PRESS REVIEWS

Eight fleas which jump through Kraftwerk
Musical professionalism and a few dashes of Monty Python
In Selb the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra tears its listeners out of their seats

Selb – If it’s really not about size then here it most definitely isn’t. Also, in this case, the quantity tops off the quality. One ukulele on its own sounds a little edgy, tends chirpingly and whimperingly towards thinness of tone and because of this impudently tries to push itself into the foreground. However if it presents itself in a disciplined pack – as with the eight-piece United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, then a wiry convulsiveness pierces through with an at times rakish sonority. In association with those of like mind the schooled strummer unexpectedly elicits from the apparently shrunken guitar the driving power of the Vivaldi Concerto for Four Lutes, or exotic mysteriousnesses like those from the Far East, where the plucked string instruments are called koto and shamisen, or the inviting dance impulses for a Greek sirtaki, or the irresistible stimulus with which the banjo invigorates jazz.

Unmistakably, indeed, overtones of nonsense, anarchy and parody constantly resonate from the scanty little wooden bodies.

Even otherwise serious music can’t remain serious in this situation. Ukulele music can be used to good effect as accompaniment to a Laurel and Hardy silent film sketch or as a soundtrack for the slapstick catastrophes of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The name alone of this beshrunken southern-seas guitar promises something bizarre. It means “jumping flea” translated from the Hawaiian. The endearingly relaxed troupe lined up their cute audio-pearls on a string of absurd introductions in such incalculably witty fashion that in the end the audience members in the Rosenthal Theatre gave standing applause. The ukulele looks like a toy, as if made for children; even the “bass uke”, which Doug Henning, the elder of the ensemble, operates with the unhurried conscientiousness of a layer of foundations. The seven other ukes too rest sweetly in front of breast or belly, or in the lap of the players, who tinker with comparatively slight movements on the neck and strings. A gardener must have to show the same restraint when following the regulation procedure for trimming a fruit tree in order to prune a bonsai. Notwithstanding, the ladies Dale and Cunningham and Messrs. Gold, Baynes, Wild, Dowson and Crout are not lacking in robustness, nor in extreme high spirits, which the spectator may take as “typically British”. The musicians know how to keep a grip on music despite the daintiness of the handtool and indeed they help themselves to it like mad. In doing so, static in a line of chairs, they cultivate a physically minimalistic performance which saves them from falling to their knees in reverence before the classical. Even pieces by Bizet and Tchaikovsky or, as crowning achievement, Mozart’s ‘Rondo alla turca” sound as if strong talons were making hash from fine meat. In addition the artist-throats give voice. While their fingers make the strings quiver and whimper with stupendous interlacing and plaiting, the octet intones valiant solos and virtuosic harmony singing: hits from the musical film “Sister Act”, or from “Pirates of the Caribbean”, or “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles.

The “orchestra” struggles in frankly broken German with the language. In “Model” by Kraftwerk the text mutates curiously into an unheard of foreign language. Then with the hit “Heidi”, well known through children’s television, the two Englishwomen yodel themselves up to a Swiss Alpine peak. For the connoisseur a mash up of seven different pop melodies on four simple guitar chords, which fit to all the songs, develops into the contrapunctal bravura number of the artfully rich evening. “A mini instrument with a maxi sound.” Well. The maximal effect in this context is the fruit of musical professionalism, reinforced with a number of dashes of Monty Python. As, during “Viva la Vida”, Stuart “Pockets” Crout tinkles on a special, self-developed ukulele – in addition to the four strings he has two toy piano keyboards at his disposal – lighter flames and light apps on smartphones illuminate the auditorium as if it were a real Coldplay concert. Enthused to such an extent the people of Selb, of all people, can appreciate that, appropriately to the town, Sarah Dale blows a short solo from Walt Disney’s “Jungle Book” on a porcelain teapot.

Michael Thumser, “Frankenpost Hof”, 25.02.2014


It Also Does Art

Mozart to Monty Python. The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra offered maximum fun at the Schloss in Kiel.

No, Mozart did not write his “Rondo alla Turca” for ukulele, let alone then for a whole octet of ukuleles. But on Sunday evening in the Kiel Schloss during the performance of The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, the extremely popular third movement from his piano sonata sounded as if he had personally transcribed it for the little sister of the guitar. Our colleague Hannes Hansen was at the scene for you.

Kiel. The secret of such transformations is just as simple as it is admirable. The musicians who have found themselves together under the umbrella of The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, Tukuo for short, are all cunning masters of their instrument.

The ukulele does not have it at all easy with music lovers. For most this instrument of Portuguese origin, which was first exported to Hawaii and from there to all corners of the world, is considered as at best a pretty strumming accompaniment, in most cases for kitsch pseudo-folk. ‘It doesn’t have to be like that; we can do it differently, namely make art with it’, the eight musicians of The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra said to each other. After their highly acclaimed performance last year in the small concert hall of the Schloss they demonstrated their art on the big stage this time. The orchestra of plucking and strumming presented its new programme “Mini Means Maxi”, and they did indeed afford the audience maximum fun.

This was due first of all of course to the excellent accomplishments on their instruments of those involved, from soprano to bass ukulele, and in no less degree to their accomplishment as singers, in which they can effortlessly match so many of the greats of pop. One can hardly imagine a more colourful programme, with its mixture of classical, pop and jazz. The orchestra presented the Carmen Overture with Spanish fire, the song you hate to love “Trail of the Lonesome Pine”, title melody of the eponymous Laurel and Hardy film, with crooning weighted with irony. They then played Mozart’s ‘Rondo alla Turca” with a rococo, cheery nobility of which one would have not believed the ukulele capable. Then again, and completely different, “Das Model” by Kraftwerk. Does that go at all? And how. It goes at all events when one comes with the performing talent of Tukuo and the typical British humour, which balances free and easy on the fine line between childish humour and intelligent wit in a way which one only otherwise knows from the Monty Python troupe.

That there were moments during the more than two and a half hour concert which were less than inspired – granted. For John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby” for instance nothing much came to mind for the musicians, so if anything they played down the old favourite in a dutiful fashion. But then they shone again with the cabaret-worthy and screamingly funny number “I Wanna Be Like You”, the duet between King Louie and Baloo the Bear from the Jungle Book film, by the end of which half of the audience were scat singing along enthusiastically. As last year there was once again this time a “Heidi” to be heard. This added half as much again to the original impish joke, with the musicians using head voices, saponaceous ukulele playing and additional passages of yodelling, whose kitsch potential drew helpless laughter from the audience.

That a closeness to Monty Python and their schoolboy jests is an integral component of The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra’s performances became clear, as last year, in the second and last encore. The musicians used “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from “The Life of Brian” as a clownesque parody of Haydn’s Farewell Symphony.

Hannes Hansen in Kieler Nachrichten 2.3.2014


Everything Ukulele in Gersthofen

The mere sight which presented itself in the Stadthalle in Gersthofen suggested curious things. Six men, seated, in dark suits with bow ties, two women in black evening dress. On each lap an instrument which looked like a newly-hatched baby guitar. Ukulele orchestra is the name of this bizarre apparition, which elicited frenetic applause from its listeners. The British orchestra stopped at nothing. With its bass and baritone ukuleles, tenor, concert and soprano ukuleles it played “Pirates of the Caribbean” as well as Chick Corea’s “Spain”. Typically British, the orchestra treated itself and the pieces with a sense of humour. The versatility of the four-stringed instrument was astonishing.

But it was not just the ukuleles which made the evening entertaining and diverse. The musicians were also excellent singers. They created interpretations of such popular songs as “Das Model” by Kraftwerk and “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles in grand fashion. With Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” the public lay at the orchestra’s feet.

(Eric) Augsburger Allgemeine, 4.2.2014


Wicked Brits

The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra excludes no musical genre – just as long as it goes into the ear. This was demonstrated recently by these British musicians at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt.

They’re a little bit crazy, these Brits! Whilst hardly anyone anywhere else in the world would have the idea of establishing the ukulele – in effect the little sister of the guitar – as the regular instrument of accompaniment in a music ensemble, the idiosyncratic island-dwellers form a whole group around it. Hang on, one ensemble? There are now at least two of them and they are jostling for position as to which is the original and which the most original. On Saturday and Sunday the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra was in Hessen, on Saturday guesting at the Alte Oper in Frankfurt and on Sunday in Darmstadt. Not to be confused with, or at least, almost not to be confused with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who can at least make the claim for itself to be the older one, having already formed in 1985.

The ukulele, which in contrast to the guitar has only four strings, travelled a long way, from Portugal to Hawaii via New Guinea and the United States, before coming back to Europe and finally attaining cult status. Inextricably linked with the instrument is of course the sassy flair bestowed on it by Billy Wilder in the mafia comedy “Some Like It Hot”, when he pressed one into the little hands of the innocent vamp Marilyn Monroe, alias ‘Sugar’. Perhaps that is also the reason why to this day the ukulele is most readily assigned to the easy listening category, even though opera, like the Carmen Overture, or Mozart’s “Alla Turca”, or Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Cygnets” can be played on it. Although these pieces in no way possess any classical seriousness of character; for this the octet turned to Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”, which constituted a musical highlight of the evening. Apart from that the musicians roamed freely through several centuries, from courtly minstrel songs to Fleetwood Mac, from gospel to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, from “Kleinen Grünen Kaktus” to the Beatles. One advantage the ‘Kingdoms’ have over the ‘Great Britains’ at all events. They lay more importance on the vocal accompaniments and as they have, without exception, good singers, male and female, this stands the overall recital in good stead. Alan Dowson earned a star on his report in particular by additionally mastering without effort some difficult solos on his instrument.

So the world can absolutely cope with two or several ukulele orchestras from the island. For at the end their fans even forgave the Brits for saying farewell in the hallowed Alte Oper with the yodelling encore of the Heidi theme from the television series of the same name. On their German tour the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra are playing in the Komödie in Dresden on February 20th, in the Berlin Philharmonie on March 18th and in Sulzbach im Taunus on March 22nd.

Wolfgang Heininger, FR-Online 11.2.2014


From Bowie to the Beach Boys

Ukulele – This is not the name of the President of Tanzania, for instance, but the little sister of the guitar.
There are different kinds, pitchings and tunings. The classic ukulele is the soprano, with an overall length of around 55cm, with strings of 35cm or thereabouts. Sopranino ukuleles, concert ukuleles, tenor ukuleles and baritone ukuleles complete the concert line up of these usually four-stringed instruments. And when first seven ukuleles play together and an electric bass leads the music rhythmically, then it’s clearly a case of a concert by a really unique ensemble: The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra (Tukuo) ensures another full house in the Alten Wollfabrik after its success last year.

For the two women and six men are not content with simply playing the ukulele. The fun these excellent musicians have with the mini guitar can be observed with every note. They enrich their pieces with comic business and much tongue-in-cheek and they truly do not shy away from the absurd or the bizarre. The sound of the bagpipes is quickly conjoured up by a swinging garden hose and the three nearest members of the orchestra protect themselves with hard hats. Or simulated brass tones are produced from a musical teapot.

As the seven ukulele artistes also have outstanding singing voices at their command the selected pop and rock songs do not fail to make their impact. With “Viva la Vida” the young Alex Gold comes stunningly close to Coldplay vocalist Chris Martin. With “Good Vibrations” the Beach Boys send greetings with their falsetto. Peter Baynes sings up David Bowie’s “China Girl” with uncanny similarity. Alan Dowson is convincing with John Farnham’s superhit “You’re the Voice”.

A further realisation during this atmospheric and loud-voiced evening: Freddie Mercury of Queen lives on, and it is in “Radio Gaga”, through the voice of the long-haired rocker Stuart Crout, called simply Pockets by his bandmates. He is not the only one to master the virtuosic and brilliant vocal richness in the phenomenal finale “Bohemian Rhapsody”, adapted from the original, as all sing (and play) together in stirring harmony, particularly Sarah Dale and Lesley Cunningham. The octet ignites the instrumental highlight with a single-version of Mike Oldfield’s terrific debut album “Tubular Bells”, in which really only the sound of the bells is missing at the end.

As a warm-up Tukuo comes out very classical and racy with the overture from Bizet’s opera “Carmen”. The musicians prove their great ability also with Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca”. Alan Dowson sings the hymn to the “Ukulele Man”. Heart refreshing English humour in German language blossoms with the double-decker “Der Kleine Grüne Kaktus” and “Biene Maja”. The merry English also have German rock in the programme and make the Kraftwerk classic “Das Model” look good. With their encore these ukulele jokers take it to another level as they belt out “Heidi”, then it’s quickly to the foyer – for the signing of the two Tukuo cds.

Werner Schilling, Schwetzinger Zeitung, 10.2.2014


Everything Goes – Even Kraftwerk on the Ukulele

She stayed the course. The audience member next to the back rows of the auditorium in the Aula am Aasee in Münster danced from beginning to end: to “Biene Maja” and “Good Vibrations”, to “Heidi” and to “Das Model” (Kraftwerk). The solitary but dance-loving listener was inspired by the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra. Eight excellent musicians on the ukulele who can also sing wonderfully. This combination, enhanced by jazz and classical music, afforded the audience a thoroughly entertaining evening.

The musicians of the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra have the good luck to be able to pick from a reservoir of awesome pop songs large beyond compare which originate from their own country. The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Queen – all on the ukulele. With “Bohemian Rhapsody” one has to have the guts to do it at the very least. The musicians from Great Britain set about the arrangement of songs which one would not otherwise trust to the ukulele with a charming mixture of curiosity and audacity. The instrument is approximately the size of a violin, has exactly the same number of strings and is of the same material. Despite this the cheery ukulele belongs rather to the poor relations of the instrument family.

Perhaps this is a very good thing. Because of this it is not treated with such deadly seriousness. In any case this danger does not exist with the Ukulele Orchestra, whose musicians shook with laughter even during their performance. The audience showed their gratitude for this with standing ovations. Then the dancer was no longer alone.

Stefan Werding, Westfälische Nachrichten, 28.2.2014


Great Little Instrument
The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra in Landau – along with 20 pupils from the Pestalozzi Primary School

With a varied programme, highly professional music making, trained voices and staggeringly funny presentations the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, called Tukuo for short, provided “Good Vibrations” in the Landau Festhalle on Saturday, and not only because of the title of the Beach Boys’ song. The orchestra was supported by the ukulele class of the Landau Pestalozzi Primary School.

The current programme of the British ensemble on their musical journey across Europe is called ‘Mini Means Maxi’ and it offers music lovers of all ages maximum fun with the little Hawaiian guitar. The comic announcements were entirely appropriate for an entertaining evening. Sometimes in English, sometimes in German and occasionally in a kind of gibberish the ensemble members teased and hoaxed each other. The eight musicians axed their way right through all musical genres on their instruments. Music from Laurel and Hardy’s silent movie era and Hans Zimmer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean”, unforgettable songs by Queen or the Beatles. Tukuo didn’t hesitate to play jazz with Cick Corea’s “Spain” and even Mozart’s “Alla Turca” vibrated from the seven diminutive guitars and bass over the audience, who clapped again and again with joy and rapture, stamped their feet, whistled and cheered the musicians appreciatively.

When eight to ten year old children sit still in a concert hall for two and a half hours and follow a concert attentively that is a genuine barometer of the mood, which shows that what is happening on stage is exciting and engaging for the audience. “Now we come to the moment you’ve been waiting for all evening”, the musicians repeatedly teased the many families and friends, who had to wait until after the interval for their children to make their entrance on stage.

Sonja Roth-Scherrer, Die Rheinpfalz (daily newspaper) 17.2.2014


A small instrument in which lies much music
The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra delighted in Wahlstedt

Wahlstedt: “There is much music in this small instrument – but we don’t yet know where”, joked Peter Baynes and held his ukulele up in the air.

He and his seven colleagues from the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra had come to the sold-out hall in Wahlstedt in order to go on this quest.

…The musicians moved mechanically like robots to “Das Model” by Kraftwerk, sung in German. The piece almost sounded better than the original and was evidence that the ukulele can outmatch a whole heap of synthesizers.
The eight artists showed themselves to be just as excellent singers as musicians. “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys displayed perfect vocal harmonies as did Queen’s complex “Bohemian Rhapsody” suite. With “I Wanna Be Like You”, the song of the monkey king Louie from the film “The Jungle Book” it was the audience’s turn. The spectators had to attempt jazzy, onomatopoeic scat singing. This song too had its astonishment factor, with Jessica Barr playing a teapot as if it were a trumpet.

…Guitar teachers from the district music school who were sitting in the audience were delighted too..

With the last encore, after two and a half hours – which was actually too short – the musicians gave their public optimism and joie de vivre to take with them on the way home: Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.

Peter J. Strehmel, 25.3.2013 in the ‘Seberger Zeitung’


Singing Teapots
Seven Ukuleles in Top Form

In and of itself the ukulele is a rather non-descript instrument. However if one assembles this four-stringed, plucked instrument in seven fold format into an orchestra, one can elicit from it so many unexpected sounds. If one enriches the sound with an appropriate portion of that legendary British humour for good measure, it is thus that the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra (TUKUO) inspires onstage as now in the Gersthofen Stadthalle.

The likeable British musicians made the strings of their ukuleles swing with classical opera stuff, through swing and jazz to street hits from pop. But since TUKUO offers much more than ukulele sounds, showstopping applause, whistles of joy and standing ovations were not surprising. The musicians played captivating arrangements from Kraftwerk and Queen to Rossini. There was highly focused and perfectly choreographed plucking and, above all, singing for over two hours.

