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28 June 2013

The Ukulele Festival of Great Britain 2013

It's official! I don't get out much!

I'm back from my visit down to the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain in Cheltenham and I have a heap of photos and recollections to share with you below. Forgive me if I jump about a bit, but this weekend has been a bit of a blur. View this as an alternative review of the festival... You read this blog for a reason right? Welcome to my world...


"Who's Kev?"

I can't say that I was very impressed with the hotel we stayed in at Cheltenham. What a dump! There was a sign on the wall in reception that read along the lines of: "Please don't abuse the staff... They're here to help you." The hotel was one and three-quarters of a mile from the centre of Cheltenham. It was a walk I was to do many times.


Spirits were high as we arrived in Cheltenham. I had it covered with two ukes at the ready: my hell-fire red Kingcaster electric uke and the one and only infected Tokyo uke. I must have been getting a bit hyper in the build up. How else can I possibly explain the following video?



In case you're wondering what a hell-fire red Kingcaster electric ukulele looks like...

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It's a little bit blurry, but if you peer really hard, you can just about make out two large pillars and the stage in the picture on the left. :-D

I was a little bleary-eyed on the Saturday; The result of a little bit too much of a good thing the night before. In all the excitement, I only went and forgot my camera in the hotel room, so unfortunately a number of the pictures in this post are from my phone and a little bit blurry. On the right of this picture is a shot of the first band of the day, Sam Brown's International Ukulele Club of Sonning Common who wowed us with a top rendition of Pinball Wizard and a curiously country and western version of Ace of Spades. This is the very same Sam Brown who had a hit with Stop! in 1986 (daughter of Joe Brown). She mentioned on the day that she could no longer sing, but didn't explain why. You can't leave us with half a story Sam! Does anyone know the ending?



I love this Dead Mans Uke postcard on the left. I found it on a table in the "exhibitors" room. Unfortunately, I never got to hear the duo play. My bro says that DMU were doing a turn on the door welcoming people into the Cheltenham Town Hall on the day of the concert.

The picture on the right is a plea for some crowdfunding for The Ukes in America documentary. This looks to be another Ukulele Orchestra of GB tour. I seem to remember that the band were begging for money to fund a tour of Australia this time last year ;-) . Now they're off to crack America!

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Elof and Wamberg were one of my favourites acts from the festival. This very talented Danish duo wowed the crowds with an evening set of their own eclectic compositions. My favourite song of the evening was one I've been referring to as "the girlfriend" song. I can't be sure , but it might be the one on the video below...



Below is the song that the guys ended with. James Hill (more on him later) joined the band for the last song and helped the team to bang out a rollicking version of this tune...



The festival started at Exmouth Arms on the Friday night and ended back at the Arms on the Sunday. The giant union jack uke was back on display and this year the rain stayed away! Hoorah! What a brilliant uke on the right! It was auctioned on the Sunday. I missed all that fun so don't know whether it sold or for how much. Check out the monkey on a bicycle with a penguin head! You know that I love this sort of crazy stuff. The uke is signed Brian Collins 2013 and I'm guessing that the design is called "After Emily Young". If you know who Brian Collins is then please drop me a comment... I'd love to learn more.


There is a distinct lack of good places to eat in the centre of Cheltenham; either that or they are all very well hidden. I'd been asking on Google+ prior to going down whether there was a Sushi bar in Cheltenham. No response. Quite by chance, I did find one, only it was shut. Damn! Actually it won't be open for months!

I did find a Thai after much stomping about. The Green Emerald wasn't the best Thai I've ever eaten, but the restaurant decor is absolutely stunning.


Rule 1 of discovering a new town is to get your bearing. I was fortunate enough to stumble across the above map. I also stumbled across something called Golden Root Complex in a pub toilet. What on earth could it be? There was only one way to find out... :-s


Andy Eastwood had a drummer and an organist who could play bass with his left foot. Can you see that Andy's playing a violin? What's that all about then? Ha ha. He ended his set with a couple of old-school banjolele numbers, strumming at the speed of light. What a Formby pro ;-)

In case you're wondering what you've been missing, check this out. Andy performed his banjolele version of the William Tell Overture on the night... with the same cheeky smile...



