Reviewer: Matt Stimpson
For many, the first time they ever saw the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain was on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, and they were immediately hooked. Tonight’s audience were clearly looking forward to the concert, hoping the group could take that excitement and originality from the TV, and deliver a full concert to the same high standards.
The current set of musicians have been together for 21 years, and right from the opening of the concert we are treated to a highly polished and imaginative set, with comedy interspersed with great choreography.
The concert opens with Leaning on a Lamppost, but not the version known to many, instead an upbeat Russian version, with brilliant vocal harmonies, an aspect the group really excel in. Continuing at full pace, with imaginative arrangements being the call of the day, cleverly combining original melody lines, with charming ukulele accompaniment. Pieces that feature this treatment include Prince’s Kiss and the Sex Pistols Anarchy in the UK, with a tongue in cheek nod to the Jubilee celebrations.
The highlight of the first half is Bowie’s Life on Mars, this is full of arpeggios, haunting falsetto vocals, and intertwines other well-known pieces into the arrangement, this is a stunning arrangement, with such virtuosic playing from all.
The group continues to add their own special twists to pieces, including Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), entertaining both young and old in the audience, as they know versions by Cher, Nancy Sinatra or Audio Bullys, the Swedish hit Hot Lips and the haunting melody line of Wuthering Heights with a jazzy twist. This draws a pleasurable first half to a close, and there is a buzz throughout the audience over the interval.
The orchestra return to the stage in their creative splendour with The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, this is the orchestra at their best, with musicianship and comedy working perfectly together, bravo! This half takes the performance up a notch, with each piece shining for its own reasons, highlights include Minnie the Moocher, complete with audience participation, and a brilliant medley including pieces by Bach, Lady Gaga and Kraftwerk, among others, with more thoughtful choreography. The way these medleys work is so clever musically and keeps you on the edge of the seat at all times.
The ukulele’s have a real workout to finish, Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, totally changes the feel of the evening, stepping away from the light arpeggio’s that are a feature of many pieces, instead entertaining us with a head banging arrangement!
The group are encouraged back on stage with rapturous applause for an encore, and the encore piece offers even more! Another medley and superimposed pieces by Handel, Kosma, Take That, The Fugees and Gloria Gaynor. This kind of medley shows the group at their creative and musical best, with clever individual use of all the players, a real highlight for all.
The group finish with Young Tiger’s Jubilee calypso, another reference to the Jubilee celebrations, and a fitting close to an excellent evening’s entertainment. At times the pieces could mould into one just a little, but the imaginative arrangements, secure vocal harmonies, good humour and fantastic musicianship of these brilliant musicians make this an evening everyone is sure to enjoy, as they say, its ‘plucking good fun’.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are on tour nationally