Under the leadership of Peter Moss TUKUO presented a dynamic and absolutely harmonious ensemble performance. However the blonde Jessica Barr is to be singled out. The capacity of her soprano singing was astonishing and stirred the audience into spontaneous bursts of applause, not only for her interpretation of “Heidi”. A garden hose came into service too in the first half. Thus TUKUO, together with singing teapot, lifted the audience into best Jungle Book swing mood. The arrangement of a pop medley, which with only four chords gave intense voice to seven pop songs simultaneously from Dylan to Lennon, shone out as a musical pearl.

Very amusing indeed!

Claudius Wiedemann, 29.04.2013 in the ‘Augsburger Allgemeine’


The “Jumping Flea” Creates Good Mood
Small instrument – big effect: The public in the Regensburg Antoniushaus was inspired by the show of the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra

Regensburg: The ukulele is a small, gentle, stringed instrument which commonly accompanies singers in colourful Hawaiian shirts. But the ukulele can also do things differently. In the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra they have put eight musicians together – one plays a bass ukulele – to prove that the “Jumping Flea”, thus the translation from the Hawaiian, is also suitable for service in an orchestra.

…Really remarkable what the eight men and women brought out of their instruments: and not least from their voices. For all of them – apart from Doug Henning – proved themselves to be singers as well. Jessica Barr performed Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”, Lesley Cunningham brought “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac to the ears.
The overture of Giacomo Rossini’s opera “William Tell” was served as a delicacy for classical fans.

Even “Heidi” sounded in fine tone and Barr and Cunningham succeeded in yodelling a little in it. The title of the programme, ‘And the Uke Goes On’ suited the orchestra’s joyful excursion through all genres including children’s song, in which the musicians could even bark, meow and bleat. Disco music by the Bee Gees rang out, including falsetto. James Bond too became friends with the mild sound of the little string instrument. How close jazz and ukulele can get was audible with “In the Mood” and Chick Corea’s “Spain”. The musicians demonstrated really great prowess, vocally and on the strings, when they interpreted Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Angelika Lukesch, 28.04.2013 in the Mittelbayerische Zeitung


The British Create Good Mood
Ukulele Orchestra presents amusing and musically demanding evening in the Ravensburg Konzerthaus

Ravensburg: – A ukulele orchestra? And for a whole evening? One is if anything sceptical about that. Unfortunately too many had been of this mind and thus missed a wonderfully amusing musical evening in the Ravensburg Konzerthaus.

…They can sing too, the eight musician-comedians – and how! And they do it with abandon, whether it be old Beatles songs or the ‘zithering’ “Third Man”, whether “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys or the James Bond theme tune. It is the sound which is right, with or without the ukulele, though that has an important part, for their silvery tone is suited to the imitation of strings just as it is to percussion.

Rossini’s Overture to “William Tell” comes over as highly serious but straight away things continue with Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” or Abba’s “Mamma Mia”. All of this is played with such class and presented with such a happy overview that it simply creates a good mood.

Dorothee L. Schaefer in the Schwäbische Zeitung, Ravensburg, 1.03.2013


Quick Witted and with Many Strings to their Bow
The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra shows great skill on a little instrument

With sparing use of props, such as flower chains for hippie songs and staggeringly funny gestures and facial expressions, which frequently contrasted with the alleged content, as well as acted dialogues full of zany British humour, the ‘United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra’ enthused its audience for more than two hours, the latter often clapping along with the rhythm and just not able to get enough. The public showed their thanks with standing ovations for the hours of lighthearted entertainment, during which their laugh muscles had been under heavy strain.

Gelnhäuser Tagblatt, 21.02.2013


Soul and Sabre Dance
The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra Delights with Witty Show at the Limburgerhof

These twangy things create good humour: The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra plays pop and rock and even sometimes classical music on instruments that look more like toys. But the Brits bring groovy arrangements and present an entertaining show with comic interludes and British humour. There was a standing ovation for this in the Kleine Komödie at the Limburgerhof.

At the beginning the musicians opened with something classical in order to gain respect: the well-known ‘Sabre Dance’ by Aram Khachaturian sounded virtuosic on the ukulele. The short sustain of the instrument is suited to this racy piece. The orchestra began the second half of the concert with Rossini’s famous William Tell Overture. Here too the galloping rhythm goes well with the nature of the ukulele.

The rest of the programme was a colourful mixture of rock and pop with very diverse, sometimes even eccentric pieces. The electro-specialists of Kraftwerk would probably be surprised to hear ‘Das Model’ on ukuleles. The version of ‘Spain’ would probably appeal to jazzer Chick Corea: the eight musicians played an arrangement which began with a quote from Isaac Albeniz and led into Corea’s flamenco-jazz piece, everything virtuosically re-arranged by the ukulele players.

A significant part of the pleasure is the singing of the musicians. All eight shared in this, so there was regular choral part singing. This sounds highly attractive coupled with the register of the ukulele. The Brits gave evidence of humour in the choice of their numbers. The song of ‘Heidi’ presented the two ladies of the orchestra, Lesley Cunningham and Jessica Barr as a cute yodelling duo. The latter reaped jubilant applause when she sang Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’ with formidable strength.

There is a joke involved too when the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra indicates that George Harrison copied his hit ‘My Sweet Lord’ from an old motown soul number. There is, in point of fact, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – and they claim to have started the fun with the ukulele. The colleagues are “not amused” that the danger of mistaken identity is very high. That does not alter the fact that the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra plays felicitous arrangements and shows much wit and skill in music and in presentation.

Gereon Hoffmann in “Der Rheinpfalz”, Ludwigshafen, 11.4.13


The British musicians Peter Baynes and Jessica Barr, who with six colleagues form the “United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra” have inspired. The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra were guests at the Osterfeld Kulturhaus.

Oh, those British! Their humour is sometimes so dust-dry that drink sales immediately sky-rocket wherever they appear. And indeed the rest of the world knows their creative desire for the absurd through the actor Rowan Atkinson, alias Mr. Bean, through the Monty Pythons or through the google-eyed comic legend Marty Feldman.

When looked at in this way it’s hardly surprising that the British demonstrate to us an unimagined variety and breadth of repertoire precisely on this bonsai-sister of the fully grown guitar – coupled with their typical off the wall humour ‘from the island’. The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, Tukuo for short. In the Osterfeld Kulturhaus this was: Jessica Barr, Lesley Cunningham, Peter Baynes, Alan Dowson, Dave Kavanagh, Alistair MacKenzie, Andy Wild (all ukulele) and the worldly-wise bassman Doug Henning. The eight musicians brought with them a broad programme ranging from Rossini’s William Tell Overture to the jazz standard “In the Mood”. At the same time, however, they are not above slapstick comedy. For example in “Heidi”, when they let everything run wild on stage, goat and all. Or when they start to sing and play refrains from James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”, Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”, from “Let it Be”, “Forever Young”, “Down Under”, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” and a string of other songs and the whole ends up in a downright Babylonian cacophony, each song piling on top of the other simultaneously.

Chick Corea’s “Spain”, Abba’s “Mamma Mia” and “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac are real musical highlights. Everything arranged for ukulele – and captivating. The audience does not stint with the applause. By the time the British ensemble lays down Queen’s extremely difficult “Bohemian Rhapsody” live – in several part harmony and perfect – the auditorium is on fire. And the audience gives a standing ovation for “Eleanor Rigby”.

rdf, Pforzheimer Zeitung, 19.4.2013


A String of Pearls Made >From Melodies – From Piano to Crescendo

Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” or Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” on 28 ukulele and four miniature bass strings. Is that possible? – And how. Can one sing seven synchronised pop songs simultaneously? – One can. Tukuo (the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra) gave proof of this on Friday evening in the Teo Otto Theatre in front of a cheering public.
Rossini, incidentally, would have had a good laugh. The two ladies and six gentlemen from the United Kingdom had brought a fantastic ‘hit parade’ of classical and pop, rock, film music and jazz with them; a string of pearls made of catchy melodies, brilliant from piano to crescendo with which they swept their listeners along, made them perceptibly happy and in the end even incited them to join in.
To hear Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from a good two hundred throats is already a cause of enjoyment. “And the Uke Goes On.” Such was the title of the show: a superlative selection of pieces, airy, bright arrangements for eight instruments and voices, infectious good mood and monstrous musicality coupled with British humour. What more could one want? For two and a half hours all problems and vexations were left outside the door.

