George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Queen’s Hall

For the past 37 years, George Hinchliffe and six fellow musicians have been producing independent music played on the happiest instrument on the planet – the ukulele. In that time, they have entertained millions across the world with their unique take on songs, resulting in a massively loyal fanbase that is tuned in to the humour and subversion that has become the trademark of the septet.

Following Covid cancellations, the UOGB has managed to tour again. In a pretty much packed to the rafters Queen’s Hall, the four men and three women took their seats on stage where they were greeted with a collective ‘wooooa’ and warm cheers by afficionados and new fans alike in anticipation of the treat in store. And they were not disappointed!

While the show’s format doesn’t change much, with introductions to numbers taking you down a road for audiences to be joyously thrilled when what is actually sung is a total surprise. This trope even works when you know what’s coming, such is the love for UOGB. For example, as Mr. Hinchcliffe is asked about his Yorkshire roots and he says he’ll sing something Yorkshire, what we get is their hilarious rendition the Kate Bush hit, Wuthering Heights.

There’s a mix of old and new with the likes of Prince’s You Don’t Have to be Beautiful and Lady Gaga’s I was Born this Way sung by pony tailed stalwart Dave Suich alongside songs from their latest album, One Plucking Thing After Another, like Play that Funky Music from the tall guy of the band, Peter Brook Turner, and Abba’s anthem Thank You for the Music from Hester Goodman. The audience has a chance here to pretend they’re at an Abba concert by singing along and swaying, using up their phone batteries as pretend lighters.

As a balance to the audience age demographic, who were acknowledged from the get-go with theme tune from the old radio show Dick Barton Special Agent, Hester also gives a beautiful gentle rhythm to I’m Just a Teenage Dirtbag to the special delight of a young Uke player in the audience. At another point in the concert she rends a pirate song in waltz time that, like The Who’s Pinball Wizard sung as a sea shanty, is pure UOGB.

Leisa Rea, whose comedy experience shines through on stage, led a fast paced piece when hands were flying across their instruments like sets of frantic insect wings and during Your Love is Liftin Me Higher, she manages the impressive feat of doing some serious grooving while sitting in a chair and throws herself in to the brief but masterful interlude of physical theatre where all seven play one Ukulele.

George Hinchliffe and his crew of dead pan raconteurs manage to defy expectation at every turn. Behind the formal façade of evening dress, they embody a satisfying gentle anarchy in plain sight with wit and repartee. Their musical virtuosity comes to the fore in their finale set when Hinchcliffe plays Handel while the rest, including quiet bass player Ben Rouse, join in with songs that ranged from Sinatra, Gaynor and Bassey – all miraculously melding.

With Scot Laura Currie being part of the lineup, the hopes of some may have been dashed when the wonderful UOGB version of The Bluebell Polka by the late Sir Jimmy Shand was not chosen as their encore piece in the Capital, but instead Bowie’s We Could Be Heroes ended over 2 hours of top quality, feel good entertainment from this unique band of players. Plucking marvellous!

This review was first published on Edinburgh Music Review

Irene Brown

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