Saturday afternoon, I did something I thought I'd never do... attend a professional ukulele concert at the sold-out Strathmore in Bethesda. My sister started playing ukulele since Christmas and introduced me to this clever, talented and hilarious Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.
What is the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain? The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are a self-described group of "all-singing, all-strumming Ukulele players, using instruments bought with loose change, which believes that all genres of music are available for reinterpretation, as long as they are played on the Ukulele." They are eight members strong, two of whom are women. They have been playing together for 28 years besides one member who has played for 22 years with them.
The performers in the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are: Dave Suich, Peter Brooke Turner, Hester Goodman, George Hinchliffe, Richie Williams, Kitty Lux, Will Grove-White and Jonty Bankes. However, Kitty did not play at the Strathmore.
The show has something for everyone. If you play ukulele, they had a jam session previous to the show outside. During the show, the orchestra played one song with the ukulele novices in the crowd, which is charming and endearing. During the show, the one liners and wittiness kept coming. For example when the show ended, the orchestra left the stage, but then came back for the encore and quipped, "You can't get out that way." My favorite song was "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," which is a familiar western tune... the whole orchestra chipped in with "ooh ahh." They also sang "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads, "Shaft," and "Teenage Dirtbag." Most of their performances can be found on YouTube and are worth a listen and a watch.
All ukulele players took turns singing. A cool part was when they brought out a miniature ukulele and still they played with aplomb. One of the last songs was the ukulele singers singing over each other a different song, yet it had the same chords. The lead ukulele player said none of the players could come to an agreement what song to sing. Quite amazing the talent.
The Orchestra was formed in 1985 as a bit of fun, but the first gig was an instant sell-out, and they've been performing ever since. By 1988 they had released an LP, appeared on BBC TV, played at WOMAD and recorded a BBC Radio 1 session. The current ensemble has been playing together for over 20 years, and has become something of a national institution. The Orchestra has given thousands of sold-out concerts across the world, including Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Poland, France, America, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.... They have more recently performed sell-out shows at the Sydney Opera House (2012), the Royal Albert Hall (2008) and New York's Carnegie Hall (2010). They are returning to the Royal Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall in late 2012.
Over the last 25 years, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has spawned hundreds of imitators, and you can now find ukulele groups in nearly every major city, indeed, the Orchestra are often blamed for the current ukulele revival which is sweeping the globe. The Ukulele Orchestra's music has been used in films, plays, and commercials, while film clips of the Orchestra's live concerts and TV appearances on websites such as YouTube have been watched millions of times. Collaborators have included Madness, David Arnold, the British Film Institute, the Ministry of Sound, Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens) and the Kaiser Chiefs.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are fantastic and a cultural British icon. Well played, well played!
Check out Ukulele Orchestra here