Pure Pleasure Peppered with Humour

Pure pleasure was in fashion. And there was plenty of it, peppered with humour, with equally dulcet and high-class cover versions of hits like “Mamma Mia” (Abba), “Walk Like an Egyptian” (The Bangles), “Good Vibrations” (Beach Boys), “Stayin’ Alive” with falsetto (Bee Gees), “We Will Rock You” (Queen) and many more. One is not obliged to like “Yodel-le-hi-o” or Kraftwerk, but the Tukuo versions of “Heidi” and “Das Model” one must simply love! Often, as with the film music “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” or with “I Wanna Be Like You” from “The Jungle Book” one had no choice but to whistle along loudly and cheerfully. On the subject of films: the James Bond theme tune too is suited to the ukulele – and in “The Third Man” by Anton Karas nobody missed the zither. The ukulele versions of the complex “Bohemian Rhapsody”, one of the best and most difficult rock numbers of all time and the synopsis of ‘My Sweet Lord” (George Harrison) and “He’s So Fine” (Lonnie Mack) showed themselves to be real gems in the crown.

“Rolling in the Deep” put the Cherry on the Cake

But without doubt Jessica Barr put the cherry on the cake with her golden voice and the Adele hit “Rolling in the Deep”. That touched profoundly and was acclaimed with rapture by the audience. A pleasurable evening. So should a weekend begin.

Frank Becker, Remscheid General-Anzeiger, 16.4.2013


Small but Definitely Powerful
The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra executes classics of musical history in the Schloss, Kiel

…..just British humour, from the finest and from the coarsest and with a tendency towards anarchy.
Thus, for example, the publicity for a new CD, a procedure which does not usually spare slight embarrassment becomes a star cabaret turn which satirises the stupidity of advertising slogans of the genre “greedy is groovy” and delivers helpless laughter.

And the music? Yes, the music was lively and often witty too. On seven acoustic ukuleles and one electric bass ukulele of the miniaturised kind, which held the harmonic framework together, the two ladies and six gentlemen demonstrated that one can do more than strum pseudo-Hawaiian melodies. They moved between classical, jazz, pop and rock with the assuredness of a sleepwalker and proved that, musical ability understood, everything which one can also do on the sisters and brothers of this instrument family which have been ennobled by tradition is possible on their instrument. If one wanted to single out one musician, then Jessica Barr, whose vocal capabilities would be welcomed by any jazz band.

When the orchestra then resolved the evening with an adorably funny encore: the catchy “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”, a pop parody of Haydn’s Farewell Symphony, by the end of which only one musician was still sitting on stage, the success of the evening was made complete.

Hannes Hansen, Kieler Nachrichten, 23.3.2013


Huge fun with the Tiny Guitar

…Oustandingly interpreted was David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes”, as was a medley of “No Woman No Cry”, “Forever Young”, “Let it Be” and other songs, which were subsequently mixed together in a very oblique way. With Abba’s “Mamma Mia” and the huge Fleetwood Mac hit “The Chain” the eight Brits ran to meet further ukulele heights to the applause of the audience. The Jungle Book song “I Wanna Be Like You” brought on further movement in the auditorium. Chick Corea’s masterpiece “Spain” came over in a fantastically “uke-ish” way. With “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles it came to a close. But the ukulele adepts were not allowed from the stage without an encore.

Vw, Schwetzinger Zeitung, 4.3.2013


Well Plucked and Well Yodelled

Often in concerts the ukulele is nothing more than a gimmick. Götz Alsmann likes to have fun with the little four-stringed instrument at times and Stefan Raab even tears into AC/DC riffs with this instrument which has been discredited as a child’s toy.

The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, TUKUO for short, goes much further and even contests a whole concert with ukuleles. Eight in number… with comic presentations and in addition metamorphosed pieces of music from the realms of jazz and pop.
It went down well in the Aula am Aasee on Sunday.

The Brits delivered a first stroke of brilliance with their version of the Beach Boys’ classic “Good Vibrations”. Perfect harmony singing. They even sang the theme tune from the tv series “Heidi” in German, including yodellers, true to the original. Also amusing was a trumpet solo on a garden hose which whizzed just above the heads of the ensemble members. A performance with mandatory hard hats.

We Will Rock You!

Whether it be 70s disco music by the Bee Gees, the title music of the James Bond films or the Queen classic “We Will Rock You”, it was all implemented with craftsmanship and always staged in a surprising way. Thereby Jessica Barr shone, born in Old Germany of American parents, but not only because of her accent free German; her interpretation of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep” produced goosebumps – a hit in which she convinced with her hauntingly strong voice, particularly in the high passages. The youngest member of Tukuo showed this self-assurance also in Abba’s “Mamma Mia”.

Heiko Ostendorf, Ruhr Nachrichten, Münster, 25.3.2013


Fun with Little Ukuleles

Two delightful young ladies and six gentlemen – They form the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra (TUKUO for short) which gave a rousing concert in the small hall of the Glocke. And the ukulele is the small, four-stringed ‘mini guitar’ originating from Hawaii, which became famous at the latest through the film “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe.
Each member of the British ensemble proved themself on the occasion to be not only a perfect master of the instrument but also a very respectable singer and comedian. The evening, with the catch phrase “And the Uke Goes On!” prepared the way for an infectiously good mood.
The comic interludes evidenced British humour and moved in the best Monty Python tradition. The song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” (here as an encore) turned out to be one of the highlights. And there were many, for musically nothing was safe from the ukulele orchestra: Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture or Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” were served up just as confidently as songs by David Bowie, the Beatles, Queen or the Beach Boys. Even “Das Model” by Kraftwerk found its way into the programme. In the hilariously introduced “Heidi, the Mountains are Your World”, with cuddly sheep and blond wig, the delighted audience, clapping along, could not be stopped any more. Again and again they had cause to marvel at the clever arrangements for the ukulele, which revealed a wealth of variation. Also the accomplishment singing-wise, for instance that of Jessica Barr in “Rolling in the Deep”, was outstanding. In ‘I Wanna Be Like You” from “The Jungle Book” the audience was even encouraged to sing along. A great, very British pleasure.

Wolfgang Denker, 22.4.13 Weser Kurier, Bremen


Zest for the Bizarre

When “serious” musicians commit themselves to the ukulele and they come from Great Britain, where quirky humour is at home, then tears of laughter are not missing – as on Saturday at Bad Elster.

Bad Elster. Only a few people are born humorous. Most people live off the cheerfulness of others, as the old saying goes. On Saturday in any case the audience ordered itself a whole lot of cheerfulness by buying tickets for the “U.K. Ukulele Orchestra”. The players made provision for fun and a good mood in the King Albert Theatre, Bad Elster with their new programme “And the Uke Goes On!”…In their musical, typically British comedy show they offered pop, rock, classical and jazz in their own comedic but nevertheless formidable artistic quality. When, in addition to the outstanding ukulele playing, one can sing as well as Jessica Barr, Lesley Cunningham, as Alan Dowson or Alistair MacKenzie, Dave Kavanagh or Peter Baynes and Andy Wild, as splendid singers and comic talents demonstrate, success is guaranteed.

Petra Spieler, Tageszeitung, Vogtland Anzeiger, 19.2.2013


The history of pop on the ukulele.
Incredible ukuleles: musicians of the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra onstage in the Konstanz Stadttheater.

The groove-along factor was at all events high during the two hour-long show. So high that during classics by the Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, Abba, Queen or the Bee Gees some entire seat rows rocked. Not to yield to these classics of pop history was indeed virtually impossible.
The programme was altogether very entertaining, but nevertheless some numbers stood out. For example the cover version of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’. As an artist one can really only lose when one compares oneself to Adele. That didn’t seem to be of any concern to Jessica Barr and she laid down a remarkable version.
Great also was the collage of songs in which the orchestra wove a story completely their own from hits by James Blunt, Elton John, the Beatles, Bob Marley, Boy George, Alphaville and others, which finished by merging into a many-voiced canon of pop history. Amazing how well the ukulele adapted to the various genres…
“This evening we really just wanted to demonstrate how much music there is in this small instrument,” said Peter Baynes at the end of the show. The euphoric applause of the audience that followed can be considered proof that this mission was fulfilled.

Michael Lünstroth, ‘Südkurier’, Konstanz, 2.3.13


Fun and Art with Eight Ukuleles
The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra drew a big sound out of a small instrument in the Teo Otto Theater

A small guitar-like body with four strings. That is a ukulele. The music which is played on it often sounds like scratchy strumming. The instrument does not seem adequate for more than the accompaniment of simple ditties.
Yeah, right. “Over the Rainbow”, the world-wide hit sung by Hawaiian Israel Kamakawiwo’ole and accompanied solely on ukulele, allowed a perception of what potential there is in this small instrument. The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra proved on Friday evening in the Teo Otto Theater that even really weighty pieces of music can sound full and rich with the ukulele. If one deploys it in the right way… And it seemed to become clear to everyone in the audience that in no way had they anything to regret about the evening.
It was not only the professional singing of the players which played a part but also their way of bringing their music to the people. Armed with baritone, tenor, concert and soprano ukuleles they showed with much British humour, good voices and self-evidently professional playing technique that the open reach between powerful music and the comparatively artless ukulele can be reduced to a small chink. The musicians rendered “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys almost like the original with head voices. Despite this the playing through of simple songs could have become boring in the long run. But the orchestra demonstrated that concealed behind ‘United Kingdom’ lay typical British humour à la Rowan Atkinson (“Mr. Bean”) or Monty Python.
And then when the encores rang out, “Eleanor Rigby” (the Beatles) and the well-known “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” by Monty Python from the film “The Life of Brian”, accompanied by standing ovations, everyone could go home joyfully.

