Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

· music ·

On Mr. Bsag's 40th birthday yesterday, we went to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOGB) at the Lichfield Festival. We'd been looking forward to it for ages, and it certainly didn't disappoint. As I've said before, UOGB are musical geniuses. They are also (it turns out) very funny even when not playing their instruments. Near the start of the show, George Hinchliffe asked those of us at the back of the auditorium if we could hear the bass ukulele properly. When we all chorused "Yes", he replied, "Oh, I am sorry about that". As they said, they do their own heckling.

I can also state confidently that you haven't experienced the full richness of life's tapestry until you've heard a middle-aged white man sing "The Theme from Shaft" (originally sung by Isaac Hayes), backed by the Ukulele Orchestra. They set it up wonderfully with some chat about playing at Cecil Sharpe house, the home of English Folk Dance and Song Society, and spinning a line about the song they were about to play having been collected by Sharpe when he heard it sung by the Great-Grandfather of Isaac Hayes. George couldn't quite keep a straight face on the line "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?" because the audience was falling about and protested, "That's what it says here!", pointing at the score, but recovered ably, inserting some new lyrics:

What's the most important part of a coal mine, apart from the coal?

[chorus] Shaft!

No! The Davis Safety Lamp

And then there was the wonderful Cossack style "Leaning on a Lamppost" (George Formby), Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" in the style of a sleazy Vegas lounge singer (breaking occasionally into broad Yorkshire accents), and (you really have to hear this to believe it), a gentle folk song version of "Anarchy in the UK" by the Sex Pistols, with which we all joined in, swaying slightly as if singing "Kumbaya" in church.

They really couldn't pull this stuff off if they weren't such wonderful musicians. They get a gorgeous sound out of their tiny ukuleles, and do party pieces like playing a ukulele with a bottle neck, blues style, and having four people simultaneously play one very small uke.

I have only two regrets about the evening. The first was that it was so brilliant, hilarious and enlightening that it went by far too quickly. The second was that they didn't play "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, which I've seen them do on video and was a total masterpiece. Oh, well, I'll just have to go and see them live again.