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.