With the ever increasing number of ukulele groups scattered around the globe, it’s difficult to remember that once upon a time the idea of a whole bunch of people playing only ukuleles seemed absolutely ridiculous. Despite all the ukulele orchestras and ensembles that have started up since their inception, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are still the best around. Their arrangements go far beyond just bashing out the chords. All the ukes add something musically and texturally. And that aspect of their playing is very much in evidence on their latest album Live in London #1.
And it’s about time they got round to making a live album because this is the best album they’ve ever made. As you’d expect from a group having spent the last 164 years touring together, the playing is tight as a Christmas waistband and the arrangements are more fully developed than their studio counterparts. Best of all, the recordings are packed with the energy that you can never really get from a studio album.
Live in London kicks of with that energy bursting out of the speakers on spirited versions of Running Wild and Born to be Wild. They then lean back into a sedate and elegant version of Misirlou, closer to the traditional version than Dick Dale’s. Listening to the musicianship on that track, they raise themselves way above the ‘novelty act’ tag they’re sometimes pinned with.
Not that there aren’t any gimmicky songs on there – Anarchy for the UK is too flimsy a song to be anything else. But on some of the tracks The Ukes give the song a whole new perspective as with their take on Sympathy for the Devil. It’s much easier to have sympathy for their introspective, world-weary satan than it is the preening knobhead of the original (making it a bit of a shame they’re singing half a dozen other songs at the same time on the track Melange). They even sound great when they put down their ukes for an unaccompanied rendition of Pinball Wizard which sounds like Blue Murder Sing The Who (which is an album that doesn’t exist but definitely should ).
But tongues never stray very far from cheeks and this is one of the most grin-tastic albums I have ever heard. If you don’t own a Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain album, then this album is absolutely essential. For everyone else, it’s the perfect stopgap until they next roll into town. Roll on Live in London #2.
Standout tracks: Running Wild, Misirlou, Hot Tamales, Pinball Wizard, Wuthering Heights, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.
The Ukulele Orchestra Live in London #1 is out tomorrow and you can order it and listen to clips on their website.