George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain Heads to Houston

George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is coming to Houston, courtesy of the Society for the Performing Arts.
George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain is coming to Houston, courtesy of the Society for the Performing Arts. Photo by Allison Burke
Puppies, cute babies, ice cream cones and ukuleles. We can always count on one or all of these to bring about a smile, even on the rainiest of days.

George Hinchliffe figured that out when he founded the ukes back in 1985. "We thought we might just do the one concert in a local pub," says Hinchliffe about that very first gig in the United Kingdom. "The audience really came out and said, 'You should keep doing it.' The audience just got bigger from day one. It's turned into a real paying gig."

In typical British fashion, that might be an understatement. Now, almost 35 years later, George Hinchliffe’s Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has seen its music used in films, plays and television commercials. They've collaborated with The Ministry of Sound, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), and David Arnold, and have been accused of spawning hundreds of imitators, populating almost every major city in the U.K. with ukulele groups.

Oh, and then there was performing at Windsor Castle for the oh-so-private 90th birthday party for Her Majesty the Queen. Not bad for a lad from Sheffield.

Now Hinchliffe, the founding member and director of the orchestra, is bringing his merry band of smile-bringing ukulele players to H-Town, courtesy of the Society for the Performing Arts.

"It’s all ukulele. That’s the idea: bass, baritone, treble and tenor, soprano; different pitches, different registers, same family," says Hinchliffe, who tells us they'll play a mix of punk rock, rock, pop, jazz, classical, "folky country stuff," and heavy metal.

"Everybody plays, everybody sings, everybody talks to the audience. We try to have lighthearted introductions to the songs and sometimes corny jokes and sometimes stories," says Hinchliffe. "You try and make that whole experience as lighthearted as possible, but we take it very seriously."

Hinchliffe began playing the ukulele in 1960 and says this will only be his second time in the Lone Star State, though he's familiar with our iconic Tex-Mex food through song. He's looking forward to getting some hot tamales while in town.

Get in on the fun before the performance by taking part in SPA's public ukulele workshop with the orchestra; that's Sunday, March 17 from 1-2 p.m. in one of the practice rooms.

This unique opportunity will allow ukulele enthusiasts to practice their skills on the ukulele while learning in an intimate setting from world-class artists. Public Ukulele Workshop participants will get to play with the artists before seeing their show directly after the workshop. For more information about the Public Ukulele Workshop, please e-mail [email protected].

A performance is scheduled for March 17 at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713-227-4772 or visit $45 to $65.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney