Grand Northern Ukulele Festival 2019

Last weekend I attended “Grand Northern Ukulele Festival” (GNUF) for the first time. I had a bit of a rocky start with my checked bag feared to be lost and my rented apartment not being ready and access codes missing. So to be honest I did not get to Huddersfield in the best of moods. Additionally the weather was awful – really cold and lots of rain (but then again, I kinda expected the rain in England 😉 ). Anyway, here’s a very long blog post about the whole experience.

Thursday Festival Hub and Launch Party

I arrived on Thursday May 9th – after everything was set with the hotel I got to the festival hub at “The Head of Steam” located in the main train station. There was already some jamming going on with Petey Mack and I got my wristband and festival programme. To my suprise everyone who already signed up for the Open-Mic at Mims stage was mentioned in the festival programme – and what you do you know, yours truly was in there as well (spelled wrong though)

In the evening the official launch party kicked off the weekend at “Magic Rock Brewery”. There were playalongs, some open-mic slots and Marc Gallagher played a very engaging set. I met some old friends and some new people and it was a really lovely evening.

Friday Workshop and Gigs

Friday started out very relaxed. My first workshop didn’t start until 2:30 so I decided to stay in, recharge myself and take a little walk around town. It stopped raining for a while, which was nice as well.

Daniel Ward: “Arpeggio Meditations”

First workshop of the day was with Daniel Ward. He showed us four of his arpeggio meditations from his books. I’ve attended lots of workshops in the last couple years – this is one of my favorites so far. Daniel is a great teacher and adjusted the speed of the exercises very well to the audience. And for me this was one of the workshops where I left with a real sense of “this will actually help me and improve my skills”. So thanks a lot for this amazing workshop.

Mim: “From Seat to Stage: Map out your musical journey”

Second workshop I attended on Friday was with the lovely Mim. Not a traditional ukulele workshop where you learn new skills (we actually didn’t even use our ukes once) but 1,5 hours filled with lots of encouragement and great tips on how to hit the stage. This was actually something I needed so bad. When I got up on Friday morning, the fraud police paid me a little visit. I heard so many fantastic ukulele players and singers hit the stage Thursday night, that I felt completely defeated and wasn’t sure if I belonged here. And Mim said something so wonderful right in the beginning of the workshop:

You are your own unique artist. You are not someone else. So don’t compare yourself to others.

This really hit home with me and made me tear up a little (that’s why I always sit in the back 😉 ). She then handed out a worksheet with some really important questions on it to map out our own unique musical journey. I will probably do a post about it in the next couple of weeks, because I think it was really great advice and I want to share my mapped out journey with you.

Friday Gigs

After Mims workshop I went to the Sportsman Pub. Dead Mans Uke & friends were gonna play there. I was starving though and there was no food for picky eaters like me there. So I thought I’d try my luck at the Head of Steam festival pub. It was packed with uke players jamming, open-mics and lot of chatter and laughter. Amazing to see, but wayyyy too much going on for me (plus I was still starving). So I decided to get some decent food first somewhere quiet and see what’s going on there. After a big burger with sweet potato fries I decided to head to the third venue for the night: Northern Quarter. I hit the jackpot there. Met some really nice people, even got a seat and Stanley Brinks & Freschard were on stage. Go check them out, they have some great songs with nice storytelling and fun songs to engage with.

Saturday Festival

I was doing a lot better on Saturday – even though I knew that my open mic on Mim’s stage was coming up. But my day started with a workshop:

Craig Chee: “Shaping your sound”

In this workshop we focused on right and left hand techniques. Strumming combinded with fingerpicking, left hand muting – lots of skills that I kinda know how to do but probably always too lazy to perfect. So it’s always nice to revisit it, see a new perspective of it and have someone else teach it to me. And let me tell you Craig Chee is a really great teacher – he made the workshop real fun while being able to break everything down quite simple. Thanks for that.

Jake Shimabukuro: “Masterclass”

During dinner break one of the highlights of the day took place: Masterclass with Jake Shimabukuro. I was really looking forward to this but tbh I felt a little disappointed afterwards (and looking into the faces of the other participants I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt that way). It turned out to be more of a Q&A with Jake. He talked about his life and playing style – how he practices (or doesn’t) and a bit on his take on arranging for the ukulele. However, no real teaching anything. It was a bit sad to see that minute by minute someone else would put their uke back in its case after realizing that they would not play a single note with Jake today.

He did however play Bohemian Rhapsody just for us in the masterclass in the end – so it was kinda like a very private concert, which was really nice.

Mim’s Stage with nikky.and.the.ukulele

At 2:30 my time had come and I was up on Mim’s stage. I was so freaking nervous, my hands were shaking and I can’t believe that anything got out of my mouth at all. I’ll tell you all about it in another blog post soon 😉

Main Stage

I got the see the afternoon shows on the main stage. It started out Mim’s showcase where her favorite open mic act of the day could play a song on the main stage. Mim chose the UkuBraillies. I saw them play on Mim’s stage earlier and they had great harmonies and sounded lovely, so it was nice hearing them again.

