TRANSLATING as ‘jumping flea’ in Hawaiian, the ukulele is an instrument that is fast becoming one of the country’s most played contraptions - almost all thanks to one of the country’s greatest live performers.
And heading back to Basingstoke after three decades spent touring the world because of “the humble” instrument, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOGB) return to The Anvil.
Catching up with The Gazette before next month’s show, UOGB member Leisa Rea chatted about the band’s punk roots, its illustrious past and why Ukulele playing is so damn infectious.
UOGB are simply the most hilariously stunning group of musicians.
As members rock out with their ukuleles, voices pummel out rounds of fun melodies, it’s easy to forget they are covering something like rock band Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ or Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’.
It’s such a joyous experience for those playing, but even more so for the audience.
And what started out as a bit of a joke in 1985 by founding members George Hinchcliffe and Kitty Lux, has now become a full-on international obsession.
“It was a sort of joke or a punk response to the pomposity of the ‘some’ aspects of the music biz, the band would have a massive global reach and have spawned a thousand local ukulele orchestras in pretty much every town,” Leisa told The Gazette.
“The ukulele is truly the instrument of the people.
“It’s, fairly, easy to play and they can be bought for loose change.
“I think what people seem to like about our performances is our friendly irreverence...we have taken the ukulele to places you wouldn’t expect it to go.”
And just how far UOGB’s interest spans is staggering.
China, New York, Sydney - there’s few places this group haven’t played.
Leisa added: “No one is expecting a programme of punk, classical, electronica, funk, disco, country and rock from a group of eight men and women in tuxedos.
“Audiences are always impressed when we subvert something they think they know and it becomes something else.
“A George Formby classic, for example, given the Russian Cossack Treatment. And why not?”
But for Leisa, it’s all thanks to the uncomplicated sound of the instrument.
“Ukuleles are simple, uncomplicated and unthreatening - the equivalent of Hobbits I suppose,” Leisa said.
“But, as we know with Hobbits, never to be underestimated.”
She added: “We are lucky to enough to have survived 32-years as The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and we’ve played to sell out audiences all over the world many times, including the North Pole...all because of the humble ukulele.
“I guess we must be doing something right?!”
UOGB head to The Anvil on Friday May 12. To find out more visit ukuleleorchestra.com.