The Mersey Belles - INTERVIEW

It has taken us a little bit of time to get this one together (my fault!), but I have been wanting to feature the Mersey Belles on Got A Ukulele for some time now.

The Mersey Belles are Danielle Laura Perkins (Nancy) and Lindsey Stainthorpe (Pearl) who have seen an astronomic rise in their fan base over the last year or so, performing with style and verve. They describe themselves as 'cousins who take you on a trip down memory lane,  infusing the ukulele with fabulous renditions of all the old classics from the 20's, whilst making songs from the 21st century sound better than they do on the wireless radio!'

Amber Von Nagel from Ukulele Magazine called them, 'English Uke Chanteuses who channel a retro vibe in pursuit of modern day fun'.

What I know is that I last saw them on the main stage of the recent Grand Northern Ukulele Festival and the crowd went wild for them.  I have been catching up with the duo recently.

The Mersey Belles Ukulele Duo pose
Credit - Kelly Loughlin

Hi both, lets start with your musical backgrounds.

Pearl:  I have played musical instruments since I was about six from piano to guitar.  I have also been a singer since I was 12 in choirs. My mum has been a massive influence on me as she is the musical inspiration in my life. She's a music teacher and a piano tutor.  I love music; it's good for the soul!

Nancy:  Well I have been playing music for as long as I can remember. My mum also was a grade 8 pianist and played a lot as I was growing up. I also played classical flute and piano and had lessons in both. When school was over I went to Bretton Hall,  a college for arts where I studied music and learned to play a little bit of guitar and steel drums. The rest is history really. I had a short break from music when my daughter Nancy Jr was born, but it was short lived. I'm not happy if I'm not being musical.

What brought you together as a performing duo then?

Nancy: We have a couple of mutual friends in the Liverpool music scene, and it was Elaine Kinsella from Ukulele Club Liverpool who formally introduced us.

Pearl:  Yes in early 2013 Elaine received an email from a Jennifer John who runs a company called Sense of Sound in Liverpool. She was asking if she knew anyone who was playing the ukulele who would like to join a duo. The message was passed on to me, I emailed Nancy and here we are today in 2014 - bigger and stronger than ever!

So was it at Ukulele Club Liverpool where you started playing then?

Pearl:  I first picked up the ukulele in September 2012 with a group of friends from a choir I was in at the time. I was self taught and transferred my skills from the guitar to the ukulele. I then supported Elaine in forming the UCL and played with them for about two months.

A question my blog readers are always interested in. Tell me about your ukes and what you are playing today.

Pearl:  My first ukulele was a £30 soprano from a Liverpool music store called Curlys music. It was a Redwood brand.  We now have brand spanking new Kala SEME ukes following our endorsement by the brand. They are electro acoustics and we have been waiting so long for them to come out. Beautiful instruments.

Nancy: My first uke was a Kala KA FMS904 and it was a gift from Ian McNabb (the front man for The Icicle Works) in return for singing on his album 'Little Episodes'. I think that was about March 2012 but don't quote me! It's the nicest uke I've played and I still play it most days.

I'm going to sound like an advert for Kala now but they are what I have always played. I have a Kala tenor KA-JTE/2TS (the one with the F holes). We also both have Kala sopranos (the KA-ASAC-S) and I also have an iUke which I LOVE.

OK, so you met, got together, but when did you first perform as The Mersey Belles?

Nancy:  My old music manager used to own a little coffee shop in Liverpool. He had heard about us and asked us to do a weekly residency there. It was a good way to start out actually, now I think about it.

Yes, I think a residency can be a great way to start out. Were the receptions good? (I presume they were!)

Nancy:  We did have great receptions back then, but we have really perfected our act in the last 18 months. We have developed so much as players.

Pearl:  It was great getting that coffee shop residency. It provided a great platform to where we are now as performers.

Tell me about your gig highlights. There must be a few!

