After numerous tours, a ukulele orchestra is finally putting out an album, writes Paula Yeoman.

I was a bit unsure about the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra before I saw it live for the first time at a New Zealand Music Month gig six or so years ago.

Until then, I'd thought of the ukulele as the uncool instrument you learned at school because you were too unco-ordinated to learn guitar.

But that night, I realised I'd completely underestimated the intricacies of the ukulele. They performed with the gusto of a 12-piece rock band. Their energy was electrifying.

So why has it taken until now -- and countless national and international tours -- for this eclectic ensemble to release its first full-length album, Be Mine Tonight?


"The quick answer is, the ukulele is a small instrument and we thought we should put out small collections," says long-standing member Age Pryor.

"But the short answer hides the real long answer, which is we weren't sure people wanted to hear a full album of ukulele music."

That's no longer an issue for debate. It seems people can't get enough of the little four-string instrument once confined to sweet laid-back Hawaiian tunes and the realms of comedy.

Nowadays you'll hear it everywhere -- underlying pop tunes on the radio, and hell, if it's good enough for Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, who put out a whole album of uke songs a few years ago, it's good enough for the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, which is made up of a host of Kiwi artists including Andy Morley-Hall, Gemma Gracewood and on this album, Amanda Billing, AKA Shortland Street's dearly departed Dr Sarah Potts.

Plus, Pryor says they couldn't have pulled off Be Mine Tonight on anything less than a full-length release.

"They're all Kiwi songs; classic tunes we've grown up with, with a few surprises.

"To do that concept justice, you have to do an album. It'd be too hard to choose just five top songs. And because we were so excited about the material, we knew an album would work."

Making the cut are favourites such as Herbs' Long Ago and Jon Stevens' Jezebel.


The surprises come in the form of songs such as Liam Finn's Second Chance.

Perhaps less surprising, given her world domination, isLorde's Team, which was one of the more challenging covers they tackled.

"Long Ago is easy to make work on the ukulele. It's not technically difficult. It's made to play on any instrument and holds its own, whereas a song like Team, which started out as an electronic production, is one you have to really think about," says Pryor.

He admits it's always a challenge replicating the energy of a live performance on a recording. "No matter how much magic you capture from the band in the studio, you're never going to get that sense of excitement, anticipation and spontaneity that happens live," he says.

"But this is our fifth time we've recorded a collection in the studio and over time we've been moving towards capturing as much as we can in the moment.

"And the music we've recorded here is the best we've recorded yet."

And there's no question -- these are songs that will bring the house down when the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra hits the road this month.

Be Mine Tonight is out on November 7. For details of the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra's nationwide tour visit