Look at Andy go!

AndyEastwood


You won't believe this, but I ran into more scarabs on my travels. The ones in the middle of this picture were snapped in the window of the Millenium Music Shop.  I came across the other two in the Rotundra Tavern in Montpellier. What is it about Montpellier? No-matter where you're heading, you always seem to end up there! As a sign of our frustration, we wrote a song with the catchy chorus of "I don't want to go back to Montpellier". It was on one of my many visits to this suburb that I concocted my idea of manufacturing a new love potion called "Golden Scarab Root Complex" with the catchphrase "It gives you the horn". I wonder if it will catch on?



Grand Northern Ukulele Festival 2013

I discovered the launch of an inaugural "Northern" ukulele festival and hooked up with the organisers on the Saturday. I won't say too much about the festival at the moment other than it is going to be based in Pontefract (near Leeds) running over the 12th and 13th of October 2013. Get your tickets now. All of the details are in the picture above. I hope to be doing a more detailed teaser for the event in upcoming weeks to give you a feel for what it's all about and what you can expect at the event. Watch this space.


This set of snaps is of a few curiosities I came across on my travels. It kind of sums up the weekend: walking... drinking... and music!

Below, I'm being checked up on by Mrs Uke. "Yep, eveything's fine Love. Early night tonight..." ;-D



There were a couple of instances where I thought I might end up like these guys, but thankfully, I managed to keep my nose clean all weekend. These pictures are great, but I reckon Louis Sidoli is having a laugh. The pictures form part of a limited edition print run of 495 (that doesn't sound very limited to me) and are on sale for £399 a pop. Outrageous! If anyone's interested... I want the Hendrix one!

Update: I've just discovered that this collection is called Most Wanted. Reminds me of my own Wanted collection.


There were a lot of beautiful ukes on display at the festival. I took loads of pictures, but I'm only going to call out some of the more unusual ones. First off, check out the UkeEllie Risa on the left. I hadn't seen one of these before. I like the distinctive design. The uke on the right is a simple fluke, but I'm going to call out that the body is plastic, and so is the fretboard! Wasn't expecting that.


Hey Ho... It's Mr B, the Gentleman Rhymer! This is one act that I was keen to check out. I enjoyed the set, but to be honest I think B was let down by the sound team. I struggled to make out the lyrics. Shame.



Ever wondered what life would have been like if Formby had been into gold chains? Wonder no more...



Here are a couple of shots from outside the Exmouth Arms on the Sunday. On the left is the Open Mic tent. On the right is the auction table. It was heaving. Despite promises to perform, I never did put my name down on the list. I'm not sure the Ballad of Tokyo Zombie would have cut it to be honest ;-)


Here are a few more shots from the Open Mic, outside and in. I'm not sure who the lovely ladies are. The gentleman on the left is Ian Emersson (more on him soon).

See the tiny picollo uke that I'm holding on the left? Tony Casey of Northern Uke was kind enough to let me have a strum. It may be small, but Ian Emersson has got a smaller one! Check out Ian's mini-picollo below...

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"The Re-entrants are no more"

Last year I heard the Re-entrants for the first time, here at the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain. They were performing a Rock set. I'd seen a number of months ago that the two were changing their name with the intention of focusing more on their own music. I must say that I much prefer the newer stuff. Phil Doleman (the bald one) and Ian Emersson (the other bald one) have definitely got the skills to pay the bills. Whilst I certainly get the feeling that there is a more serious air to the duo's music these days, I love that they are still capable of having a little bit of fun along the way. Check out the song below that was a big hit on the night... Fair to Middlin'...



