Not a place, then, where one would expect to encounter Anna Wintour, the editor of American Vogue, especially not at the height of London Fashion Week. Yet Wintour, along with New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art's top brass, had an assignation there with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. So entertaining was the performance that Wintour was even seen to remove her signature sunglasses. Indeed, the band is now penciled in to play a Vogue-sponsored benefit at the Met later this year.
From humble beginnings in a room above a London pub, the Ukulele Orchestra is today a regular at British festivals such as Glastonbury and the Hay Festival of Literature. All consummate singers and strummers, they perform their own compositions, as well as covers of popular songs that emerge freshly minted: Ms. Dynamite's Dy-Na-Mi-Tee sounds less like rap and more like Prohibition-era honky-tonk, and Kate Bush's tremulous Wuthering Heights, sung stoically by orchestra leader George Hinchcliffe, is a strange brew indeed. Even better are the medleys, which might fuse up to seven songs, including a Handel air, Frank Sinatra's Fly Me to the Moon and Hotel California by the Eagles.
These are zealots and they're out to convert you to the worship of the ukelele. Ask why one of the lineup, Jonty Bankes, appears to be playing a bass guitar, and Hinchcliffe explodes: "How many strings does a bass guitar have? Four. A guitar has six. So, who is to say that what is labeled a bass guitar isn't a bass ukulele? Bill Wyman, Paul McCartney, it's time you admitted what you truly are." So next time you mime to a track, bass cranked up high, remember—it's air ukelele you're playing. www.ukuleleorchestra.com