To simply render Dhani Harrison as “the son of George Harrison”, however true, is mawkish at best. To do so would not only be a detriment to the tireless work Dhani has given to his pursuit of artistic integrity but to ignore the strong ethics that permeate his life. Of course, being the son of a Beatle is bound to open a few doors, but, in truth, Dhani Harrison is more than talented enough to unpick any lock put in front of him. A multi-instrumentalist and a gifted producer, Harrison has not only worked alongside the greats such as Tom Petty and George Martin in homage to his father, but also created his own outstanding work with alternative rock band thenewno2 and produced Wu-Tang Clan on occasion.
It would appear, as time rolls on, that Dhani Harrison keeps on adding strings to his bow. Considering his latest venture with Fender, I think he may prefer just the four strings as the musician releases his signature Fender ukulele. The new signature model comes at a time when people are reaching out for instruments to keep their minds and hands busy amid rolling lockdowns. The accessibility of the ukulele has made it one of the go-to guitars for such idle rock stars in waiting. When I caught up with Dhani, he confirmed that it all made sense.
“It’s a great gateway instrument, but also I know adults who play it and have actually become very proficient during lockdown,” Harrison said. There’s a good reason too, according to Dhani, who sees the benefit of allowing the mind to wander as your hands strum an instrument. “It’s a stress-relieving instrument,” he continued. “I definitely think that for anyone who’s stuck in a lockdown, the ukulele might save their life. Learning to play an instrument generally has so many benefits on mental health – Fender had over a million new players sign up to learn to play with their complete learning app Fender Play during lockdown which is a testament to this.”
As the world still wrestles with a global pandemic and the thought of returning to any kind of ‘normality’ still feels quite far away, there’s a hope that the instrument can help to alleviate the natural stress and worry that has blighted so many of us during these months. For Dhani, it’s simple: “[The] Ukulele can definitely save your life in a lockdown situation. For people who get very depressed, the ukulele is a very uplifting instrument.”
Though the musician does stop short of saying it is the happiest instrument around: “No, I think the happiest instrument on earth might be something like the glockenspiel, or the celesta. But it’s close – in the top three.” It’s hard not to hear the sound of a ukulele and be transported to a whole new dimension.
In truth, Harrison has been an avid fan of the ukulele since he was a child: “I always played it,” he said. “I was playing at George Formby conventions when I was eight years old in Blackpool with the George Formby Society of Great Britain. Shout out to the George Formby Society. My homies. There is a video of me playing there somewhere.” Dhani takes after his father George in this regard. The ‘Quiet Beatle’ was a huge fan of George Formby and was also a keen member of the society, there are even plenty of stories of George providing ukuleles to his dinner guests to crescendo an evening of merriment with a round of songs. His friend, Sir Paul McCartney even paid tribute to the late, great Harrison using a ukulele. It’s clear, that it is in the genes.
It would seem that attitudes towards the ukulele are changing as the world begins to ditch their previously limited ideas of the instrument and, instead, see its potential. But why has the instrument suffered from such a bad image: “Tiny Tim and George Formby were all vaudeville. It fell into that post-war entertainment. But if you go to Hawaii, it’s a very serious instrument. Noone’s laughing at anyone playing a ukulele or looking down at anyone playing ukulele in Polynesia or in Hawaii. I always saw it as a serious instrument because I hung out in Hawaii and everyone could play the ukulele and was listening to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole.”
Understanding the instrument better than most people working in music today, when the opportunity for a new signature model arose with Fender, there was only one man to take the reins. Billy Martinez, Vice President Category Manager – Acoustic and Squier Divisions, said of the collaboration between Harrison and Fender: “Dhani is a world-leading talent, and we are seeing more demand for ukulele instruments than ever – so this collaboration made total sense to us. Dhani worked hand-in-hand with us to create his ideal ukulele, incorporating design elements that are deeply personal to him, which we hope will encourage people all over the world to express their own individuality and creativity.”
Dhani revealed why creating his own signature ukulele provided such a draw for him personally: “I watch my friend’s kids have a hard time learning to play the instrument because lots of ukuleles don’t stay in tune,” he said. “I’ve also watched adults have a hard time too because of this issue, so I wanted to create a model where this wasn’t the case, and it has definitely been achieved with this Fender signature.”
“I wanted to create something that reflected who I am and was something that I can be proud of,” Dhani said of the concept behind the design. “I designed it to be my ideal stage ukulele, but also an instrument that when you take it off the stage, and you’re not plugged in, still sounds like a good uke. I was never going to bring out some random, mass-produced thing. It had to be a really good, premium instrument.” That’s exactly what you get with Dhani’s ukulele, a solid, well-rounded, finely-tuned and entirely approachable instrument. In fact, it’s what you get with Dhani Harrison himself too.
However, the question on everybody’s lips remains: could a ukulele feature as part of his work with Wu-Tang Clan? “I’m sure they’d be down with ukuleles,” Dhani confirmed. “They’re down for anything, man. Those guys are cool. It would have to be raw. It would have to be raggedy raw.” As we go and learn ‘Protect Ya Neck’ on the ukulele, we suggest you pick up your own uke and begin falling in love with the instrument.