THE UKULELE ORCHESTRA OF GREAT BRITAIN

Playful Wit & Engaging Arrangements Form Signature Trademarks for This Infectious Musical Phenomenon

Posted In:   From Issue 779   By: Robert E Martin

31st October, 2013     0

It may seem difficult upon the service to imagine an 8-piece musical group that exclusively uses ukuleles and voices to disarm audiences with song selections that range from Talking Heads Psycho Killer to David Bowie's Life On Mars,but the musically astounding Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has been raising the roof, selling out performances, and receiving standing ovations for 28 years now thanks to their discerning ear for the unusual.
 
And thanks to the folks Matrix: Midland, this quirky and clever conglomerate of Brits will take to the stage at Midland Center for the Arts on Thursday, November 14th at 7:30 PM to brighten the spirits of audiences in the Great Lakes Bay with their mixture of daffy physical comedy, pun-filled banter, and material that ranges from the Sex Pistols to Handel.
 
Celebrated for its rapport with audiences coupled with their ability to elicit a joyous feel-good reaction, the original aesthetic of the Orchestra stems from musical intelligence, light-hearted presentation, and a depth of emotion in the interpretation of their songs. The founders & directors George Hinchliffe and Kitty Lux bring these qualities to the forefront.
 
The premise sounds astoundingly simple: eight performers, eight instruments, eight voices, (no gimmicks, no stage set, props or scenery, no fireworks, no special effects, no light show, no dancers, no laptops, no samples).  Instead, theOrchestra tears the house down with catchy, emotive, stomping, toe-tapping tunes, joined with a banter and wit which inexplicably draws the audience into a joyous world beyond the conflicts of musical genres or care for the distinctions that might exist between a serious concert and comedy.
 
And that fact alone is what makes them worth the price of admission.
 
"The Ukes," as fans know the Orchestra, have released many CDs, albums and DVDs, appeared on TV and radio in many countries, and toured the world during over 10,000 days and nights of ukulele action. Though happy to work with external promoters, agents and other media companies, the "UOGB" is a trailblazer of the currently fashionable business model of organizing all its own affairs, with a healthy schedule of recording, production, licensing, agency and concert promotion and management activities. 
 
Apart from being independent, anarchic, funny, virtuosic, and thought provoking, 'The Ukes use instruments ranging from the very small to the very large, in high and low registers, whether playing intricate melodies, simple tunes, or complex chords (and let's not forget that with 8 performers and thus 16 hands, 8 voices and with 4 strings on each instrument, up to 32 instrumental notes and 8 vocal notes can be sounded simultaneously), The Orchestra, sitting in chamber group format, and dressed in formal evening wear (regardless of the time of day or the venue, whether Glastonbury Festival or Carnegie Hall), uses the limitations of the instrument to create a musical freedom as it reveals unsuspected musical insights.
 
“The Ukulele Orchestra started off as "a bit of fun", reflects Hinchliffe, “which is not at all the same thing as saying that it started as a joke. After all, music should be playful; we play music, rather than "work" it.”
 
Their first gig, intended as a one-off was an instant sellout and led to national radio, TV, album recordings and international tours. Since then the Orchestra has given thousands of concerts, TV, and radio appearances all over the world. There have been tours in England, Scotland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, America, Canada, New Zealand, Slovenia, Switzerland, Japan, Czech Republic, Monaco, Spain, Poland, Estonia, Italy, Australia and current plans are for China and the North Pole. Broadcasts have been made on six continents.
 
At a recent show, their set-list looked like this: Stevie Wonder's For Once in My Life, the theme song from Born Free, the Who's Substitute & Pinball Wizard, with one pivotal surprise - rather than strumming the rapid signature guitar introduction on their ukes, ensemble members put down their instruments and sang a richly harmonized a cappella backing to Hinchliffe's vaudevillian lead vocal.
 
The Orchestra uses ukuleles of different sizes and pitches, from soprano to bass, though Jonty Bankes's electric bass ukulele looks a lot like a conventional bass guitar with a vaguely ukulelelike shape. Perhaps because the ukulele has long been treated as a four-string miniguitar for amateurs, only a handful of ukulelists have achieved much renown, most notably George Formby in Britain and Tiny Tim in the United States. But the instrument has a dedicated constituency.  Indeed, Beatle George Harrison was a devoted ukulelist.
 
One thing is for certain: you can expect the unexpected, with a set-list that will also touch upon jazz, blues and comic spins on a few classical pieces, including a whistled version of the Badinerie from Bach's B minor Orchestral Suite, all cleverly arranged and played with humor, energy and virtuosity.
 
Tickets start at $33 and are available by calling the MCFTA Ticket Office at 800-523-7649 or at mcfta.org.  

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