Having been cancelled earlier in 2020 when the island went into lockdown due to the pandemic the Ukuladeez were finally able to welcome us to their Cosmic Tea Party at St James on Saturday 24th October.
Named for their 2015 EP, the event was a sell out well in advance and saw the hall decorated ready for their unique mix of the genteel and surreal with tables laid out and ‘stars’ and ‘planets’ suspended from the ceiling — and yes tea and cakes were available (along with the usual bar).
Before the girls with the tiny guitars though the evening kicked off with the Ad-Hoc Recorders — described in the introduction as having comparisons with hip-hop crew the Wu Tang Clan and animated TV robot, Voltron.
While those comparisons may be a little on the fantastic side the troupe of recorder players made for a very fun performance spanning everything from The Beatles to Strauss to Super Mario Bros.
Having only seen them perform in The Peace Tent at Chaos in the past they were certainly the most together I’ve ever seen them tonight and, in the more controlled setting here, you could clearly here the different tones of the various types of recorder being played as they balanced some fun songs with some very enjoyable playing.
While the introductions to their songs got a bit lost in the general chat in the room, and there were a few moments where they went slightly more off piste than is ideal, they warmed people up in a manner nicely in-keeping with the feeling of the evening and even got a singalong going for their version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
Then it was time for the Ukuladeez to take to the stage and, I have to say, that despite a few hints and teases I really wasn’t sure what to expect.
What we got was far more than ‘just a gig’ as the band and their team of helpers and extra musicians led us on a mighty quest through the stars in search of an elusive percussive egg in the form of a kind of musical play featuring narration, video sequences and the odd, karaoke style, mass singalong.
While this may all sound a bit surreal the humour of the band, which has always been a highlight of their best performances and recordings in the past, was in full effect and the night flowed along through their epic, intentionally ramshackle, journey.
Speak French was an early highlight and set the mood nicely before the quest went on to the ‘planet of bad reviews’ featuring a cameo from yours truly (non-musical, no doubt to the relief of many).
Storm brought a more serious sounding and very well done jazzy number and with the ‘big band’ featuring banjos, accordions, fiddles, bag pipes and even the Folkatron 4000, along with the numerous ukuleles, the music across the night was faultless.
Towards the end of the first half a few of the Ladeez played solo songs with Ellie’s being a hilariously innuendo laden tale of a (hopefully) former beau and Mimi’s exploring the rules of songwriting to excellent effect.
The second half began with a mass singalong of You Are My Sunshine (complete with drum solo from Peter Mitchell) before the quest resumed with the always bizarre and knowing Jammy Hands, that left me questioning not only what the song was actually about but also what Folkatron maestro Stretchy was playing now!?
After a couple of songs celebrating Guernsey, including the rather wonderful Car Parks which was a tour de force for Ellie, and I think newer song featuring possibly the only Jew’s Harp solo I can recall hearing from fiddle and pipe player James Dumbelton we got a full on karaoke take on Swinging Brick.
After a visit from The Crowman, and with the egg still not located, they found their way back to St James where, by some miracle, it seems every one in the audience had their own Ukuladeez branded egg for a big shake along to the band’s signature song Emily’s In A Dress to close the set on a terrifically fun high before a couple of encores brought the night to a lively and enthusiastic climax.
While it’s been well recorded (including in this show) that I’ve not always quite ‘got’ what the Ukuladeez have been doing, tonight was a triumphant celebration of their music and their time together as a band so far, celebrating not just the music but their unique sense of humour and stage craft in the most complete way yet and showing, once again, the versatility of St James as a venue for different sorts of live music performance — I’m just a bit disappointed I missed out on the homemade cakes and biscuits!