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Sam Brown - Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames, 9/12/2016

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 8 / 2 / 2017

Sam Brown - Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames, 9/12/2016


Nick Dent-Robinson finds much to enjoy at Sam Brown's annual pre-Christmas International Ukulele Club show at the Kenton Theatre on Henley-on-Thames

Talented multi-platinum, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter Sam Brown hosted another pre-Christmas ukulele extravaganza at Henley's Kenton Theatre on Friday 9th December. Staged in one of England's oldest and most attractive and intimate theatres, these annual shows are always one of the year's most unmissable, brilliant gigs - an evening you never forget. The show featured a stage packed full of players from Sam's original and increasingly capable International ukulele Club of Sonning Common. In support throughout the evening was Sam's brother Pete Brown, the top record producer and virtuoso on electric and Hawaiian guitars plus uke and mandolin who also coaches uke groups. And there was several other top professional musicians – providing additional vocal and musical backing. The repertoire of Sam's ukulele clubs is wide-ranging. Their music dates from the late 1980s to now with imaginative uke arrangements by Sam Brown. Highlights over the years have included 'Ring of Fire', 'Dedicated Follower of Fashion', 'Freight Train', 'Wish You Were Here', 'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea', 'Ukulele Lady', 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips' and the George Formby classic, 'When I'm Cleaning Windows'. Charlie Dore's 'Cheapskate Lullaby' was memorable as was Joe Brown's 'I'll See You In My Dreams'. There was as always a stylishly retro feel to the whole evening. And, to the audience's delight, this as usual included some rather retro and non-PC humour from Sam Brown in her mistress-of-ceremonies role. It is hard to say why, but there is something surprisingly jolly and uplifting about hearing so many ukuleles playing together – something so infectious in a cheery, smiley, toe-tapping way. No wonder the humble uke has recently enjoyed such a surge in popularity with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain gaining international plaudits and the likes of Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Frank Skinner, James Franco and lately even Jimmy Page all committed uke fans. Sam says that “the mature lady” seems especially attracted to playing the uke, perhaps seeing it as rather friendlier and less daunting than the more masculine and intimidating guitar. The back story to this Henley event is that a few years ago Sam Brown suffered vocal problems. She'd been working non-stop for over three decades with Pink Floyd, Jools Holland, George Harrison, Jon Lord, Chris Jagger and so many more but suddenly needed to rest her voice. Her dad Joe, along with his good friend George Harrison, had long been a uke enthusiast and Sam had previously recorded her own successful 'Ukulele & Voice' CD. So, to augment her on-going song-writing, arranging, record-producing and vocal tuition activities, in 2010 Sam decided to teach half a dozen people the ukulele. Initially she coached just three friends in the front room of her Sonning Common, Oxfordshire home. But word spread fast and, with the current craze for learning the uke - which in the last couple of years has been outselling guitars in the UK for the first time for generations, by late 2010 there were twenty-five members of Sam's newly formed 'international' (“Well, the ukuleles are from lots of different countries, aren't they?” Sam explains!) uke club. By now more than 350 people - of all ages and diverse backgrounds - have learned uke-playing from Sam and there are a series of different uke clubs run by Sam and Pete around Southern England. Sam Brown's intention was always to steer her uke players towards early successful stage performances. There were early shows in village halls and from 2011 events at the Kenton Theatre event and other professional venues. From the beginning, tickets have sold out in days and audiences often include actors, celebrity chefs, sports stars and quite a few professional musicians including some major names. The delight of the Henley evening, though, is always the sheer fun, great atmosphere and unique “happiness vibe” that this mix of hugely keen amateurs with seriously talented professionals achieves. The professional musicans all rave about the raw exhilaration of performing with such zesty enthusiasts. And the amateur uke players - who have included secretaries, a doctor, a radio presenter, an engineer, a former international cabaret singer, an embalmer plus a lively assortment of school-age children! - are euphoric about their chance to share a stage with such talent. “Just being part of a show that includes brilliant musicians like Pete Brown - and Sam! - and which gets such a fantastic audience response is a true adrenalin-booster, positively life-enhancing,” one of Sam's jubilant uke students commented to me a couple of years ago, after several encores at Henley, his voice hoarse with wonder at the whole phenomenon. Throughout all of this, the irrepressible Sam Brown's tutelage and role as chief ring mistress of the evening is crucial. As the singer-songwriter Charlie Dore - a participant in several of Sam's past uke events - commented to me, “Fortunately all those performing realise they've landed in a very lucky place. From their involvement with Sam they soon understand and appreciate they are going to come away with so much more than just a few uke chords! It's obvious they are relishing the whole experience.” The uke club has in the past recorded with Sam's dad, the veteran rock star Joe Brown. They have featured on TV and radio and in a very warm profile in 'The Sunday Telegraph'. The club has brought a real and unexpected boost to the lives of its members. An evening at any of their events is guaranteed to lift the spirits, put a smile on the face and get the toes tapping and hands clapping of anyone fortunate enough to be there. More details of Sam Brown's International Ukulele Club of Sonning Common are at www.thefabulousukuleleclub.com or at ukuleleclub@hotmail.co.uk. For more about Sam Brown go to www.misssambrown.com

Also at Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames

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Sam Brown - Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames, 9/12/2016

Sam Brown - Kenton Theatre, Henley on Thames, 9/12/2016

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