Fake Plastic Tigers

It was the first time I saw the Fake Plastic Tigers. As a huge fan of Radiohead covers (thanks Amanda Palmer for that) I really enjoyed their set. It was also a nice change to hear a Glockenspiel in combination with ukulele.

Rita Braga

Again, someone I heard for the first time. Rita Braga is a singer-songwriter originally from Portugal. She has a very unique sound and does songs in many languages (there was even a German song in her set).

League of Ukulele Gentlemen

I believe this was the fourth time that I saw them live at a Ukulele Festival. And even though they had some sound issues, this was my favorite set of theirs so far. Hope to see them again soon.


Opera-lele did little pop-up shows on various stages this weekend, so I actually saw them twice. It’s always a pleasure watching them play and I even saw some new songs I hadn’t heard before. Mandi and George also such kind and loving people and I’m looking forward to meet them again in Graz in 1,5 weeks.

Craig Chee & Sarah Maisel

Sarah and Craig did a lovely set on Saturday and brought some of that Aloha-Feeling with them. They have such nice chemistry on stage (also off stage) and it was a pleasure watching them. They are doing a ukulele workshop week in Berlin now and I’m really sad that I’ll miss it.

Cabaret Stage

Saturday evening I had to make a decision – see Jake’s first show on the main stage or hit the Cabaret Stage and see Jake on Sunday. I chose the latter because I’ve heard so many great things about the cabaret and, well, I could see Jake on Sunday anyway 😉

It was a good decision because the cabaret was one my highlights this weekend. Such an entertaining show with very short slots that made sure that there was never a dull minute. Here are some pictures and links to the artist – go check them out:

Tricity Vogue, Lord Hicks, Renaissance Uke Man, Abi Collins, Mim, Amber Sands, The Hedge Inspectors, Nicola Bloom & David Logan, Yoko Mainwaring Experience

Northern Quarter

After the cabaret I decided to give the Northern Quarter another go, since I really enjoyed the acts on Friday there. Again, not disappointed with my choice. I got to see Don’t tell Smith, Percy Copley (who knew you could surprise someone from Austria with yodeling) and finally A Muckraker’s Cabaret (I can’t believe that it was the first time I saw them – looking forward to see and hear more of them).

Sunday Festival

Sunday made real use of it’s name and the sun finally came out – don’t get me wrong I was fully prepared for rain in England, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t prefer a sunny day. So you can say the day started out real good.

Andy Webster: “Rock&Roll”

I’ve been to quite some ukulele workshops in the last couple of years, but I’ve never had this much fun. Andy had the whole group rockin out to a medley of “Shake, Rattle & Roll”, “Tutti Frutti”, “Hound Dog”, “Rock around the clock” and “Blue Suede Shoes” within minutes. And all it took was some little “tricks” with our left hands. I really enjoyed this experience because it was fun and something I can actually apply to my playing real easy.

Unplug the Wood Stage

Fragile Lucy

Someone I did not want to miss on Sunday was Fragile Lucy. She played some songs at the launch party on Thursday and it was captivating. Her set on Sunday was fun and watching her play is fascinating. Go check her out – it’s worth it.

Ukulele Simon

I’ve been in contact with Simon over Instagram for quite a while now and it was great to finally meet him in real life and see him play. He’s such a fun guy and his set was great to watch (because you never know what kind of magic he’s gonna do next). Again, go check him out, you won’t be disappointed.

Main Stage

Since I watched some acts on other stages, I missed quite some performances on the main stage on Sunday. Here are the acts that I did see though:

Findlay Napier

A scottish singer-songwriter – absolutely my kind of music so I’m sure I’ll check out some more of it. Unfortunaltely I missed the beginning of his act.

Jake Shimabukuro

Jake played a second show on Sunday – turns out it was not the same set as on Saturday – but a little birdie told me that Sunday was even better 😉

Anyway it was really great to finally see Jake play. I have absolutely no idea how it is possible to move both your right and left hand so fast, stretch those fingers in all kinds of directions and coordinate all of this to make such beautiful sounds. (Might be practice, but I am sure that there’s tons of talent involved as well 😉 ). So during most of his performance I was just watching his hands real closely in absolute awe and knowing that this is something incredible happening right before my eyes.

Heidi Swedberg & Daniel Ward

The final act on Sunday (and for the whole weekend) were Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward. They finished the festival with lovely Hawaiian and International sounds – and some really unforgettable owl, cat and pig sounds. Plus, they are both such warm and loving people and it was a pleasure meeting them.

The Experience

GNUF 2019 was an amazing experience for me. I met lots of old friends, made new friends and it was nice to get this feeling of belonging. At times there were a bit too many options to choose from – so I missed out on some great acts. But that’s really a first world problem. It’s an incredible weekend that all the people involved in it organize. There’s so much love and community in this festival and it makes we want to come back next year and tell everyone else to do so as well.

So if you’ve never been there – go book your hotel rooms for 19-21 June 2020.

xoxo Nikky

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