Pearl:  Every gig we have ever done is so special in my eyes and they are all equally amazing. Just getting up on stage and being a Mersey Belle for me is the highlight.  I love the audience reactions and i've found at the most recent gigs people are now singing along to our versions of the songs we do. Awesome!

Nancy:  You know what? Pearl is right. We have done so many awesome gigs it's hard to pin point one. But I will, and that was our recent performance at GNUF. We have been playing all summer in preparation for that gig and all the hard work paid off for us in the end. Best gig I have ever done I think. We absolutely loved the whole event, workshop and all.

Mersey Belles on stage at GNUF 2014
Mersey Belles on stage at GNUF 2014

Within my readership are a lot of players taking steps to getting out and performing. What are your best beginners tips for stage performance?

Nancy:  One tip from me is to try and not take yourself too seriously. Obviously me and Pearl DO take our music seriously, but we are doing what we do because of the love of it and to have fun. I think it's important to always remember that.

Pearl: Be prepared, be organised, and lastly, get up and love what you are doing. It comes across when you are on stage.

I can agree with all of that! But what about nerves though? We all get them!

Pearl: I get terrible nerves. Even though I'm a confident person it is still really nerve wracking performing to large AND small audiences. But as soon as I get on stage and look at Nancy I forget those nerves and sing my heart out!

Nancy: I do get nervous, yes, but not as much as I used to back when we first started. My problem with my nerves is that it's my uke playing that suffers, not my singing. I've been a professional singer for a good few years now and only playing the uke for a couple, so that's probably why.

The Mersey Belles Ukulele Duo laughing
Credit - Kelly Loughlin

Lets look to the future now. Is the duo model the one you intend to stick with? I know you have collaborated with other bands in the past.

Pearl: Personally, I love the duo concept, but we also love collaborating with other uke groups and bands and sharing the love of the ukulele.

Nancy: Yeah, we are just Nancy and Pearl and that's the way we are gonna mainly keep it. But we do like to have the odd collaboration. We recently had a 'band' play with us at the Summer Strum festival where we had a uBass played by Steve from UkeBox, Elaine from UCL on cajon and Sophie Gray playing accordion. We loved every minute of it and the sound was so full and rich. But for me i'd like to save the collaborations as one offs. That way you appreciate them more I think.

Who really impresses you in the ukulele world today?

Pearl:  We were at GNUF as we said, and I enjoyed all the performers. I was really impressed with Tricity Vogue and Zoë Bestel.

Nancy: I have to keep with the girl theme too with Danielle Ate The Sandwich. I like her style a lot. And of course, Sarah Maisel who I fully intend on watching at next years GNUF.  I think one of my favourite players though is our mate Ukulele Uff. I've had a couple of lessons off him and I intend on going back as soon as we have a spare minute!

The Mersey Belles Ukulele Duo on wall
Credit - Kelly Loughlin

So what is next in the diary for the Belles?

Nancy: Well we have a few private events to play first, and then...

Gala Dinner for Macmillan at Crewe Hall on 3rd October
Heswall Hall 10th October
Liverpool Everyman Theatre on 22nd October
Hoose Bar, Hoylake on 31 October
Old Swan Pub, Liverpool on 8th November
Wallasey Village Christmas Fair on 27th November
Thornton Hough Village Club on 29th November
The Old Swan Pub again on 6th December
Grand And Newton Ladies Guild at West Kirby on 18th December.

I could go on........

Well, I look forward to seeing you on a stage again soon. Been a lot of fun talking to you and thanks. Let's end this with a song!  And to my readers - make sure you check out http://merseybelles.co.uk


CloudMusic HM12 Concert Ukulele REVIEW

It was earlier this year when I started hearing something of a growing buzz about CloudMusic ukuleles, but it was a while until I saw one of their ukes. The first time was when Zahra Lowzley (who endorses them) blew the N'Ukefest crowds away performing on her Cloud Music soprano and we got talking about a review on this site. It has taken some time, but here we go with the CloudMusic HM12 Concert.

