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London Scene: Guitarist hits an Olympic chord

LONDON — London has been great, but I’ve been yearning for two beauties back home: my wife and my guitar.

My search for a six-string love affair led me to the graffitied streets of the East End. There, in a brownstone not far from the Caribbean cafes and halal grocers of the immigrant neighborhoods and the vintage clothing shops of the hip East End club scene, I found the shop I was looking for: the Duke of Uke. I knew they sold guitars, and I hoped that the ukulele enthusiasts there would be sympathetic to my yearning.

Inside was an upright piano in one corner, a few guitars and banjos in the other and a counter in the back with rows of ukuleles lining the walls. There were tenors, sopranos and baritones in every shape and color imaginable. Also inside was owner Matthew Reynolds.

I asked him how the Olympics had affected business. Reynolds said that rather than having an influx of new customers things had been dreadfully slow since many Londoners, expecting crushing crowds, left on vacation. I was also curious what prompted him to start a ukulele shop in the first place.

“I just thought that London was ready for a kind of new, fresh approach towards music, really,” he said. “And I thought the ukulele would be the perfect instrument to get people enthused in playing music together again.”

He figured ukuleles were perfect because they’re easy to play, portable and sound great when played together. The shop routinely hosts events for people to do just that, in addition to daily group lessons. The country classic “Jolene” is a popular choice for many of the students, though Reynolds is partial to the Tin Pan Alley hit “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” which has also been adopted as the anthem of London soccer team West Ham United.

When the interview was over, I told him I missed my guitar and asked if it would be all right to play one of his for a few minutes. He said I was more than welcome.

I didn’t recognize the brand of guitars they sold, so I picked up the one with a dark sunburst finish because I liked how it looked and curled my fingers around the neck. After 15 days of exciting new faces, places and experiences, I finally felt the warmth of familiarity. I plucked some Zeppelin riffs, played a few lines of a jazz standard and did a little blues scale improvisation.

Funny how a couple of chords can take the edge off the heartache for home.