Unique musical experience

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Snape Proms, Sunday August 19 Although the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has been around for well over 20 years I must confess that this is my first experience of this unique octet.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Snape Proms, Sunday August 19

Although the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has been around for well over 20 years I must confess that this is my first experience of this unique octet. I have, however, received many positive recommendations to see them in concert, none of which adequately prepared me for the event.

A ukulele is described in the dictionary as “a small four-stringed guitar developed in Hawaii by the Portuguese in the 19th century”.

In fact, they vary in size from the small soprano to a standard guitar size of the bass ukulele. It has never been regarded as a serious instrument in this country and, nowadays, has probably derived its irreverent reputation from George Formby.

The UOGB, under the leadership of George Hinchcliffe, reflected this attitude as he and all the members of the group flippantly introduced and took it in turns to sing along with each of the numbers. These varied from rock 'n' roll, pop, and folk to film music from the silent movies to spaghetti westerns and references to Greek and Spanish music.

The presentation was slick and professional. There was a lot of strumming but also excellent melodic playing and immaculate timing. I particularly liked “I'm Leaning on a Lamp-post” performed in Russian style and the extremely skilful whistling of a movement of Bach's Suite No.2 in B minor by the bass player, Jonty Bankes. But I didn't fully come to appreciate their finer points of musicianship until I heard the arrangement of The Dambusters March by Eric Coates and the amazing piece where Hinchcliffe played an Air by Handel and six players sang six different derivative songs, first as solos and then together. These included Fly Me to the Moon, Autumn Leaves and Killing Me Softly.

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I am sure that the UOGB does not expect too much (if any) scrutiny and analysis of the programme, so I feel that the best way to sum up is to paraphrase a well-known saying: It's music - but not as we know it.

Judith Newman

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