Reviewer: Rebecca Cohen
Now in their 32nd year, The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain are continuing to tour all over the world, performing at some of the most iconic venues and events, including the Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, the Houses of Parliament and Glastonbury Festival. On their latest tour, The Ukulele Orchestra: Heresy II Heritage, the award-winning octet, who were originally formed to challenge people’s expectations of the ukelele, have made a pit-stop at The Lowry, to perform their eclectic set to the venue’s 1700-seater Lyric Theatre.
Overall, this is a performance that is most certainly uplifting – showing off the ukulele in its varying sizes and providing a diverse set list, the likes of which will have helped them stand out from the crowd when they launched back in 1985. The group intersperse their music with true British humour and a few enjoyable facts, while continuing to pride themselves on not taking their passion too seriously. Dressed in black suits and evening dresses, the group successfully poke fun at the culturally elite audiences of the conventional orchestra and provide a stark contrast to the non-classical (for the most part) music they play throughout their ‘concert’. It is precisely this breaking of boundaries which has seen the popularity of the ukulele soar, with the string instrument often being used by other groups, for YouTube videos and at conventions of the George Formby Society.
In their latest performance, it is the first half that surpasses the second, the variety of music, from across different genres and countries, working better and providing some of the stand-out moments of the entire evening – including Will Grove-White’s adaptation of Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer and a unique twist on the George Formby classic Leaning on a Lamp Post before the interval.
The ukulele band’s performance, however, does face its limitations, the one instrument albeit with its different registers, managing to raise a smile, but not quite the roof. This is especially true with the theatre set-up, the seating and predictable lighting rig never changing throughout the night. A support guest act, from either a vocalist or instrumentalist could perhaps help in adding that extra je ne sais quoi to this style of performance. That said, it can be imagined that this orchestra are at their best when performing at outdoor venues and festivals, their wit and uniqueness providing a welcome contrast to other acts and helping to create a real buzz and feel-good factor in less formal surroundings.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain have most definitely struck the right chord with audiences all over the world, and it is clear to see why. Their fun twists on classic songs provide a refreshing and fun addition to the country’s music scene, and should most certainly be supported as they continue on their journey in raising the profile of little instruments that together can make a larger than life sound.
Reviewed on 21 May