Mixing light-hearted entertainment with dead-pan British humour and irresistible foot-tapping music, its easy to see why the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has become a national treasure
Straight off the back of their US tour, George Hinchcliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is primed and ready for a run of dates across the UK. With a spring in their step and ukulele in hand, the independent rock-stars of the “bonsai guitar” are bringing fun, strum and artistry to venues from Exeter to Dumfries.
Last night members Dave Suich, Peter Brooke Turner (affectionately known as two metre Peter), Hester Goodman, Ben Rouse, Richie Williams, Leisa Rea, Will Grove-White and Jonty Bankes joined together on Salford’s The Lowry stage, with the noticeable exception of George himself.
Together since 1985, George Hinchcliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has steadily become a National Treasure, performing for the BBC Proms and for the Royal Family, at the Sydney Opera House and New York’s Carnegie Hall. The band was formed to challenge people’s expectations according to band member Richie Williams and challenge them they have.
Starting off the set with the classic BBC radio’s Dick Barton theme song DEVIL’S GALLOP all eight Uke’s are hot to trot and we’re off! Next up, we have a rendition of PSYCHO KILLER which would have had left David Byrne himself wondering why on Earth he didn’t record it with a singing ukulele orchestra in the first place!
The audience is invited to sway along with the next jaunty number about Brexit and the Sex Pistol’s ANARCHY IN THE UK is played a kind of folky campfire song with the audience encouraged to blast out in true punk style, the obligatory line “Cause I wanna be, anarchy!”
The Ukes provide light-hearted entertainment, dead-pan British humour and irresistible foot-tapping music. They re-imagine and twist musical favourites to their own, usually comedic, styles.
I’LL BE YOUR BABY TONIGHT is performed in a Transylvanian style with lots of Dracula-esque laughter etc. Hester then introduces Henry Mancini’s PINK PANTHER theme song complete with an instrumental solo using ‘air maracas’.
A short skit introducing Dave and his amazing stage presents has him handing out seeds and a signed picture of his wheelie bins to an audience member and then several other tunes, The Eurythmic’s SWEET DREAMS, an Italian song about Gnocchi, Hawkwind’s SILVER MACHINE complete with mock synthesiser sounds from the team were spot on!
We are then treated to, according to Jonty, one of the only song’s that China would allow as acceptable on their set list, The Police, I’LL BE WATCHING YOU. This was followed by the 32 Linehouse blues, as there are exactly 32 bars in Linehouse, London. Leisa introduces us to the tiniest uke we get to see on the stage, the ‘newborn’ or ‘fridge magnet’ uke, which she then plays like it’s Stairway to Heaven.
I’d have to pick George Formby’s LEANING ON A LAMPPOST as my favourite tune of the night, mainly because it was played in a Cossack dance sytle and had the entire place erupting with laughter.
Joni Mitchel’s A CASE OF YOU didn’t go down as well and didn’t really fit into the set, unsure as to why that one was chosen, as it wasn’t really a showcase stand out and there also was no humour surrounding it.
There is then a mock tuning session twanging the ukes on stage in a theatrical classical orchestral manner before Ben’s insistence to play a classical piece by George Frederik Handel, this is an interesting part of the show as this recognisable piece of music is then turned into a canon piece with each member singing a verse of popular song interweaving the piece and then alongside each other. Extremely clever and very theatrical, Frank Sinatra mingling FLY ME TO THE MOON, Shirley Bassey’s, WHERE DO I BEGIN, alongside the Pussy Cat Dolls DON’T CHA, Cat Stevens WILD WORLD, Roberta Flack’s KILLING ME SOFTLY, The Eagles HOTEL CALIFORNIA and Gloria Gaynor’s I WILL SURVIVE
The encore enlisted the teams’ old favourite, the Spaghetti Western theme from THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY with Jonty’s ethereal whistling accompaniment, how does he achieve whistling perfection?!?!
And the grand finale? Bowie’s HEROES which was done in duet sequence, coupling two members harmonising each verse and finishing in an ensemble. Bravo!
George Hinchcliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain played at The Lowry, Salford on 28 April 2019.
Lola Maguire leases cars by day and has evolved to live off movies, books, gin and sarcasm; probably the best cheese eater in the world. Guitarist and singer in a band, co-creator of two kids, currently writes for Frankly My Dear.