The Ukes of Hazard is not your typical ukulele act.
To begin with, the duo’s music has a psychedelic feel to it. And there’s nothing typical about the band’s shows, so it’s anybody’s guess what will unfold when the Ukes take to the stage for a Christmas gig at the FCC Phnom Penh on Dec 17.
“So far there has not been a typical show. To be frank, many people have asked us ‘What exactly IS a Psycho-Ukulele Xmas?’ All I can say: That is what we will all find out together on Dec 17 at FCC” says James Speck, who forms one half of the duo with Dylan Walker.
The psychedelic sound that’s integral to the Ukes of Hazard’s act comes from Walker’s kaosolator, a digital sound device.
“As Dylan is wailing away on his kaosolator, this gives us a ‘psychedelic’ kind of sound. Add in the ukuleles, trombone and drums — mix with alcohol and shake well. And you have a party.” Speck says.
Speck and Walker form the core due of ukulele players and play with various guest musicians based in Phnom Penh. The Ukes will consist of a five-piece act for the upcoming Christmas gig.
Speck and Walker met at an open mic night at Paddy Rice just over a year ago. “We became part of a bluesy band of ex-pats called The Cambodian Cowboys, with James on uke, myself on drums and a bassist and guitarist. We did a few gigs then disbanded,” Walker recalls.
The two musicians had also been in a Rolling Stones tribute act with Speck again on the ukulele, Walker on drums with two guitarists, a bassist and a female vocalist. Until then, Speck knew that Walker had played the ukulele, but they had never actually both played ukuleles together before they were offered a gig opening for another band.
“We decided to put a few songs together and opened a gig as a ukulele duo before Captain Jack played at The Cavern,” Walker remembers.
Since then, the Ukes of Hazard have played various venues in Phnom Penh, including Sharky Bar, Equinox, Mao’s, 99 Bar, Chenla Theatre and The Local 2.
The Ukes are influenced by various other ukulele acts, some of which go back many years.
The names include George From by from England, who was popular in 1920’s. And Ukulele Ike from the USA in the 1930-40’s.
And then there is Jake Shimabukuro, who “really lifted the instrument both musically and audience-wise,” Speck says.
“And of course,” adds Speck, “The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is fantastic — yeah, okay, so there are other great ukulele acts. But for us, we just lay down ukulele law one gig at a time.”
Speck is a 3-D animator originally from the US. Walker is a photographer and photography teacher from the UK.
The Ukes of Hazard’s audience is mostly foreigners. But some Cambodians in the audience aren’t uncommon, Speck says.
“We would love to expose Cambodians to some non-religious Western Christmas songs. These songs are universal and have catchy tunes. I have invited a few of my Cambodian friends so it should be fun.”