The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain
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...WORLD TOUR 2012 / 2013 NEWS! After roof-raising, foot-stomping shows at the Sydney Opera House in March, the Royal Albert Hall in September, and Carnegie Hall in October, their world tour continues apace, with shows in Britain, USA, Germany and New Zealand...

The Ukulele Orchestra is a group of all-singing, all-strumming Ukulele players, who use instruments bought with loose change, and who believe that all genres of music are available for reinterpretation, as long as they are played on the Ukulele.

This is amazing entertainment from musicians and singers who love their art and take the audience from comedy to serious music with songs such as 'Life on Mars' (sung by a guy who looks just like the lead from the TV series!), an amazing version of Streisand's 'Flowers', 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly' and 'Teen Spirit' like you have never heard it!

Highly, highly recommended!

A concert by the Ukulele Orchestra is a Funny, Virtuosic, Twanging, Singing, Awesome, Foot-Stomping Obituary of Rock-n-Roll and Melodious Light Entertainment featuring only the "bonsai guitar" and a menagerie of voices; no drums, no pianos, no backing tracks, and no banjos.

A collision of post-punk performance and toe-tapping oldies. See the universe in the grain of a Ukulele. You may never think about music in the same way once you've been exposed to the Ukes' depraved musicology.

The Orchestra use the limitations of the instrument to create a musical freedom with Ukuleles (little ones, big ones, high ones, low ones) revealing unsuspected insights into popular music. From Tchaikovsky to Nirvana via Otis Reading the Orchestra takes you on a world tour with only hand luggage and gives the listener "One Plucking Thing after Another".

The Ukulele Orchestra started as a bit of fun in 1985. The first gig, intended as a one-off, was a sell out, and after one more gig the Orchestra had been on national radio. Since then there have been hundreds of appearances on radio and TV worldwide including BBC's 'Jools Holland Hootenanny', 'Blue Peter', "Resonance fm", "The Today Programme", "Richard and Judy", XFM, and Radio 4's "Loose Ends".

There have been sell out concerts in America, Canada, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Japan, in venues as diverse as Ronnie Scott's world famous London jazz club, The Royal Festival Hall, Glastonbury Festival, Chicago Chamber Music Festival, The Big Chill, Cropredy and The Edinburgh Festival.

The Orchestra has rhythm, bass, baritone, tenor, soprano and lead Ukulele players, creating a rich palate of orchestration possibilities and registers. Sitting shoulder to shoulder in a semi-circle, they dress in black tuxedos like a Symphony Orchestra, reworking classics of rock 'n' roll, punk, jazz and classical music.

In highlighting both the beauty and vacuity of the material, the Orchestra revel in the triviality and the self-reverence of popular and highbrow music, while being both serious and light-hearted. Sometimes a foolish song can move an audience more than high art.

Audiences like to have a good time with the Ukulele Orchestra, which shows that musical intelligence and levity are not incompatible with acoustic versions of heavy metal, performance art techniques and the homage of a live karaoke.

Selected TV / Radio appearances:

Channel 4, Skins, 2010
BBC Radio 4, Loose Ends, 2005, 2010
RADIO BREMEN - 3 nach 9, May 09
BBC1 Culture Show, Jan 09
BBC Radio 1, Colin Murray, An Audience with the Ukulele Orchestra of GB, Dec 08
SAT1 WOW, hosted by Hugo Egon Balder, Nov 08
BBC Radio 4 Documentary 'The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain' presented by Phil Jupitus, July 08
Sky Arts, Hay on Sky, June 08
BBC Radio 4, Broadcasting House 2008
GMTV 2007
3SAT Bannmeile, Live concert on leading German cultural channel, Dec 07
BBC C-Beebies, Space Pirates, Dec 2007
BBC2 Electric Proms with the Kaiser Chiefs, Oct 07
ITV This Morning 2007, 2005
BBC The Slammer, Nov 2006
BBC Radio 6, Gideon Coe, 2007
Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Dec 06
BBC1 The Slammer, 2006
BBC2 The Story of Light Entertainment, 2006
BBC Radio 3, In Tune, 2005
BBC1 Blue Peter, February 2005
BBC Radio 4 Loose Ends with Ned Sherrin, 2005, 2003
BBC2 Jools Holland's Hootenanny, 2004

Recent Festivals include:

WOMADelaide, Australia, 2012
WOMAD, UK 2010
Cambridge Folk Festival 2010
BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London 2009
Mosel Musikfest, Germany 2009
Arosa Humor-Festival, Switzerland 2009
Saitensprünge Festival, Germany 2009
Glatt Und Verkehrt Festival, Austria 2009
Boomtown Jazz Festival, Germany 2009
Innocent Festival, UK 2008
Humorolgie, Belgium 2008
Beverly Folk Festival, UK 2008
The Hay Festival, UK 2004, 2008
Cambridge Folk Festival, UK 2007
Detroit Festival of the Arts, USA 2007
The Big Chill, UK 2007, 2005
Glastonbury Festival, UK 2005
Greenbelt Festival, UK 2006
Edinburgh Festival, UK 2005, 2006
Cropredy Festival, UK 2005

