Arts Fest: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
International Arts Festival Review: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great BritainReview by Alison Little
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great
Wellington Town Hall
29 February - 2 March (Regional preformances 4 - 6 March)
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain manage to trip their way through pretty well every genre and style of music in the last few hundred years - despite lacking the common orchestral accoutrements of orchestral instruments and significant quantities of musicians.
They make do with just seven musicians who variously sing, whistle and pluck with veritable virtuosity on seven variations on the theme of ukulele. Somehow the unpretentious four stringed uke, too often relegated to novelty or side-note instrument, is made by these skilled hands to sound like harps, guitars, violins, cellos, harpsichords, mandolins, banjos, and more.
They dress like conventional orchestral musicians, with the men in tuxedoes, the women in evening dress. But they seem to be having a lot of fun hamming up the conventions, gently mocking the pretensions of both highbrow and popular music. The group was founded in 1985, and since then has performed in august venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Glastonbury Festival in the UK. They have also played in music and arts festivals around the world, including in Canada, Sweden, Belgium, Finland, Ireland and Japan, although this is their first time in New Zealand.
Most of the members have been with the Orchestra for more than twenty years, one who were are told has only been onboard for 17 ½ years, is referred to jokingly during the show as the "new boy". All are exceedingly competent pluckers and strummers; the group includes some fine singers and even a whistler. All take turns to lead the group, as well as contributing to the amazing collective sound.
The Orchestra weaves a gently comic way through music that includes everything from Hayden to Nirvana, folk music, the Sex Pistols, and popular film themes such as Shaft and The Good the Bad and the Ugly. Sometimes they sample music from several entirely different genres at once, what should be a cacophony is instead . . . something entirely other.
This show is one that you can safely take both your nan and your grumpy teenager to; both are likely to find it utterly charming.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
on the Arts Festival website (includes video
Clips of their music are available from http://www.ukuleleorchestra.com
TV3 Video - Ukulele's not just a toy for little people
TV3 Video - The British Ukulele Orchestra is here to charm you
Scoop full coverage: Wellington International Arts Festival 2008