We’ve all heard of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields but in this article I’d like to give well-deserved credit to some of the stranger ensembles of our fair isles. Often self-funded and run voluntarily by individuals (of perhaps questionable sanity), these groups exemplify the original and- in my opinion- true meaning of the word ‘amateur’ i.e. an individual who engages in an activity purely for pleasure, not for financial benefit but because they have passion for what they do.
First off, a group that you may actually have heard of because they have broken slightly into the mainstream in the last decade or so with the unstoppable rise of the mighty ukulele: the UKULELE ORCHESTRA OF GREAT BRITAIN. Combining comedy performance with this comedy instrument, they have now gone global and are almost permanently on an international tour, playing (among others) pieces such as “DAMBUSTERS MARCH” and “BORN THIS WAY”. They perform on an enormous range of ukuleles to achieve their sound: soprano, concert, tenor, baritone and bass. If I’m not wrong, the chap with the ponytail lives locally and is often at “Open Mic Nights” in the Crown public house in Otford.
Perhaps a slightly less well known ensemble is the incredibly bizarre and truly fascinating LONDON VEGETABLE ORCHESTRA (Yes, the London Vegetable Orchestra) who made a RECENT APPEARANCE ON THE BBC PROGRAMME ROOM 101. There are no words! Apparently they have to actually make all of their instruments before each performance …now that’s dedication! I know of no other orchestras that can lay claim to doing that. I don’t know about you, but I reckon they really are very “gourd”.
And finally a personal favourite, a weird and wonderful orchestra that proves that even the most highly respected, established ensembles aren’t immune to taking themselves a little less seriously. A few years ago, BBC Four invited the esteemed BBC Concert Orchestra to venture into the realms of the madly inventive to become the BBC SCRAPHEAP ORCHESTRA. Professional instrument makers were challenged to make an entire orchestra solely from scrap (not scrap vegetables!), a challenge they successfully managed to complete in just 11 weeks! The musicians then played Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture on those instruments at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall (as you would!) where they were rewarded with a standing ovation! Skip to 4m 40s in THIS VIDEO to hear their performance or listen to the whole clip to hear some of the background story too.
If anyone can beat any of these crazy ensembles as Britain’s strangest orchestra, please let me know …or simply add your comments and thoughts below.