They have played Sidney Opera House, The Royal Albert Hall and New York’s Carnegie Hall and last night (Friday, February 21, 2014) The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain played the Lighthouse Theatre in Kettering.
Those other venues may have longer, more illustrious histories, but I don’t think their audiences could have been any more appreciative than we were at the Lighthouse (so called because it is the furthest place from any actual lighthouse, explained one band member). As they closed their set with Chic’s Le Freak, the auditorium bathed in glitterball sparkles, the audience waved, clapped and cheered for more.
The ukulele has certainly had a rise in popularity in recent years. Ukulele clubs are springing up all over the place. I’m in one. But this was not the case when the Ukulele Orchestra was formed 29 years ago. They were ahead of their time.
The recent popularity of the uke may mean that you know someone who plays this fun-providing instrument. You may even have seen a uke group perform. But believe me when I say that the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain take it to another level.
The first thing to tell you about them is that they are fun. Where else could you hear a set list that goes from Saint Saens’ Danse Macabre to Anarchy in the UK, to Kraftwerk to the Dambusters’ theme to Daft Punk, to Pinball Wizard sung as a sea shanty?
The sheer level of skill and musicianship is remarkable. While they are all playing essentially the same instrument, they create a full and varied sound. They may be joking around, but they are a sharp, tight ensemble. Having seen them several times I was particularly taken this time by what a good choir they are, and especially enjoyed their harmonies on Pinball Wizard. They weren’t even playing the ukes at this point.
I’m sure the audience contained many ukulele payers who, like me, can only dream of reaching their level of skill, but it was certainly an evening to thrill and inspire us.