REVIEW: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain @ Symphony Hall, Weds 19th Feb

Ukulele Orchestra 19 Feb 2014 Symphony Hall Birmingham, lr

If you’ve never taken the time to know anymore about the ukulele, allow me to extend a new found nugget of knowledge. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes named soprano, concert, tenor, baritone and bass. Fascinating, I hear you cry…

But to play down the instrument’s variety would do a disservice to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain; tonight’s eight witty lovers of this fascinating stringed world.

Opening with an effervescent rendition of Hooray for Hollywood, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain ’s (or the Ukes, as they are mercifully abbreviated) distinct dry humour, and passion for the ukulele, had you transfixed, even making Prince’s Kiss sound just as lusty as the Purple one had intended. But it’s on a ukulele??? The daftest sounding instrument out there, how was this possible?

After their request to sing-along met with a large groan, the strumming resumed and the Ukes turned Anarchy in the UK into a harmonious and relaxing hillbilly ditty. All of Johnny Rotten’s venom was sucked out and ukulele humour inserted. We all sang “ANARCHY” when instructed which made it all even more ludicrous.

Turning Isaac Hayes’ Shaft into a paean to father of Folk Cecil Sharp (yes, it was renamed Sharp) conjured up all sorts of mental images best left in my head. I will never listen to the original in the same way this lifetime…

But with all their humour and silliness, it’s easy to forget the Ukes are talented and skilled musicians. They displayed their serious side (only briefly) with a glorious and rousing rendition of Saint Saens Danse Macabre, picking up on every note and tone; a truly lovely, aural exercise. Swiftly followed by a mash up of Life on Mars, My Way, For Once In My Life and ending with One Day I’ll Fly Away. You might want to YouTube these performances as words don’t do them enough justice.

Plucked picks of Blur’s Song 2 and Adele’s Rolling In The Deep saw us into the recess, with the Dambusters theme and Kraftwerk bringing us out (yes the connection was intentional). It was as though the Ukes were intent to make us laugh as much as musically possible. And they succeeded, bravo.

But my favourite performance of the night was the unashamedly daft take on Ennio Morricone’s For A Few Dollars More (alluding to the ‘Fistful of Ukuleles’ tour banner) complete with “OOH AHH’s”. And whilst I’m sure Senor Morricone intended for his audience to take his composition more seriously, the Ukes had the Symphony Hall in stitches with their refusal to do so.

Time went by too fast, with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain closing the show to a standing ovation for their encore of Should I Stay/Should I Go, replete with electric ukulele. I kid you not.

Consider me converted; a great night of silly daft musical fun.

For more on The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, visit http://www.ukuleleorchestra.com

For further listings from the Town & Symphony Halls, visit http://www.thsh.co.uk

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