Anarchy in the ukulele? What ukulele?

We watched a video titled “Anarchy in the Ukulele” of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, which was one of their live performances at the Barbican, London, in 2005. Keep reading to find out my opinion, and more!

It’s the first music lesson of Year 11, and we were asked to watch a live pre-recorded performance of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. And I must admit, it was completely different to what I thought it would be in a lot of ways. An orchestra typically has between 40 and 100 musicians, so I thought there would be around that amount of ukulele players. However, there were only seven musicians in total, and most, but not all of them, were ukulele players – one musician played the acoustic bass. 

You probably already know this, but a ukulele is a smaller version of a guitar with fewer strings. There are of course, different ukulele sizes. The players did have different sizes, and later I found out there are eight sizes in total. Smallest to largest, they are: sopranissimo, sopranino, soprano, concert, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass. I’m not 100% sure what sizes they used, but I think they were mainly concerts, and I also saw a baritone.

They played a bunch of different songs, from film music to popular rock, but some of my favourites were Teenage Kicks by The Undertones, Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, and Life on Mars? by David Bowie. Even though I personally thought the whole performance was weird, and I find ukulele orchestras in general quite weird, I also thought they covered those songs very well, by playing them in different keys, tempos etc. For example, Teenage Kicks by The Undertones is in the key of D major, and they played it in the key of C major.

Some players had their roles for the playing of the song. Some players did the rhythm, some did the individual notes and solos, and one played the bassline with the mentioned acoustic bass, which gave it the best possible sound. One part that I found incredibly weird is that most of the players left, and only two were still on the stage, and after the two remaining players were having a humorous conversation, and then the others returned, holding ukuleles and walking around, while the two remaining players strummed them as the people carrying them were moving. And guess what? Somehow, they sounded like the right chords to the song You Don’t Bring Me Flowers by Barbra Streisand, and nobody was pressing down on the fretboard, so they must have been tuned to alternate tunings. Who knows?

Overall, I personally find ukulele orchestras in general quite strange, although they did cover songs I like, so if you’re someone who likes covers of songs, especially if they’re played on different instruments, I would recommend it. I would also recommend it to those who play the ukulele, or if you like taking part in shows that involve humour, or audience participation, because in one song, when one singer sang a word, the audience said it back! 

FUN FACT: Ukuleles are American - they come from the state of Hawaii.

ANOTHER FUN FACT: In Hawaiian, the word "ukulele" translates to "jumping flea"!

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Gus Payne

Gus Payne

I'm Gus. I'm a (pretty tall) Year 11 student who is studying art, photography and music. I’m doing the Bronze and Silver levels in the Arts Award for music. Here, you can see blog posts on what I do in those music lessons I have with my good friends.

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  • Tom Inniss

    On 29 September 2023, 12:59 Tom Inniss Voice Team commented:

    Heya Gus, great review! Do you have any images you could use, I'd love to promote this on the homepage!

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