Well, what a day - this was ukulele festival 'proper' as festivities moved to the beautiful Cheltenham Town Hall for a day of performances on the main stage - and what a variety we had!
|Sam Brown and The Sonning Common club|
Things kicked off with a performance by Sam Brown's International Ukulele Club of Sonning Common - a ukulele club in the traditional sense (music stands, silly hats!) led by Sam (yes, that Sam, daughter of Joe!). It was an all inclusive set with Sam keeping in moving but allowing other members to take lead on vocals or lead ukes. Nice electric guitar backing too from Sam's brother.
Then time to browse the other areas of the town hall, most notably the stalls area which seemed jam packed all day long with people eager to grab a ukulele, and accessory, or just chew the fat with other players. Was very nice to catch up with Ken and Liz from Ohana, but also to meet people I 'knew' for the first time such as Paul and Rob from Southern Ukulele Store and Rob Collins from TinGuitar. And during the whole day scores of visitors had booked on to playing workshops led by the performers themselves such as James Hill, Phil Doleman and Sarah Maisel.
|Paul Tucker of SUS|
|Liz busy on the Ohana stand|
|Rob Collins of Tinguitar|
There were some other luthiers and traders there too, including Pete Howlett, and nice to meet both Ian Andrews of Ukulian and Mark Pugh of Stones Music too.
|Pete Howlett stand|
And as I said this was the opportunity to drop some cash on your dream uke at festival prices - and there certainly were some crackers.
|Tony Casey with his new iUke piccolo|
|Eek the one man band|
|Jake Smithies with Sam Brown|
Mid afternoon I headed back into the main stage area to catch what was my first highlight of the festival. Sarah Maisel's performance was a staggeringly beautiful mix of jazz and Hawaiian flavoured uke, beautiful voice - dream like. She was accompanied by a double bass player she had only known for about half an hour and delivered one of the best sets of the day (as borne out by the immediate standing ovation at the end, and encore). I was watching from the balcony, and a couple where waltzing up and down the landing as she played. I told Sarah that later and she was quite emotional!
(Sorry for picture quality from here on - mixture of a dark room, small camera etc etc...)
|Sarah Maisel on stage at GB ukulele festival|
After a break (who said that, of course I wasn't taking a breather to clear the ongoing hangover from the night before???) back in to the arena and a great laid back swingy set from Belgiums The Winin' Boys who went down very well indeed. Made me feel like I was on a colonial hotel verandah in the south sea islands.
Then next highlight for me - Danish folk duo Elof and Wamberg who delivered a quite stunning set of Nordic Folk music done in their style. It's a brave choice for any festival organiser to book something that may be seen as a little more 'left field' to the more traditional audience, and I suppose 'Nordic Folk' may fit that bill. But boy are we glad they did take the chance - these guys had such talent and had one of the best audience receptions of the day. Heck, you know you are doing something right when James Hill joins you on stage!
|Elof and Wamberg with James Hill (picture credit - Simon Grove)|
Then on to festival favourites Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson in their first Cheltenham performance since (as Ian put it) sacking themselves from The Re-entrants. In this incarnation the guys are performing their own compositions and they delivered them with typical good humour over the top of extremely tight technical playing. Loved it.
|Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson|
Back to left field with the 'chap hop' stylings of Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer. I actually spent a good part of this set watching audience reaction, as it is fair to say that (how can I put this politely) Mr B's act of banjolele hip hop, rap, techno is perhaps not to the taste of some of the more senior banjolele fans in the audience. Initial reactions were one of slight bemusement, but by the time he was bringing his set to a close, watching said audience members raising and pumping their hands, rave style was hilarious. An extremely energetic set which must have taken such hard work to put together.
|Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer|
Back to the laid back with the much anticipated Ukulele Uff and Lonesome Dave from Liverpool who blew the crowd away with their mix of 20's and 30's standards played at blistering pace - another amazing reaction from the crowd for this one.
|Ukulele Uff and Lonesome Dave|
Then on to one of the most energetic sets of the night - multi instrumentalist Andy Eastwood. Readers of this blog will know I not the biggest fan of Formby style banjolele which Andy is famous for, but whilst he did that in the set (to a great reception) he really showed of his musical skills with violin, trad wooden uke, Chopin, Elvis, Beatles, you name it.
Then on to the set we have all been waiting for - James Hill joined by his partner Anne Janelle. What can I say, just spellbinding. Before I talk ukulele, what about those voices. Sublime harmonies and vocals from both of them (and Anne herself delivered a beautiful piece she had written called 'waiting' which was wonderful). Their delivery of Hand Over My Heart was rocking, and the technicality James shows on the uke just blows everyone else away. Collective jaws were on the floor during his ukulele played with chopsticks and a comb (his 'ukulele of the future' section) which delivered a mixture of space rock, dance and techno on a humble uke. Quite incredible. And rightly so, the duo received the biggest ovation of the whole day.
|James Hill and Anne Janelle (photo credit Simon Grove)|
After James the organisers came back to the stage to announce a mass singalong, bringing the artists back on the stage to lead a mass sing of the spiritual 'Oh Mary Don't You Weep' which had the whole room dancing. A quite brilliant end to a great day.
|Ian, Phil, Andy James in the finale|
|Crowd lapping it up|
Then out in to the chilly night, a final beer or two and bed. A long tiring day, but one executed extremely well. Tony, Jude, Phil and Ally should be proud of themselves for what they created and deserve a lot of thanks.
I'm typing this on day 3, and preparing to head off to the open-mic session, then home. More soon!
CHECK OUT MY OTHER DIARY POSTS FROM CHELTENHAM HERE!