Bernd Geisler, Bergische Morgenpost, 15.4.2013


Standing Ovations for “Heidi”
The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra in the Karlsruhe Konzerthaus

The Ukulele as an instrument is in itself a joke and belongs perhaps in the curiosity cabinet but not necessarily in concert halls. Those who were in the Karlsruhe Konzerthaus may well be of a completely different opinion. After two and a half hours of top entertainment by the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra (TUKUO) a highly contented public left the auditorium in relaxed mood.
Whether it’s David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes”, “Mamma Mia”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “No Woman No Cry” as a mash-up with “Let it Be” or Kraftwerk’s “Das Model”, whatever the musicians of TUKUO turn their hands to, one is guaranteed high artistic quality, excellent musicians, great voices, irrepressible enjoyment in playing and any amount of British humour.
After two successful European tours the British musicians (current line up: Doug Henning, Jessica Barr, Alistair MacKenzie, Peter Baynes, Andy Wild, Dave Kavanagh, Alan Dowson and Lesley Cunningham) are once again on tour in Germany, poaching in tried and tested style from pop, rock, classical and jazz, together with their penchant for Monty Python. It’s clear that an off-kilter approach is de rigeur and that musical borders are to be demolished with relish.
The ukulele per se is not exactly an instrument which one can rely on to give depth to a piece of music. It’s fascinating that TUKUO achieves just that. It would be simple to let the ironic twist, which the instrument is inherently capable of, do its work on each serious sound and to leave it at that. But indeed the group does not stumble into that trap. They do not ditch the dignity of the pieces but make it distinguishable through the seriousness of the interpretation, in the face of the contrast of the instrumentation.
At the same time the orchestra misses no opportunity to make announcements which are beyond dry humour, almost dusty. They incorporate witty gimmicks and pull comical faces. Wild announces Rossini’s William Tell Overture with an arrow-pierced cap, Jessica Barr’s inflatable cuddly sheep leads into a shrill ukulele-yodelling version of “Heidi” and with “Stayin’ Alive” Wild screws his voice up so high that the three Gibb Brothers would turn green with envy. It is Wild, richly blessed with comic talent, who improvises the most truly oblique publicity spiel for the live CD, rhymes included.
Ingeniously and with quickness of tongue the musicians poke fun at each other. But the audience also gets teased again and again. Anyone who passes TUKUO off as simple ‘musical cabaret’ is doing them an injustice: for it is first and foremost the musicians’ mastery of their instruments, so versatile despite having only four strings, that makes TUKUO such an experience.
With standing ovations, hands hot with clapping and with extreme reluctance the audience allows the musicians to leave the hall after “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. And they take home with them that piece of advice, quite without irony.

Ute Eppinger, Badische Neueste Nachrichten BNN, Karlsruhe, 11.3.2013


Ukulele Sound “Very British”
The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra delighted the audience in the Kongresshalle with its crazy show “We Will Uke You!”

The Hawaiian garlands dangle airily from the microphone stands. Behind this an eight-piece orchestra. The men are wearing suits and bow ties, the women black evening dresses. All have a ukulele on their lap. A comical sight which signifies, “Whoever believes that this plucked string instrument originating from Hawaii is boring is about to be taught a lesson by the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra (TUKUO for short).
The unusual orchestra from Great Britain delighted the audience in the Kongresshalle with its crazy show “We Will Uke You!” In the repertoire: pieces from classical to rock, oldies and current hits as well as long forgotten treasures and such as one would prefer to forget. All combined with a “very British” humour and some astonishing elements. At times there is swaying together, at times faces are pulled, at times the record gets stuck in a groove. Then one of the orchestras stands up, kicks the stage and everything runs smoothly again. The ladies and gentlemen from all around Great Britain know how to combine singing with putting on a show and only they can achieve the seamless transition from “Heidi, the mountains are your world” to “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys.

TUKUO receives much acclaim for their rendition of “Das Model” by Kraftwerk and contrary to all the misgivings of the orchestra members it is even completely accent-free. With “Walk Like an Egyptian,” “Rolling in the Deep” and “Staying Alive” exceptional singing talents surface, which one misses in German talent shows. In “Staying Alive” one could think that the late Robin Gibb had come in person to Giessen in order to sing his greatest hit one last time. After that it gets hot, as first of all the James Bond instrumental is given pride of place, then with the rock classic “We Will Rock You” it even comes to shirts being unbuttoned.
The catchy Queen tune lends its name to the TUKUO tour and so out of the refrain “we will rock you” soon comes “we will uke you”.
The audience doesn’t need much invitation and stamps and claps along with the beat until the floor quakes. Nobody who left the hall on this evening will still believe the ukulele is something only for specialist fans. At all events the United Kingdom Orchestra has held its promise: to “uke” its audience.

‘abt’, Gießener Allgemeine 3/5/13


Small Guitars; Big on Repartee

“We will Uke You.” The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra sends the Stadthalle in Gersthofen wild with its British humour. No wonder, when Paul McCartney is teamed up with Monty Python.
By Thomas Hack

Gersthofen, “We Will Uke You”. The very name of the new show suggested that here a very special concert would be unleashed on the public in the Gersthofen Stadthalle. And when Monty Python gets together with Paul McCartney this is the best way to describe the whimsical character of the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra which, under the leadership of Peter Moss, is enthusing listeners across Europe.

Already in the opening piece, “Sabre Dance”, the strings of the little ukulele are struck with storm force. The nimble fingers of the performing artists slide dynamically over their mini-instruments and bring out from them an incomparable and fresh sound. What followed was a plucked and sung pot pourri of arrangements stretching from Tchaikovsky to Bob Marley.

But the British are British and thus a large part of the concert was given over to the global hits of the four moptops from Liverpool. But it’s not through the unusual music alone that the orchestra has achieved international fame, it’s also through the raven-black humour of the British island kingdom. Totally in the style of the Monty Python comedy troupe the ukulele rockers increasingly displayed their innate talent for fooling around – be it through utterly senseless original compositions (“Broccoli, Broccoli”) or the oblique upstage ballet of a lumbago sufferer.

It was almost as surreal when the eight Brits proved their yodelling skills and together with an inflatable mountain goat gave the theme tune from “Heidi” their best shot. During Rossini’s ‘William Tell Overture” a proper looking crossbow arrow promptly came into deployment, whereas the “Third Man” got jokingly caught in an endless loop, as if the whole thing were not a live concert but a scratched long-playing record.

Even the medleys of well known pieces emerged as true gems: whilst other bands simply string similar rhythms together the Ukulele Orchestra combines interpretations which could not be more different – such as baroque composer J S Bach and the hippy band Procul Harum.
The selection of compositions was lovingly put together and many of the pieces could hardly have been outdone in rarity value. One does not too often hear “Frère Jaques” in Swedish, or the music of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, who likewise took their ukuleles in their hands in the classic film “Sons of the Desert,” in order to dish up a Hawaiian cock and bull story to their put-upon spouses.

Thunderous cheering and applause and a standing ovation showed clearly that this cool show was an absolute hit with the audience. In the encore once again all the talents of the band were applied headlong: in “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” the mood climbed to a last peak until finally the entire audience joined in vociferously with the chorus. Only once all the musicians had left the stage, or with reference to the lyrics of the song had got down off the cross, did something akin to calm return to the hall.
Our English peers would undoubtedly describe this splendid and crazy show, full of impetuous joy in the playing and masterly comic performance with the following words: “Very British…and plugging good!”

Thomas Hack in the Augsburger Allgemeiner, 20th March 2012


Scintillating musicality and imaginative arrangements

Kurhaus, 14th April

After two and a half hours of music – and what music – you couldn’t hear anything above the curtain calls. A concert was coming to an end which seemed to be blithely effective and which didn’t shy away from striking moments, which was versatile, creative and witty.

Notes swing on the carousel of genres and styles tirelessly, from serious music to light, the divide between them long since reconciled, but still good for making contrasts.

Highly musical, each single protagonist in this double quartet, instrumental virtuosi besides and singers with charisma to boot.

On Sunday in the Kurhaus the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra demonstrated the truth of the proposition that there are only two kinds of music, namely good and bad. More correctly that should be well done or badly done.

