Artist Spotlight: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Possibly the only orchestra that'll leave you in awe at their skills while making you giggle, we looked at the story of the world’s first ukulele orchestra, The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 11th May 2022

Who knew the ukulele could represent rebellion? And who knew performing popular music with some British humour sprinkled in was all it would take for the ukulele to be shot into the limelight? 

You’ll likely remember that period when ukuleles were all the rage. Schools swapped out their recorders for them, thousands uploaded videos of their covers onto YouTube, and it seemed just about everyone wanted one. For that, you can largely thank The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

But how exactly did a fun-loving orchestra use the uke to rebel and inspire thousands to take up the instrument? Let’s take a look… 

The story of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (UOGB) dates back to 1985 when it was formed by George Hinchliffe and Kitty Lux after he bought her a ukulele for her birthday. From there, they bought ukuleles for their friends and named themselves 'The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’. And that was that. Suddenly, the world's first ukulele orchestra was born! 

Each member already had experience in the music industry and was sick of its pretentiousness and limitations. Naturally, the ukulele was the perfect instrument for the group to rebel against it: cheap, not tied to any specific genre, and versatile, allowing the orchestra to perform creatively and entertainingly. This distaste for the industry is why the orchestra remains independent to this day, having never signed to a record label despite constant touring and multiple releases. 

The orchestra’s first gig, which was supposed to be a one-off, went down at the Roebuck pub in London. Unsurprisingly, the gig was a hit, and it even sold out. Shortly after, the orchestra was played on the radio before making an appearance on the TV channel BBC One. It wasn’t long before they brought their joyful, skilful performances to Glastonbury Festival, the Sydney Opera House, and even the UK’s Houses of Parliament.

At the Ukulele Orchestra’s gigs, you can expect iconic songs we all know and love, such as Psycho Killer, Anarchy in the U.K., Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), Born This Way, Highway To Hell, Kiss, and Wuthering Heights. But what makes them stand out is the use of notorious British humour. Performances are adored by audiences and critics alike, with reviewers labelling them a British institution with “beautiful chemistry that represents fun, innocence, daftness and a genuinely enjoyable showcase of unique talent.”

Passionate about spreading the word about just how fantastic and versatile the ukulele is, the orchestra has donated ukuleles to schools, run workshops, and even let their audiences bring their ukulele along to their performances so they can play along. 

Today, the orchestra has released a whopping 19 albums and 6 live albums as well as compilations and DVDs, despite focusing mainly on touring. The orchestra still has kept its founding members all this time, except for co-founder Kitty Lux who passed away back in July of 2017. The UOGB has picked up new members along the way to support their ever-improving set and expand their sound. 

 


 

If you want to catch the world's first ukulele orchestra play your favourite songs and make you giggle, the Ukulele Orchestra will perform on Sunday the 5th of June at Leighton Live. Set to perform alongside The Halle Orchestra, Laura Wright and more, it’ll certainly be a magical day.

 



 

Check out our What's On Guide to discover even more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.

 

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Header image: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain on Facebook 

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