Grand Northern Ukulele Festival - Diary 2014

15 Sept 2014

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!!

Until next year!
GNUF 2015 flyer


  1. Brilliant weekend, lovely festival, friendly people :-)

  2. It was an amazing weekend - as a volunteer I got to see a different side to the event, and was fortune enough to go into all of the 6 Workshops I was registering people into... I have learned an incredible amount about playing my Uke better, different styles, tips, techniques and even physical Uke comedy with the fantastic Vonck and Vlam who, along with the Mother Ukers, are the 2 performances I am gutted to have missed. ALL of the performances I saw were excellent, I have left rocking like Ben Rouse, boogyfied by Tricity Vogue, and a little bit in love with the Mersey Belles, and especially in awe of the Ukes - although they gave me some wonderful tips to help me get a lot better than I was before the weekend.

    I could go on for a very long time, but I'll stop here. A fabulous, fantastic, fun and funky weekend. I love GNUF!

  3. Rob - nice to see you there and great summary

  4. Nice resume Barry hope you can catch up on sleep !

  5. Barry -- Thanks for sharing your festival. What an amazing venue with so many talented artists. I love the stage and atmosphere of the whole place. I hope you don't mind that I snatched a couple of Bari photos from you. I posted them on Humble Baritonics and provided a link back to your post. If you have an issue or something that you'd like to add, just let me know. Thanks, Jeff

  6. Looks like I will have to cross the pond for this one next year!


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