Interview with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

From our archives... originally published June 24, 2012

        I was given an interview with the ukulele orchestra, and learned that not only they are seeking to tour the USA, but may in fact be attempting to perform at the Grand Canyon.  Regardless, they are not to be missed, and if you have a few minutes, buy their CD’s at www.ukuleleorchestra.com or enjoy some of their greater hits on You Tube. 

        The Ukes are a professional group who have earned their living playing the ukulele since 2002.  According to Uke Hester Goodman, they have played only 1 Hawaiian song, and that is not actually a Hawaiian song (Blue Hawaiian Moonlight).  They focus instead on classical music, rock and roll, disco, swing and other 20th century western music.  They sometimes make interesting combinations of music, such as variations on a theme of Handel called “Fly Me Off The Handel” in which Handel’s  eternal theme is demonstrated in modern 20th Century music, or in an interesting juxtaposition of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” and “Silver Machine.” Uke Dave Suich explained further, “we have done some Hawaian tunes in the past ,very popular in Japan as I remember. However we like to keep the audience guessing so our set list changes according to our whim”

        Uke Richie Williams enjoys traditional Hawaiian music, and explains why the Orchestra avoids traditional music.  “I do enjoy listening to the traditional music from Hawaii and very much appreciate their skill. We do have a smattering of Hawaiian songs in our repertoire which surface occasionally when the time is right. We are known for our eclectic mix of music and I really enjoy the feeling that anything is possible on a ukulele.  I would point out that the UOGB was formed to challenge people’s expectations of the ukulele, so to be honest to our manifesto, we would probably play ‘punk’ versions of Hawaiian songs, if they were to stay in our set.”  Williams said that he also enjoys jazz, “but collectively there is no musical style which is not embraced by my colleagues. Their enthusiasm carries the rest of us along, leading to yet another opportunity to develop new ideas.”

        Ukulele is a full time occupation for the Orchestra.  Suich said “It's been full time for me for at least the last 10 years.  Like many musicians I've done a variety of other work ranging from working on a garbage truck, compering at the Glastonbury Festival to creating art installations with special needs students.  Indeed the dozens of different things the ukes have done for money makes good reading.”

        Williams also plays ukulele full time.  “It is a full time occupation. I have had many “real” jobs up until the last few years, as like most musicians it is a struggle to make a living from music alone. When I am not playing ukulele, generally I like to get out into the great outdoors.”

        When asked if there was anything I should have asked but didn’t, the humor of the Ukes came out with answers from “maybe” to “yes, I’d like a gin and tonic!” to simply asking a question, and not answering it (“the ukulele – why?”)