CloudMusic HM12 Ukulele

CloudMusic ukes are made in the far east and this one retails for a very reasonable £179 in the UK ($239) putting it squarely in the more serious beginner category or a true intermediate.

The HM12 comes from what they bill their 'Cedar Family' and comes with a rather clean but nicely finished solid cedar top. The uke is standard double bout shaped and looks to be extremely well put together.

The cedar top is in two pieces, nicely book matched and with a very straight grain running north south across the instrument.  It is otherwise unadorned, but I like the understated classy look it gives. It is only when you turn the instrument over that you see the striking contrast they have created in using a much darker back and sides made from laminate and finished with Rosewood. I think it looks beautiful and has a lovely dark stripy grain pattern that works very well against the cedar front. The grain is straight and lines up with the uke on both the back and sides (both being made of two pieces). The back also has a slight arch to it.

CloudMusic HM12 Ukulele back and sides

There are still some people out there who will scoff at laminate, but it isn't nearly as important to tone as the use of solid wood on the top (Taylor and Martin Guitars use a lot of laminates on backs and sides). This particular laminate also looks to be good quality and the whole satin finish on the body of the uke works really well. Perhaps a gloss on the cedar would help it stand up to scratches better, (it is a softer wood), but I think it looks classy as it is.

The bridge mounting is made of rosewood and is nicely shaped on the edges. The compensated saddle (made of bone) is also shaped to fit in with this and I think it both looks great, and also gives it a higher end feel too. Incidentally, it is a tie bar bridge, and is probably screwed in place as hidden by the two mother of pearl inlays. Otherwise we have no sound hole rosette, and the only other body adornment is the black metal strap button fitted to the base (nice to see a button as standard I must say).

CloudMusic HM12 Ukulele solid cedar top

Inside looks neat and tidy, with no glue drops and notched kerning around the inner edges. The bracing is not the smallest I have seen, but they are neat and nicely tapered.

Moving on to the neck, this is made from mahogany and is in three pieces with a joint at the heel and headstock. It looks to have had some staining applied (as given away by a little discolouration to the edge fret markers), but is otherwise satin smooth. Its a fairly shallow profile with an almost flat back (so a very shallow D shape).

Applied to the neck is a fingerboard in rosewood which is neat and nicely uniform in colour. The frets are nickel silver (18 in total and 14 to the body) and are thin and very neatly applied with nice dressing to the edges. Pearloid fret markers are applied to the fingerboard at the 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th and 15th, and it is good to see these repeated on the side of the neck. The 12th is also a double marker which I always think looks nice.

Past the nut (made of bone and really neatly cut and seated) it is nice to see the headstock with its own distinctive shape. It is faced in rosewood to match the back and the CloudMusic logo is inlaid in pearloid on the face.

CloudMusic HM12 Ukulele headstock

The tuners look just great in their black finish. They are unbranded sealed units, but I must say they work extremely well - smooth and with no play whatsoever.

The package is finished off with a good quality zippered soft bag (with an embroidered CloudMusic logo) and it is strung with Aquila. Regular readers will know that I tend to roll my eyes when I see so many ukes using them as standard, but these are their NEW Nylgut strings and I have been taken aback. It seems that all the things I didn't really like about standard Aquila strings have been addressed with these new ones (gone is the rough finish, gone is the overpowering boom). I'm impressed and welcome them on this instrument.

CloudMusic HM12 Ukulele neck

So we have something of a good looker here, and I just wanted to also say again that I am really impressed with how neatly it has been built. It feels great to hold.

And it is also nice and light, signifying that there isn't any 'over build' in this instrument. It feels nice in the arms and balances well. All good so far.

It arrived with me setup pretty much perfect. The nut action is spot on, and whilst I may have taken the bridge down a tiny amount, that is only personal preference. It is perfectly acceptable to pick up and go, and checking intonation all the way down the neck I didn't find any issues.

The neck is really comfortable on the fingers (I might not be saying that if they were regular Aquilas though!) and it just feels very playable.