Selected Venues:

Sydney Opera House, 2012
Luxemburg Philharmonie, Luxemburg 2011
Carnegie Hall, New York 2010, 2012
Royal Albert Hall, London 2009
Hugenottenhalle, Frankfurt 2009
Karstadt Kunst und Kultur, Nuremberg 2009
The Sage, Gateshead UK 2008, 2010
Liverpool Philharmonic 2008, 2009
Lichfield Cathedral 2008
Salisbury Cathedral 2008
Chichester Arts Theatre 2008
Birmingham Town Hall 2006, 2007, 2008
TIPI Zelt am Kanzleramt, Berlin 2006, 2007, 2008
Fliegende Bauten, Hamburg 2007
The Barbican, London 2005
Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club 1988, 2005
The Royal Festival Hall 2005
Beuchauberg (Brussels)

Performers:

The performers in The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are: Dave Suich, Peter Brooke Turner, Hester Goodman, George Hinchliffe, Richie Williams, Kitty Lux, Will Grove-White and Jonty Bankes.

The best musical entertainment in the country." The Independent
"A musicologist's nightmare. Excellent." Music Week
"Virtuosic". Guitar Magazine
"Bizarre". The Daily Star
"Iconoclastic. Unabashed genre crashing antics. Nothing is spoof proof." Sunday Times
"Most people have to die before they become immortal. These ukulele superstars have no such worries." New Musical Express
"I want to jam with you guys" George Harrison
"Whenever I see a group of adults playing the ukulele, I just love them." Sir Paul McCartney
"It has to be heard to be believed: a plywood serenade so benign, babies could float on it." The Mail on Sunday
"Iconoclastic. Unabashed genre crashing antics. Nothing is spoof proof." Toronto Star
"Subversive, rare and very precious. Catch them before the Government slaps an injunction on them in the name of anti-terrorism. Frighteningly talented and awesome." Time Out
"Much more than the PDQ Bach of new music." Chamber Music Chicago
"The Ukelele Orchestra is a unique musical phenomenon - absolutely the Best of British." Monty Python's Michael Palin
"They are HOT!" Richard Madeley, Richard and Judy
"Transcends everyday existence through the healing power of the ukulele." The Guardian
"Plucking brilliant!" Sunday Times
"Musically intelligent, talented and very funny." Actor Sam Neil
"They are anarcho-syndicalists of the ukulele world." The Independent
"Worth travelling a thousand miles to hear." Howard Jacobson, The Independent
"They are among the great entertainers". AN Wilson London Evening Standard
"The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain may well turn out to be one of the turning points of 21st Century Art. But then again...." Brian Eno
"Worth travelling a thousand miles to hear." The Independent
"The ukulele has found its avant garde." The Guardian
"One of the hottest party bands around". Terence Blacker, The Independent, 29/11/06

The Independent (By Howard Jacobson)

Queued the other night to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the 100 Club in Oxford Street. Not something I normally do, queue. But I make an exception for the ukulele. I'd have queued for George Formby, though the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain makes a point of not associating itself with him. Nothing prudish, I think. Not everyone enjoys songs such as "With My Little Ukulele in My Hand", which had to be withdrawn from sale in 1933 in deference to public decency, but the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain doesn't strike you as censorious.

Its argument with George Formby is aesthetic, not moral. It seeks to demonstrate the virtuosity and grandeur of the little instrument, whereas I suppose you'd have to say that George Formby sought to make it smaller and samier even than it already was. Both acts of irony, but to different ends. And you probably have to come from Lancashire to see that there's irony in George Formby at all.

There I was, anyway, waiting on Oxford Street for the doors to open, which is something else I don't normally do. If they want you there they should let you in, is my motto. Detecting my impatience, a facetiously chthonic person in the sort of bird's nest beard and seaman's pigtail you don't expect to encounter outside of a jazz festival in Wales assured me the wait would be worth it. I thanked him. He told me he liked the cut of my jib, sir. I told him I was much indebted to him, squire. He replied that he was pleased to wait upon my pleasure, captain. Shame they finally let us in. What fun we could have had, cross-bantering the night away.

I didn't need his assurances as to the band. Pound for pound, and you can quote me on this, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is the best musical entertainment in the country. That I don't know what else is out there I freely admit, but what's that got to do with anything? Critics routinely declare something or other the best play or novel ever written, without their having seen or read - how could they? - all the others. Indeed, my lukewarmness in the matter of most contemporary musical outfits - excluding the Dresden Staatskapelle and the like - is itself proof of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's genius: they wouldn't otherwise have caught my ear.

