You probably would not expect to hear Anarchy in the UK (or should that be Anarchy in the Ukulele) played on a group of Ukuleles. Nor would you think that Highway to Hell would be brought to life by an instrument that is not known to the most hard hitting or trendy.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOOGB) were able to infuse these songs, and others, with a wonderfully understated wit and panache. This group of highly skilled musicians and singers charmed the audience in Salford with their sense of fun and the music they played on this underrated instrument.
Their timing was impeccable, their harmonies were glorious and they were able to switch from pop to folk to classical at will. At times they were able to swing like a jazz band before recreating the sound and aesthetic of German electronica.
All this is done with an effortless dry wit and relaxed style. You can tell that the members of the UOOGB are having fun which helps the audience to enjoy themselves.
The UOOGB has been going for 34 years. They performed at the Queen’s 90th birthday and have played at the Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House.
To start the evening they launched into a rendition of The Devil’s Gallop, more commonly known as the theme from the 1950s radio series Dick Barton. To show their versatility they followed this with a version Psycho Killer by Talking Heads.
Stand out moments were Leisa Rea singing Joni Michell’s A Case of You. The highlight of the evening was a sublime piece of musicality whereby they took Handel’s Harmony (Ode to St Cecilia’s Day) and were able to harmonize a number of different songs over the top of the theme.
It was simply joyous to watch these amazing musicians perform. It was marvellous to watch the dexterity and intricacy of movement as they played their ukuleles.
The orchestra is made up of eight people each playing a different sized ukulele in varying registers. Backed up by a bass ukulele together they sounded magnificent.
One person looms large when you think of the ukulele and that is, of course, George Formby. The Lancashire comedian became synonymous with the instrument and it is possibly due to him that it is not taken seriously.
It has been reported that the orchestra like to distance themselves from him but they did perform a Cossack arrangement of I’m Leaning on the Lamppost.
This show could not be faulted in any way. If you want a fun night of good music to take you away from the day-to-day world then this is the gig to go to. Don’t be put off by the Ukulele, it may be small but in the hands of the UOOGB it packs a powerful punch.
As George would say, ‘Turned out nice again’.
Reviewer: Adam Williams
Reviewed: 28th April 2019
North West End Rating: ★★★★★