You know when you see one of those shows that just has you sitting there grinning? Well that happened to me (and a lot of other people) at this years Grand Northern Ukulele Festival at which The Anything Goes Orchestra closed the weekend with a bouncing, blistering set that was, for me, a highlight of the weekend. Since then I have had their album "Mr Otis Regrets" on heavy rotation.
The band are a five piece hailing from Sheffield comprising Tim Smithies (vocals, uke, kazoo), 'Mighty' Mo Andrews (vocals, percussion), Andrew 'Doc' Strong (vocals, uke), Jake 'The Shake' Smithies (double bass) and Dave Thornett (drums). They bill themselves as 'The Worlds Greatest Ukulele Feel Good Big Band' - and judging by their set in Pontefract this year, I think the audience would most probably agree.
Listening to the record, I was mostly struck by how this is a band with something of a dual identity. It would be easy to look at their image and assume, that this is a group stuck on playing tunes from the 20's or 30's. Whilst that influence oozes through the record, there is actually a lot more to them than that.
We open with the ukulele staple of "Five Foot Two", delivered in the style you would expect. It's certainly big band stuff and accompanied by Tim on his 'Canzoo'. (For you and I, thats a kazoo, stuck in can... obviously.. but it allows him to play a muted trumpet style which sounds great).
But then something changes, after some simple uke strumming the CD starts bouncing to the track 'Upside Down' by Paloma Faith. Hang on a minute.. We have just jumped from the 1920's to 2010 in a heartbeat. Is this their pitch at being 'ironic'? The token 'modern' cover? No, no, no - far from it, read on! It's one of several standout tracks on the album for me. I have to admit not having listened all that much to the original but having checked that out since - sorry Paloma - I think they got you beat! It's a delight and the call and response vocals are a real treat.
|'TAGO' in full swing (credit - Andrew Henry)|
But as I say, this is no token doff of the cap to the modern. We stay in the present with a smoky cover (and sublime vocal from Mo) of Big Bad Handsome Man by Imelda May. It sounds woozy, sultry and gets lit up midway with its own fuzzy lead uke solo.
And with that we switch back to the 50's with one of those songs that has been covered by everyone - Fever as (I guess) made most famous by Peggy Lee. It's a simple and pretty take led in the main by Jakes smooth double bass complimenting Mo's fabulous voice. Whilst it would have been 'easy' (for someone with a voice like Mo's, I particularly like the fact that it is delivered with her very own style.
We stay back in years gone by with another highlight for me. The Dubin and Warren jazz classic 'Lulu's Back In Town', most famously sung by Fats Waller. It's from here that we get the albums title (in case you were wondering) as it contains the line 'Mr Otis Regrets'. This went down a storm at the gig I saw and shows the band really sounding like they are enjoying what they are doing.
So are we getting the picture now? Whilst elsewhere on the album we have more oldies in the likes of Summertime and Sweet Georgia Brown, we get there by way of the Mike Batt penned Katy Melua track 'My Aphrodisiac Is You' and The Paulo Nutini good time tune 'Pencil Full Of Lead', the latter led by Andrew Strong at bullet pace.
The total standout for me is another Imelda May track, Jonny Got A Boom Boom. This drives like a steam train, led by Jakes exemplary rockabilly bass, drum solo, uke solo and of course Mo's trademark screaming bluesy voice. Love it. I challenge you to listen to this without your feet tapping - it's tight, thumping and really well performed.
Elsewhere we have the likes of 'Is You Is', and a flip to the (nearly) modern via Tainted Love by Soft Cell. How's that for variety?
The album closes on a track that, when I saw the album sleeve, I have to admit didn't expect me to be noting as something of a highlight, probably because I have seen so many uke clubs take this track on. Its the club staple, 'Wanna Be Like You' from Jungle Book. You know - if you are in a club and play this and think you have it nailed? You don't. Sorry....! Everything about this track exudes the 'good time' that these guys promised. Razor sharp bass line from Jake - great scat call and response vocals. Hard not to smile listening to this one. And because I hear so many people playing this, I had actually grown rather sick of it in the last couple of years. Funny how a solid performance can shake that out of you eh?
|The band L-R Tim Smithies, Mo Andrews, Dave Thornett, Andrew Strong, Jake Smithies|
I've really enjoyed listening to this, but of course do recognise that in the 'niche' world of ukulele fans, it's hard for me to try to come across as completely impartial. I would assure readers that if I didn't like it, I would say so, but, of course, you have to take my word for that. There are some tracks stronger than others, for sure. On some tracks I thought the ukulele was a little lower in the mix than I would like but then, whilst they bill themselves as a 'ukulele' band I don't think that's what they really are. This is a five piece who happen to use a couple of ukuleles. I'd also like to have heard a little more of Jakes electrifying bass runs, but these are just nitpicking.
As I said earlier, I think there are two sides to this coin. Will this appeal to the uke community? Of course it will, but it should appeal to anyone who likes good music (as I say, I don't consider this a 'ukulele album'). But it also has that core backbone of variety between the songs. Lovers of old time jazz will like it for its style and the scattering of classic old tunes, but there is much from todays music in there too. I think that's why its so enjoyable to listen to. Let me give you another form of review. I have a 13 year old daughter who is firmly in that age of whatever Dad likes in 'uncool'. She is also firmly entrenched in listening to the likes of One Direction and nothing else (she will learn...!). Anyway, I put this on in the car during a journey, expecting her to put the iPod earphones in. There she sat, feet tapping away. The next car journey she asks for the album to go on again.... Having now considered that, you can kind of ignore everything else I have written as I think that just about sums it up!
And what of their self appointed 'good time'? Well, to me they sound like they are having an absolute ball!
Five Foot Two
Big Bad Handsome Man
Lulu's Back In Town
My Aphrodisiac Is You
Pencil Full Of Lead
Jonny Got A Boom Boom
Is You Is
Sweet Georgia Brown
Wanna Be Like You