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16 October 2013

The Grand Northern Ukulele Festival 2013

It kind of sneaked up on me, but this weekend I took a break from building my Grand Poobah ukulele and paid a visit to the inaugural Grand Northern Ukulele Festival in Pontefract. I took quite a few pictures, but unfortunately, most of them have come out a bit blurry. Damn! Don't worry... I still have some beauties for you ;-)

In no particular order...

I start with a confession. Look at what I found in my hand when I got home! I really can't be trusted. :-O Sorry GNUF. Sorry Eek.

Happy Birthday... :-S

Here's something a little bit different. The first act on the Saturday was "Ukulele... the Real History Show" which I've since seen described a "live documentary". It's a difficult thing to explain, but Francesco "UkuleleJE" Albertazzi plays along to a video on his ukulele. On the video there are a number of collaborators who play and sing, and in between Paul Moore narrates the story of the ukulele from past to present. I'll admit that I was a little dubious at first, but little-by-little the show won me over. It turned out to be a great start to the festival.

As if you couldn't have guessed, Francesco is Italian. There was a great international feel to the GNUF line-up. Below is the Frenchman Yan Yalego. Apparently Yan had a bit of a nightmare journey to get to Pontefract what with the French air travel strikes, but I'm glad that he persevered and made it in the end. Yan's performance was a laid-back set of Creole numbers. His impersonation of a trumpet was sublime. If you're wondering what on earth I'm talking about then you'd better look him up!

I met up with +Ed Sprake at the festival. You might remember me talking about Ed recently. He's the bugger who re-ignited my banjolele fire. I knew he was going. What I hadn't realised is that he is the official festival photographer! I spotting Ed all over the place as he went about his business and it was inevitable that I would end up sneaking a couple of cheeky secret photos of him when he wasn't paying attention. Ha ha. Please don't hunt me down Ed ;-)

On a serious note, now's probably as good a time as any to say thank-you to the team that put together the GNUF. Ed and his colleagues worked tirelessly to make things run smoothly on the day. Well done and a big thanks from me!

Just a couple more shots of Ed before we move on

Can you spot him below? Twice? :-D

Update 17-Oct: Ed's posted his pictures of the festival and they're a lot better than mine!

Here we can see Eek, Tony Casey and Mary Agnes Krell of the GNUF team on stage with Phil Doleman. They're attempting a version of a Roy Smeck song that I can't remember the name of. I had planned to catch up with Tony and Mary whilst I was at the festival, but in the end , I kept a low profile. They had enough on their plates without me getting under their feet. ;-)

"20 songs from the King" :-)

There was a pretty good show of ukuleles in the exhibition room. If memory serves me right, this forest of ukes was part of the Southern Ukulele Store table.

Check out the Kala u-bass below. The stall-holder was kind enough to let me have a noodle on it. I've played bass guitars, but never a u-bass before. First impressions were pretty good. The strings are sort of fat and rubbery and my playing was a bit clumsy, but I think that this was more me than the bass. ;-)

One last shot of some ukes before I move on. This table was full of Ashbury ukuleles. Isn't that silver resonator beautiful! Do you see the banjolele hiding behind it? Ed tells me that it was on sale for £800! Wow!

I love this picture. From left to right you can see Ukulelezaza,  Marko van der Horst (of Uke Box), a young fellah I don't know the name of, Phil Doleman with his back to us, and the incredibly happy Mike Warren.

I missed seeing Uke Box perform as I ventured outside to grab a bite to eat. That was a shame. Let's hope that I get the chance to see them again sometime soon.

Mike Warren came over from Sheffield to bang out a load of George Formby numbers. You know that I'm partial to a little bit of Formby. Mike delivered the goods. Well done! It didn't start well though... I was on the edge of my seat at the start of his set; The levels were all wrong and it was obvious that Mike was having issues with the monitor on the PA. Thankfully, he didn't let it throw him and it wasn't long before things were being tweaked and he had the room on his side. Brilliant. There was mention that Mike had never been to a non-Formby uke event before. I hope you come back Mike!

