GLAMoms had an incredible opportunity to speak with George Hinchliffe, the co-founder of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain – and what a conversation!
Founded in 1985 and started when one friend gifted another a ukulele for her birthday and the orchestra is making a stop at Wharton Center next week and here is a bit about this unique presentation of a variety of music.
The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOGB) has produced over 30 albums and has been performing for 37 years. That is more than the Beatles and Sheryl Crow combined!
Comedy, lighthearted and a touch of sarcasm. The concerts are gigs and are made up of the classical orchestra ensemble. They wear semi-formal attire and evening dress and sit on stage as an orchestra would sit, music stands with a dark backdrop and the Orchestra the focus on stage. When the performance begins you soon realize it is not at all the prim-and-proper classical production one may have at first expected.
Wharton Center describes UOGB as a company that was, “Born of a rejection of convention and a penchant for reinterpretation, their catalogue is a menagerie of rock, pop, jazz, blues and classical music, performed with humor and a ﬂair for toe-tapping, roof-raising, and often twisted renditions of best-loved tunes.”
Oh, and they encourage all of the ukulele owners to bring their ukes to the show.
How many musician vocalists will be performing at Wharton?
Our group will consist of 7 performers, David Suich, Peter Brooke, Turner, Laura Currie, Leisa Rea, Ewan Wardrop, Ben Rouse, Jonty Bankes, one tour manager Jodi Cartwright, and one sound engineer Doug Beveridge. Some of the performers such as Dave, have been with the Orchestra since the 1980s; some are newer recruits such as Laura who
has been performing with the group for three years.
Is the performance family friendly or more a date night or friends night out event?
We try to make the show suitable for any audience member. Typically our attendees are a mixture of young people, children, young couples, art and theatre lovers, and seniors. We play music with a lot of different cultural references. There is quite a lot of humor in the show and usually it strikes home in different ways depending on the viewer. There is silly, childish humor, and subtle, ironic humor. There is also some satirical and some playful humor.
What is your favorite part about this show?
The process of forming a rapport with the audience is a very interesting and appealing part of the show. This can be brought about by the charm and talent of the performers, the design of the script of the show, the concept of the Ukulele Orchestra with its unique blend of the “pricking of pomposity” and the light-hearted presentation of classics of pop and rock music. It can be said that if the audiences didn’t keep on buying tickets then we’d all have had to do something else for a living.
A tour can be grueling and hard work, like being a long distance truck driver, but instead of unloading at the end of the journey, the performers have to go on stage and communicate. That is the most rewarding element of the show; reaching across the stage and joining with an audience in the give-and-take of a performance.
Do you have a favorite venue or location to perform?
Each venue has its own appeal. One gratifying aspect of the UOGB’s career has been the variety of venues and locations where performances have taken place. From the Svalbard in arctic circle to Tasmania south of Australia, from Shanghai to Toronto, from Finland to Japan, the Orchestra has traveled the world. Not only that but the venues have varied from the smallest pub in England to an audience of 170,000 in Hyde Park, London, from Glastonbury Rock festival to Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House, from private birthday parties for Her Majesty Queen Elizabth and other members of the Royal Family, to appearances with thousands of schoolchildren in New Zealand.
The Orchestra tries to bring a local flavor to each venue, with something uniquely “British” in perhaps a tongue-in-cheek manner, but also something which makes a link to the region or country in which it is performing.
Do you or the UOGB members have traditions or must-do or must-see at each tour spot?
Typically the members of the Orchestra see the famous sights whizzing past the windows of the tour bus as they arrive or depart for the next venue. If there is a day off then seeing the high spots of the area is definitely on the agenda.
Anything you want to see when you are in Michigan?
I am sure that some of the “gang” would like to see the Horticultural Gardens. Art and museums are also often of interest. I hear there’s also a brewery. That too could be of interest!
Is this your first visit to Wharton Center?
The Orchestra has completed several tours of the USA and was in East Lansing last in 2019. Making new friends and seeing old friends is an important thing.
Where do you see the UOGB in 5 years?
The group is “credited” with first performing with an ensemble of ukuleles in different registers and playing different musical parts, and is “blamed” for inventing the concept of a ukulele orchestra. Without The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, many people say that the popularity of the instrument and the proliferation of ukulele groups across the world would not have emerged.
The Orchestra makes convincing and entertaining music and presents it in a disarming,
ironic, light-hearted style. The repertoire is a “shopping-trolley” dash through the archives and fashions of music and cultural history which has found acclaim on several continents. It has been said that the group’s programme is “a musicologist’s nightmare”, “the best entertainment in the country”, and an “obituary for Rock music and melodious light entertainment”.
One hopes that the future will continue to enable the group to innovate, to introduce new and ever more intriguing twisted versions of classic music from all genres, and to form a connection with all audiences as it proceeds on its “world tour with only hand luggage”.
And lastly, we read someone often wears polka dots honoring co-founder Kitty Lux, will someone be wearing polka dots at Wharton?
See if you can spot the polka dots or the miniature bow-ties worn as lapel badges. There will probably be one or two.
Oh my goodness, thank you George!
Words such as Joyous, unexpected, much-loved, quick witted, uniqure, comedy, lighthearted, a touch of sarcasm, sophisticated, hilarious and heartfelt have been used to describe this one of a kind, yet ever evolving performance. GLAMoms is looking forward to seeing the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at Wharton Center this week!