The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain

Tonight I jumped decades: 50s, 60s, 70s, all three. If I closed my eyes I could have been in any of these time zones, happily sipping a gin and tonic, beer or woo woo. But I was here in 2011, forgetting my predicaments with humour, miniature guitars* and warm wine. It was oh so good. Meticulous through repetition, the affects are the same.

My favourite desitination for the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain was at the beginning of British television. The voices muffled but the vowels distinctively sharp and piercing. When my eyes open, I’m still there. I’m in the audience of an English transmission. It’s black and white, a furrowed brow here and every band member wearing a sharp suit… there. Hair side parted, the protagonist, game show host and leader of the pack, is the very image of Britain and classically straight, but for the glint in his eyes. Indeed yes, you could feel and see it from every seat at Colston Hall. You know those entertainers, arms open, smiles come easy. They make you feel safe, you can ‘ave a laff with ’em ‘, and he pleases even the hardest of audiences.

Tick, tock let’s skip time and seas. I mentioned other decades; now more dominant than the other would be an American 60s – in a cafe by the sea with an ice cream sunday and a whisky on the side. Beer in cans and sun touched limbs. Doesn’t that feel great? Liberated by the ukelele, I’d been missing the sea all day. I’d say we should go surfing, drive through winding lanes and stand atop a cliff with a sausage roll, but this city wont allow it. Close your eyes…

The other decade is the 70s, we’re in a Yorkshire bingo room, dressed to the nines in glitter, flirting with abundant winks. Chuckling. The players speak in rhymes and the audience is impressed. I sip my plastic cupped wine and consider my flares.

Timeless they are, who wouldn’t like the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain at any decade or any age. But of course these chaps and chappettes are really thoroughly modern and the Ukelele is thoroughly in vogue. I think. I may be fantasising as always, about these decades, scenes and such. However, I can see the goods/ness. And in my opinion, the beauty lies in all these musician’s (and entertainer’s) ability to transcend time zones entirely, going from classical (ish) to Kate Bush, Nirvana and Bowie covers – not to mention mix several songs in one track, singing over each other – confusingly beautifully. They are unafraid of playing it all and adding their spin. It’s all mixed up in one big smoothie. The music is fun, exciting, original and very, skilful. The ukelele being the ukelele too, a cheeky little number, it seems each of the eight members has a healthy (rehearsed) dose of humour to go with their strumming skills. Every one of them had their own role to play, each one evoking great chuckles from the varied audience.

Light, fun and happy.

* I know. The ukulele originated in the 19th century as a Hawaiian interpretation of the cavaquinho or braguinha and the rajão, small guitar-like instruments taken to Hawaiʻi by Portuguese immigrants. It gained great popularity elsewhere in the United States during the early 20th century, and from there spread internationally. Tone and volume of the instrument vary with size and construction. Ukuleles commonly come in four sizes: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. (Wiki is my source, of course)

This is worth watching, it’s the orchestra in one of their first TV appearances – they’ve been together for 26 years – in 1988.

TV Presenter: “Your mentor must’ve been George Fornby”
Ukelele Man: “Perhaps not.”

Although they played some supers, sadly they did not play this. Which is my favourite.


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