The British are said to have a certain stiffness and a sense of humour that one needs to get used to. There was no trace of that this evening. Instead, a rollicking sense of fun and some ping-pong conversation which hit the spot and entertained the audience tremendously. In close to fine Oxford English it was very understandable.

There was a magic moment of musical comedy, whose exponents were capable of imperceptibly subverting Bach’s ‘Air’ into a well known pop song. Players who didn’t take themselves so seriously; their art, however, very much so. Whose interpretations of Beatles Songs are even vocally completely crazy and who knew how to warble the Heidi song in a way that made German kitsch stand all alone, naked.

What an instrument, this ukulele. Only four strings, but one can play the ‘Sabre Dance’ from Aran Khachaturian’s ballet Gayane on it, just as one can the old song ‘Frère Jaques’. The latter, moreover, is to be sung in many languages, whereby the alleged lie about the British that they don’t apply themselves willingly to learning foreign languages is debunked.

“A musician must love his public,” said the jazz musician Klaus Doldinger once in an interview. But who might already be in the comfortable situation of being loved back by their public? The two ladies and six gentlemen of the Ukulele Orchestra don’t have any problem. They were celebrated by their public. “We wanted to show that there is much music in this small instrument,” was the resumé of an evening full of charm, aplomb and musical radiance.

Prepared by an ensemble that supports and hangs its heart on the project ‘Ukuleles for Peace’. It makes the musicians even more sympathetic that they support the shared (!) music making of Israeli and Palestinian children in Israel.

Barbara Kaiser, Allgemeine Zeitung, 16.4.12


Overwhelming, Masterly, Brilliant!
Amazing versatility on four strings: the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra enthralled the audience at the Parktheater Iserlohn:

To blend Bach’s ‘Air’ with Procul Harum’s ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ is courageous and definitely not for amateurs. However, when adepts like the instrumentalists of the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra take on this musical venture the results can be stunning for the audience. And so it was on Sunday during their two sold-out performances, when the virtuosi of the orchestra from the United Kingdom, under the leadership of Peter Moss, unified the two classics into one awesome whole as if the composers had never intended anything else.
There is a tendency to reduce the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra to fun-factor, to musical cabaret skills. That, however, is to do the ensemble a basic injustice. Of course it’s not only the dry, almost dust-raisingly humorous announcements; of course TUKUO lets hardly any opportunity go past to build any number of witty gimmicks into their work. But above everything else it’s the mastery of this small, wonderful and, despite only having four strings, versatile instrument that makes TUKUO such an experience.
‘Eleanor Rigby’ or ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ sparkle in the brilliance of the perfection which this ensemble develops. ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Stayin’ Alive’ compare favourably to the originals for their drive. ‘The Third Man’,’Pink Panther’ and even ‘Heidi’ are huge fun for the ears. When the musicians let fly with their fingers the boundaries between rock, pop and classical, between old and new disappear. It’s all just wonderful music, perhaps always executed with tongue-in-cheek, but always with timeless brilliance.
The enthusiastic audience called for three encores. Previously the orchestra had dismissed its rapt public into the interval with the slightly re-titled Queen classic ‘We will Uke You’, which never before sounded quite like this. Nothing need be added.

25.4.2012 (tp) Iserlohner Kreiszeitung


Orchestra with an arrow through the head

Kiel. All good things come in fours. Or eight times four? The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, TUKUO, struck and plucked furiously on the little four-stringer through classics, hits, rock, pop, jazz or funk and after more than two hours they left the stage at the Pumpe to a standing ovation.
The little gags and fillers make up the appeal of the show, though their application is not overdone. The orchestra gets going on a serious note with Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’ but straight afterwards give their performance a tilt with ‘I’m The Urban Spaceman’.
Nice idea: when the musicians get stuck in a groove during ‘Theme from the Third Man’ Party Queen and Rock Chick Lesley Cunningham helps the song back on track with a mighty stamp of the foot on the stage floor.
For the ‘William Tell Overture’ by Rossini, Andy Wild appears with an arrow through his head: an “accident”. The arrow pierces his skull rather than the apple; a symbol for the quirky performance of TUKUO.
Musical highpoints are Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, a ukulele masterpiece with great vocal harmonies and also Chick Corea’s ‘Spain’, whose technical exigencies the octet meets at all times.
Heavily “uked” by Monty Python’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, the public made its way home whistling and singing.

Kai-Peter Boysen, Kieler Nachrichten, 18.5.12


The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra offered top entertainment in Kassel

Under the musical directorship of Tony Young classics like ‘The Third Man’ (Anton Karas) and ‘Pink Panther’ (Mancini) bounced off against rocksongs, jazz and disco hits. A brilliantly sung ‘The Chain’ (Fleetwood Mac) and ‘Brass in Pocket’ (Pretenders) left behind a lasting impression even before the interval.
But with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Queen) and ‘Broccoli” (TUKUO) the orchestra stamped the band’s name on the musical memory of the listener. The blond wig of singer Sarah Dale for ‘Mama Mia’ (Abba) will be quickly forgotten, as will the broken arrow through the head of singer Andy Wild for ‘Michelle’ (Beatles). However the interpretations of ‘Spain’ (Chick Corea) and ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ (Beatles) will not disappear so quickly. The applause, which didn’t want to end, was rewarded with three encores.

Andreas Köthe, Hessischen Niedersächsischen Allgemeinen Zeitung, 7.5.12


The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra on tour !

It is a perfectly orchestrated musical joke: thrashing, plucking, singing and whistling the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra whips concert halls into a frenzy.
Following 2011 the comical, highly professional ensemble is now once again on tour in Germany. Do not miss on any account.

8 March 2012 —- SWR – Television


From Honolulu to the Empire

The performance in the Capitol showed, this time once again, that the excentric choice of instrument has been more than worth it.
With their current programme “We will Uke You” the eight musicians engaged more than once the bright register of stagecraft and hurled themselves into magnificent cover versions, from Fleetwood Mac and Abba via Rossini to the Pretenders.
The finger picking musicians revealed themselves to be not only spot on instrumentalists but also comedians, for whom the tea-bag imp sloshed out of the cup quite a few times.

Mannheimer Morgen, 19. März 2012


Bouncy Brits

The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra from London wowed the predominantly young people in the Frankfurt Alte Oper with poppy melodies.

“Always look on the Bright Side of Life”. This snappy song seems to be something of a motto for the eight jokesters from the U.K. (including two women, the youngest member being a Scot).
Vienna was part of their little musical world trip which also led to Switzerland. “Heidi” hooted out from seven throats and eight instruments. The pastoral idyll arises; in this way one creates atmosphere. With “Frère Jacques” the journey leads right across Europe as far as Russia. Verbally, at least, though the melody remains the same. The underlying fun is found in the sound of the words.
The eight musicians are particularly familiar with the Beatles, of course. The fresh, undistorted sound lies well with this music and the instruments are well fitted to it.
The legendary Night of the Proms shines out in “Land of Utopia” and “Rule Britannia” and one can almost believe one hears something of the patriotic fervour in the sound of the ukulele, which otherwise only comes from the Royal Albert Hall or Hyde Park. A happy evening.

29. March 2012, GN, Frankfurter Neue Presse


It’s not about size

The reputation of the ukulele is transforming: from children’s plaything to serious instrument. The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra showed on Tuesday evening with a brilliant and entertaining musical cabaret show that it is more than just an inferior type of guitar.
Admittedly the sight of the ukulele players on the stage of the Theaterfabrik Sachsen was inherently and unintentionally comic. This was due to the conspicuous disproportion of the breadth of hand and length of arm in relation to the cute, handbaggage-sized instrument.
This curiosity was surely evident to BBC conductor and Musical Director of the show Peter Moss when he took over the leadership of the orchestra in 2009, arranged music from Abba to Queen for the bonsai-guitar and sent eight musicians off on tour.
In the well-filled hall in the Leipziger Westen the bill adds up: 260 entertained audience members thunderously applauding the six gentlemen and two ladies, who, as befits proper Brits, present themselves in evening dress and fuel the atmosphere with one wow-effect after the other.

The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra: that is two hours of musical cabaret… And in this way the orchestra makes it clear in a charming way that it doesn’t depend on the size of the instrument. Technique alone counts.

Tobias Ossyra, Leipziger Volkszeitung, 3.5.12.


