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Friday 1 and Saturday 2 December 2017 – Lavenham Christmas Fair.

We arrived to find the Lavenham Christmas in full swing – literally, it has a big wheel – for our two-day stint on the square outside the magical Guild Hall, heaving with stalls selling festive goodies. It rained on Friday but that didn’t stop a crowd from gathering round to watch. Saturday was cold but sunny and absolutely packed with people. Thanks to the very generous mulled wine stall, we kept warm outside and in with complimentary brews each day. We got completely mystified dancing toddlers, mates having a good time and loads of dogs (there are some beautiful breeds in Lavenham). The icing on the cake came with Santa Claus (the real one), who joined us on stage for a rendering of ‘Must Be Santa.’ A big thanks to the organisers who looked after us so well.

Sunday 26 November 2017 – Helen Rollason Christmas Fair, Chelmsford Racecourse

This was our second year at this delightful venue – a very big, warm room, laced with all kinds of Christmas goodies for sale and overlooking the racecourse itself. Just as well John didn’t bring his coconuts! In fact there were several huge rooms, all with stalls, refreshments and packed with people. It always really feels like Christmas when the first official Christmas songs are released and this year was no exception. We had babies dancing (one of whom could not take his eyes off Dave) and many others who stopped to watch. Now under starter’s orders for the big day itself!

Friday 24 November 2017 – Mayor’s celebratory dinner, Towngate Theatre, Basildon.

I now know what the collective name for mayors is – at least if they are anything like those we performed for tonight – it is a Merriment of Mayors. Our good friend David Harrison, the Mayor of Basildon, kindly invited us back for a second year, together with dignitaries from all over Essex, to entertain them at their civic dinner. Jo made sure each of the tables earned their supper, joining in with the ‘Mele Kalikimaka’ and we all got up for the now expected group finale, ‘New York, New York’.

Sunday 5 November, Blue Boar, Maldon

Well we couldn’t do the big circle for ‘New York, New York’ in the bar of the historic Blue Boar because there were so many people there.  In fact they were also in the other bar, where I am told, they were dancing and listening. But we did have a roaring log fire, plenty of superb real ale and a great welcome. It was party time! We aired two new songs; Jo singing ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ and Martin and I duetting on ‘Ain’t No Pleasing You’, (a life-long ambition of Martin and John at last achieved!). Both were enthusiastically received. A gorgeous pub, lovely staff and a big scary boar’s head in our ‘green room’.

Saturday 28 October 2017 – Katie and Mark’s Wedding, Canterbury

IMG_20171028_171309228-2This was a wedding with a difference. For a start we ventured ‘out of county’ amongst the good people of Kent and it was one of our biggest audiences. Instead of a formal meal, there were a selection of street food catering, ranging from Korean, to barbecue, to a wonderful spread of childhood sweets, including ‘flying saucers’ and ‘sherbet dip’. It was a massive, celebration with more balloons than I’ve ever seen before and everyone having a real good time. Another first was the coconut shy outside alongside the bouncy castle and caravan photo booth. There was even a real ‘Valerie’ in the audience for Martin to dedicate one of his songs to. And we got an extra hour in bed this morning!

Friday 27 October 2017 – Colchester Oyster Feast, Mayor’s Parlour

Yes, it was a year ago since we made our debut in the Mayor’s Parlour for Colchester’s Oyster Feast, for the great ‘letting down of hair’ once the formal proceedings were over. This year, we performed for the new Mayor, Councillor Gerard Oxford and his colleagues and families who enjoyed tea, coffee and biscuits while boogieing to our beat. It was also first outing for Brian’s new ‘Jagulele’ uke and I am reliably informed that it worked well. Whatever the function, dance is universal, even down to the now obligatory circle for ‘New York, New York’. Terrific way to spend a Friday afternoon.

Friday 20 October 2017 – PARC Fundraiser, Feering Community Hall.

Lovely gig tonight and we were given a splendid welcome, including much-needed teas and coffees before the gig and much applause and dancing as soon as our first song was underway. The fundraiser was for a very good cause, providing children who have additional needs with safe play and recreational facilities.  The family of D’Ukes did very well in the half-time raffle, with prizes being won by Dave, Jan and Alan.  Two rock stars of the future strutted their stuff in front of the stage and I met another Hazel (who funnily enough was with Brian) and we had our photo taken together.

Saturday 14 October 2017 – Ambition, Aspire, Achieve Fundraiser, Wanstead Tap.

You know those times when everything seems to go right and fall into place? Well that happened tonight. We were supporting a new charity set up to work with disadvantaged young people, and this was our first visit to Wanstead Tap, a wonderfully cosy place under a domed ceiling with lots of comfy sofas and an eye-watering array of beers and gin, which were ace (well, according to Martin who is an expert in these things).  We had a fantastic audience, who soon left their seats to dance with us, a great reception and thoughtful bar staff who kept us lubricated. Thanks to Kevin Jenkins for choosing us and for his thoughtful gift of a bottle of wine each.  Much appreciated!

Friday 13 October 2017 – Andy and Nina’s Wedding, Stoke-by-Nayland Golf Course.

A late afternoon on a beautiful terrace, overlooking the purest green golf course with the sun setting against the autumn trees and a stray owl with a haunting song, what could be better than that?  The guests were grouped around us, enjoying pre-dinner drinks and of course, dancing, posing for photos and generally having a good time.  Some of them had seen us before so it was like meeting friends.  We had a great time.  Thanks to Andy, Nina and their families for making us so welcome, and the golf club staff who treated us so well.