CloudMusic HM12 Ukulele tuners

Sound wise, there is quite a difference to my ears between strumming and picking. Strumming wise, It doesn't have the biggest volume from a concert I have ever heard. Volume is not everything of course and tone is arguably more important, but it was the first thing that jumped out at me. Thankfully it doesn't sound muddy or confused when strummed, and you can hear the separation between the notes, but it didn't quite blow me away.

For me it sounds far better fingerpicked and has some nice sustain all the way up the neck and a very sweet tone that I have really fallen for. I think it stands up really well against other concerts at a similar price point such as Mainlands, and would be a great choice for a first real uke.

I love the classy looks and the contrast between the woods. Having owned satin cedar topped guitars I know how easily they can pick up wear and tear, so wonder how long this will stay pristine after heavy strumming, but you know, that isn't really a huge criticism.

My only gripe is not really with the instrument, but with trying to get hold of them. I appreciate CloudMusic are just starting out, but looking at their dealers section on their website, I am not seeing a lot of well known uke store names on the list. I really think they should be trying to get these into the more obvious stores, as the obvious stores are the ones people trust.

CloudMusic HM12 Ukulele gig bag

Take a look at the scores and Video Review below - and if it wasn't obvious, this gets my thumbs up.

Lovely contrast finish
Excellent build finish
Like the black hardware
Sound great fingerpicked

A little quiet on strumming
Potentially easy to scratch the cedar top

Looks - 9 out of 10
Fit and Finish - 9 out of 10
Sound - 8 out of 10
Value For Money - 9 out of 10

OVERALL - 8.8 out of 10



Do You Know Your Ukulele Bling?

I think it is fair to say that we all love a good looking ukulele right? A weekend or two ago I found myself drooling on a ukulele stall at the GNUF festival as there were some truly stunning instruments on display. I'd even go so far as saying some were breathtaking. But in the wide range of ukes on the market, do you know what you are buying?

This blogger is actually a self confessed lover of the plain ukulele. It's a case of few adornments, and letting the wood speak for itself for me. It's partly a taste thing, but also one about value for money, and I am talking about both here today.

First off, as this may come across as a 'rant', a word of explanation. It seems some who read posts on this site actually enjoy being offended by them and will get quite verbal to me. I am NOT telling anybody what to buy in this post. I am not saying anybody is wrong. You should buy what YOU like, what makes you smile. I just thought however that some thoughts would be useful for those starting out on their ukulele journey as there are a few myths about.

So what do I mean by 'bling'?. Well firstly (and mainly) I am talking about adornments on an instrument. You know, bindings, inlays, rosettes, fancy fretboard markers and the like. But I also include in this post the use of fancy woods that are used to make the instruments bodies. And there are variances within these factors too depending on price.

Lets look at standard bling first of all. They are merely pieces of 'eye candy' (if you excuse the americanism) designed to make the uke look good and stand out. Here is the thing to remember though. THIS DOESN'T CREATE TONE. Simple as that, and pretty obvious really. As I say above I tend to prefer plainer instruments, like my Kanile'a K1 pictured below. Absolutely no adornments whatsoever, not even a gloss finish. Just Koa wood, and it sounds heavenly. The company make more expensive grades of the exact same uke, by adding gloss, a sound hole rosette, changing the tuners to a gold finish but keeping the exact same underlying uke. And they cost SIGNIFICANTLY more. Same uke, fancy finish. Nice if you have the budget, but it doesn't make the uke play any better. In fact some argue that by avoiding a gloss finish the uke can actually ring a little more naturally.

Kanile'a K1 Tenor ukulele in Koa Wood

And as such, if you are buying to a budget, such things should matter. For me it was an easy choice - I wanted a uke that sounded great and played well for a budget.  But this is not just about high end ukes.  There is actually a worrying trend in the massive number of ukes that are now being imported from China to dress them up like Christmas trees. As I said above, your uke, your choice, and I am not saying that these are wrong if you like the looks, but take a look at the prices. I am now regularly seeing discussions on music forums where Mr X posts a picture of his latest glossy uke, covered in faux abalone, pearl, tortoiseshell. Fancy inlays in the fretboard, you name it. Then the other posters coo about it... 'That is SO beautiful man!".  Perhaps it is beautiful, but that is not really my point. It's when you find out that it cost about $140 that I start to raise an eyebrow.  If that is the cost of the fully loaded model, how much is the underlying uke worth? You know, the bit that is there to make the music?  The answer in my experience is, not a lot. Corners are cut somewhere (even with the ridiculously low labour costs in China). Simple maths really.

Some of you may be aware of the super blingy Vietnamese ukes that crop up on ebay for bargain prices. I have some friends who have bought them. Blingy to the max, very detailed adornments, but often they are shoddy ukuleles underneath (either overly thick woods with no tone, or ludicrously thin with dipping sound boards, bows or splits).  Sure, there may be some good ones that come through, but I am repeatedly told of some horror stories. Style over substance in my book. Why spend your money on the stuff that doesn't make music?

Credit: Fleamarket Music

At the end of the day adornments cost in time and money. Personally I would rather put my funds into the core instrument myself.  If you are getting a custom uke made, then I get it. Nothing will be nicer that specifying detailing that will make the instrument personal to you - I totally understand that (and have done it myself). But please don't confuse the work of a master craftsman / artist on a hand made ukulele with the same sort of adornments on cheap ukes. It is one thing paying a craftsman for his time, but the cheap varieties are made on factory production lines. That isn't craft, that is a lure to make you buy.  So if you are browsing online or in a music store and see a plain $150 uke hanging there and one next to it that looks like it was made for Elvis at $140, perhaps be careful (and of course play them first). Chances are the plain one may have more care put into the core instrument.  Perhaps there is some psychological effect I can't account for. Perhaps a pretty uke makes you happier and then in turn makes you play better. Perhaps you enjoy going to events and have people admire the uke. All of that is cool. But no amount of mother of pearl flowers inlaid into the headstock  will change a badly made instrument into a good one.

And that second type of bling I talked about - the wood itself. I would need a separate blog post entirely to discuss the dark art of tone wood choices, but generally speaking they are split into laminates and solid woods. There are good laminates and bad (ignore anyone telling you they are for beginners only - just play a laminate Kiwaya if you don't believe me). There are also good and bad solid woods depending on the builder. In fact I have played laminates that sound far, far nicer than some cheap solid wood ukes. Not everything is as it seems. Woods can come with vanilla looks, or with 'flame' and 'curl' in the grain. I strongly believe that the jury is out on whether the fancier curls make a single bit of difference to the sound - it is all about aesthetics. And those nice woods DO look very nice, but they are only worth their salt if the build of the instrument lives up to the looks.

So I wanted to focus on another growing trend that is flooding the market, and that is the fancy finished laminate uke gaining respect for the wrong reasons. You know the type, the laminate finished in 'spalted maple', 'curly Koa' or similar. Striking to look at for sure. But I genuinely read a discussion online the other day where somebody was advising a uke buyer along the lines that certain blingy laminate uke X was better than something in 'plain old solid mahogany'. And not just advising in terms of looks either. They were advising that such and such a laminate had a warmer tone.  Nonsense.  Sure, as I said above, some high end laminates can have their own distinctive tones, but at the $100 end of the market it may as well be a transfer stuck to plywood. I've even seem some laminates labelled as 'grade AAA' or similar....   And there are people choosing super glossy fancy laminate finishes over plain solid wood of the same price. As I say, I can't argue with anyone who chooses based on looks IF that is what makes them happy, but please don't recommend them as being better or having their own unique characteristics.

If you are in the market to start experimenting with beautiful solid tone woods, then the world is your oyster and there are some stunning examples out there.  The reality is though that this doesn't apply at the cheap end. If you find a fancy covered laminate that you really like, then go for it. But please, don't overlook the similarly priced plain uke that may well be made from far better materials.