Big Sounds from Small Instruments

The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra enraptured the audience in the Roundhouse, Bielefeld

‘Heidi, Heidi, the mountains are your world. Heidi, Heidi, for up here you are at home.’ This comes yodelling out of eight grown-up throats which, armed with mini-guitars, turn the concert hall into a children’s playground.
The UK Ukulele Orchestra were guests in the Ringlokschuppen during their tour of Germany, and enchanted the predominantly mature audience with musical delicacies, much fooling around and much British humour.
After a successful tour last autumn the musicians of Peter Moss’s orchestra are now travelling through the land with “We Will Uke You” and they are spreading enthusiasm with this small, stringed instrument, from which they coax big sounds. Their adaptations are just as varied as their programme. So J.S.Bach’s ‘Air’ shines resplendent in brand new raiment whilst ‘Staying Alive’ comes over in even squeakier guise than the original. From classical, through rock and pop to jazz, they turn all musical genres to account with humour and in their own charming way.
The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra pluck and trill the strings so that they just fly, or caress them gently as if they were a lover’s skin. Beside the six men in the select ukulele circle the two ladies, Lesley Cunningham (party queen and rock chick) and Sarah Dale (goat lover and ballet artiste) are well able to assert themselves. In particular Dale’s soprano soars above nearly all the titles in the second half of the concert, her glass-clear voice performing them with consistent grace. The joker of the ensemble, Andy Wild, is the victim of a bow and arrow gag à la William Tell, in which the apple remains unscathed. Luckily the two halves of the arrow can be removed from the head without leaving any splinters.
With the upbeat ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ the musicians took their leave after a fun-packed programme of more than two hours, deservedly reaping all the classic facets of acclaim. They left behind a most happily entertained audience, who left the hall whistling.

Melanie Gieselmann, Neue Westfälische Zeitung 23.04.2012


Nothing is sacred to the Brits

The «United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra» combined British humour with musical finesse at the „Alte Oper“ in Frankfurt.

One would think that the musicians must have small fingers to be able to play this instrument, but even if the frets are smaller than those on the guitar, what really counts is the precision work – and in that sense the six gentlemen and the two ladies are masters of their profession. There are distinctions between baritone, tenor, concert and soprano ukulele, as with other instruments too. In this octet all are represented, and every musician is a virtuoso on his or her instrument. But the main focus in the presentation of the British is not technical discipline or the art of interpretation, not to mention classical reverence; it is almost musical cabaret.

From pop to rock, from German to English hits and even hard rock, all integrated, satirised and made fun of, so that one has to wipe away one’s tears of laughter while listening. But Kytsun Wolfe, who does most of the – ludicrous – announcements, and Tony Young are also good singers. As are the two perfect lady ukulele musicians Sarah Dale and Lesley Cunningham. Together with Doug Henning, Andy Wild, Alan Sweeney and Peter Baynes they go poaching through three decades of rock and pop history and bend the hits until one can hardly recognise them anymore.

After «My Generation» from «The Who» follow the kitsch fairy-tale queen «Heidi», pieces by «The Beatles», «The Pretenders» and even punk from «The Clash» and sudden excursions into film scores such as Alexis Sorbas or Monty Python. An excellent evening.

Article from the „Frankfurter Neue Presse“, March 21st, 2011


Under the title: The ukulele rocks

The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra doesn’t dig deep into folklore – the ukulele, the „jumping flea“ (which is supposed to be the literal English translation of the Hawaiian) and its nimble, flitting, cheeky, sometimes dreamy sound, lends itself well to popular music.

So the audience in the ‘Mozartsaal’ of the Liederhalle in Stuttgart experienced on Saturday how well pacific serenity and dry British humour go together. Five gentlemen and two ladies with ukuleles plus one gentleman with a ukulele bass played pieces by Paul McCartney, the Bee Gees, The Clash, Queen, Rossini and Monty Python with sunny strumming strings. They sang and danced as well, jumped, put on sunglasses and occasionally pretended to be Bob Dylan. The music of the Orchestra is pleasing, but above all foolish, attractive and accomplished. In a joyful, non-serious way the ukuleles stole the show from James Blunt two days before his guest performance in Stuttgart by pinching his greatest song. ‘Did you have a nice break?’ asked one ukulele player after the interval. ‘Are you drunk?’ That’s how it should be.

‘Stuttgarter Nachrichten’, 21. 3. 2011


At the end the audience and the musicians could hardly bear to part

The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra started its tour at the Harres in St. Leon Rot and enthused with wit and musicality

With the Sabre Dance by Khachaturian the band opened the concert in brilliant fashion. (…)

During the evening the players didn’t only use their small instruments on stage but also their melodious voices. In doing so it seemed there were no style boundaries which would have been insurmountable for the British band. (…) Especially interesting was a quodlibet of the songs ‘You’re beautiful’, ‘Let it be’, ‘I come from a land down under’, ‘Do you really want to hurt me’ and ‘Forever Young’, at first sung as a medley, one after the other, then all simultaneously in wondrous harmony. (…)

By Maria Bierwald ‘Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung’, 21. 3. 2011


TUKUO IN KARLSRUHE

Karlsruhe (bb). During their tour through Germany the Ukulele Orchestra from London made a halt in the the „Fan-City“ Karlsruhe. The ensemble, consisting of two ladies and six gentlemen, gave its first guest performance in the Konzerthaus. >From the opening number, the breakneck classical piece “Sabre Dance” by Khachaturian, everyone in the audience realised that these are absolute ukulele professionals at work. And it is astonishing what kind of sounds they elicit from this not very elaborate-looking miniature guitar. And what is even more important is that one can tell how much fun they have, which immediately spreads throughout the whole auditorium. After a brilliant, groovy rendition of „My Generation“ (The Who) it’s the turn of Sarah Dale, one of the two female ukulele players. With her excellent singing voice she pitches in with the signature tune of the ancient television series „Heidi“ and there is no more holding back. The audience provides the alpine echo.

Then they go right through the rock and pop history of the last thirty years and everyone has lots of fun. Furthermore it sounds extremely good due to the diverse voices of Anthony Young, Andy Wild and Kytsun Wolfe. The young Scottish musician Alan Sweeney is an excellent master of the soprano ukulele. Lesley Cunnigham, a great ukulele player originally from New Zealand, becomes the front woman and rocks the piece „Brass in Pocket“. And then one listens to classical music again: A Rossini overture or Sarah Dale and Anthony Young’s highly original opera-swing-version of „O mio babbino caro“.

One can hardly stop being astonished by what these musicians elicit from their voices and their instruments. With the interspersion of bizarre dialogue and funny ideas the orchestra also delivers an entertaining show. This is somewhat in contrast to the well-known Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, which has also played in Karlsruhe before. This is a presentation one could call musical cabaret and it is simply funnier and more informal.

Eight professionals, who are equally at home in jazz, classical, rock and pop music, offer a diverse programme of the best musical quality. An evening which the audience won’t forget. Here is hoping that the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra will perform in the Konzerthaus again soon. Standing ovations, intense applause and parquet floor drumming, with which the audience got three encores, will then surely happen again.

BOULEVARD BADEN, Karlsruhe 22. 3. 2011


Fun with mini guitars

This selection of music and performance offers something for every taste, but is suited to a German audience. A wonderfully interpreted Beatles song (‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’) or a clapalong hit such as „Rote Lippen“ sung by the Cliff Richard double Kytsun Wolfe. One should understand some English however to be able to understand the announcements and jokes but one can relax when Sarah Dale or Peter Baynes tell the story about the song in very good German. The humour is not especially dry, but typically English is the extreme inclination to self-mockery, the relaxed playing with diverse styles of music and the way of involving the audience. After a certain time of acclimatisation the audience was very taken with TUKUO and whistled the Monty Python hit ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ by itself during the break. And furthermore they didn’t want to let the orchestra leave without several encores.

By Anneke Brüning, ‘Badische Neueste Nachrichten’

( BNN – Karlsruhe ), 23. 3. 2011


With Pleasurable Lightness

The ukulele, odd instrument, always looks like a plaything. But in the well-filled Konzerthaus the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra showed that it is indeed a proper instrument. The six gentlemen and two ladies showed a seasoned accomplishment in a quirky alliance of virtuosic mastery and hearty hullabaloo.

In addition the musicians sang in an elegant barber shop style, executed comic dance interludes and submitted evidence that even British people can be polyglots.
Of course thoroughbred English delicacies such as “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Rule Britannia” could not be left out, both of which were put together and then named “Land of Hope and Britannia”. And that one can rock in perfectly proper manner with a ukulele is proved by Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We will Rock You”. All this was achieved with a great lightness which quickly made one forget how tricky the arrangements were. That is indeed the sign of mastery, and this is usually accompanied by understatement. Not only in Great Britain, but there they do it especially beautifully. And that went down well. For it was only by putting the house lights up that the audience could be made to move.

Jens Wehn in the Badische Neueste Nachrichten, Karlsruhe, 26.3.12


The Ukulele Orchestra in the Karlsruhe Konzerthaus

Karlsruhe: Those who came out of the Konzerthaus on Saturday amidst the thunderous applause and after several encores had smiles on their faces. Two hours of good comedy and music had flown quickly by, so enthralling and entertaining was the brilliant show of excellent music and British comedic talent by the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra. It is difficult to recall all the individual pieces heard in this fast-paced mix, which ran right through musical history. It goes from the old master Johann Sebastian Bach (mashed together with Procol Harum), Rossini, the Beatles, composers for film such as Henry Mancini (“Pink Panther”) or Laurel and Hardy’s “Honolulu Baby”, through pop (Abba) and rock (Queen) to the Pretenders or Fleetwood Mac.

