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21 July 2013

The Grand Northern Ukulele Festival - Teaser!

I mentioned in my recent post on the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain that I'd learnt about a new ukulele festival that is going to be held up in my neck of the woods. Since then I've been in touch with Mary Agnes Krell (one of the organisers) and gathered all sorts of information on the event which I'll share with you now.

"I play what I like and I like what I play"

I created an event on Google+ for the festival and inadvertently spammed everyone in my circles with notifications. Apologies for that. The event allows you to say whether you're planning to go or not. There are a couple of takers already! I might even get to meet some of you! Oooh... how scarey!

First off, let's get a few of the more obvious things out of the way. The festival is going to run over the 12-13 of October 2013 and will be based in the Pontefract Town Hall. I can't remember the last time I went to Ponty. It certainly wasn't to go to the town hall. What a great excuse to explore the area! You can buy your ticket from the Northern Uke website. I don't do Twitter, but you can also follow some of the build-up on there too.

I've invited my mum along to join me at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival. I'm not sure that I'll be able to cope (she drinks like a fish! ;-)

All the festivals I'm aware of in the UK are what I affectionately refer to as "dahn souff". The closest one to me is the Cheltenham festival and even that is a real hike for me to get to. I'd asked Mary where the idea for the festival came from and it came as no surprise to learn that a big driver was simply to have something a bit closer to home.

I love the poster for the Grand Norther Ukulele Festival

Knowing full well that festivals don't just happen overnight, I asked Mary whether she'd been involved in any other ukulele events. She says that the team behind Grand Northern have been attending "ukey events" in the UK, the USA and Europe for the last decade and they have built ties with a number of the other festivals. Mary went on to reveal that she also helped "the lovely Daniela Gargiulo" by organising the fringe for her Wukulele/South Coast Ukulele Festival a few years ago. During 2011 and 2012 Mary also ran a series of charity ukulele nights in London called "A Night of Ukulele Awesomeness". Wow! Mary's been busy!

Meet the team behind Grand Northern Uke Fest. From left to Right: Kris Ball, Lou Armer, Tony Casey, Mary Agnes Krell, Rob Collins and Paul McCann

I was interested to learn that Ukulele Cosmos was instrumental in allowing a number of the team to hook up. I'm not a member of this forum, but I remember the fantastically talented Sven Nyström of Argapa Ukuleles talking about it when I spoke with him. Maybe I should register and see what all the fuss is about?

Manitoba Hal is headlining. I love this picture of him playing his double-necker! I wonder if he'll bring it with him on this trip?
Photo courtesy of  the Dryden Observer

I'm a huge fan of live music at festivals. I love to see the big names, but I also love to see the small names too. There are some great artists on the line-up for the Grand Northern. Not all of the bands are mentioned on the website; I get the feeling that there's a fair bit of organising and secret hand-shakes still happening behind the scenes. Knowing full well that there would be method behind the madness, I was keen to learn more about how the Grand Northern team were short-listing their acts. Mary explained that there were three key principles:
(1) we wanted to bring some of the BEST talent in the ukulele world to the north of the UK
(2) we wanted to focus on NORTHERN artists for the home-based acts we programmed (so Chonkinfeckle/Wigan, Doleman & Emmerson/Derby, Mike Warren/Sheffield, Ukulele Bitchslap/Leeds, Emily Scott/Edinburgh, Lou & the Llamas/Manchester, The Anything Goes Orchestra/Hawes+Sheffield). we haven't announced it yet but Uff & Dave will be on the bill too (Liverpool)
(3) we wanted to feature FEMALE players (so we've got Lou & the Llamas, Emily Scott & Ukulele Bitchslap on the bill… They're all female-led acts).
I'd like to propose a fourth principle...
(4) we want to feature Alaska's only professional ukulele player.    :-D
Ha ha. Sorry... I couldn't help myself there...  Mary says maybe next year! Fingers crossed for +Ukulele Russ!

