The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are performing at the Albert Hall: playing their tiny instruments in a very big space. There must be 5,000 people here, but the orchestra’s friendly jokes, the modesty of the ukulele sound and the familiarity of the audience make the concert seem intimate.
The Ukes have been going for 28 years, and in the past half-decade or so they’ve gone mega. Their formula is a mash-up of the ridiculous and the sublime; the players poke fun at their ‘bonsai guitars’, then pluck from them a wildly diverse range of music with virtuosity and irreverence. They kick off with a Marilyn Monroe number, then thump out Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’; there’s a fantasia on Paganini, Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’, a minimalist composition by Terry Riley.
All eight have distinct stage personas: ‘Now it’s my turn to sing a song about everyday love and murder,’ intones Kitty Lux, whose role is of a Kathy Burke depressive. Will Grove-White waggles an absurdly minute soprano uke and says, ‘It’s just been born.’ Then they all argue about what song is next and play their own choice, so that Handel overlaps with Gloria Gaynor, with Cat Stevens, with Sinatra, with Motörhead, in a perfectly orchestrated pretence of disharmony.
It’s terrific fun. They undermine their professionalism to the end, when they exit the stage and shuffle back saying, ‘You can’t get out that way.’ And perform for their encore a brilliant balalaika setting of ‘Leaning on a Lamppost’.