Anyone lucky enough to have seen James Hill’s breath-taking performance in Cheltenham in 2011 will know why we’re just a bit pleased that he’s agreed to come back and wow us all once more. One of the world’s foremost ukulele players, he began playing with his fourth grade classmates in British Columbia, Canada – and was soon hooked. Now he gives entertaining and unpredictable solo concerts to a worldwide audience that would be the envy of many a rock star, and his technical skill and virtuosity on the ‘humble’ ukulele make him a ‘rare peer of Hawaii’s premier ukulele players’, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the ‘Paganini of the ukulele’ in the words of Jurgen Gorthe of CBC Radio.
Having made his mark as a superb instrumentalist and inspirational teacher, James has more recently turned to singing and song-writing with his latest album Man with a Love Song , featuring a range of styles from big-band jazz to bluegrass, and demonstrating a rare talent for poetic and eloquent lyrics to rival his ukulele-playing. Since 2006, he has collaborated with the cellist and singer Anne Janelle, together winning a Canadian Folk Music award in 2009 for their album True Love Don’t Weep. It is our huge privilege to welcome this dynamic duo to the festival.
We’re thrilled to welcome Andy Eastwood to Cheltenham – at last! With ukulele, banjo-uke, violin and guitar, his act brings variety entertainment into the 21st century - an upbeat blend of dazzling instrumental artistry, foot-tapping songs and bright, breezy humour.
Born in Lancashire to a musical family, Andy studied classical violin and piano from an early age but also developed a passion for jazz and popular music. Having taught himself uke and guitar, he made history at Oxford University as the only musician ever to give his degree recital on the ukulele! Andy has spent the decade since as one of the world’s very few full-time pro ukulele artists, and is proud to have contributed to the instrument’s continuing popularity.
The legendary Ken Dodd gave Andy his break into theatre, and he’s made some 300 performances with the great comedian, as well as working with stars such as the late Max Bygraves, Frank Skinner, Des O’Connor and Joe Pasquale. His worldwide tour schedule prompted The Stage to call him ‘the busiest man in showbusiness’. Recently Andy has been touring Britain with the 40s revue We’ll Meet Again, portraying some of his showbiz heroes: George Formby, Stephane Grappelli and Arthur Askey.
PHIL DOLEMAN & IAN EMMERSON
Phil and Ian met through a ukulele forum in 2007, both accomplished and experienced musicians who had discovered the joy of the ukulele but had no-one to play with. The rock uke duo The Re-entrants was soon born and for almost six years, toured all over the UK, played at festivals and in theatres to great acclaim, released five CDs, and established themselves as one of the most popular ukulele acts in the country . In 2012, both Phil and Ian decided that they needed a new challenge, and set about writing and rehearsing, getting back to their musical roots and being creative again.
Phil (ukulele, guitar and vocals) and Ian (ukulele, baritone ukulele and vocals) have built themselves a reputation as entertaining, playful and engaging performers, as well as being two of the finest exponents of the ukulele. Their new act brings together jazz, blues, calypso, ragtime and a myriad of folk and roots styles in their original compositions and interpretations of standards. They have a musical telepathy which allows them the freedom to stretch out and really play the music they so obviously love.
We booked The Re-Entrants; we’ve got Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson, and we couldn’t be more delighted!
SAM BROWN'S INTERNATIONAL UKULELE
CLUB OF SONNING COMMON
In 2007, after more than 30 years performing with the elite of the UK music scene, singer Sam Brown lost her voice; in September 2010, to help fill the void, she started giving ukulele lessons to a couple of friends in her front room; and on a snowy December night three months later Sam Brown’s International Ukulele Club of Sonning Common gave its debut performance in a village hall near Henley.
Joined by professional musicians including Sam’s dad Joe and brother Pete, the atmosphere was magical and uplifting, and they’ve never looked back. Since then, the group has gone from strength to strength, with radio and TV appearances, and concerts and festival performances – including the 2012 Cornbury Festival alongside Jools Holland and Elvis Costello among others - a jolly bunch of uke enthusiasts who play Sam’s arrangements of popular songs with such zest, enthusiasm and energy that it’s impossible not to be inspired and uplifted.
The diverse nature of the group is much the same as countless ukulele clubs up and down the country but with Sam’s teaching , leadership and influence providing the extra WOW factor, the IUCSC is in a class of its own. We’re so pleased to have them spread the magic to Cheltenham.
UKULELE UFF & LONESOME DAVE
One of the most exciting new acts to hit the ukulele world, Ukulele Uff and Lonesome Dave hail from Liverpool. They peddle hot favourites of the jazz age and rip-roaring renditions of many uke classics with dazzling energy and flair. We met them at the great Ukuhooley last August and booked them on the spot.
