Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Dresden Music Festival

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain; Dresden Music Festival at the Semper Opera, Dresden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 28 2016
A remarkable confluence of styles: the Ukulele Orchestra in the grand confines of the Semper Opera in Dresden.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is very popular in Dresden. The group made a return visit to Dresden's Semper Opera, as part of the Dresden Music Festival on 28 May 2016. And the event sold out in two weeks. Part of the charm of the events was the combination of seven performers in formal wear playing arrangements of pop classics on ukuleles in the grand auditorium of the Semper Opera. (The full line-up is Peter Brooke Turner, Hester Goodman, Will Grove-White, George Hinchcliffe, Leisa Rea, Ben Rouse, Dave Suich, Richie Williams though one was ill). A cultural disjoint made all the more remarkable by the wild enthusiasm of the audience, whose ages spanned everything from children to the mature and the elderly.

The group all play on ukuleles and sing, six played acoustically with microphones placed just in front of the instruments, whilst the bass line was provided by an electric bass instrument. The performers interspersed the songs with spoken introductions. To a native English speaker, these introductions were only marginally funny, but they seemed to hit the right spot with the predominantly German-speaking audience. The Ukulele Orchestra managed the difficult trick of being funny in a language not the audience's own.

I did not get all the cultural references in the songs, but the stylised gestures were just right for Kraftwerk's Das Model and one of the players did a good Kurt Cobain impression in Nirvana's With the lights out its less dangerous, though I remain uncertain why Daft Punk's Get Lucky included farmyard impressions. One of the delights of the event was hearing classics such as AC/DC's Highway to Hell, Wheatus' I'm just a teenage dirtbag (which a friend who actually plays the ukulele thought one of the best numbers), Ennio Morricone's theme tune from The Good the Bad and the Ugly (complete with vocal effects) and Bo Didley's Road Runner on seven ukuleles, with the rather attractive effect of multiple strummed instruments joining together. We also heard songs by Joni Mitchell, and by Patti Smith, Dolly Parton's Nine to Five and even The Limehouse Blues (which I have on an LP transfer sung by Gertie Lawrence).

There was something wonderfully unlikely about the whole event, and that was part of the charm, The audience reaction was stupendous, and the two encores included The Clash's Should I Stay or Should I Go



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