Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, 2005.
L to R: Kitty Lux, Will Grove-White, Hester Goodman, Dave Suich, Richie Williams, George Hinchcliffe, Jonty Bankes.
Peter Brooke Turner
|Past members||Kitty Lux (1985–2017)|
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOGB) is an English musical ensemble founded in 1985, consisting entirely of ukuleles of various sizes and registers, accompanied by the natural voices of the performers. The orchestra play and sing music from a variety of musical genres, ranging from pop, rock, and punk to classical tunes, with humour long being a feature of their act. The UOGB has played at many international venues and festivals. They now brand themselves as "George Hinchliffe's Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain".
The orchestra was formed in 1985, soon after George Hinchliffe bought co-founder and friend Kitty Lux a ukulele for her birthday. According to Hinchliffe, the original idea was not to be a comedy act, but to create a liberating musical forum where any style of music could be played, from funk to rock-and-roll to classical, and the ukulele was chosen for its musical versatility more than its novelty value. "The humour only came in during the first gig, when we played in two keys by accident and were messing around, with the sheet music falling everywhere. I thought we should go with it." Their first gig was at the Roebuck pub, just off Trinity Church Square in London. The orchestra has since performed in many venues worldwide, including New York's Carnegie Hall (2009, 2012), the Sydney Opera House (2012), London's Royal Albert Hall (2008, 2012) and Glastonbury Festival (2005). TV appearances have included: Jools Holland's Hootenanny, BBC Radio 2 Electric Proms, Blue Peter, The Slammer, Richard & Judy, This Morning and Skins.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain perform their gigs in a light-heartedly parody of a 'very prim and proper, staid sort-of orchestra', wearing traditional orchestra dress for performances, with the men in black tie (black suits and bow ties) and the women in smart evening wear, seated behind music stands. The orchestra consists of 'ukuleleators' playing instruments in various registers: sopranino, soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, and one bass ukulele. Since 2005 UOGB has performed as an octet (sometimes a septet) “of all-singing, all-strumming ukulele players".
- George Hinchliffe
- David Suich
- Richie Williams
- Hester Goodman
- Will Grove-White
- Jonty Bankes (bass ukulele)
- Peter Brooke Turner
- Leisa Rea
- Ben Rouse
The group has a small number of individuals who regularly serve as substitutes:
- David Bowie (original member, now deputises on bass)
- Ewan Wardrop
- Nick Browning (deputises on various instruments and also plays in the Ukes & Lutes side project with founder member George Hinchliffe).
- Kitty Lux (1957–2017).
Lux, band member and co-founder with George Hinchliffe, died from cancer on 16 July 2017. In memory of Kitty, who always wore some article of clothing decorated with polka dots while performing, a number of current band members display a small red and white polka dot bowtie either affixed to their clothing or to their ukulele.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Orchestra's ensemble while in individual self isolation released 13 tracks on YouTube, plus 26 other video tutorials, documentaries and other ukulele inspired videos. The band was expanded to include a few additional players for the Ukulele Lockdown series.
- Laura Currie, who also edited the lockdown videos, is the lead singer on Lovecats and appears in Wuthering Heights.
- Doug Beveridge (the band's sound engineer) appears in Wuthering Heights.
- Jodi Cartwright (the band's manager) appears in Wuthering Heights.
A typical UOGB concert is an eclectic mixture of songs and instrumentals ranging from the Sex Pistols and Nirvana to Bach and Beethoven; a mix of music genres, from classical music to punk, grunge, rock and roll, country and 'some oddities that don't quite fit anywhere'. In Europe and America the Orchestra are known for playing versions of famous rock songs and film themes, sometimes changing these so that the expectations of the audience are subverted. Sometimes a rock song will be changed into a jazz idiom, or sometimes several songs which are known from different genres are combined in one “soup of contrasts.” Regulars include Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" reworked as a swinging jazz number, Ennio Morricone's theme to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy", "Anarchy in the UK" performed in the style of Simon and Garfunkel, and the theme tune from Shaft. The Orchestra also compose and perform their own pieces, as well as arranging medleys – for example, David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" is melded with "My Way", "For Once in My Life", "Substitute", and more. Comedic elements are incorporated with the musicianship, including up to five members playing a single ukulele and times when the group each goes its own way on a piece of music.
The group has shied away from featuring the music of George Formby, Britain's most famous ukulele musician; however, in recent years, they have included a version of his song "Leaning on a Lamppost", performed in a Russian Cossack style.
BBC Proms performance
On Tuesday 18 August 2009 the UOGB performed in a late night prom in the BBC Proms 2009 Season at the Royal Albert Hall. The performance was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and received much critical acclaim. This concert included a version of Beethoven's Ode to Joy in which at least 1000 audience members participated with Ukuleles. A DVD of the performance, Prom Night, was released the same year.
