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The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain at Convocation Hall

University of Toronto, Convocation Hall, on Wa...

Image by Bobcatnorth via Flickr

The Nephew suggested we meet at a Green P parking lot at Spadina and Cecil and grab a bit to eat before the show. As I left Long Branch and steered the Anchovymobile in that general direction, I thought, geez, Spadina and Cecil, that’s Grossman’s Tavern. There’s no Green P there. The nearest one is a bit south and on the other side of the road, in Kensington Market. I waited there for a while but no sign of The Nephew. An entrepreneur selling dope on the corner glared at me after ten minutes. Maybe he thought I was muscling in on his corner.

It turned out that traffic on the Don Wally was thicker than expected (The Nephew lives in the hinterlands) and after a short while I received a phone call. He had arrived and was actually at a hidden parking lot, off a lane-way off Cecil, not a Green P lot. It had been years since I was at that lot. I forgot it even existed. We walked back to the market and agreed on a Burrito place for dinner.

We arrived at Convocation Hall plenty early and found our seat. For those not from Toronto, Convocation Hall is on the University of Toronto campus. It’s a lovely hall with a tall domed roof, staffed  by students wearing, you guessed it, convocation robes. Nice touch.

In our seats, we watched the rest of the crowd file in, an audience of all ages it turned out. What surprised us were the number of audience members who brought their ukeleles to the concert. That’s how you tell a ukelele freak from a casual listener. There were dozens of people carrying their ukeleles, mostly in fancy little uke cases. A few had broken them out. Three people a few feet from us were playing a Beatles tune with enthusiasm.

After the brief introduction, six men and one woman walked on stage, the men in tuxes and the woman in a black gown, six ukes and one bass uke. They started the show in homage to the British ukelele music hall tradition, then moved right into Born to be Wild.

The do a delightful piece they call Fly me off the Handel. I found a version on YouTube:

We heard themes from Pulp Fiction and from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and the theme from Shaft. We heard Rock around the Clock, Orange Blossom Special, Teenage Dirtbag, Hot Tamales, a fantastic version of that lovely Sex Pistols ditty, Anarchy in the UK (perhaps my fave of the night…they even included “get pissed – destroy” at the end). They played a classical piece I didn’t know and a blues called Limehouse Blues I also didn’t know. Oh, and did I mention Psycho Killer? And the Nirvana tune, Smells Like Teen Spirit? Pinball Wizard? They played those and several more I didn’t mention in two generous sets.

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain has been at it for 25 years now.  They are very, very good at what they do. There is a strong comedic element, beginning with the concept of a uke orchestra playing mostly covers of very well-known tunes not normally played with ukeleles. The comedy is successful because the music is remarkable and exceptionally well-played. By using a variety of ukes and tunings along with clever musical and vocal arrangements, the Orchestra musters up a musical range way beyond anything you might expect a bunch of ukelele players to ever achieve.

The group also brings together music from wildly disparate genres using a generous helping of ukelele glue, and they make is seems as if it is most reasonable thing.

We had a great time. The show was fabulous and it was fun to spend some time with The Nephew as well.

Here’s another from YouTube, the theme from The Good The Bad and The Ugly.


  1. sp

    Wow. I loved the You Tube video with all of them singing. I would love to see them play. It must have been a great concert.

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