Disaster struck on the Saturday when me and my bro realised that we'd left our tickets back at the hotel! As you can see here, we managed to blag our way in. A big thanks to the lady on the door for being so trusting. It saved us an extra three and a half miles of walking. I was number 020227.

On the left you can see the running order for the Saturday. There was a great selection of performers. I wondered how the bar was going to be raised as the night went along, but sure enough, it was! Well done to all who graced the stage. I salute you all!


Here are some shots of either side of the stage. Props to the organisers for the great job they did with the... props. The lighting was great. All that was missing was some dry ice and strippers between sets. Hey hold on a second... forget the dry ice...

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Here you can see one of the many U-Basses that were on display in the exhibition hall. They've really taken off this past year and it seems that every bugger's got one now... except for me. They're easy to spot with their super-thick strings. Talking strings... See the Living Water Strings to the right. I really haven't got a clue as to what that's all about. Drop me a note if you know.

Update: Daniel Hulbert knows! Living Water Strings are available through Ken Middleton's website. Ken manufactures and sells these 100% pure fluorocarbon strings in various ukulele sizes.

I spotted a fair bit of merchandise on sale this year from the various artists who performed. You can see some CDs here from Sarah Maisel (whose set I missed as I caught up with a relative of mine... Burger King) and an Andy Eastwood DVD. My only purchase on the Saturday was a Jews Harp. Just need to learn how to play that now.


"But I, being poor, have only my dreams. I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams" - What a load of bollocks!

This is the location of the big Sunday morning busk. By the time I'd arrived, everyone had packed up and gone. The picture on the right gives a big hint as to what I was doing as everyone else was banging out Ring of Fire for the eighth time. Oh well, I'll get over it.


This is a clearer shot of the seating and stage. The Cheltenham Town Hall is a great location. 10 points if you can guess the average age of the audience.


This collage of shots was taken high up on the balconies. It gives you a feel for the size of the place and the number of people there for the evening show.


"Even the hooligans in Cheltenham are posh"

Ha ha. I couldn't help but chuckle at this wanton act of vandalism. It says "Spurs are Pathetic" and was no doubt chalked up by a budding Chelsea fan. I'm glad I didn't run into this young cad!

We'll quickly pass over the picture of 3 ukes on a bed... Nothing to see here...


I had lots of things explained to me over the weekend, and not all of it was uke-related. I don't pretend to understand all of it (like how the hell bitcoins work). Look at the size of the phone on the left. Got me wondering whether that bottle of milk is small or just far away. On the right is a game called Ingress. You are either on the blue team or on the green team. Using Google Maps, you have to wander around and find landmarks that have been nominated as "portals". When you find one you can then try to turn it into your colour by repeatedly pressing a button. And that's about it. No, I won't be playing. I had in my company a level 8 white wizard who managed to turn most of Cheltenham blue over the course of the weekend. That'll teach the greens. They really are pathetic. ;-)

Below is a picture of me posing at one of the portals near the Exmouth Arms. We turned that sucker blue, no sweat!



My bro has been at me to get a tattoo. He even picked out the shop where I was to get inked: Tokyo Tattoo. Tokyo! Could this be a sign? Can you see that Tokyo Tattoo is situated in Unit 13... unlucky for some. Ha ha... Luckily for me, Tokyo Tattoo was closed! In case you're wondering, there was some talk of Godzilla. I won't say any more...


Ukeristic Congress were the turning point at the concert for me. Up until these guys came on, it was all feeling a little bit "Meh". This boy-band had traveled over from Dublin and I'm pretty certain that two of the gang were from last year's Aisling Out Walking. I'm struggling to remember which songs they played, but I do know that they finished with a rousing version of Raw Hide. You can see that I'd moved a little bit closer to the stage here. I could just about see their lips moving as they sang.



Can you tell which one is the bassist?

