The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain; Brilliant, British & Eccentric!
It was their Christmas ‘With Bells On!’ tour. I was a few minutes late getting there and, although I knew what to expect, six men and two women all sitting in a row plonking away on their little ukuleles is immediately amusing, even when it’s not meant to be!
There’s something very British, warm and welcoming about them and, oh, what they can do with a ukulele is unbelievable!
(This review will be accompanied by lots of exclamation marks, so be pre-warned!)
When we tiptoed in and found our seats, they were playing Sleigh Bells and everyone applauded when they finished.
And then the show began!
Next they launched into Talking Head’s Psycho Killer (if you don’t know it, Google it.) It’s quite heavy, and I was amazed at the sounds that those little ukes could make! And every member of the group had a really good singing voice.
Each song was followed up with jokes and humorous comments. And their synchronised gestures with their instruments was very funny too!
‘Happy’ came next, and then Bob Dylan’s ‘I’ll be your Baby Tonight.’
Henry Mancini’s ‘Pink Panther’ was followed by ‘Havana’.
The choice of songs couldn’t have been more different, and all played on those little ukes. Unbelievable!
Then it was ‘Sweet Dreams are Made of These,’ sung by one of the ladies as good as Annie Lennox.
Afterwards came a short pause. The Ukulele Orchestra gives away funny little, useless gifts for some strange reason! They chose a lady in the audience from the front row who dashed forward. She obviously knew what to expect! This time it was a choice of a wind-up robin or a penguin, a packet of flower seeds, a lightbulb, and a photo of turnips growing on an allotment!
I bet she’ll treasure them for ever.
Next it was time for something heavier; Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine.’ Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!
The mood slowed down for the Police’s ‘I’ll be Watching you.’
The lights stayed on while the Ukulele Orchestra played Good King Wenceslas and the audience strummed along.
Every time I hear that carol now, I’ll hear the couple behind me saying, ‘G, G, F, A, C.’ or something like that.
After the lights were dimmed, George Formby, ‘Leaning on the Lamppost at the Corner of the Street’ was played next – Russian style!
Up came the lights again for Jingle Bells with the audience participation. ‘G, G, C, F, A..’
Kraftwerk’s ‘She’s a Model’ was played as the lights went off again and the audience ukes disappeared under the seats again. Then everything speeded up with ‘Limehouse Blues.’
Here’s one that you might not know; ‘Rockabye’ by Clean Bandit and remixed by DCC Rap.
One of the ladies did rapping as brilliantly as any black rapper!
Then they played Grace Jones’ ‘To the River’ and Blur, ‘Song 2’. You know, the one that starts with lots of ‘Woo-hoo!’
Finally it was ‘Highway to Hell’ heavy and full-on!
They all walked out to growing applause, banging feet and cheering.
Then they shuffled back and one of them said, ‘We can’t get out that way!’
One of them announced that he was going to play some Handel and they all groaned. He started, and one of them quietly started singing ‘Fly me to the Moon,’ and one of the ladies joined in with the Pussy Cat Dolls’ ‘Don’t you wish your Girlfriend was Hot like me?’ They were joined by ‘I will Survive,’ ‘Hotel California,’ ‘We could be Heroes’ and a couple more.
Cleverly, every song fitted in to the Handel tune.
When they finished and stood up, the audience went wild. It was an absolutely unforgettable end to an excellent, entertaining, and unpredictable evening.
The couple behind us told us that they go to a club in East Grinstead and as many as 80 people turn up with their ukes.
Since that night, everywhere I go I see ukuleles and posters for ukulele clubs and performances.
A lot of its popularity is thanks to George Hinchliffe and his group, which has been copied worldwide.
But you’ll never top the original Ukulele Orchestra!
The thing about the ukulele is, unlike other instruments, it’s got a lovely sound and it doesn’t hurt the ears if it’s played wrong. As long as it’s tuned properly, it makes everyone sound as though they can play it – but not as uniquely as the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain of course!
Maybe I’ll ask if I can have one for Christmas. Or maybe I’ll just settle for a Ukulele Orchestra CD!
Here’s my hilarious interview with George Hinchliffe;