I love these suitcase display cases that I saw on the Omega Music stall. I joked at the time that I was the Omega Man, but of course that is plain stupid... Charlton Heston is the Omega Man.... Everyone knows this.

While I'm sidetracking myself, how about this little coincidence...

I bought the DVD of Zombie Flesheaters 3 on Saturday. Nothing strange about that you might think. What would you say if I was to tell you that evlkeith published a review of this very same film on Saturday too? How weird is that! He gives the film a 3 out of 10. That sounds like a zombie recommendation to me!

Here's something else zombie-related I spotted this week which appeals to my inner-zombie. Michael Teitelbaum and Jon Apple have produced a parody of the famous kids book "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" called.... The Very Hungry Zombie! What's not to like about this? (Photo courtesy of KidLitCove).

Check out the town hall as PhotoSynthed by me on the Sunday at the ukulele "unplug the wood" sing-along. Here I am standing at the back of the hall (my usual spot ;-)

And below is another shot from the back. This time, the picture is from the Saturday. The band on the stage are Lou and the Llamas who entertained us with a great pop-folk set. Lou (or is it Llama?) tells me that there is an EP on the way. One for the Christmas list...

You might remember me having a little bit of fun with Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson in a little teaser that I wrote for the GNUF a couple of months ago. I'd photoshopped one of their publicity pictures to add Alvin Stardust hair to the Derbyshire Duo. I caught up with Phil after his set to apologise for my tomfoolery and he didn't get me in a headlock or anything. I think I might have got away with it! Ha ha.

I don't know what happened, but for some reason Ian Emmerson never made it to the festival. I looked and looked, but he was nowhere to be seen. I hope it wasn't anything to do with my little prank.

When Phil popped up on stage on his tod, I couldn't help but feel a little nervous for him. How on earth was he going to pull this off? Then when I learnt that he was going to do a set of instrumental numbers, I really started sweating.  I convinced myself that this could not end well!

Fortunately, I had nothing to fear. Phil knocked out some fantastic tunes and soon had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. We even sang a few songs for him! Great stuff. Get this, even I joined in. Hey, technically, I guess this makes me part of the band! Move over Ian... your days are numbered mate. ;-)

These are the ukuleles that were part of the raffle. I haven't heard anything, so I guess I wasn't a winner. Damn!

HOT OFF THE PRESSES! I won two prizes in the raffle... both of them bunting! I'm not sure what this means... but they're in the post. I'll report back when they arrive. Hmmm... bunting?

Ha ha! It's arrived! I have some photos below. Here you can see me modelling one of the sets of bunting. Fantastic! I wonder what I'll use it for? Suggestions welcome...

The Pontefract Town Hall was an inspired location for the Festival. I thought that the room used for the stalls was brilliant; There were ornate paintings and sculptures on every wall. Look at the one above. This particular sculpture commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Beneath it are the words: "England Expects Every Man Will Do His Duty".

I love the sense of grandeur and history that it gave to proceedings. See below the old gentleman in the painting overlooking the tinkulele stall. I think he might have his eyes on the Union Jack biscuit tin uke.

Here's a close-up of one of the tinkulele biscuit-tin ukuleles. It's a sort of cupid's arrow shot through a heart-shaped cupcake tin. Look at that headstock... you could take someone's eye out with that!

The weather just about held out for the festival weekend. But as you can see here... we got rain.

Below is a shot of the Town Hall from Market Place. On the Saturday this was full of traders with their market stalls. I snapped this on the Sunday when  there was no one about.

The festival ended with some fantastic music.  Liverpool's Ukulele Uff & Lonesome Dave overcame seemingly endless sound problems to knock out an outstanding set. I thought that the pair were fantastic at the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain. They easily topped that performance at the GNUF.

Below was the headline act, Manitoba Hal. He did some great finger-picking, bluesy numbers, finally being joined on stage by Shelley Rickey on the wash-tub bass and Francesco Albertazzi on uke. When I wrote my teaser for the GNUF I speculated over whether Hal would bring his double-necker uke. I can report that he did. You can just about see here that Yan Yalego has joined the trio to play the top neck of the uke!

