'The Nation's Ukulele Orchestra'
BBC News, Radio 4, 23rd September 2014
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  • Valentine's Day Teatowel, only a few left!

    The love song tea towel with full musical notation is fast selling out and there are fewer and fewer days left until February the 14th, so order this gift for your loved one soon! Practical and poetic, romantic realism made manifest, it is this year's must give present!

    Click here to buy it now.

  • A tea towel is not just for Valentine’s Day, it is for life!

    A gift more than appropriate for The Feast of Saint Valentine

    A love song tea towel with full musical notation including ukulele chord windows, with matching Valentine’s Card, alternative lyrics calling card, and an audio CD of the ukulele orchestral version of the song with vocal verses and refrain, and the ukulele orchestral instrumental version of the song, for the accompaniment of your own singing or any other instrument, and with or without your own ukulele.

    And let us not forget:

    A Tea Towel is not just for Valentine’s Day, it is for life.

    We are selling this unique tea towel in time for Valentine’s Day 2015, a specially commissioned item entirely suitable for the 14th of February, but as the item does not include the label “Valentine’s Day”, it could be used for any date, at any time, for any purpose; for a gift, for a musical education project, or even for an amusing addition to the kitchen.

    Use this handy old rag to help you sing while doing the washing up, or frame it for a collector’s item combining art, fibre and music.

    Imagine serenading or duetting with your loved one, perhaps prior to sharing a refreshing beverage of champagne or amaretto, reading from the sheet music printed on high quality cloth, and then using the sheet music to dry the glasses after washing them. Romanticism, efficiency, practicality and the spirit of equality all in one.

    What could be better than an accurate arrangement of a time honoured love song, that some have suggested is rarely heard played correctly or with the correct chords. The chords are certainly correct here.

    What could be more romantic, ironic, touching, amusing and consciousness-raising than to play this song to the object of your affection. or several people could serenade each other in turn.

    Some people might think a valentine’s gift of a tea towel is somehow inappropriate, but lovers, ukulele players and ironists may think otherwise.

    If the words “tea towel” do not polish up your ukulele enthusiasm to sparkling perfection, and the concept of a drying cloth does not, as it were, buff up your glassware, then simply regard this item as a “fold away” fake-book page, on soft flexible material, enabling it to be stuffed in a ukulele case, or anywhere you can imagine, or indeed, conceptualise this fabric artwork as a prayer flag, with the fully notated music and lyrics of this romantic and vintage love song, by its very existence, forever sending a mantra of attraction and affection into the atmosphere. Perhaps this woven rectangle could also be seen as part of a significant concept of the 1960s; a “soft book”, like the first page of a Claes Oldenberg song book.

    The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s “Soft Book”. Part One… whatever you call it, you probably can’t do without it. And it consists of:
    ‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ written by Friedman & Whitson in 1910 and refreshed by George Hinchliffe in 2015, notated on a tea towel with dimensions of approx. 48cm (19 inches) by 76cm (30 inches).

    Detailed, readable, durable, packed with notation, and practical.

     You’ll thrill to the feel of this “oh so tactile” sheet music on your ukulele sensitised fingers. You’ll learn the song in no time with this flexible “aide memoire”, and if you forget, why, you’ll simply be able to drape the cloth over your Uke case, or a convenient chair back, or on the edge of the sink. And after your serenade you’ll be able to polish your ukulele with this high quality, multi-purpose icon.

    Clean your instrument with the sheet music, read the notation from the washcloth or drying cloth.

    With lyrics, chords, ukulele chord windows, melody notation (and some harmonies and fills) for two verses and chorus. On the finest unbleached cotton, replete with cherubs playing ukuleles, the Ukulele Orchestra Valentine’s Tea Towel comes with bonus extras:

    *A Valentine’s day card featuring the ukulele playing cherub.

    * A “calling card” with the “alternative” lyrics to the song:
    “Let me call you sweetheart, I forgot your name”.

    * An audio CD with the full “ukulele orchestral” version of the song, with vocals, and the “ukulele orchestral” backing track, without vocals, as an accompaniment to your singing,
    with or without your own ukulele playing.

    Equipped with the tea towel and the CD a complete, full, rich, completely pretentious and amusing rendition of the song will be a breeze.

    Click here to buy now.

