Uke East Review

By: Pete Farrugia

Saturday 25th October, Norwich: the time and place of Uke East, a new ukulele festival in aid of the charity Musical Keys, which provides music and movement activities to people with special and/or additional needs.

Registered tutor Pete Farrugia represented the RGT at the festival, by manning the RGT stand, and also by running a workshop on the new RGT ukulele exams.

Here is Pete’s account of the day.

uke east pete farrugia

I arrived at the venue, a community centre just outside Norwich town centre early enough to meet the organisers, Nic Rigby, and Liam Capper-Starr in the car park, who were waiting for the centre to open. Nic and Liam run the Norwich Ukulele Society.

Soon we were joined by several others from the society, who formed a team of helpers. Once inside the centre, I was shown to the Supporters room, where I put up the RGT stand, with plenty of leaflets and free information booklets for the uke exams.

Once my stand was ready I mingled with the other companies. I was pleased to meet up again with Darren Field of Buzzards Field Basses, who I had first met at the Ukulele Festival of Great Britain last June in Cheltenham.

He sells attractively-priced bass ukuleles which he makes from recycled children’s classical guitars, as well as kits so that you can adapt a guitar yourself.

Were I not already an owner of a bass ukulele I’d have been tempted!

More temptation was close by in the shape of Noah Ukuleles, Matt Cohen’s Brighton-based company which sells beautiful and reasonably-priced hand-made instruments.

By now my credit card was twitching in my wallet, so I wandered off and found two more familiar faces, both of them RGT tutors, as well as my fellow speakers at September’s RGT conference.

Ben Rouse and Phil Doleman were both there to give workshops, as well as evening performances. We spent some time showing off the ukuleles we had brought along to each other, all of them fine instruments.

Mine is a solid-bodied electric ‘Marmite’ model tenor uke hand-made by Pete Howlett.

We also talked about our successes teaching the new RGT ukulele syllabus to our students.

At last the festival opened to the public, so I took up my place at the RGT stand, strapped on my uke and plugged it into my lovely ACUS acoustic amp.

This soon came in handy, as people began to approach the stand, to ask questions and take leaflets and information booklets.

I had brought samples of the exam handbooks, so I was able to demonstrate the pieces.

uke east rgt

People were impressed with the clear layout of the handbooks, the use of tablature as well as standard notation, the included CDs, and above all the way that the exams cater for all styles of ukulele players, from those that just want to strum chords, to melodic and fingerstyle players.

I met a mixture of beginners, experienced players, and also teachers, but I was well prepared for this by my previous experiences at both the Cheltenham festival and the RGT conference.

Everything was well received, and the time flew by as I was constantly busy.

Towards mid-afternoon, it was time for me to give my workshop on the main stage.

I moved my amp, uke, handbooks and notes to the stage, and with the help of the sound crew quickly got set up.

I had pre-prepared my iPhone with ripped copies of the CDs from the handbooks, so I plugged it into my amp, set the levels, and away I went.

After a short introduction, I began to demonstrate exam pieces: rhythm studies, melodies, and accompaniments (with my iPhone playing the tunes from the CDs).

For the melodies, I got the audience to play ‘Name That Tune’, and pretty soon people in the audience were shouting out ‘Oh Susanna’, and ‘Home On The Range’.

Many of them even sang along! Some of the Grade 3 pieces are quite demanding, but I had rehearsed well, and luckily my reading skills (and the stage lighting) didn’t let me down. I was pleased and touched to receive a few ovations from the audience.

The firm audience favourite was definitely Tony Skinner’s lovely arrangement of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

After the workshop, I held a short QA session, and then it was back to the RGT stand to let the main stage be prepared for the evening performers.

The room with all the supporting companies was only booked until 5pm, so towards that time we all packed away our stands, and made our way to the main hall.

With a long drive in front of me, I couldn’t stay for the whole evening, but I did get to see two sets. First Ben Rouse.

This was the third of Ben’s performance’s that I’d seen, and he didn’t disappoint, with his energetic performance of familiar rock and pop material.

Most of his set was instrumental, but his final song had us all singing along with him on the ‘Highway To Hell’.

Next, I saw ArteMiss, a three-piece female group from Kent. I had already connected with one of the ladies (ukulele player Mandi Harkett) via Facebook, and I really enjoyed their quirky, cabaret-style performance. Their harmony vocals were especially appealing.

I would have loved to have been able to stay later to catch sets by Phil Doleman and Sophie Madeleine, but the M11 and M25 were waiting, so I said my goodbye’s and made my way home, exhausted by satisfied.

I look forward to representing the RGT at more ukulele festivals, and of course to a return to Norwich next year.

Uke East Photo Gallery

Photos by: Ann Nichols and Looks See Click Photography


uke east ben rouse

Ben Rouse


uke pete farrugia

Pete Farrugia


uke east rgt

Pete Farrugia


uke east phil doleman

Phil Doleman

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