Ukulele Uff says he became obsessed with the uke after stumbling upon a dusty old Ukulele Ike record in a second-hand shop in 2006. His condition worsened a couple of years ago when he inherited a beautiful old Martin ukulele. Inspired by virtuoso performers of the ‘20s and ‘30s, including Roy Smeck, he claims that his obsession is treatable but so far efforts have been futile. Stop trying, we say!
The other half of the duo is Lonesome Dave who plays the six-stringed super baritone uke (otherwise known as ''the bull uke'' or ''guitar'') and provides as much rhythm as a whole band put together - his nimble fingers have been known to surprise even himself on occasion.
The pair have been chums since childhood and have played in many bands together over the years Their first gig as a duo was in February 2012 at the Royal Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool – watch it on Youtube.
ELOF & WAMBERG
"Elof & Wamberg" is a Danish duo playing Nordic folk music, with virtuosity, intimacy and passion. They strive to push forward the folk music genre by exploring and developing the traditional music, so it fits the perhaps unexpected constellation ukulele and double bass.
In August 2012 Elof & Wamberg released their debut album "12 Ornli' Syge Tracks for Ukulele og Kontrabas" (12 wicked tracks for ukulele and double bass). This album is the first seen attempt to play traditional music on the ukulele - a pioneering work with a sophisticated playful soul, deeply grounded in the sound of traditional music of northern Europe. The sound of the ukulele and the warmth of the double bass makes this album unique!
The duo won the Danish Championship in folk music 2012, and they have played concerts all over Denmark, in Sweden and Estonia - including a tour with ukulele virtuoso James Hill & Anne Davison.
MAHONEY & THE MOMENT
When you organise a ukulele festival as fabulous as ours, all sorts of fantastic people send you emails asking to be part of it. This makes us glad and also sad – sad that we have limited space and have to turn most of them down (we could fill the Town Hall stage five times over ), but oh so glad that we get to know about some amazing ukulele acts and can introduce them to a whole new audience. We were bowled over by Mahoney and The Moment the moment we heard them.
They are London singer-songwriter Steve Mahoney and Boston-born troubadour Emily Moment, who started playing together in early 2011 after performing on each other’s solo albums in 2010. Together they create a strong and unique sound – melodic folk-indie music “as wonderful as a baby’s smile”, stating some of their musical influences as Neil Young, Ryan Adam, Laura Marling and Bruce Springsteen.
They write songs about relationships, city life, travel, struggles, and their live show is an energetic and entertaining folk explosion, showcasing their combined songwriting talent and brilliant musicianship. They released their self-titled debut album in September 2011 to great critical acclaim and toured the United States. They make us happy and will make you happy too.
DEAD MANS UKE
Tim & Jake Smithies have been playing together for a while now… as a father and son duo and as part of the mighty Anything Goes Orchestra. DMU is a stripped down, simple and stomping ukulele and bass combo that plays blues, Americana and anything else they darn well please on resonator uke and double bass.
Having played most of the pubs in their now native Yorkshire Dales, the odd festival and recorded a debut EP they are heading further afield and stomping all the way… you have been warned.
“The hairiest ukulele duo in Britain. Don’t miss the Dead Men live!”
Will Grove-White UOGB.
Another fantastic act from across the pond, we’re thrilled to introduce Sarah Maisel who’s stopping off at Cheltenham on her first tour of Europe. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Sarah loved music from a very early age, took violin lessons from the age of six played in youth orchestras for several years, learnt to play the piano … and eventually saw the light, heard the ukulele and was hooked! She started taking lessons, in a group and then on her own, and having always had a passion for jazz, was determined to play it on the ukulele.
She is now an accomplished player, with a unique chord-melody style and ‘harp-like playing’. This, together with a voice which ‘shines through’, according to the Honolulu Star, was a winning combination. In 2009 she began her career as a recording artist and has three albums to her credit. Her sound and playful flirtiness has delighted Festival audiences in the United States and now it’s our turn.
UKULELE RED & LIL' MAMIE BROWN
This duo of gals from Liverpool plays hot, sweet and sad songs of the 1920s and 30s on ukulele, banjolele and guitar. Their set features hand-picked gems from a bygone age, and reveals rich and varied influences from ragtime vocalists to jug bands, western swing to country – they’ll have your toes tapping and shoulders shimmying in no time.
Hark to their sweet and raucous vocal stylings, thrill to their syncopating rhythms and swoon at their dapper flapper garb.
This is another act we have to thank our Ukuhooley friends for introducing us to – we saw them in Dun Laoghaire last August and couldn’t wait to introduce them to you here at Cheltenham – it’s not often you come across female ukulele acts of this calibre. More regularly members of all-girl hot jazz band, The Flamin’ Mamies, these gals will entertain you with the vampin’ guitar and fiery ukulele – so be sure to bring your dancing shoes.