  • Never Mind The Reindeer CD Available Now

    The long awaited reissue of the 1996 classic Christmas album of seasonal music from The Ukulele Orchestra is now available. A bumper stocking-filler.

    This is a "Christmas-morning" stocking-full of favourite old carols, in instrumental form, orchestrated for the orchestra of ukuleles, which brings out all the jollity, fun, humour and catchy melodies of the well known, the well loved and even some hackneyed carols, now redeemed by the infectious musicality of the ukes. 

    Over Christmastide many people like to listen to their favourite carols. If they're with the family, preparing Christmas dinner, or opening presents, they don't want to hear singing, simply the wonderful evocative melodies of traditional seasonal music. 

    It's not about the corny hype, the reruns of old films, the bickering over the broken presents and what's on TV. 

    It is about the traditions of a Christmas before facebook and emails, bringing a sense of a different time, older customs, the wassail, carolling, dashing through the snow, a belief in Santa Claus, a distant folk-memory of the gory hunter descending into the iron-age hut through the smoke-hole, while laden with his booty and benison. 

    The Nation's favourite ukulele orchestra here gives you the definitive carols, arranged for the orchestra of ukuleles, with all the interweaving instrumental parts in their blend of homophonic and polyphonic movements, the admixture of disciplined harmony and improvisational tune and counter-melody, the expression of joy through purely instrumental music. Perhaps these tracks capture and define a model for human understanding, compassion, reconciliation and acceptance, in the sense that each instrument goes its own way, and yet the whole reveals a harmonious blend, and represents a group of individualists working together to communicate solidarity, friendship, and a coming together. 

    Take a cup of mead perhaps as we share the joys of Winter. Put some holly on your steaming figgy pudding, and join with the Ukes, thinking of several incarnations of Tiny Tim with the old fashioned yet benign wish and toast: God Bless Us, Every One. Christmas is a celebration involving a recognition of the birth of a world religion, while also containing the history of pagan rituals, and involving the struggle between the conflicting philosophies of giving and selling. Is there conflict between the mutuality of present sharing and the capitalist expressions of mammon? 

    Perhaps in the straight-forward juxtaposition of British tradition with a hint of the punk aesthetic gently referred to in the album title, and the vision of a mythic golden age where Christmas cheer was universal, the orchestra allows us to glimpse a spirit of conflict resolution, and a way in which the imperfections of humanity, depicted through the slight, yet sturdy vernacular of the ukulele, (the instrument the size of a cuddly toy, yet fully chromatic and expressive), do not constitute limitations and a source of annoyance, but an opportunity to see frail humanity in its multifaceted, sometimes confused, sometimes adversarial fashion, but an expression of goodwill, a collective glory, a joyful happy momentum which in its eschewing of gloom and harshness, failure and misery, reminds us of life, peace, satisfaction, an affirmation of the worthwhile and the benign striving which binds us all together. 

    In this vision we can see a spirit, a belief, a wish, a celebration, a unification, the bright expectant faces of youth in the firelight, the wise amused eyes of the elders, remembering toil, yet affirming the achievements of the past twelvemonth, and indeed the onward flowing river of human life, with the eddies and flows so effectively symbolised by the instrumental prowess, the tuneful simplicity of the Ukulele Orchestra. 

    Regarding the title of this album: Was "Nevermind" the name of a Father Christmas reindeer, or the title of an album by the Sex Pistols, or does it constitute a reference to the fact that the essence, the true flavour, the inner core of things, can only be glimpsed in passing, never named? Of course, Santa Claus is not the whole story of the tradition, and his reindeer, though strong and handsome, are merely the power source for his mode of transport, and yet behind it all, there is something, something real and true which perhaps is hard to see, hard to name, something perhaps which doesn't wish to be easily named. Let us aim to see, beyond the trappings, the traces, the harnesses and costumes, what is there in the traditions, with all their wrong turnings and inward habits, which shows us the truth, the light and dark, the oneness and the multiplicity? 

    Can the humble instruments on this recording, with their vernacular twanging and scratching, yet transport us to the realms of glory? Yes, we say! The one thing that the three wise men were not recorded as bringing to the manger was a ukulele. Did the cold hard truth reflected across the heavens from the white hot star, yet illuminate an ensemble of ukuleles, with orchestrations of the music of the future? Some might say that it would not have been out of keeping with the meaning and the impetus of the many-layered story if it had been so! 

