Music review: Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra
Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra at Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14), reviewed by Fiona Shepherd
The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, as distinct from any other ukulele orchestras which may have sprung up in the Wellington area, was founded eight years ago by Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords/Oscar-winning Muppet songs fame.
McKenzie is not in town for their debut Fringe run but his co-founder Age Prior is, along with nine of his other uke-wielding mates and a double bass player who appears to be the only member of the ensemble not to have raided the dressing-up box for wacky stagewear. Who knew you could get a onesie made out of an old candlewick bedspread?
This motley bunch make a cohesive collective sound, with some playing rhythm, others on lead and almost everyone at one point or another in the set stepping forward from their wide semi-circle to sing a lead vocal and/or share an anecdote.
As well as being infectious instrumentally, their voices blend smoothly on a pretty straightforward rendition of Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight.
With four EPs of material to choose from, the set varies from show to show. Occasionally, they play the novelty card when they really don’t have to. Their version of Bonnie Tyler’s It’s a Heartache is supplemented by some silliness with a mini mirrorball and glittery curtain. But there is nothing novelty about their twanging good version of the Carter Family’s Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow with classic country two-part harmony.
Both The Smiths’ This Charming Man and Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me a River respond well to ukulele treatment, the sprightly jangling intro to the former and the pizzicato strings of the latter lending themselves remarkably well to a four-string arrangement. Ukulele anoraks, meanwhile, can salivate over their collection of resonator ukuleles, banjolele and Tahitian uke, deployed for a lovely luau number.
The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra come not to rock your world, but to transport you momentarily to some carefree place.
MORE INFO: Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra at Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14), Until 26 August
Originally published in The Scotsman