Big Island Concert ukulele in Koa Wood Gloss

End of the day though, the choice is yours not mine. But do buy carefully and think about where your pennies are going on the uke you choose.  For me though, well... I never understood why people spend $1000 extra on getting sparkly paint on a new car. I'd rather save the money or put it towards something that makes the car drive better....

(My car is black by the way)

AND! Be sure to check out my other ukulele RANTS - where I explode the many myths and bad advice that surrounds the instrument - CLICK this link! http://www.gotaukulele.com/search/label/rants


Uke East 2014

From one festival to another, I am pleased to pass on details for what looks like being a great event organised by and featuring some friends of mine on the ukulele circuit. Uke East!

Uke East Festival

Uke East takes place on 25 October at Hellesdon Community Centre, Norwich and has some great acts billed.

Sophie Madeleine is performing in her only 2014 live gig and will be a huge draw. Good friend Phil Doleman is also on the bill performing his superb finger style jazz styled set. Also billed are the Bijoux Toots, Liam Capper-Starr, Artemiss, Ben Rouse and the Norwich Ukulele Society.

Tickets are £16 and all profits go to the Musical Keys charity http://www.musicalkeys.co.uk

Festival organiser Nic Rigby told me,  "We are hoping to bring some of the best musicians and songwriters from around Britain to Norfolk and at the same time help the wonderful Norwich charity Musical Keys.

"The festival should be a great celebration of music and not just a ukulele festival.

"To get Sophie Madeleine, in her only live gig of 2014, should be a great attraction, while Phil Doleman is one of top ukulele players in the country and will be also be running a workshop."

Sounds like a great one to check out. Details are on their website at http://uke-east.co.uk


Grand Northern Ukulele Festival - Diary 2014

The dust settles and WHAT a weekend to look back on. Time for me to share my memories of this fantastic event - the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival 2014 held in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, UK.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF


A slow start for me heading up to Huddersfield on what should have been a 90 minute journey. My thanks go out to the Department Of Transport for kindly laying on road works on every single stretch of road on my route, meaning my trip was more like 200 minutes. I arrived, road weary but immediately uplifted in the hotel bar seeing many old friends, main stage acts and thoughts of a night in the town.

The (un) official opening evening for the festival was arranged for the Head Of Steam pub in Huddersfield - a smashing real ale venue that had been the choice of a range of pre festival events for the GNUF team during the summer. On arrival I was greeted to a completely full front room that was already in full swing with a uke jam in progress.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Friday Jam
Friday Jam in the Head Of Steam

Some beers later and the evening entertainment started with some beautiful playing from Lionel K Hubert in solo mode, and thereafter, the stage was taken over by other GNUF acts giving it what for.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Lionel Hubert
Lionel K Hubert

With a late night ahead, retirement beckoned to the hotel bar, and 'late' does not really do it justice. Needless to say I had about two hours sleep before needing to get down to Huddersfield Town Hall the next day (same day?) for the start of the main event. Safe in the protection of my blog I blame Tim and Jake Smithies of Dead Mans Uke for leading me astray.... (my own free will doesn't come into it..)


So, early start and a trek down to the Town Hall with a bunch of loan ukuleles that have featured on this blog that I needed to hand back. Wristbands picked up, hellos to the organising team.  Its when you look into the programme that you realise just how much was actually going on this weekend. My apologies in advance, but I cannot include everyone in this diary. I really wanted to get a broad view of the variety at GNUF this year so please don't take it to heart if you are a workshopper or performer and I couldn't fit you in!

