of embarrassing ineptitude. In other words, I’m up a certain creek, and the only thing I have for a paddle is this daft looking midget guitar clutched between my two klutz claws.


I’d probably bolt for the door if it wasn’t for the fact that everybody in the room is so friendly, helpful and fun to be around. They’re a zany bunch, all right. Now I know that zany usually means loud, brash and under the misleading impression that you’re entertaining. (When you’re definitely not.) But this lot are a genuine hoot. Or maybe that should be hootenanny, because I’m informed that after today’s lesson the gang will be moseying down to Glasgow’s country music venue, the Grand Ole Opry, for a boot scootin’ bonding session.

To celebrate the occasion, one of the uke strummers, Alister McGhee, has turned up in a Stetson and wearing a sticky-on moustache, which makes him look like a dastardly hombre from a spaghetti western. Alister’s an interesting character who hand-carved his own ukulele, which is an ornate and beautiful object with a little wooden creature crawling out its sound hole. The uke I’m handed isn’t so fancy, but that’s also true of my abilities, so I guess we’re well suited.

Our lesson takes place a few days before December the 25th, so perhaps unsurprisingly, the tune we’re learning is Last Christmas by Wham! Because I’m a newbie, our tutor Finn Le Marinel has given me a few very basic chords to strum, while the more proficient musicians get stuck into complex finger plucking. As simple as the chords are, I’m feeling pretty overawed. I usually only use my fingers for battering computer keys and a bit of cell phone fumbling. These digits are not trained for tunes. In truth, they’re clumsy beasts, as easy to manipulate as Stonehenge menhirs.

Sassy noodling

I also don’t like the fact I’m doing all my learning in public. My inner eejit is excruciatingly outer at the moment. Thank goodness for Sophie Kromholz, who also helps teach the lessons. Sitting next to me, she continually boosts my confidence, helps with my finger positioning and makes sure I don’t take it all too seriously by bombarding me with wacky comments. “Give it some sassy noodling!” she orders, with a twinkle in her eye.

Josh Foster, the uke strummer on my other side, helps too, by handing me a different ukulele to play. It’s slightly larger than the one I initially use, making it easier for my faltering fingers to grapple with the strings.

Josh owns many ukes. He carries three on his person. “I’ve got Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome,” he tells me. “Look it up. It’s a real thing.”

The evening ends with the orchestra giving a fine rendition of Last Christmas. I do my bit. (A very bitty bit, I must admit.)

Then, friendly bunch that they are, I’m invited to accompany the First Chord Ukulele Orchestra to the Grand Ole Opry. Unfortunately I must decline, and not only because I don’t have a natty Stetson hat and a fake moustache to call my own.

The truth is that I want to get home as fast as I possibly can, to inform Taylor Swift that she’s chucked for good. From now on, I’m a ukulele man all the way.