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
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 during which it becomes clear that Peter Moss’s band has been put together in order to have a share in the success of the longer established and rival Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. The gags are scripted, the fillers rehearsed. Every minute is worth it nevertheless because it is actually a damn good copy. At times it is clearly more relaxed and enjoyable than the original. 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 )