GNUF were keen this year to introduce more acts and another venue to the festival so had introduced the Festival Fringe, taking place at a rather wonderful record store in Huddersfield. The Fringe was also FREE to locals and really did create a kind of inclusive vibe to the event across the town. I managed to get there in time for Dead Mans Uke who absolutely blasted the place with a superb set. You may have seen pictures of them on this site, but you have to go see them - its only when their music starts and Jakes bass kicks in that you will really 'get it'. The venue was rammed and their reception was hot. Other artists on the Fringe Stage included Peter Moss, Lionel Hubert, Phil Doleman, Ukulelezaza and Michael Adcock, but with my young daughter in tow it was time for her lunch and for me to return to the HQ before the main stage opened.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Dead Mans Uke
Dead Mans Uke

This also gave me time to pop my head into a few workshops (and there was some serious variety here too - not just how to play lessons, but really interactive stuff like learning to play and sing with Tricity Vogue and The Mersey Belles, or making your own recording with the Mother Ukers). I also had a bit of time now to explore the Market place - a must for any uke festival. Such beautiful instruments on display - I could have spent a fortune.  Sadly for me I am keeping the collection static for the time being, but I did come away with some loan ukes that will be featuring on the reviews section in the near future!

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Del Rey Workshop
Del Rey Jug Band Blues Party workshop

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Team SUS
Team SUS at the marketplace

Opening the main stage were 'Some Like It Ossett' comprising Tony Casey from the GNUF team plus Jacqui Wicks, Joe Grant- Mills and Ralph Dartford. They went down extremely well and have a smashing sound. Then an act that will be featuring on Got A Ukulele very soon in the form of the Mersey Belles with their absolutely top drawer close harmony singing. In fact, as you will read on below, they offered their singing skills to festival visitors with their singing workshop too.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Mersey Belles
The Mersey Belles

Next up, an act who I was really pleased had come to GNUF. I last saw Krabbers at N'Ukefest 2014 and his beautiful (and funny) songs were really appreciated by the audience and sounded just great.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Krabbers

Closing the first half of the concert were a band I have been dying to see for years - Mother Ukers. I think a lot of the audience may not have known what to expect here, but the reception they were given was tremendous. And why was that? Well they just exude energy, fun and talent. Pop covers like you have not heard before!  Loved it.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF mother Ukers
Mother Ukers

Mother Ukers Barnaby has his light bulb moment
A short break and then an act I have also been wanting to see for a long time. I first hooked up with Tricity Vogue some years ago on this site, but had never seen her perform live. This year she was at GNUF with her 'All Girl Swing Band' and WOW. Just WOW. They absolutely lit up the room with their sound, talent and energy. Originals, retro styled pop numbers and the wonderful tap dancing of Josephine Shaker (at one point dressed as a penguin!) blew the audience away. A REAL highlight of my festival weekend with no doubt.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Tricity Vogue
Tricity Vogue All Girl Swing Band
You know how a good festival should have one of those artists who just captures the room? Well say hello to Zoë Bestel who had the audience open mouthed with the quality of her performance and sublime vocals. Seriously people, watch this space with Zoë as she will be going on to much much bigger things in a very short space of time, I am sure of it. No word of a lie, there were people in the audience in tears.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Zoe Bestel
Zoë Bestel

Next up, a man who is probably the most experienced performer at the festival in Mr Andy Eastwood.  Dare I use the word 'extravaganza'? Andy is a multi instrumentalist (in fact I am not sure there is much he CAN'T play) who put on a high energy performance which left the audience speechless. There are those who just pin the act as a 'Formby thing' but that misses out SO much. Yes he plays a banjolele, but you need to hear his work on wooden uke, violin and more. Mesmerising musicianship.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Andy Eastwood
Andy Eastwood

Finally, the Saturday headliner, Del Rey. I have known who Del Rey is, but I will be honest and state that I had not seen much of her work on video. I am so glad she was there though. Appearing on stage with Adam Franklin this was a set of such talent, mainly on resonator instruments, but also guitars, or both. If you like your fingerpicked jazz and blues with style and humour this was the set for you. I totally adored it.
Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Del Rey
Del Rey with Adam Franklin

And finally - an all star jam  saw the performers re join the stage for a hugely fun play out to the end of the night.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF end of night jam

And with that, the night came to a close. More jam sessions were on their way in the pub, but I (please see above, 2 hours sleep remember...) needed to retreat to the hotel bar for a nightcap with a couple of the festival organisers and then bed...


