The Mighty Ukulele monthly email of uke events in & around London alerted me to a free afternoon ukulele festival at the Queen’s Theatre, near the easternmost end of the District Line, out in Essex. Facilitated by a seven-piece Chelmsford-based electro-uke band called the D’Ukes, it was a pleasant & relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
There were around half a dozen stalls from local music shops selling ukes, mandolins & banjos; accessories & music books plus an info stall with lists of local ukulele clubs. One stall had a free hourly draw to win an electronic tuner & I was lucky enough to win the first one (probably because I was the only person paying attention when the initial announcement was made!).
There were very few seats available, so I quickly sat down in front of the corner stage area before they were all taken, armed with my lunch & drink from the next-door supermarket, as I knew that once I stood up again I’d probably not get another chair!
Between 12.30 – 5pm there were seven acts due on for half hour slots, plus open mic & jamming sessions. I only knew one act & she was on last, so it was an interesting afternoon of listening to different types of new uke performers, all with various styles & repertoires. I was pleased to note that most followed the unofficial rule that any uke band name must contain a play on words or pun.
First on were Kiss Me Quick, from Southampton. A three piece outfit with one uke-player, a guitarist (who unluckily broke one of his strings half way through & didn’t have a spare instrument, so had to do some rapid improvising) & flautist (who played a melodica & percussion also), they mainly sang recent pop uke hits. Following them was a young solo performer from Canvey Island, Chantelle Pasquale, whom I think is nineteen years old. She sang a mix of newish numbers plus a couple of self-penned ones (some of which she wrote for her GCSEs).
The Fog, playing a cracking version of El Cumbanchero:
The Ukes of Hazard were a club of around twelve members from Hertfordshire. They shared the singing round the group & played a wider range of material, from the sixties onwards. U-Kew-lele were on next, hailing from West London & seven in number. They played energetically, with some rocking numbers from the fifties to the present day & the female vocalists were especially good.
Next came ArteMiss – a three piece female covers band from Kent who played some nicely-done arrangements with humour & quirkiness. The first with a bass ukulele & again, excellent harmonies. Then came The Fog – a slick trio from Bishop’s Stortford & definitely very accomplished musicians (they’ve been playing in various bands since the sixties / early seventies). Their selection ranged from the 1920s & thirties, jazzy & bluesy, plus several original compositions in similar styles. Definitely more like the stuff Chris & Rufus do. The percussionist, Frog, on Cajon drum, looked like his hands might fall off at one stage!
The open mic slot showed a hybrid band of James, Diane & Frog (the first two were the lead players from The Ukes of Hazard, with the aforementioned percussionist from The Fog); an interesting character called Fang from Archway who played an arrangement of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – he was one of the few on stage with an acoustic instrument &, nursing a few injuries, urged us all to remember we could still continue playing our ukes despite those – & David Alexander, from the Kent uke group there supporting ArteMiss, who sang Crazy Words, Crazy Tune with his sopranino uke, dedicated to the neighbours of all the ukulele players present.
Top billing was the always excellent Tricity Vogue, whom many of you know as she’s a regular on the London circuit. On her way up to this year’s Edinburgh Festival, she was breaking her journey to perform this gig. Despite the intense heat, she kept her bowler hat on, singing in the guise of a man for her show this year, Songs for Swinging Ukuleles.
There had been two beginners’ workshops run earlier in the afternoon, so the festival closed with a mass strumalong of the two songs taught in that: Crash (by The Primatives – which myself & most of the people around me didn’t recognise – though a mate sang it to me on the phone later & I found I did actually know it after all) & Jolene.
I was surprised the D’Ukes didn’t perform any numbers at all, as it would have been interesting to see how they matched up to the other acts. But I guess there were too busy keeping everything running smoothly all day. And they were playing a paid gig later on that night in the same theatre, so maybe wanted to save their energy.
Do have a look at the YouTube links I’ve put on the acts to give you a flavour of the performances. I haven’t been able to link to websites for everyone, as many only have Facebook pages, so if you like what you see you can always google them for more info.
Tricity Vogue singing her Edinburgh road-trip song, Bowler Hat: