They're not a light entertainment act that does a bit of punk,
they're a punk band that does a bit of light entertainment.
While I'd been aware of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain for some time, I might not have gone to see them had they not popped up recently on top kiddies' TV program, The Slammer. Two things sold me on them. First, the chap at the end, Dave, rocking out despite playing an instrument only slightly larger than the toy guitars sellotaped to the front of children's magazines. Second, they've got those kids completely hooked. Me too.
Lots of other people as well, it seems, because The Town Hall was fair heaving when the Bean and I took our seats. The Orchestra's stock-in-trade is, of course, familiar songs rearranged for eight ukuleles and voice. Sometimes they're deliberately comedic, as in their version of the theme from Shaft which is introduced in a round about way as an old American folk song collected in the Appalachian Mountains. Sometimes the comedy arises merely from the audacity of arrangement, Slade's Merry Christmas Everybody played as a slow waltz, or a gentle sing-a-long Anarchy in the UK. They somehow manage make that song even more English - everyone wants to smash the state, but let's not make too much of a fuss. Musical comedy demands perhaps a higher level of musicianship and commitment to the performance, which may explain why their Teenage Dirtbag pricked tears to my eyes. It's as transformative a cover as Johnny Cash's Hurt, and I found it quite remarkable.
On a little logistical note, the performance was in two halves with an interval. The Town Hall coped with the everybody rushing out for a drink without too much difficulty. Certainly I was able to get what I wanted without having to queue, and top marks also for allowing drinks back into the auditorium. Both the Bean and I were delighted that the little tubs of ice cream were again on sale during the interval. Other venues really should take note of that.
It's a modern world, so you can hear and watch the Orchestra on the miracle of the internet.