Review: The Ukelele Orchestra of GB

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great BritainIpswich Corn ExchangeSaturday, February 21, 2009By Mark CrossleySomeone struck comedy gold when they realised the hilarious potential of the four-stringed “bonsai guitar” which is the ukulele.

Mark Crossley

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain

Ipswich Corn Exchange

Saturday, February 21, 2009

By Mark Crossley

Someone struck comedy gold when they realised the hilarious potential of the four-stringed “bonsai guitar” which is the ukulele.

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And after a couple of storming turns at the Cambridge Folk Festival and appearances at Snape, the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain have a big following in these parts.

The Corn Exchange was full for their latest visit. “It's so nice to be here in Nantwich tonight,” said leader George Hinchcliffe by way of an opening gambit. “Tomorrow night we're in Ipswich - awful place, terrible audiences, so let's hope tonight's a bit of fun.”

The seven orchestra members can play any instrument as long as it's a ukulele and any music as long as it's arranged for the ukulele. There are rhythm, lead, bass, baritone, tenor and soprano versions of the instrument.

It's a universal truth that a well-known song - the heavier or more serious the original, the better - will get a laugh when plucked and strummed on these diminutive instruments.

So Anarchy for the UK by the Sex Pistols and Back in Black by AC/DC are given the uke treatment, as is Teenage Dirtbag.

Perhaps the highlight is a singalong, upbeat version of Wuthering Heights - check it out on YouTube if you need a laugh at work this morning.

The theme from Shaft, by Isaac Hayes, is another crowd-pleaser.

But behind the deadpan humour is some seriously good musicianship.

Watching the orchestra is also an invitation to think about music in a different way. Well-known tunes are rearranged and often combined to great effect. One piece ends with all the members singing a different song to the same accompaniment. They include I will Survive, Fly me to the Moon and Hotel California.

Sprinkled among the reconstructed pop songs were a few traditional ragtime, blues and jazz numbers.

The orchestra are roared back on for two encores, including a fall-about-laughing version of Je t'aime, mois non plus.

Perhaps the only downside for a first-timer like me was the absence of their side-splitting rendition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, another YouTube favourite.

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