The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Radio 4
Want world peace? Launch the ukes
Sunday 29 June 2008
The ukelele marches inexorably on. A year ago, Tom Hodgkinson, editor of the Idler, magazine proposed on Radio 3 that learning and playing the ukelele would soothe the passions to the point where even levels of world peace might be affected.
And last Tuesday, Phill Jupitus presented a programme on Radio 4 about the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (you will notice that they and The IoS favour differing spellings). I once said to my daughter, who was learning the instrument, that "ukulele" is Hawaiian for "terrible noise", but I was joking, and told her so. And, by the way, the process of "learning" the basics of the ukelele takes about two minutes. We heard Phill Jupitus learn four chords in about that time. He asked if he could join the orchestra for any of their performances with these four chords. How many of their songs were that simple? "About 80 per cent of our repertoire," he was told.
This is not true. They play to a very high standard. There are only eight members but with a bit of echo it sounds unusually resonant; like ... well, an orchestra. And they can wring an astonishingly wide range of moods out of the instrument. Their "Jerusalem" was strangely affecting; "Teenage Kicks" taught me something about the song I didn't know before; their version of Chic's "Freak Out" could be considered an improvement on the original; and "Anarchy in the UK" played in the style of Simon and Garfunkel is, in its way, as subversive as the Sex Pistols' version. And, as one member put it, they are, in fact, "a punk band that dabbles in light entertainment".
Defending the number of cover versions they play, one member said, "the Berlin Philharmonic do a lot of cover versions. They do a lot of Beethoven, Mozart ...." Incidentally, may I suggest they add the Kaiser Chiefs' "I Predict a Riot" to their act? My daughter played it on the instrument and it was indeed a riot.
You see, the ukelele floats in a limbo between earnestness and parody. People underestimate it. The orchestra "pretend they're sort of playing at it but there's a sharp professional knowledge," said a commentator.
This was a heavily trailed show and I am suspicious of those, and I am certainly no worshipper of Phill Jupitus, but this programme was flawlessly executed, thought- ful, amusing, and even a little moving. I had underestimated it, as one underestimates a uke.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Engineer pictured fixing plane's engine with 'duct tape' by concerned EasyJet passenger
- 2 Two-year-old says goodbye to bin man best friend
- 3 Saudi Arabia mosque bombing: Two volunteer security guards hailed as heroes for stopping Isis suicide bomber reaching worshippers
- 4 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 5 Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb
Jay Z's Tidal could be about to lose Beyonce's music in ultimate humiliation
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Thrill of the chaste: The truth about Gandhi's sex life
Bob Dylan: How the Isle of Wight festival managed to steal the voice of a generation from Woodstock
Big Brother 2015 new housemates: Simon Gross returns as stripper Marc O'Neill, model Harry Amelia Martin and X Factor reject Sam Kay join
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'