Pontefract police have warned "zero tolerance" for  fans of +Ukulele Russ
Photo courtesy of the Daily Record

As far as the current line-up goes, I'm going to call out Manitoba Hal and Doleman & Emmerson as acts you just have to see. A lot of the rest I haven't seen live, or haven't seen the best of them live (yet!). This will be a wonderful journey of discovery for me! Just the way I like it!

Phil Doleman & Ian Emmerson are great. They've been reinventing themselves of late. I wonder how much more reinvention is left to happen?
(I am sooo sorry gentlemen - you can beat me up in October ;-)

I asked on Google+ whether anyone had anything they wanted to learn about the festival while I had Mary's ear. +Dirk Reul answered my question with a question (don't you just hate it when that happens ;-). He asked me what my highlights were. Actually, it was a brilliant question and an easy one for me to answer. I have never ever attended a festival workshop in my life! Having looked through the wonderful workshops being put on at the Grand Northern, I vowed early on that I was going to fix this.

I love this picture of Ukulelezaza and his little wooden friends. Look at that strange uke with the arm waving at us! It's the one just behind the Tokyo Ukulele. Hey hold on a second! Tokyo Ukulele?!?! Brother!

I've booked myself on Ukulelezaza's "Spirit of Aloha – Hawaiian Style Ukulele" workshop. You might remember that I'd missed my chance to watch Ukulelezaza at the Festival of Great Britain in 2012. Being half-Hawaiian, it seems only fitting that I learn a few island licks. ;-) And in return for teaching me some Hawaiian Uke, I promise to teach +ukulelezaza some Tokyo Uke. Ha ha, listen to me!

You know I love custom ukes. Here's a design that Ian Emmerson had Rob Collins build him. I don't understand all of the technical lingo ("arse end?"), but I know a great picture when I see one! ;-)

It was touch and go though; There are a number of other workshops that I'd be equally as happy attending. Mary tells me that the theme for the festival is MAKING (making music, making connections/friends and making things). I'd spotted that the prolific instrument-maker Rob Collins of TinGuitar was part of the team and was interested to see that he's doing a workshop where you can build your own diddley-bow. He provides the materials and know-how and you leave with a playable instrument! How cool is that! Shelly & Marko of UkeBox are also doing a workshop on building your own washtub bass! You know how much I love the whole instrument-building side of things. This has the potential to be a real treat.

I just have to see the Uke Box from the Netherlands! Look at the tiny woman! Isn't this amazing! I can't quite believe what I'm seeing here!

Right, I've said enough. Get your arses across to Ponty. I'm absolutely convinced that you won't regret it!

One last thing...

I was really pleased to learn that Grand Northern are doing their bit by working closely with the Pontefract Miners Recreational Charity (providing instruments and tuition and helping them get their own ukulele choir off the ground). They're also working with Faceless Arts. As you know, I'm a big fan of this type of thing. Well done!


  1. Re:
    "Pontefract police have warned "zero tolerance" for fans of Ukulele Russ"

    Are there trying to polarize Ukulele Russ'
    fans or something ?-)

    1. That should be "they" instead of "there" in the above comment.
      I was nearly asleep when I wrote that comment.
      I just can't bear making mistakes,it tends to polarize my readers when I do this.
      Both of them...mum and dad.-)

    2. I hate that you can't edit these comments after the fact. Don't worry, my mind auto-corrects. It's been known to fix and fill in missing words... and even whole sentences from time to

  2. Re:
    "I just have to see the Uke Box from the Netherlands! Look at the tiny woman! Isn't this amazing!"

    I think it may be clogged or something,the way he is looking at it.

    Can't resist a Dutch joke,sorry :-)

  3. I'll be there in my official role as Awesomeness Ambassador.

  4. You can never have too much Awesomeness Clarice! Looks like we got this covered! ;-)

  5. @Daz - Ukulele Russ is the only Uke Player I know who has appeared live in a bear suit! He actually eats bears! What a star!

  6. Glad to hear it Guzzisue! I can't wait!