Having travelled from the North Pole to Sydney Opera House, via the Carnegie Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain are now back in Worthing for a date at the Pavilion Theatre on September 11 as part of their non-stop tour of planet Earth.
The all-singing, all-strumming ukulele players reinterpret every style of music from Tchaikovsky to Nirvana via Otis Reading and Spaghetti Western soundtracks - all on the ukulele.
The Ukulele Orchestra started as a bit of fun in 1985. The first gig, intended as a one-off, was an instant sell-out. Since then, the orchestra has given thousands of concerts, TV and radio appearances all over the world.
The six to eight members of the orchestra use the limitations of their ukuleles to create musical freedom. They play instruments both small and large, in high and low registers while sitting in chamber group format, dressed in formal evening wear.
Orchestra founder George Hinchliffe recalls “We were not thinking it was going to be a long-term project. What happened was that we found it entertaining for ourselves, and the audiences seemed to like it over the years.
“It was just a local pub. We said ‘let’s get something together as a group of friends’. It was almost like a karaoke really. We just put up a poster and more people came than we thought.”
The ukulele became their instrument of choice a week or so before: “We have all played them before, but not particularly seriously. It was just a bit of fun - and an ironic choice of instrument, though some of that irony has perhaps been lost since then.”
The irony of course was that it was an unlikely instrument - “not the kind of instrument you’d be likely to hear in a pub gig context!”
But it proved a winner: “It is small and portable and cheap, and it is a fully chromatic instrument. You can play any notes on it.”
And the Ukes do indeed play any notes on it - everything from Tchaikovsky to Nirvana via Otis Reading, Bowie, The Undertones and Kate Bush.
But as George suggests, the instrument is not necessarily the primary thing: “What we are doing is using the performers, their personalities, their characters, their entertainment expertise, their musicality...
“Whether we are using the ukulele - or it could be the bassoon for that matter - the point is that the performers have got something going for them. It is more to do with the members of the orchestra than the actual ukulele - though of course we have all got a soft spot for the ukulele!”
Tickets on 01903 206206.