Other live performances
The orchestra has toured the US, Canada, Japan, China, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Norway, Ireland and Great Britain.
Recent years have seen television appearances on programmes such as Jools Holland's Hootenanny and Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway performing alongside Robbie Williams. High praise has been forthcoming from the press for live shows. The orchestra performed at the 50th anniversary VE day celebrations in Hyde Park (with Cliff Richard and Vera Lynn), before an estimated audience of 170,000, in 1995.
Often the orchestra will provide advance notice of an audience participation number. They provide a link to the piece online so that those that wish to participate can come prepared.
In 2008, the group performed Dreamspiel, a ukulele opera, composed by George Hinchliffe and Michelle Carter for the Grimeborn Festival at London's Arcola Theatre. They have also, in 2010 and 2011, performed Ukulelescope where they played music to accompany silent movies from the British Film Institute archives. In 2012, Waly Waly on the Ukulele reworked arrangements of Cecil Sharp's collected folk tunes for performances at the Birmingham Town Hall and Cecil Sharp House in London. (Recordings from these shows were released in 2016 as the CD The Keeper.) In 2013 they issued a special collaboration with Ibiza Air for their Cover of the Song "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)". They released an EP with 4 Remixes in different styles like Tech house and Chill-out. In 2014, to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the Great War, the orchestra presented When This Lousy War is Over which reflected a range of attitudes from the time; patriotic, pacifist and feminist, and drew from gipsy music, music hall, soldiers' songs and even a song from the then radical avante-garde Cabaret Voltaire in neutral Switzerland.
- The Ukulele Variations – 1988, Disque Ethnique (LP); CBS/Sony Records (CD)
- Hearts of Oak – 1990, CBS/Sony Records (CD)
- A Fist Full of Ukuleles – 1994, Sony Records (CD)
- Pluck – 1998, Tachyon Records (CD)
- The Secret of Life – 2004, Longman Records (CD)
- Miss Dy-na-mi-tee – 2005, Longman Records (CD single)
- Precious Little – 2007, UOGB (CD)
- Christmas with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – 2008, UOGB (CD)
- (Ever Such) Pretty Girls – 2015, UOGB (CD)
- The Only Album By The Ukulele Orchestra You Will Ever Need Volume Three – 2019, UOGB (CD)
- Live in London #1 – 2008, UOGB (CD)
- Live in London #2 – 2009, UOGB (CD)
- Still Live – 2011, UOGB (CD)
- Uke-Werk – 2013, UOGB (CD)
- The Keeper – 2016, UOGB (CD)
- Top Notch – 2001, UOGB (CD)
- Bang Bang(My Baby Shot Me Down) EP – The Ukulele Orchestra Vs Ibiza Air – 2013, UOGB (CD)
- Anarchy in the Ukulele – 2005, UOGB (DVD)
- Prom Night – Live at the Royal Albert Hall – BBC Proms 2009 – 2009, UOGB (DVD)
- The Ukes Down Under – 2012, Litmus Films (DVD)
- The Ukes In America – 2013, Litmus Films (DVD)
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- Laing, Dave (25 July 2017). "Kitty Lux obituary". The Guardian.
- Richie Williams (speaker) (19 May 2020). "Ukulele Lockdown The Ukulele Orchestra of Self Isolation: 'Q&A - The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain'". George Hinchliffe's Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Event occurs at 10.00 minutes. Retrieved 25 July 2020.
- "Ukulele Lockdown The Ukulele Orchestra of Self Isolation". George Hinchliffe's Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Retrieved 21 July 2020.
- "The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Ukulele". The Atlantic. 25 January 2015. Retrieved 3 April 2020.
- Youngs, Ian (23 June 2003). "Orchestra makes ukulele cult hit". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 12 June 2008.
- "Anarchy in the Ukulele (DVD)". The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. 2015. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- "Robbie Plucks Up The Courage..." Official Ant & Dec. 7 April 2014. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- Walters, John L. (10 February 2004). "Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Barbican, London". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- Green, Thomas H. (12 May 2005). "Nirvana meets George Formby". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- "Press Release: 'When This Lousy War is Over'". The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. 26 October 2014. Archived from the original on 25 December 2014. Retrieved 12 April 2020.
- on YouTube, performed at the Barbican
- on YouTube, performed at the Royal Albert Hall
- on YouTube, performed at the Jazzfestival Bingen am Rhein in June 2009
- on YouTube, performed at the Jazzfestival in Bingen am Rhein in June 2009
- on YouTube