Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – Live at the BBC Proms DVD

As far as I’m concerned, the UOGB’s performance at the Proms is the high-water mark of the ukulele revival (so far).

If you’re not familiar with the Proms, they’re a series of straight classical music concerts that have been held at the Royal Albert Hall for the last 115 years and culminate in a display of chinlessness and nostalgic faux-nationalism at the Last Night of the Proms. They’re about as establishment as you can get. So having the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain play at the Proms is similar to the Queen breaking out an Abbott Monarch for a rendition of Five Foot Two.

If you hadn’t guessed from the last paragraph, I’m not much of a fan of the Proms. They represent a staid, backward-looking, elitist side of Britain. Which begs two questions: Who the hell put the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on the bill? And why was I so pleased they were part of it?

Part of why I enjoyed it is that the music feels slightly homemade. The Ukes are good musicians but they’re certainly not virtuosi. George quotes of one fan’s response to his fears of not getting all the notes right, “We don’t come to your concert to see you get the notes right.” No matter how big they get, there’s still a sense that they’re one of us. Playing inappropriate tunes on the ukulele just for the fun of it.

And that idea reaches its natural conclusion with 1,000 audience members playing along with Ode to Joy. Anyone watching that hoping to hear the right notes is going to come away disappointed. But the sight of 1,000 people cheering and waving out-of-tune ukuleles feels like a vindication of everyone who has picked up an instrument (or a paintbrush, or knitting needle or a saw) and decided that making their own entertainment was more important than switching on the telly to watch someone competent.

Is should probably talk about the DVD itself. If you want a proper write-up, I highly recommend you read Acilius’s review. He asked a question: “Is it really worth paying £15.00 plus postage?” His answer was an emphatic yes. Mine is a bit more circumspect. It’s a must buy for anyone who, like me, wants to own a bit of ukulele history and UOGB completists. But people who just want a flavour of the Ukes would be better off with Live in London #1 and #2.

Buy Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Prom Night on their website.

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16 Comments

  1. Acilius February 22nd, 2010 10:54 pm

    Thanks for the advert, Al!

  2. Fatty Fudge February 22nd, 2010 11:29 pm

    Sorry old chum I disagree about the two live in London CDs being better than the DVD for giving the best flavour of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

    I think the whole experience of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is not just their musical abilities (and I would challenge that they do not possess a high degree of virtuosity amongst their number) but also the visual aspect of their performance, the humour and to share in the joy of hundreds of fellow audience members sheer joy. All of which can only really be experienced by attending a live show, but is far better captured on a video than simply an audio cd.

  3. tim from Radio Clash February 22nd, 2010 11:45 pm

    twas a great night…I was at stalls on the right, front row…the Ode to Joy was great but amazing was how quiet even 1,000 ukeleles and banjoleles (saw a few of those too) were! Dunno if the miked them for the radio but in the hall it was very quiet!

    Also it wasn’t 100% full at they say on their YT – 90-95% but there were empty seats near us dotted around – you can never get a ‘full’ Albert Hall due to the ancient debenture system.

  4. PotofBasil February 23rd, 2010 2:00 am

    Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
    How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?

    And did these feet in ancient time
    Walk upon England’s mountain green?
    And was the holy Lamb of God
    On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

    Rule Britannia!
    Britannia rule the waves.
    Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves.

    God save our gracious Queen,
    Long live our noble Queen,
    God save the Queen!

    Send her victorious,
    Happy and Glorious,
    Long to reign over us;
    God save the Queen!

    This is spiffing stuff, Al. I’m not British and I get goosebumps…

    And bring back Sir Henry Wood’s Fantasia on British Sea Songs.
    What fool decided to drop it from the program?

    Watch Fantasia of British Sea Songs [Part 1, 2,3]
    from: RupertJones

    Clap your hands, stomp your feet, and toot your air horns along with the crowd. Nothing faux about the fun everyone’s having -

    Last Night of the Proms Rocks!!!

  5. JCMcGee February 23rd, 2010 12:20 pm

    “They(The Proms) represent a staid, backward-looking, elitist side of Britain. Which begs two questions: Who the hell put the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on the bill?”

    That’s a bit of a retorical question in that it seems to answer itself….

    And as for the Queen busting out 5′ 2″…..well, George Formby did receive an apology from the BBC after the Queen mentioned that “Windows” was her fave’ song….(they had banned it prior to that.)

  6. karl February 23rd, 2010 1:44 pm

    Al, would you happen to know if there plans to bring ‘A Thousand Knitting Needles Falling Down A Well’ out, aside from film festivals?

  7. Jeff / HumbleUker February 23rd, 2010 4:05 pm

    I know it’s been asked before — but will they ever come to the NEW WORLD? and travel west across the rockies over to the golden gate? This Humble Uker would love to see them perform live too.

  8. fatty fudge February 23rd, 2010 6:47 pm

    The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are playing Tuesday, 2nd November at Carnegie Hall, NY
    http://www.carnegiehall.org/
    l beleive that they are planning some other venues while they are there including also one in Toronto.

  9. Boz February 24th, 2010 7:37 am

    A good many of us on the Left side of the pond deem the UOGB simply PRICELESS and the Proms performance was the cherry on top of the cupcake.

  10. Ian Emmerson February 24th, 2010 11:23 am

    I’ve heard a few reports that the Albert Hall is very strange acoustically, and many singers and performers talk of the weird deadness, where everything seems really quiet and you almost feel like you’re singing/playing on your own. Even massive choirs and orchestras find it disconcerting (no pun intended) that their own part seems really exposed (again, no pun…).

    Jimmy, is there anybody else in the uke world you actually like, rate or respect? Not having a go – just genuinely wondering.

    Fatty – Whaaaatttsssss Wroooonnnnnnnggggg?

    I x

  11. Acilius February 24th, 2010 1:05 pm

    “staid, backward-looking, elitist”- Hey, some of my best friends are staid, backward-looking, and elitist.

  12. byjimini February 24th, 2010 7:32 pm

    I bought the DVD and both albums, brilliant purchase.

  13. Woodshed February 25th, 2010 6:50 pm

    Acilius: Thanks for writing a proper review so I didn’t have to.

    Fatty Fudge: They’re good musicians but put them alongside most of the featured Proms musicians and there’s no comparison.

    tim: Congrats on being there!

    PotofBasil: Don’t me started on God or the Queen. I’m fairly extreme in my atheism and very extreme in my republicanism.

    Jimmy: You don’t half cause me some trouble.

    Jeff: Hope you get the chance to see them before long.

    Boz: Glad they’re picking up an audience over there.

    Ian: I think it’s safe to say I’ll never find out what it’s like to perform at the Albert Hall.

    byjimini: Glad you enjoyed them.

  14. Steve Smith December 16th, 2010 10:43 am

    Having seen the Ukulele Orchestra a few times I must agree with Mr Fatty Fudge (if that is his real name) that to get the full effect, it has to be a live show.

  15. Fatty Fudge December 16th, 2010 6:47 pm

    Having also seen the Ukulele Orchestra a few times I agree with Mr Steve Smith (if that is his real name)

  16. Steve Smith December 16th, 2010 6:54 pm

    Actually, my real name is corpulent Fondant.

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