    Merry Christmas one and all. Buy copies of this CD for all your family and friends. They, like many in the last century, when this reissue originally appeared, will treasure this recording as a timeless artefact, a relic of the old and good, and a talisman of jollity, happiness and tradition in a tumultuous world.

    Buy Now from our webshop

  • PRESS RELEASE: 'When This Lousy War is Over'

    'When This Lousy War is Over'

    remembering World War One in music and song

    This is a new commission to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of The Great War. It is a funny, musically rewarding, touching, irreverent and thought provoking concert for all ages, giving us songs, history and a window on the world through some unusual selections from the music of the time.

    'When This Lousy War Is Over' will premiere at Town Hall Birmingham on Remembrance Sunday, 9th of November and again at the Palace Theatre in London for its West End debut on Monday the 10th November, the evening before Armistice Day. A European tour is currently being planned.

    The Orchestra is delighted to be working once again with Town Hall and Symphony Hall Birmingham in presenting this new work.

    The title 'When This Lousy War Is Over' is taken from a soldiers’ parody from the trenches, sung to the hymn tune 'What A Friend We Have In Jesus', where the lyrics reflect ruefully on military life. The title was chosen to reflect a common yet unofficial response to the conflict, perhaps in keeping with the lighthearted character associated with the ukulele and the Orchestra. This flags up an irreverent spirit, the ukulele as 'the people's instrument', and cheerfulness amid tragedy and adversity. The premiere will include the composer George Butterworth's setting of 'The Banks of Green Willow', in remembrance of those who, like him, lost their lives in the conflict.

    The concert consists of music and songs from the period which show many different facets of the Great War, including music from several of the countries involved

    This genuinely was a World War; the full list totals over one hundred countries involved in the conflict, from Africa, America, Asia, Australasia and Europe.

    To take one little known example, 140,000 members of the Chinese Labour Corps were active on the Western Front and suffered huge losses. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has recently returned from a successful tour of China which allowed the performers to study and play four- stringed Chinese instruments (the Liuqin and the Ruan) which are similar to the ukulele, and so 'When This Lousy War Is Over' will also include a Chinese composition.

    The music chosen reflects a range of attitudes from the time; patriotic, pacifist and feminist, and will draw from gipsy music, music hall, soldiers' songs and even a song from the then radical avante-garde Cabaret Voltaire in neutral Switzerland.

    There are several overt ukulele connections in the show; the instrument initially came to prominence at the Panama – Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, after which the first craze for the ukulele developed leading to an explosion of Hawaiian themed songs.

    One of the most successful recording artists in Britain during the years of World War One was George Formby Senior, the father of his now better known son, also known as George Formby. The son (who most people still associate with the ukulele) found success at first as an imitator of his father’s act. In 'When This Lousy War Is Over', the Orchestra will be strumming the song “Plink Plonk” by George Formby Senior.

    In our multicultural society music from all over the world is of increasing relevance and the history of our music can illuminate our history.

    This inspirational show includes stomping marches, early jazz, poignant ballads, catchy instrumental melodies and even a touch of Hawaiian music. It reveals that 'the instrument of the people', the ukulele, has a place in making this music live again as we remember both comradeship and sorrow.

    The programme features The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's trademark humour, originality and passion. The musical pieces will be framed by a narrative, with stories taken from original war diaries and memoirs written by relatives of the Orchestra. One grandparent told an unusual first hand account of an incident that took place at the 'Christmas Truce' in No-Man’s-Land. Other songs have been passed down by family members, who had sung them at the time of the conflict. This is a personal show. Although the war took place a century ago its reverberations and consequences are still with us all.

    Commissioned by Town Hall/Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

    Premier: Remembrance Sunday 9th November 2014
    Birmingham Town Hall 3 pm and 7:00 pm
    Box Office: 0121 345 0600
    All Tickets £19.50
    afternoon tickets 
    evening tickets

    London West End Debut the following day Monday 10th November 2014
    The Palace Theatre 7:30 pm
    Cambridge Circus
    Shaftesbury Avenue
    Box Office: 0844 482 9676
    Tickets from £12.50

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