UkeristicCongress


Here is some more ukulele porn. What a beautiful Gibson-like uke on the left, and check out the weird harp-uke-thing on the right. I declined the offer to give it a play, not knowing what I'd do with it. Apparently the guys on this table were the inventors of this particular design and have sold the rights to make it to some far-eastern country. So if you see them about... now you know ;-)


I think that I'm right in saying that Ukuleighties are a Cheltenham band put together especially for the Festival. The clue's in the name... they specialised in 80s songs. I hope I'm not being controversial here, but the singer looked like a virgin to me. I love that people are trying out new ways to flex their ukes with different styles of music. This band were a hit with the younger-oldies in the audience. See the picture on the left.... Yes... he's playing uke with his legs crossed! Ha ha. I pointed this out to the folks on Google+ at the time and was asked whether this is a good or bad thing. That, my friends, is for you decide...

Ukuleighties-4674

UkuleleUffAndLonesomeDave-4835

Ukulele Uff and Lonesome Dave are a couple of speed merchants from Liverpool. I'm pretty certain that I could see a "go faster" stripe tattooed on Uff's strumming arm. The songs were from the 20s and everything was at a breakneck pace. What a talented duo! Here's one of the songs they played on the night...



You turn your back for a moment and the little monkeys are up to all sorts. I love this picture of me and Jules D outside the Cheltenham Art Gallery.

JamesHillAndAnneJanelle

James Hill and Anne Jannelle were the headline act. It wasn't until Jim pulled out his chopsticks that I realised who he was. Aha! He did Billie Jean too. What a talented guy! Anne wasn't too shabby herself. She was playing a sort of half-double-bass, hung somehow over the front of her shoulder.

Below is the actual performance of the chopstick song as played at this year's festival...



Here's a Billie-Jean rendition...



Finally, we get to the grand finale. As is customary at the end of concert-day, all of the performers get up on stage and thump out a tune to much shuffling of feet. I can't tell you what song they played this year (I didn't recognise it). Last year's finale was brilliant with paper airplanes and streamers. This year's effort was a bit of an anti-climax, but maybe my expectations were way too high. I had to laugh at the uker from Elof and Wamberg... he didn't look like he was enjoying himself one little bit. Ha ha. Chill out bro!

11 comments:

  1. The one on the right is playing the bass!

    Looks like it was a fun time. No sushi though...

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  2. Correct! I think I must have been the only Japanese person in the whole of Cheltenham that weekend!

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  3. Details on Sam Brown here http://www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk/MagSitePages/Article.aspx?id=6511

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  4. Thanks for that link Anon. That's a sad story, but better than the one I was making up in my head. You know what... I don't care if Sam can't sing - I still think she's great!

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  5. Looks like Bruce had a ball...or two.-)

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  6. Yeah,"Who's Kev?" - thought you'd like that ;-)

    "Looks like Bruce had a ball...or two"... Bruce certainly did!

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  7. Well done with the blog. Great images and stuff.
    Thought that you might like to know that Brian Collins (my bros) who painted the Penguin uke also designed and painted stage set and giant uke at Exmouth Arms and designed T-shirts & prog. www.alternaterealms.co.uk
    Two lovely ladies at the open mic are my daughters, harriet & Leah from The Ukelles.
    Phil C. (fest team)

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  8. Thank you colhead and well done on the festival! ;-)
    I'm going to drop Brian a line - thanks for the link. I never managed to get hold of a programme - you buggers had sold out! Just too slow on my part. ;-) The closest I got was that photo of the running order. "Two lovely ladies at the open mic are my daughters" Ha ha. What a talented family! I'll be sure to look up The Ukelles on youtube. Thanks for commenting.

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  9. Saw you post about no sushi in Cheltenham! KIBOUsushi will be open early August and we'd love to see you there one day....with your UKE! Emma @KIBOUsushi1

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  10. Brilliant news Emma! It was your sign I saw recruiting staff while I was down there. If I'm right, you'll be where Pizza Hut used to be? Next time I'm in Cheltenham I'll be sure to pop in ;-) Good luck with the launch!

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