Sarah Dale, who, as last year, had already given voice to her TV mountain cantata “Heidi” for all goat-lovers, slips into the boots of Lee Hazlewood’s and Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots were made for Walking”, contorts herself, lumbago-ridden, to Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” or parodies the armour-clad goddess Britannia in a mini-edition of “Last Night of the Proms”. Lesley Cunningham, a young New Zeelander living in London, is convincing as self-declared “Party Queen” with a rock version of Chrissie Hynde’s “Brass in Pocket”.

Their own compositions also now belong in the repertoire of the Ukulele Orchestra. Peter Baynes composed the fast and furious title “Broccoli, Broccoli” during his time working with ukulele-playing children. The reason is evident: all children hate broccoli!
Alan Sweeney – ironically classed as third world because of his Scottish heritage- and Alan “Robin Hood” Dowson, who hails from Nottingham, have command of the complicated, fast ukulele passages. They are admirable artists of precision on these miniature instruments. One is reminded of the heyday of Monty Python when one watches the comic talent of Andy Wild; his high-pitched, squeaky version of “Staying Alive” or his bizarre introductions hit perfectly the crazy tone of British self-deprecation.
Not forgetting the older, likeable gentleman on the bass, Douglas Henning. He appears to accompany the whole musical excursion of this mad family with stoical equanimity, though already in Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” he displays agile solo bass breaks which in no way give away his age.

It should be noted about this family that a pre-historic rock from the BBC is responsible for the musical direction. It is Peter Moss – himself not on stage – who devised musically the longest running comedy show in the world for British radio. Following his participation in the famous “Rocky Horror Show” he has pulled off another devilish masterwork with the “United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra”. It remains to be hoped that this unique orchestra will soon once again make a tour-stop in the Karlsruhe Konzerthaus.

Boulevard Baden, Karlsruhe 26/3/12


Punchy String Force from the Island

Mannheim. The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra aroused enthusiasm in a sold-out Capitol with the huge versatility of the little guitar.

“Before we came on stage I was able to take a peek to see what the average age of the audience was this evening: 25!” With these words Kytsun Wolfe greets the full rows of spectators in the Mannheim Capitol. “Of course, I wear glasses!” From the word go the endearing, acerbic humour which we so appreciate in our island neighbours underscores the concert by the eight musicians of the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra.

This is fundamentally built into the composition of the orchestra. What else are we to expect when eight adults sit on a stage with these wonderfully chirpy children’s guitars and play right through the history of music? We do not want to do an injustice to the small guitar in this place, for one can no longer imagine our musical world without this instrument, which came originally from Portugal and became known as the ukulele in Hawaii. From Marilyn Monroe’s performance in “Some Like it Hot” to Amanda Palmer’s newly released CD of cover versions of Radiohead, all of which are accompanied by the ukulele. However with all due respect we should not forget that ukulele translated means “jumping flea”. That very name conveys the wink of the eye by which everything is driven this evening on those short strings, for two hours, from the Beatles to the Radetsky March. Doug Henning, Tony Young, Sarah Dale, Andy Wild, Lesley Cunningham, Alan Sweeney, Peter Baynes and Kytsun Wolfe not only show themselves to be precise experts on their instruments but also brilliant performers of musical cabaret. Despite having the old court jester deep in their veins they never completely lose respect for their musical ‘victims’. No matter whether it’s the Who’s “My Generation”, which is sweetly plucked, or the Clash’s “London Calling” experiencing a most attractive rejuvenation, there is lots of fun. “This song is dedicated to all the men in the audience,” announces Sarah Dale before bending her plaits upwards and fervently starting to sing “Heidi”. No matter whether it’s McCartney’s “Urban Spaceman”, Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are made for Walking” or Abba’s “Mamma Mia”, the ladies and gentlemen are just as convincing vocally as they are with the stringed instruments in their hands. So it is no wonder if at the end of this powerful excursion no-one in the audience really wants to take leave of their eight new friends on the stage. But one can be sure that this will not be the last visit to Mannheim of these ladies and gentlemen.

Bernd Mand, Mannheimer Morgen, 27.3.2011


Four stringed versatility

The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra in the Wiesbaden Kurhaus

(…) In the Kurhaus TUKUO, not to be confused, of course, with the somewhat elderly Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOGB), gave a sample of what can be dismantled with the mini-battle-axe baptised on Hawaii, be it rock, pop, punk or classical. The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra, then, consists of two delightful ladies and six gentlemen in tuxedos who, after a supposedly dead-serious opening with Kachaturian’s “Sabre Dance”, very quickly make it clear that TUKUO stands for a kind of no-holds-barred musical cabaret in the tradition of Monty Python. (…) And the more-than-wilful mix works tremendously well, reaching a climax with a wonderfully harmonious medley composed of “You’re Beautiful” (James Blunt), “Let It Be” (Beatles), “Down Under” (Men At Work), “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” (Culture Club) and Alphaville’s “Forever Young”. At the end of the invigoratingly playful sitting of the little orchestra, which supports, through the

project “Ukuleles for Peace”, new growth between Israelis and Palestinians by means of the four strings, there is a standing ovation.

Peter Müller, Wiesbadener Kurier, 29.3.2011


The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra in “The Harmonie”

(…) And that is the small but telling difference between the countless ukulele formations that are travelling through the land: at times it’s the instrument that is in the foreground, at others it’s the eccentricity of the performers. Cunning. The musicians of the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra are all about comedy. With them the ukulele often takes a back seat until one almost forgets what shrewd musicians one is facing. With Sarah Dale, the soprano who scales the highest notes of the schmaltzy “Heidi”, Peter Baynes, who mimicks a passable Bob Dylan and Andy Wild, who pokes fun at the Bee Gees in a squeaky voice. And then we finally come to the point: first the self-appointed Ukes throw themselves into action, then comes the big moment for Felix, Max und Werner, three amateur musicians from the audience. For “Muss i denn” they are invited onto the stage, armed with their ukuleles. Huge fun.

Michaela Adick, “Heilbronner Stimme”, 2.4.2011


Plinky-plop through classical and pop

The United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra conjured up a smile on the faces of visitors to the City Hall

Musically highbrow and so comic as to make you roar with laughter. For over two hours on Sunday evening the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra made a gigantic charm offensive for a tiny string instrument.

(…) Plink and plop go the fishingline-thin nylon strings of the ukulele. Chords can be heard for just long enough to distinguish major from minor. Anyone who, given these conditions, goes on stage with Kachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” definitely wants to make a point: ‘Listen up to what our pocket size instrumentation has to offer!’ However minimal the tonal yield of the ukulele may be, it is an enormously percussive piece of equipment, and indeed the United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra summons up a large part of its precise dynamic from the rhythmical fine-workings of the arrangements by Peter Moss. Kytsun Wolfe, visually a Cliff Richard clone, sits at the centre of this strummed charm offensive and comperes the show of the octet, whose repertoire ploughs a furrow between operatic arias and the Clash. That alone would already be first class entertainment, but a TUKUO evening becomes totally and hugely fun through small, finely placed comic elements and big voices, so typically British that the waving of Union Jacks brought along by some members of the audience didn’t once look out of place. The young Alan Sweeney, Peter Baynes next to him, Sarah Dale, Tony Young, Lesley Cunningham and Andy Wild all have their great vocal  moments, inciting their audience to clap to the “Heidi” melody and Bee Gees numbers alike. A lot happens between stage and auditorium, and there is yet more: strengthened by two visitors to the City Hall the orchestra becomes a ten-piece for “Muss i denn.” Only one person remains silent, smiling. That bass players are, per se, cool dudes is well known. That Doug Henning, together with the legendary Jim Marshall, developed the first valve amplifier what feels like a hundred years ago, since when the British pop and music scene could not be imagined without him, that, on the other hand, is very little known, at least in Germany. But no need to imagine: Big Daddy smiles and plucks the strings with clockwork timing, reggae or Radetski March, and provides the volume of the deep tones for the orchestra. So in the end monster numbers like “Bohemian Rhapsody” succeed with complete effortlessness; or a multilayered vocal medley of James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”, “No Woman No Cry”, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”, “Let it Be” and “Down Under”. All of this comes over with large amounts of self-mocking understatement and it comes so lithely from the hips. Perhaps it is precisely that which could provide cult status for one German mandolin orchestra or another.

Carsten Beckmann, Oberhessische Presse Marburg, 12.4.2011

( translated by Annette Bungers )

Comments are closed.