George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will be at Worthing Assembly Hall on Wednesday, November 14.
Their new show charts the Ukes’ rise from curiosity to virtuosity, from village hall to the Royal Albert Hall. The Ukes of GB have performed for the British Royal Family and at the BBC Proms. Now they are adding a little festive frivolity to the show.
The Orchestra was formed in 1985 as a bit of fun, but the first gig was an instant sell-out, and they’ve been performing ever since. By 1988 they had released an LP, appeared on BBC TV, played at WOMAD and recorded a BBC Radio 1 session.
The current ensemble has been playing together for more than 20 years and has given thousands of sold-out concerts across the world, including Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Poland, France, America, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.
They have more recently performed sell-out shows at the Sydney Opera House (2012), The Royal Albert Hall (2009, 2012) and New York’s Carnegie Hall (2010, 2012).The Ukulele Orchestra’s music has been used in films, plays, and commercials, while film clips of the Orchestra’s live concerts and TV appearances on websites such as YouTube have been watched millions of times. Collaborators have included Madness, David Arnold, The British Film Institute, The Ministry of Sound, Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) and The Kaiser Chiefs.
For this festive themed show the audience are invited to watch the tutorials online and learn the parts so they can join in on Good King Wenceslas, Jingle Bells and We Wish You A Merry Christmas.
Orchestra founder George Hinchliffe recalls “We were not thinking it was going to be a long-term project. What happened was that we found it entertaining for ourselves, and the audiences seemed to like it over the years.
“It was just a local pub. We said ‘let’s get something together as a group of friends’. It was almost like a karaoke really. We just put up a poster and more people came than we thought.”The ukulele became their instrument of choice a week or so before: “We have all played them before, but not particularly seriously. It was just a bit of fun - and an ironic choice of instrument, though some of that irony has perhaps been lost since then.” The irony of course was that it was an unlikely instrument - “not the kind of instrument you’d be likely to hear in a pub gig context!”
But it proved a winner: “It is small and portable and cheap, and it is a fully chromatic instrument. You can play any notes on it.”
And the Ukes do indeed play any notes on it - everything from Tchaikovsky to Nirvana via Otis Reading, Bowie, The Undertones and Kate Bush.
But as George suggests, the instrument is not necessarily the primary thing: “What we are doing is using the performers, their personalities, their characters, their entertainment expertise, their musicality...
“Whether we are using the ukulele - or it could be the bassoon for that matter - the point is that the performers have got something going for them. It is more to do with the members of the orchestra than the actual ukulele - though of course we have all got a soft spot for the ukulele!”
Tickets for George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain With Bells On at the Assembly Hall, Worthing are available from the Worthing Theatres box office on 01903 206206 and online at worthingtheatres.co.uk.