Wednesday, 19 August 2009

They think it's all over

It is now. Getting on for one thousand ukulele players joined the extended Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain for last night’s prom, swelling the ranks of an ensemble that is normally eight-strong. Gentleman George Hinchcliffe and his merry gang put on a first-class show to a capacity audience. The sight of a thousand ukes being waved in the air way past 11pm has to be a first for the Royal Albert Hall.

And what about the Beethoven? Was the Ode to Joy a dog’s dinner? Strange to relate, it was mesmerising. Having so many people playing an essentially quiet instrument was altogether magical in the darkened hall. I don’t think George will be signing too many of us up just yet, but we all had a thoroughly good time.

And where was Proms boss and tyro ukulele player Roger Wright for this event? Search me. But wherever he was lurking to play the tune while his daughter strummed the chords, he should have been well chuffed at having provided the opportunity for so many people to have so much fun.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Hold the front page

Noon on the day of the grand ukulele prom, ten hours before the event, and already a queue is forming outside the Albert Hall. Since many of its members are clutching ukulele cases they are probably not queuing for the Budapest Festival Orchestra at the earlier prom. (If they are, it could be a pretty unusual version of Dvorak Seven.

By now, getting on for one thousand people have registered as tyro uke players for the event. This record breaking success has clearly gone to the head of Proms chief Roger Wright, for as we wait our turn for tv and radio interviews on the subject he begins to rave. 'What cheese do you need to hide a horse?' he asks. 'Mascarpone.' Poor man. No hope, I fear.

But the big news is the arrival of my hero, George Hinchcliffe, grand fromage of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, with three of the orchestra, who strum away for BBC Television and to the general wonderment of passers-by.

This thrilling mastery of the instrument stands in stark contrast to my own efforts, but I can't make a prat of myself, surely? I haven't taken my uke along to the interview. 'Borrow mine,' says the grinning presenter with an evil glint in his eye, and I find myself doing a solo, murdering Beethoven on national television while the sound man tries not to wet himself. I think we're in for quite an evening.

Under starter's orders

The big day arrives and we ukulele playing masses are digesting the marching orders the BBC sent us yesterday. ‘What should I do before the performance?’ wonders a helpful letter. Answer: ‘Please take a look at our online tutorial’. Bit late for that, I reckon, and by now we fall broadly into two camps: those who can play the chords and those who can only get their fingers round the tune.

The night before the grand event I seek out Proms supremo Roger Wright in an Albert Hall watering hole. An accord is met: we are tune men, but are bringing along talented young chord players to help us out.

Back at the BBC letter, there are some strict instructions. There is to be a ten-minute rehearsal before the Prom. ‘Once the rehearsal is done please put away your Ukulele,’ says Aunty. ‘Ode to Joy will be performed towards the end of the concert, please refrain from playing along during any of the other pieces in the concert!’

And there’s more: ‘Enjoy the performance! You’ll be told from the stage when to get your Ukulele out and led by the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in the first Proms mass Ukulele Orchestra.’

Friday, 14 August 2009

Ode on the road

The countdown begins to the music event of the year - the grand debut of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain at the Proms next Tuesday, complete with massed rendition of Beethoven's Ode to Joy. On retreat for some serious rehearsal in preparation, I take a stroll through some seaside lanes and discover another enthusiast, to judge from the number plate on the band wagon.