The boys are back in town! Once again, the wonderful Winin’ Boys will grace our stage – try as we might, we just can’t imagine a ukulele festival without them. The familiar trio has grown into a quartet this year: the inimitable Frederic Goossens’ on ukulele and vocals, trusty double bass player Koen (aka Sweet Papa) de Winter providing solid rhythm, and Marc Van de Veire slipping and sliding, strumming and picking through it all on Hawaiian and manouche guitar, are joined by Stephan Van Uytvanck, who will make his re-appearance in the band's line-up after more than 15 years. Steph plays the mouth organ, the harmonica and the jaw harp. (There’s also a fifth member, by the way - Stephan "Magic Fingers" Svacina who will stay home to look after all their families.)
The boys from Belgium have been playing together since the early ‘90s; they seek out quirky, catchy and cool tunes of the 1920s and ‘30s – ragtime, blues, tin pan alley – and add their special magic touch. Their motto: Fast or slow, mucho gusto!
It’s always exciting to introduce a new act, and this one comes highly recommended - a singer-songwriter and musician based in Germany, with a knack for a catchy tune and a wide variety of influences from The Killers to Burt Bacharach. Nicholas plays several instruments as well as the ukulele, and records songs in his home studio, with lyrics drawn from his personal life and experience - melancholic, poignant, tongue-in-cheek or deliberately goofy.
Nicholas started posting his music and videos on Youtube in late 2010. He quickly won fans and admirers around the world, including Alistair Wood, author of Ukulele for Dummies, who rates Nicholas's Youtube channel in the top five for ukulele lovers, and Mercedes Benz who included his song How Low? in their Mixed Tape compilation of songs by up-and-coming artists. Users of the ukulele site UkuleleHunt.com voted his video Those Punk Rock Days the no. 3 video of 2011 - ahead of stars like Eddie Vedder and Amanda Palmer.
Nicholas has released two albums. His debut, Heavy Metal For The Hipsters features 16 original songs, nine of which are ukulele tracks, while his second album Porridge, released in May 2012, is a ukulele-only album. Both can be downloaded for free from his Bandcamp site (http://nicholasabersold.bandcamp.com).
MR B THE GENTLEMAN RHYMER
Ladies and chaps, absolutely splendid news – we’ve got a new chum! Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer is coming to Cheltenham, we’re bally-well excited about it, and anyone who hasn’t seen him before is in for an absolutely top-hole treat!
Mr B is a leading exponent of ‘chap-hop’, and raps about all sorts of subjects close to a chap’s heart, from cricket to pipe-smoking and gentlemen’s clubs to Timothy, accompanying himself all the while on the banjolele. He started rapping late in 2007, playing at cabaret clubs and venues across Britain, and quickly established a reputation as an awfully good egg of an entertainer, appearing at Glastonbury and the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe Festival no less. He’s appeared on countless radio programmes (though not the Home Service) and has even released a long player or two, the most-recent being most charmingly entitled The Tweed Album.
Variously described as mesmerising, hilarious, genius, sublimely funny, unique, and a true cabaret performer by all sorts of media types who know what they’re talking about, you’re guaranteed a performance to remember. So button up your blazers, polish off your pipe, give your brogues a brush and get on down for the hippiest-hoppiest chap you could ever hope to meet – the chap-hop superstar.
We’ve got a great friendship going with the Ukuhooley organisers in Ireland – their first festival was the inspiration of our first festival, we go to theirs and they come to ours, and we’ve been lucky to include an Irish act in each of our festivals so far. This year it’s a fun bunch of guys who call themselves the Ukeristic Congress, Dublin's ukulele supergroup: six singing ukers with u-bass, occasional banjo, a spot of melodica and plenty of attitude.
Their repertoire ranges from Tin Pan Alley by way of Hank Williams and the Beatles to punkish grunts and a growing heap of original songs, all played in their own inimitable style. They perform regularly all over the fair city of Dublin, and today they’re bringing a little bit of Ireland to you. You’re going to love them!
As well as all the amazing array of international acts and artists from other parts of the UK, It’s great to be welcoming some true home-grown talent to the festival this year. Matt King is director of Centre Arts Cheltenham, run by local artists and musicians, and when he’s not teaching (ukulele, of course, among other things), he’s well-known on the local music scene, performing with a number of bands in and around the town.
With him and his band this weekend, we travel back to the age of leg warmers and ra-ra skirts, cassette tapes and Filofaxes, Australian soaps and Flashdance – the electric 80s. Ukuleighties delivers 80s power ballads transformed by the sing-along joy of the ukulele. This trio combines the finest vocals, together with uke recreations of those famous rock guitar solos, all sitting on top of phat and funky ukulele bass. Relive the heady days of when Madonna and Kylie were the queens of pop, Prince was prince, Bonnie was bonny and Madness were mad. We love the Eighties!