The distinctive sound of the ukelele is enjoying such popularity that tickets for the third Grand Northern Ukelele Festival - the second to be held in Huddersfield - have almost sold out.
On Friday, May 22, fans from all over the world will converge on the town to hear virtuoso ukelele playing by performers from far flung corners of the globe as well as close to home.
The fact that it’s just eight months since the last festival seems to have made no difference to the fans’ enthusiasm.
As the event’s awesomely-titled Official Awesomeness Ambassador Clarice Wokes says: “It’s going to be amazing. We’ve got 39 acts, workshops and fringe activities in the Lawrence Batley Theatre, the Vinyl Tap record store, the Keys Restaurant and our festival pub The Head of Steam.
“On Sunday we’ve also got Space to Create, an inflatable shelter on the library lawn where people can do arty things - it was very popular last year.”
While most gigs are now fully booked there are still tickets available for the Town Hall gala performance on Sunday.
Clarice says this showcase concert should appeal to all music lovers. She explained: “I think local people might enjoy this as it’s a good and lively mix of music and not just for ukelele fans.” (visit www.northernnuke.com for details).
Among those appearing at the festival are two performers widely recognised as the ‘king’ and ‘queen’ of the ukelele – Alabama’s Sara Maisel, whose legendary jazz ukelele has made her a big name in the genre; and English musician Mike Hayllor (Krabbers), the acknowledged ukelele king of Youtube.
They will be joined by players such as Manitoba Hal, who hails from Nova Scotia in Canada but has a blues and Cajun sound that comes from the Deep South; Zoe Bestel, a virtuoso 17-year-old from Scotland, who has been wowing audiences since she took up the ukelele at the age of 13; Lancashire duo Chockinfeckle, who write songs about life in a Northern town; and Bermudan Mike Hind, compere of the Festival Fringe.
The Grand Northern Ukelele Festival began in Pontefract Town Hall three years ago but the venue proved to be too small.
Last year it moved to Huddersfield Town Hall and attracted more than 1,000 ukelele enthusiasts. This year’s festival is even bigger, a sign that the diminutive instrument is growing in popularity, and has been moved from autumn to spring because a number of the organisers work in education and say this is a quieter time of year for them.
Clarice, who only took up the ukelele three years ago, believes the main attraction of the instrument is that it is, initially, simple to play.
“A lot of children are playing it now, whereas they used to play the recorder,” she says.
“But you can sing or hum along while you play the ukelele whereas you can’t if you play the recorder. And it’s not an expensive instrument to get into, you can pick one up for £20.”
For her the instrument has also proved to be hugely therapeutic in the aftermath of a personal tragedy.
As Clarice explains: “Six week after getting a ukelele I played ‘Bring me Sunshine’ at an open mic night for my husband. It was the song we got married to. And then he died suddenly a few days later from a blood clot.
“I kept on playing and the ukelele helped to get me through it all. Now I’m quite heavily into it and I’ve played for the George Formby Society and been invited to play at the acoustic festival of Great Britain.”