Help me put some decent music in the charts

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The Independent Online

Almost a year ago I had one of the most stunning experiences of my life. I went to Midsomer Norton Town Hall to hear the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and with due respect to the architectural heritage of Midsomer Norton, it was the music that was memorable.

Almost a year ago I had one of the most stunning experiences of my life. I went to Midsomer Norton Town Hall to hear the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and with due respect to the architectural heritage of Midsomer Norton, it was the music that was memorable.

If you know nothing about the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, the word orchestra conjures up the wrong image. Eighty or a hundred ukulele players on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall, maybe? No, the reality was half a dozen players spread out along the back wall of Midsomer Norton town hall. But my God, half a dozen is all you need, especially in the confined space of the town hall. When they are firing on all cylinders, it is a truly terrifying sound.

Their great idea, apart from playing their ukes pretty well and singing pretty well, is to have a well-arranged repertoire drawn entirely from outside the ukulele world. No Hawaiian stuff. No tinkling serenades. No 1920s college crooning. Only one brief off-hand bow to George Formby. No, what they played was the soundtrack music from the Magnificent Seven, the Dick Barton theme, "Be-Bop-a-Lula" and a whole host of unlikely stuff transmuted into the pure fool's gold of a ukulele ensemble.

The group purred and tinkled, but it also swang and stomped, and at times crashed like waves on the shore, and the crowd roared with pleasure and tears and laughter, and for the next three months I bored people silly telling them they had to track down the UKOGB. (Their website, by the way, is www. ukuleleorchestra.com.)

By the time I had lost all my friends, I had managed to acquire a CD of the UKOGB, and although these records-bought-after-the-gig never sound quite the same, The Secret of Life on Longman Records kept me happy as I rebuilt a circle of new friends.

Longman Records is a small label run by the ace guitarist Richard Durrant, issuing acoustic and folk recordings, the sort of stuff that never gets into the charts. Or could it? I have just received an e-mail from Longman, saying they are putting out a single by the UKOGB, a ukulele-styled version of a song called "Ms Dynamitee", which was apparently a hit for someone or other a year or two back (I don't follow the scene too closely) but which now, after going through the UKOGB filter, has come out sounding much better, especially with the deep sexy unison male vocal backing.

Putting out a ukulele single is mad enough. But Longman go further and see no reason why it should not get in the Top 20. It only takes 20,000 sales to reach Number One, so if every fan goes out next week and buys a copy, it will shoot up the charts. Don't buy it on-line from Longman, they urge, because that won't count. You've got to buy it in a shop, preferably Virgin, HMV, Woolworth or MVC, some time next week, ideally on Monday 31 January. Nothing is impossible - after all, the UKOGB recently appeared on the same Jools Holland TV show as Eric Clapton and Natasha Bedingfield.

Now, I may be an innocent, but this looks to me uncannily like trying to rig the charts. Longman Records, by encouraging us to go into certain shops on certain dates to buy a certain record, are attempting to fiddle with fortune. Even worse, by circularising people like me, they are hoping that I will use my precious space in this paper to puff the fortunes of the UKOGB.

For any other group, I would tell them to shove it. Luckily, the UKOGB is different. As they are undoubtedly the finest musical outfit operating today, I can see no reason not to make a passing mention of their bid for fame. So don't forget. "Ms Dynamitee". Longman Records. New single by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Out on Monday. Virgin, HMV, Woolworths or MVC. Get a copy. Be like me and get five, for presents. Then, who knows, we might see a decent group on Top of the Pops at last.

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