mon 02/08/2021

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Assembly Hall, Worthing | reviews, news & interviews

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Assembly Hall, Worthing

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Assembly Hall, Worthing

Eight piece uke troupe sparkle as brightly as ever

The Ukuleles and their ukuleles

Kitty Lux is one of the founders of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Her performance of Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" sums up their wonderful act. Sat strumming stonily stationary, clad in black with a red scarf around her short dark hair and an expression of seen-it-all hangdog boredom on her face, she delivers the song beautifully, her compadres adding the sweetest harmonies.

There is, however, an injection of silliness when the orginal's memorable backing vocal, a descending trio of notes, becomes a ridiculously emphatic "Bing! Bang! Bong!" in the cheesiest barber shop style. The whole thing is at once poignant, deadpan, comic and lovely.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have been around for almost 30 years. Their career started off as a lark but has ended up as their livelihood and, slowly, quietly, they’ve become a very English word-of mouth-success story. Their appeal is broad, enjoyed as much by John Major-ish home counties sorts who once found the King’s Singers hilarious, as by nutted youngsters on their way to the dirtiest dubstep tent at Glastonbury Festival. From the Sydney Opera House to BBC TV, and many places in between, they’ve exhilarated all types of crowds and seem an outfit whose appeal is cross-generational, a theory I tested by taking my daughters, aged 16 and 11, to see them.

Onstage they sit in a row, six men and two women in formal evening wear, led from the middle by the orchestra’s other founding member, the wryly dignified George Hinchcliffe.Every one of them takes a turn to shine, from the outrageous whistling solo of bassist Jonty Bankes at one end of the line to a rip-roarin' take on Junior Walker's "(I'm a) Roadrunner" sung by long-haired soprano ukulele rocker David Suich, at the other. Part of their act is based on entertaining through juxtaposition, such as renaming Isaac Hayes' "Shaft", in honour of the great ethnomusicologist Cecil Sharp and performing it as a folk number, or turning The Who's "Pinball Wizard" into an acapella part song. It's not only often very funny, a cabaret turn executed with impeccable timing and skill, but is also richer than that, especfially when they dig deep into Camille Saint-Saëns' "Dance Macabre".

The highlights, however, are the sequences where they take a chord structure and roll with it, playing multiple different songs at the same time, a live instrumental take on the DJ mash-up, such as David Bowie's "Life on Mars" concurrently performed with "My Way", "Born Free" and others, or an extraordinary closing sequence where Handel's "G Minor Suite No.7 for the Harpsichord" is mutated into "Fly Me To The Moon", "Autumn Leaves", "Killing Me Softly", "Hotel California" and "I Will Survive", all at once. It's truly thrilling and hearing it sends tingles down the spine.

My daughters thought so too, although the moment their faces lit up first, realising this mission was going to a right laugh rather than one of their father's musical misfires, was "Anarchy in the UK", ostensibly in the style of Simon & Garfunkel, but actually more like a hokey Nashville country outing. For this audience participation was involved and what could be better for uniting the family than all shouting "Anarchy!" together on a Saturday night in a civic hall in Worthing?

Overleaf the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain perform "Anarchy in the UK"


a real treat of a piece!

Excellent piece, nailing the Ukes' unique appeal. To answer the question in the final sentence: all shouting "anarchy" in a cathedral, as has happened at their several gigs in Lichfield. That's even better!

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