Ukulele Orchestra in town

19:44, Nov 25 2010
Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain
REACH FOR THE STARS: The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

At 6ft 8in (2.03m), Peter Brooke Turner might be the world's tallest professional ukulele player.

Turner has been playing for 20 years and has been with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain since 1994.

The band was founded in 1985 by George Hinchcliffe and Kitty Lux, who are still with the group.

In the past 10 years ukulele orchestras have become trendy, with bands popping up all over the world, including the well-respected Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra.

Turner, who performs in Wellington tonight and tomorrow, says he started playing in 1989 because he had always enjoyed "kooky, kitschy things" but he's pleased the instrument has become so popular.

"We used to have this joke where you'd say if you leave your ukulele in the back seat of the car, you'll come back and find someone's smashed the window and thrown in another one – and now they're objects of desire.

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"If someone had told me, 'This will be paying your mortgage and supporting your family in 20 years' time', I would have laughed at them."

Ukulele orchestras have mostly shied away from playing traditional ukulele music from Hawaii or Europe, preferring to cover songs from a range of genres.

"We thought, `Well, why can't we do songs by the Velvet Underground or the Sex Pistols? And what we found was that the ukulele's sort of a musical lie detector ... if you strip everything away, by playing it on a ukulele you can tell if it's a good song or not. Surely the sign of a good song is that it can just be simply strummed through and sung, and the essence is still there."

As for personal favourites, Turner says he loves performing the much-covered 1960s pop song Macarthur Park. "We don't actually perform it that often, but when we do it's a thrill because it's so long and complex and the words are very mysterious."

There will be a Kiwi flavour to the band's New Zealand shows – they have added the traditional song Now Is The Hour (Po Atarau) to their set.

Audience members are invited to bring along their own ukuleles to join in.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performs at the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington tonight and tomorrow. Tickets are $59 to $79.

The Dominion Post