And maybe that's another important factor at work here: ukuleles cheer you up. “It's quite inspirational and a very cheery instrument,” says Richie, “it's not intimidating.” This jauntiness – along with the fact that you can play and sing at the same time - may well have contributed to the uke's popularity in schools, where it's increasingly being used as the early years instrument of choice instead of the recorder.
All of which is very nice, but what's in it for we guitarists, and would-be guitarists? What's to be made of the surging popularity of these fun-sized instruments? First of all, we dismiss them at our peril, as while they're fun, they're far from novelty items. A top-spec instrument, made of Hawaiian koa wood, will set you back as much as a top-end Strat.
But more than this, the potential appeal of a ukulele to a guitarist might lie in its accessibility. The baritone uke shares the same tuning as the top four strings of a guitar, and with its nylon strings is simple to play. It's also a forgiving instrument, says Richie. “You can be as virtuoso as you like or as simple as you like, and it's still going to sound alright. It's less annoying than other instruments, even if you're a bloody awful musician it'll still sound OK!”
Add to that the uke's inherent portability and all round versatility – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain play everything from 'Ode to Joy' to Richie's current favourite, The Rezillo's punk standard 'Good Sculptures' – and it starts to become clear why more people are picking them up, especially in a time when folk sounds are enjoying mainstream success in the work of Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes and Frank Turner