Well another year over and we said goodbye to the third annual N'Ukefest Ukulele gathering in Cheshire UK. Here is a very quick look back.
This year we wanted to to make this one bigger and better than ever, the previous two N'Ukefests being small and ad-hoc affairs, and so the planning for this started in late 2013. A change of venue too this year, moving to the better equipped Cotton Arms in Wrenbury Cheshire.
After the months of work on the devilish details, physical setting up started at the venue on the Thursday before the festival, and we were surprised to note that some eager punters had already arrived on the campsite. After a day decorating and setting up gear and stages, we retired on Thursday to await the onslaught on Friday.
Friday was the informal start of the festival where people could meet for a chat and a drink, and enjoy it they did. After a hard day setting up the stages, the punters arrived in their droves on Friday and much beer was supped into the (very) early hours! The nice thing about uke players is they will always create a jam for others to join in with wherever they are. Top marks go to the guys from Carlisle Uke Club who led a jam and singalong (with some sublime playing) inside the pub on the Friday. But it didn't end there. The Pavilion building for which we were holding the evening concert on the Saturday was soon put to good use by Paul Elcock of the SUSSies who had rigged a projector showing song sheets for a mass play along with yet more players.
|Carlisle Uke Club entertaining the pub|
Up early on Saturday morning to rig the outdoor stage and the place was soon full. Our raffle tent was quickly set up by Mary Agnes Krell and family and was soon displaying the fantastic prizes that had been donated from around the world.
|N'Ukfest Raffle Stall|
We then started the open mic performances with a day full of bands, solos and clubs from around the UK taking their turn on the stage, all ably mixed by Chuck from The N'Ukes. We really didn't know what to expect or how we would manage amplifying such a wide variety of acts, but aside from some very minor glitches, we are pleased to report that everything ran on time and nothing broke down! I shouldn't pick favourites really as all acts performed so well and with great gusto, but I particularly enjoyed The Splintered Ukes from Liverpool, Autumn McCann and Joe Grant Mills and Michael Adcocks sublime playing in the style of Roy Smeck (ably joined on stage by Peter Moss).
The highlight of the open mic day for me though was an idea created by Steve in The N'Ukes, in an attempt to make the event more inclusive for new or shy players. So we coined 'Play With A Pro' and offered people to sign up to form three groups of players to go away and work on a song they have never played before and then perform it on stage with one of the evening performers. It was a concept that could have crashed and burned I guess, but when you had pros leading the groups like Phil Doleman, Mike Krabbers and Tim and Jake Smithies, how could it go wrong?. The groups looked nervous, but the group leaders took them through it perfectly and the three performances had some of the best audience receptions of the day! Oh, and did I say that by the end of the open mic session, two thirds of all of our raffle tickets had sold out?!
|The Splintered Ukes|
With not much time to spare after finishing the open mic stage, the evening acts were ushered to the Pavilion stage for the quickest of sound checks. Minimal fuss from these artists who have performed many many times around the UK, and we were ready to go at 7pm. Kicking off the show were our pals Ooty And The Cloud from Chester who delivered a suitably dreamy and classy set and soon had the pavilion full.
Dead Mans Uke followed with their fantastic, thrilling sound that really did have the audience amazed - I love their style and attitude and it was so good of them to come.
|Dead Mans Uke|
Next up, Krabbers and his set of introspective and also funny self penned tunes was a particular highlight and drew a great audience reaction - love that mans voice.
Then on to some sublime technical skill and a guy we love and were so pleased to have along. Phil Dolemans sets are wonderful to watch and always delivered with total professionalism. He certainly went with a bang.
Then a trio of guys we have been friends with for some time who we just knew would get the audience bouncing - Chonkinfeckle. One way or another the guys from Chonkinfeckle have contributed to each N'Ukefest so far, so we were delighted to have them back for the third time and see them perform a really tight set as a full band.
Closing the night were the N'Ukes - we were rough and ready, and extremely tired, but I think the audience enjoyed it. A highlight for me was some of the other evening acts joining us on stage for the final thrash out of Should I Stay Or Should I Go by the Clash. Note to self - when organising a ukulele festival, don't think you will be fit to play anything at a start time of 10.45pm..... It was a blur really...
Accordingly, straight to bed for me after the gig, but I know that the fun and games carried on in the campsite until the early hours. ( I shall keep the stories to myself....)
Up and at them for day two and things kicked off with the guys from Carlisle again and I had been dying to see them on stage. They have a really tight thing going on and were a joy to watch.
Special mention to Wirral Uke Orchestra, and a couple of their spin off bands such as The Mighty Flea for their very tight and well arranged sets. With an 'Orchestra' it's not straightforward to play so many ukes with such variety, but they nailed it I thought.
|Wirral Ukulele Orchestra|
Early afternoon we had sold out of raffle tickets, and Mary Agnes Krell joined us on stage to announce the prize winners (at all times being put off by the blowing wind and her billowing skirt!). The generosity of those who donated still staggers me. And the raffle was not all, we also had a cake stall set up by locals Eileen and Rosie Mason with all proceeds going to the charity too.
And I said I wouldn't pick favourites, but who am I kidding... later in the afternoon we had an act that we just knew would blow the festival away. Nervously taking the stage was Zahra Lowzley from Edinburgh who burst into one of the most impressive ukulele performances I have EVER seen. Quite incredible and everything from classical to flamenco, dub step to bluegrass. Staggeringly good. I say this as no exaggeration - some people in the audience were in tears at the emotional playing and she received the only (and well deserved) standing ovation of the weekend.
And soon it was over. The feedback from attendees has been amazing and we are so glad it went off well. And what of the reason for it all? Well, the event was put on to raise money for two very worthy charities, Macmillan Cancer Support and The Wingate Centre in Wrenbury, a disabled children's charity located close to the N'Ukefest venue. And the total? £3,731.58!!! We are totally thrilled with that sum and it smashes the target we had in mind by some distance.
Thanks on behalf of The N'Ukes go to all who attended, took part or contributed in any way at all. If I start listing names, I will miss somebody and don't want to offend, so, thanks to all - you know who you are!!
FINAL Word has to go to this performance from Zahra!