Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain at Blackheath Halls – 1st March 2014

Amazing how time flies.

It’s over two years since I last saw the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain  (UOGB) play live at Blackheath Halls.  Last Saturday night I went to see them play there again, this time with the most perfect person to see them with – my uke-playing dad who lives one road away from the venue and who has played ukelele to us since we were kids. You can read more about him and that other famous uke player Eddie Vedder (the dream team of ukelele duos) here!

uke dad

Apart from more grey hairs (and that’s just the audience), not much has changed since the last UOGB gig I saw in 2009.  You can read more about that here.  Much of what I wrote last time is still valid.  In most ways this is a good thing.  The standard of playing was still really high, I still really enjoyed it, my highlights were the same highlights as before.  OK, so I also had the same reservations about the jokes (which I really encourage them to do less of or at least less rambly versions of), but this is not my main gripe.

My main gripe was that there was not enough new material.  It didn’t detract from the evening at the time but I do feel like I had heard most songs before, if not at Blackheath last time then the time before that…Don’t tell me I have seen them play too many times!  I think you can expect new ‘stuff’ when you see a band play, can’t you?

The only new song I really noticed was (wait for it) Get Lucky.  I mean, Pharrell gets everywhere these days, especially on this blog, so it’s no big surprise that he should turn up at a ukelele concert too.  Being placed in a set with Le Freak as its final encore, it makes me wonder which UOGB member is the big fan of the Niles Rodgers school of funk guitar.  There again, we also had Prince’s Kiss and a Shaft (or Sheep) played on the very tiny uke, so there is more than just a thin line of funk running through this band.

There is also plenty of punk (Sex Pistols and The Clash), indie/rock (Blur’s Song No 2),  electro or, as I really want to call it, krautrock (Kraftwerk).  And more than a little bit of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Bo Diddley).  There was also pop from the 60s (via Kitty Lux singing Bang Bang (My Baby Shot me Down) which again has to BEG the question, why did David Gutter think his current version was needed in this world?) along with pop from Adele from 2010.  Luckily the UOGB has most genres covered even if I don’t know what to call them (why not check out Music Genres List, if this is the sort of thing you are a geek about).

If you are interested in what my favourite medley was, it was probably still the ’round’ which begins with Jonty Bankes singing Life on Mars and each musician joins in with another new song.  This was also my Dad’s favourite (this is an old recording):

I also enjoyed the lugubrious Kitty’s rendition of Satellite of Love and I like to think that this is the Ukes’ memorial to Lou Reed who died last year.  I always like a Kitty solo (usually on the theme of dark love).  This is also an old recording:

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain certainly has a broad appeal and the audience in Blackheath gave them a standing ovation.  For me it’s great to see them play so close to home, and above all to go to see them play with my dad, who is to blame for my liking the sound of the uke in the first place.  They put on a fun and entertaining show and even got a few laughs – maybe some of the audience were first-timers.  I understand that the UOGB humbly speak about themselves as light entertainers but really it is the music we are there for.   And all we want is for them to keep coming up with original and innovative ways to arrange both old and new songs.  If they choose their material wisely, and keep on coming up with new stuff, they can continue to gain a new audience, and they will continue to delight me.  

I’ll end on my little secret.  I have a small crush on Jonty Bankes, the bass ukelele player who also whistles oh so melodically.  But even he, the relative newbie of the group (only 23 years in the group rather than the others’ 29 years), he with the beautiful bass notes and the lovely clear voice, even he could maybe learn a new song to whistle.


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