There was me thinking Sunday was a quieter day. Could not have been more wrong!

GNUF team member Robert Collins with a couple of mascots

Back to the Town Hall for the opening session on the main stage with a 'Mashup' of performances between the musical acts which was huge fun. Then on to a performance from a trio of guys I am proud to call good friends - Chonkinfeckle!  I could blog about how Tim got to bed at about 8.00am that day before needing to get to soundcheck for 10.30, but I won't (oops). Yet, they delivered a belting set - in fact they just get better and better the more I see them. This year they were joined on stage on tub bass by GNUF team member Paul McCann and Mia Lynch (her first time on stage) for a couple of songs and got a great reception from the crowd.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Chonkinfeckle

Next up, more good friends in the shape of The Anything Goes Orchestra. They tore the roof off the venue in their GNUF 2013 show did so again this year. They perform such a lively and tight set it really is hard not to dance (either in your seat, or in this case in the aisles and in front of the stage).  Electric performance with good humour and great songs.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF TAGO
The Anything Goes Orchestra

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF TAGO 2

A quick but important word here about Heidi Bang Tidy, the compere for the weekend, and who was the perfect choice. So funny, and equally happy to joke at audience members as she was with performers. She just sparkles and keeps the thing moving with lots of style and good laughs. She even came down to the aisle during the TAGO set to dance with my 4 year old daughter... (her highlight of the whole weekend!).

Heidi Bang Tidy

And with that, the Town Hall came to a temporary close as the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain had arrived. Not only did they need to sound check, but they were also running a workshop in the hall.  But that didn't mean that the festival came to a close.

Just outside the Huddersfield Gallery and library, Space to Create had set up a marquee at the Piazza where more performances took place including shows from Ben Rouse (blistering) and Vonck and Vlam (spellbinding) amongst other workshops and open mic slots.

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Vonck and Vlam
Vonck and Vlam

Grand Northern Ukulele Festival #GNUF Ben Rouse
Ben Rouse

As for this blogger, my day was not over as I had been asked to join the judging panel for the Mersey Belles busk off performance. Earlier in the festival the Belles had each worked separately with two workshop groups to learn and perform 'Tonight You Belong To Me'. Each group had been taught the vocal part of one of the Belles, and then came together to perform the whole song. I think they thought of me as a Simon Cowell type (grumpy blogger that I am), but in reality their performances were superb and it was huge fun to be a part of.

Mersey Belles Busk Off performance

5pm brought the act that all had been waiting for - the Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain. Sadly for me, a combination of being dead on my feet and day job commitments the next morning meant I had to bid my farewell to Huddersfield. Needless to say though, social media this morning has been FULL of compliments for their amazing set to close the festival. They even ended up performing in the hotel bar with other festival goers and performers. How cool?

So GNUF 2014 closes. In my book this one topped last year, and in fact has topped any uke festival I have been to.  It's all about the 'feel' that the organising team put onto the event and a very clever choice of acts and mix of workshops and ideas. This is far more than just a hall you turn up to and watch some ukulele performances. There were things at every turn, and acts to delight all sorts of tastes. And of course there were NO egos here. The main acts really threw themselves into affairs and mingled and mixed with the crowds. I for one was so pleased to catch up with old friends and make new ones, and having had a bit of an iffy ukulele time recently the very warm words from many mean an awful lot to me.  Well done to all of the organisers of this event and long may it continue!

The Main Hall

In fact, as for it continuing - the date has been set for 2015 already with a return to Huddersfield on 22-24 May! Early bird tickets are now available on the link below! And what a line up it looks to be - Manitoba Hal, Aaron Keim, Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee, Phil Doleman, Zoë Bestel, Chonkinfeckle, Dead Mans Uke and many more.

Grab your tickets now!!  http://www.northernuke.com/2015-festival/

Until next year!
GNUF 2015 flyer