There are five men and two women in the orchestra. One of the women is slinky, within the parameters of the ukulele, the other alternative. They are both sardonic in a way I can only describe as exciting. The men are all versions of my ideal self. One puckishly bohemian, one very tall, laconic and deep voiced, one hard yet still avuncular, one seemingly withdrawn until he unleashes a demoniacal parody of Otis Redding - "'cause mama I'm so hard to handle now" - worth travelling a thousand miles to hear, and one sublimely sleepy-eyed, with an air of debauch which I put the best years of my life into trying, unsuccessfully, to acquire. I don't know any of their names. I don't have any of their photographs above my bed. I am an admirer not a fan. I don't do fan. It is forbidden by my religion.

I try explaining this to a couple I meet at the bar in the interval. It's the same with queuing, I tell them. Being a fan and queuing are both species of idolatry. The only person you should ever queue to see is God. For a moment it looks as though the woman, who is very drunk, is going to ask me where God is next appearing. A reasonable enough question, and one she is by no means the first person to have been troubled by. But her boyfriend, who is also very drunk, gets in before her. "So what is your religion?" he wants to know. "Presbyterian?"

What I can't decide, when the second half of the programme begins, is whether idolatry is the problem after all. It seemed like idolatry in the queue. And it seems like idolatry when the whooping starts. No one whoops at the Dresden Staatskapelle. Or no one "should" whoop at the Dresden Staatskapelle. In fact I'm told that that's exactly what promenaders did do when the Dresden Staatskapelle performed Bruckner's Seventh Symphony at the Albert Hall this summer, but that just underlines what I'm concerned about - the democratisation of performance.

Can you have democratic idolatry? Something of that sort seems to be afoot tonight, anyway, the audience loving itself in the Ukulele Orchestra, clapping and cheering every song as though they have never heard music in their lives before, but at the same time extravagantly celebrating their own familiarity with it.

Is this the Mamma Mia! syndrome? You go to hear what you already know and to be delighted with yourself for knowing it. That what you're singing along to is unadulterated mush is part of the pleasure. It compounds knowingness with knowingness. I think about having a quiet word with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. I want to put it to them that they must watch the insidious onward creep of the demos, that they are there to enthral us with their musicianship, and not just to rework for our indulgence, however brilliantly, that which is canonical. It is without doubt an awesome musical spectacle, punk pounded out on ukuleles. But so was Bach the last time I heard them. And there is no Bach tonight. Are they, God forbid, becoming a little too popular? It's an elitist joke, after all, the ukulele. It's not for everybody.

A "disgusting little ditty" was how Lord Reith described George Formby's "When I'm Cleaning Windows", before banning it from the airwaves. This should remind us that the ukulele has a proud, subversive, even underground tradition. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain deserves its success - knighthoods at the very least for what they do with "Wuthering Heights" alone - but, intellectually, I still feel I shouldn't have to queue to hear them.

The Guardian (John L Walters)
Tuesday February 10, 2004


Looking for a new band that appeals to the dispossessed, alienated audience stranded between the Scylla of crass commerciality and the Charybdis of half-baked obscurantism? The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain could be the one: they play for everyone, from the dispossessed and lonely to the "mustn't grumble" - a lost generation seeking to transcend everyday existence through the healing power of the ukulele. This is not a crowd that buys David Bowie compilations at HMV. They prefer to hear Life on Mars crooned quietly, backed by seven ukuleles and an acoustic bass guitar, cunningly melded with snatches of My Way, Born Free and Substitute.

Led by George Hinchliffe and Kitty Lux, the UOGB have buffed their act into polished entertainment. They perform with a diffident, dinner-suited aplomb reminiscent of Flanders and Swann or Instant Sunshine. Yet they appeal to people who recognise the Undertones' Teenage Kicks, Jim Webb's MacArthur Park and Devil's Gallop after a few bars.

For the UOGB, the medium is the message: the ukulele's quietude and vulnerability imposes a radical template on every tune. Yet the easy lope of Ms Dynamite's hit Dy-Na-Mi-Tee seems tailor-made: Hester Goodman sings lead over the plunky groove with cheerful pathos, while the male backing vocals acquire a weird intensity. And if Tea for Two reveals their light entertainment roots (complete with Morecambe and Wise-style dance routine) their reading of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with beautiful whistling from bassist Jonty Banks, makes you realise how beautifully constructed Ennio Morricone's composition is.

The star of the show is Hinchliffe, who has a self-deprecating authority and a mean technique on lead uke. His reinvention of Wuthering Heights as a crooned strumalong - complete with a Cab Calloway-style "Heathcliffe!" call and response - returns this epic to its Yorkshire origins. It's true that a little ukulele goes a long way, but the UOGB don't outstay their welcome. Catch them while they're still playing small venues.

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