Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, The Philharmonic
Do something different. I dare you…
I can’t think of a single occasion when the phrase “mixed bag” has signified such glorious diversity as I saw on Thursday night watching the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain, who from here on in I shall refer to as UOGB, if only to get this post written this side of Christmas. And when talking about a mixed bag, I mean the UOGB itself, the music and in particular, the audience.
Much as I hate making sweeping generalisations, as I’ve gone about my role as a Culture Champ, I’ve often come across a certain type of person who attends cultural events. Generally middle class, well educated, Guardian-reading, Amnesty-supporting, soya milk drinking people who know how to choose a good red wine from a menu and whose record collection undoubtedly contains a selection of experimental jazz.
Now this is all absolutely fine and it means that culture is alive and well and thriving with a certain section of the population. But the audience at The Phil on Thursday night was something else entirely. Covering every possible demographic, the UOGB audience was enchanted as we were treated to an amazingly mad and eclectic set list that included a Soviet-style Leaning on a Lamppost, Teenage Dirtbag, Kraftwerk’s seminal classic The Model and a mash up of Life On Mars/My Way/For Once In My Life/Born Free and Substitute that would have had the creators of Glee weeping into their pom-poms had they had the extreme good fortune to have been there.
The UOBG gave us a folksy, Yorkshire pub singer version of Wuthering Heights that had my sides aching, and a rather lovely Anarchy In The UK after which we were urged to “get pissed, destroy.. responsibly.”
I was so intrigued at the sheer range of the audience that I went around asking random, non-Hush Puppy wearing punters what had brought them here. There was the young couple sitting in front of us. Ian had seen UOGB videos on youtube and had bought tickets for his girlfried, Kim’s birthday, because it was something different. At half time (I really should start calling it ‘the interval’) I collared father and son, Kennedy and Owen and granddad Tommy to see why they’d come along. They’d seen the UOGB on the telly and rather fancied seeing them live. When I asked 14-year-old Owen if he ‘got it’ seeing as a fair old few of the songs were old ones, he coolly told me that he did and that they’d been listening to The Sex Pistols in the car on the way to the gig. Brilliant or what?
After a second half that included unique ukelele reworkings of Rolling In The Deep, Smells Like Teen Spirit and Tears On My Pillow, the UOGB were brought back for two encores. The first was a super clever arrangement of seven songs sung over some classical Handel, which put me in mind of Axis of Awesome’s Four Chords song. The finale was a side-splittingly filthy rendition of Je T’Aime (Moi non plus) . The audience, in all its wonderous variety, was enraptured.
I caught Ian and Kim on the way out and they were delighted that they’d come along. We’d gone on a recommendation from a friend. My first thought on going to see some ukelele players was, “Ah, well, let’s give give it a go. I said I wanted to do something different.” I’m so, so glad we did. And if there’s no other message you take away after kindly reading to the end of this post it’s this: give ‘something different’ a go. You might find yourself loving something you never expected.