I've mentioned previously that I've never been to a workshop at a festival before. It was the one thing that I'd promised to change at GNUF. Although there were loads that I would have loved to have attended, I limited myself to one being held by Ukulelezaza. The session was called "Spirit of Aloha – Hawaiian Style Ukulele" and I'm not scared to say that I really enjoyed myself. Thank-you Zaza and all the other people who attended the workshop.

What I've discovered is that there are many similarities between Hawaiian style ukulele and my own Tokyo style ukulele. It's uncanny. ;-)

After the workshop I was inspired to pick up a copy of a book +ukulelezaza has produced called "Happy Days are Here Again" which I reckon I'll do a post on sometime in the future. Flicking through it just now I've happened across a page where Ukulelezazza talks about his Dixie banjolele! I've got a Dixie too! What are the odds of that? Zaza might be a lot taller, more handsome, and a better ukulele player than me, but there's no denying that we've got a lot in common. I wonder if we're somehow related? :-D

There you have it! The festival has come and gone! How did that happen? Fingers crossed that the festival becomes an established fixture. Next year +Mary Agnes Krell... promise me that you're going to book +Ukulele Russ! The festival definitely needs more bears! Ha ha ;-)

In case you're wondering who Russ is, then check out this first-parter video he's just posted where he's roadtesting a carbon fibre "Outdoor Ukulele". I mentioned this ukulele months ago when I discovered a kickstarter running to get it into production. That original kickstarter failed, but since then, funding has been secured and the uke is being made. As you can see in the video, they've added a camo version to the range. I want one! The problem with the Camo is... if you misplace it, you'll never find it again! ;-)

I still want one!

Until the next time...


  1. waow, looks like it was great
    i am so disappointed that i couldn't come.
    Next time...(if my school don't send me somewhere far away)

  2. Nice pics dude. FYI, Phil and Ian split up a little while ago.

  3. Great photos. A real incentive to go next year.

  4. Yep - it was fun Edouard. I'm still remembering things now that I haven't put in this post that I wanted to talk about. Damn! Oh well... I'll slip them in in some other post maybe ;-)

    Thanks for the info Barry. They split up! Don't tell me that it was musical differences? Couldn't they agree what century to play songs from? ;-)

    Thanks for the comment capyboppy. If you get the chance then I'd recommend paying a visit. There's something for everyone... If you like ukes that is ;-)

  5. What a lovely write-up of the weekend! You've captured it really well. I'm rather envious of your ukulele bunting though. Thanks for mentioning us and you'll be amongst the first to know when the EP is ready!

  6. Great post KU.
    You should turn your bunting into prayer flags like the ones on this guy's header -

    Or cut them into smaller sections with some mystical chant across each one like,Doh !,F#ck,Me,Far,(cough),So,Da.Tea,Doh...nut.

  7. I'd like to see one of these held in Roswell every year with an alien theme to it.
    It could be called ' Ukelalien Roswell ' or the 'Uke.F.O Festival '.
    And the VIP section could be called 'Area 51'. ;-)

  8. @Lou - thanks for the comment and I can't wait to hear about the EP!

    @Daz - I've heard of these flags before! I think you might be onto something. That first link you stuck up for Mexicali blues blog interests me. In the "Ukulele for Cowboys" book I recently bought there is a song called "Mexicali Rose". I'd been meaning to look up "Mexicali" and you've just reminded me of this. It's an odd word and I don't know what it means.... Wikipedia says: "Mexicali is the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California, seat of the Municipality of Mexicali, and 2nd largest city in Baja California."

    I like the idea of a Uke F O Festival. Only mad people need attend ;-)

  9. Thanks for the kind words! I really enjoyed the festival, but yes, playing solo is a little nerve-wracking!
    I've forgiven you for the photoshopping (forgiven, but not forgotten!)

  10. Phew Phil! Well, I for one think you did a great job! Never forget! ;-)