Ficklish Blog

Friday, May 19, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

I think the reason I like travelling so much is because it enables me to indulge my delight in the random and absurd on a regular basis. Life feels normal wherever you are: I'm the same person, getting through each day doing regular things - just transplanted. Wandering around spectacular places, meeting excellent people, having more fun than should be legal, and it feels just like life.

But I have these moments, every now and again, where I step back from whatever is happening, shake my head and wonder how on earth I got here and at what my life has become. Being away from home, on my own and without my normal posse to be the witnesses to my stories, the eerie surreality of each random situation makes my head spin.

The first was probably during the pub crawl in Barcelona, watching grown men and women play obscene drinking games with Tommy the GnR fan singing 'Civil War' in my left ear. In Valencia, I remember dancing like a maniac to the Cult with my mate Steve and thinking, 'how on earth did I get here?'. Amsterdam was one crazy moment after another. London feels more normal - or so I thought. I had my first inkling of the potential for the absurd that lurks here last Saturday night, when my welcome party stretched into Sunday morning and I sat in my new loungeroom surrounded by friendly strangers, ingesting various intoxicating substances and discussing subjects as varied as World Bank economic rationalism (and its impact on water services in developing countries), the pros and cons of various sales techniques, Australian pub rock of the 1970s and 80s, and donkey porn. One of my new friends would catch me grinning to myself every now and again and ask what was so funny - it was difficult to explain the strange displacement I felt, and how bizarre it was to be there.

Somehow all these moments have now paled into insignificance. This week, I learned that you really haven't lived until you've heard the Velvet Underground on ukulele.

I caught up with a friend from my Exeter days on Wednesday evening, accompanying him (at his suggestion) to a performance by The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

And, my friends, it was spectacular.

I'll admit that I was a wee bit apprehensive. My friend has always had reasonably eccentric musical tastes (we used to do university radio together), but I trusted his sense of fun and hoped for the best. And I was not disappointed. They were the awesome.

You can read more about them here.

Basically, it's seven ukuleles and a bass guitar. Five men, two women, of varying ages and vocal styles. Clad in dinner suits, they sat in a close semicircle on stage, one mike each for their ukes (!) and one to sing into. The repertoire was excellent and included pieces from such esteemed composers as David Bowie, Talking Heads, Status Quo, Johnny Cash, and Nirvana. They played 'Born to be Wild', the theme from Shaft, a medley that started with Handel and somehow ended up as Hotel California, and, as mentioned above, a version of 'Candy Says' that blew me away.

It was fabulous. The arrangements were complex, the playing energetic and precise. Each member took the lead vocal for at least one song, the others joining in with harmony and counterpoint. They rocked out. On their ukuleles. And they were funny! Witty banter, brilliantly executed physical gags during the songs, and a sense of infectious joy that permeated the entire hall and had the audience eating out of their hands.

It had all the potential to be completely ridiculous - and I guess it was - but this was more than overcome by their steadfast refusal to take themselves too seriously coupled with the sheer quality of the music. I spent the evening in a state of gleeful delight, and by the end my cheeks and ribs were sore from the laughing.

Those of you in London - they're playing again on 30 June, and I'll definitely be there. You should come with me. For those at home: they're coming to Oz in November, apparently. Do yourselves a favour and go and see them. It'll be the funnest thing you do all year.

This was by far the most random evening I've had to date. If I'm ever caught with that feeling of strange displacement again, I'll just think to myself, 'well, it could be weirder. I could be considering taking up the ukulele.'


Blogger Greeny said...

Reminds me of Hayseed Dixie

8:39 AM  
Blogger Jackie said...

You'll be pleased to know that if you do join the ranks of esteemed ukelele players, you will be amongst good company. Helen Garner and her family hav regular ukelele playing get-togethers. And I know how you like your Garner.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Jackie said...

PS - Greeny, how do you find a band like Hayseed Dixie?

12:21 PM  
Blogger Shaun said...

Well, that solves the mystery fun you wouldn't tell me about. And, yes, yes, YES, I will join you on the 30th!

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Struth - a ukelele band. Who would have thought? I'll look out for them in sydney in november. A little light amusement.

We talked about your blog at our pyjama party associated (by proximity)with the Dems conference on the weekend. Much as I would love to tell you Chippy mentioned it in his speech ... he didn't.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Veggie Friendly said...

Seven ukeleles and a bass guitar ... sounds like a Beck song.

This wouldn't be the guy you did the Tubular Bells special with by any chance?

11:53 AM  
Blogger jLo said...

Greeny, they look the awesome.

J, The - you know exactly how pleased I am to have found a potential area of common interest with La Garner.

ShaunJ, damn you! I thought the surprise would be safe if I posted about it while you were on the road.... at any rate, I promise it'll be worth it...

Eleri, the Chipster must be regretting the lost opportunity to speak about the global sensation that is this blog. Hope conference was fun (was there a trivia night?!)

BOS, the very one! Very nicely remembered, my friend...

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


There was a quiz night! how could I forget. AB was the quiz master of an intermittently gothic event. Well as gothic as you can get in hotel function room. How many chickens died in 1997? Indeed - turned out to be quite alot.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Greeny said...

j, the: I have been witness to Hayseed Dixie in the live and shit at the Hi-fi Bar. Memorable quote of the night from the band was, "We belive in 4 thangs: Drinkin'. Cheatin'. Women. And Hell!'


1:56 PM  
Blogger Jackie said...

Greeny, that sounds like quite a night out. Remind me to enter "thangs" into my mobile phone's predictive text memory. In case I ever have to SMS in Dixie-ish.

1:10 PM  

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