Ukulele renditions fun but serious


The wildly-popular Wellington Ukulele Orchestra is promising a feast for eyes and ears in Queenstown next Thursday. 

The line-up of 11 musicians will play in the resort for the first time and band member Carmel Russell says singing to the mountains as well as new people will be extra special. 

“It’s always good to dive into new territory. I’m sure it will be an awesome crowd,” she says. 

Russell, who works for the Ministry of Education by day, describes the infectious sound as: “An all-singing, all-playing luxurious sound upon the ears, with harmonising and breakdown groups where you have country hits or plinky-plonky ukulele solos – and everything in between.” 

She’s joined in the group by professional musicians like Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie, as well as an actor, a political campaign manager, television producer, psychiatric nurse and house painter. Original member McKenzie – who just won an Oscar at the Academy Awards for best original song – is unlikely to join the troupe because of his busy overseas schedule, Russell says. 

Russell joined the group as an accomplished singer who learned to play the ukulele as she went along. 

“I was faking it till I made it. I kept thinking, Bret McKenzie’s here, and all these people who can play. I know the words, I’ll keep faking it until I can play.” 

Together for six years now, the orchestra’s popularity took the members by surprise. 

“The meteoric rise of the orchestra was way more than I imagined. I thought it was this little sing-along group,” Russell admits. 

While their takes on popular covers are “guaranteed fun”, Russell stresses the renditions are polished pieces of music. 

“It’s this crazy mix of slapstick and a bit silly, but also we are really serious about performing really amazing versions of songs,” Russell says.

What: Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra
When: Thursday, March 8
Where: Memorial Hall, Queenstown
Cost: $38

Mountain Scene has a double pass to the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra to give away.