Friday 13 October 2017 – Tony Fisher Show, BBC Essex.

Another one of those ‘three gigs in two days’ kind of weekend.  First off, we were invited to help celebrate a significant birthday for Tony Fisher.  His team organised a surprise afternoon for him, beginning with us all invading his studio singing ‘Happy Birthday’ and the presentation of a rather large and delicious chocolate cake. Then we had a bit of a chat, a song, a bit of cake, and off to our next gig.

Sunday 8 October 2017 – Secret Location, Secret Project Part 2!

What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning and meet lots of new friends (and a super cute dog), in our second secret location in Essex.  The Secret Project, at least our part of it, is finished.  Soon, all will be revealed!

Sunday 1 October 2017 – Secret Location, Secret Project!

Back on the road at 9.30am, we headed for a secret location in Essex for a very special project about which I am not yet allowed to speak.  We should have some very exciting news about it soon!

Saturday 30 September 2017 – Wedding Anniversary, Felixstowe

We do like to be beside the seaside and even better when we are performing for lovely people like Demelza and Greg who were celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary in Felixstowe.  This was our first gig there and when we drew up at the hotel, we found we were right on the seafront.  From the window of the function room you could see the lights of boats and wind farms in the distance and as it got dark, the beautiful half-moon splashed its reflection onto the gently lapping waves and it was quite magical.  Enough of waxing lyrical, we had a wonderful evening with lots of dancing in the second half and we paid tribute to Greg’s Scottish roots with a rousing version of the Proclaimers’ ‘I’m On My Way’ and ended with the special request ‘You Are My Sunshine’.  Thanks to all involved for our warm welcome.

Sunday 24 September 2017 – Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

A completely different audience tonight but that’s what makes gigs with the band such fun. Firstly, we shamelessly hi-jacked Jay Rayner who had just finished an afternoon show in the theatre and persuaded him to pose with us for photos after his book signing. He is a charming man who readily agreed (to be fair Jo did tempt him with one of her delicious puff pastries) but he drew the line at holding a ukulele. Then we settled in the bar area to run a beginners’ workshop. Twenty-five people turned up, which was a bit of a challenge, but by the end of the session they were strumming along and singing from the same hymn sheet. Three quarters of an hour later, sound-checked and with a change of clothes, we hit the stage. It was a superb way to round up a busy weekend.

Saturday 23 September 2017 – Shenfield Cricket Club

A new ceiling, a new bar, but luckily the same audience with their unique rituals and religion of ‘Brian, Brian’. They are a great bunch of people and their enthusiasm really makes us feel special. I still don’t quite understand why they Morris dance and do headstands over a glass of wine placed on the carpet or serenade and dance with beer bottle partners but we joined in anyway (though not with the headstands) and it all seemed to go very well.

Monday 18 September 2017 – Scott Ross Show, Phoenix FM

Phoenix FM is a good friend of ours and we have often spoken to Bob Simpson about our adventures. This time, we chatted to Scott Ross and got a good plug for our theatre show at Queens Theatre, Hornchurch on Sunday and the benefit concert next month at Wanstead Tap for AAA charity. We were two down – Martin and Jo still have day jobs – but I’m sure they were listening in like loyal family members.

Saturday 2 September 2017 – Wivenhoe Folk Festival, Horse and Groom Pub

Sunshine, blue skies, beer, lots of happy people – its getting a bit of a habit, but a good one.   We always look forward to this great little festival in the pub garden where there is a fair bit of folk and then there is us!  We love mixing with other bands, exchanging stories and experiences, and there was even some other ukuleles as well as all of Jo’s family who are multi-talented and provided some great music.  Thanks Peter for inviting us and to all our fans who showed up.

Monday 28 August 2017 – The Havering Show

It’s not often you can boast of laying down your hat with Paul Young but he made his home with us today as we graced the same festival stage, although not at the same time. Our 30 minutes of fame at the Havering Show on Fairkytes Live had to be well-planned so we could showcase what we do while at the same time leaving out a lot of our favourite songs.  It helped that we had a really good crowd and made some new fans in the searing heat of a record-breaking Bank Holiday Monday amid a maze of tents, funfairs, and a large array of eateries.  I avoided the reptile tent, although kept calm when a large lemon and white beast slithered its way towards me on the grass. (If the toddler beside me could delightedly stroke its head, who was I to run away?).  Thanks to Fairkytes for hosting us and the organisers who made us so welcome.  A really great way to spend a bank holiday weekend.

Saturday 19 August 2017 – Priory Park, Southend

Back in Southend and another great British institution – the bandstand in Priory Park.  I have to agree with Dave that this was one of our most enjoyable gigs to date with bright sunshine (most of the time anyway!), a very big crowd, striped deckchairs, young fans clamouring to have their photo taken with us, CDs flying off the shelf and dogs going berserk, what more could you want?  We added to new songs to the set – ‘Angels’ and ‘You Know I’m No Good’, which means of course that we had to drop some of our other well-loved songs.   Still, that’s showbiz for you.

Sunday 13 August 2017 – Royal Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea

Another sunny Sunday afternoon, this time an end-of-the-pier show in Southend-on-Sea. Constant sunshine, hoardes of visitors, candyfloss and ice cream, the very essence of a traditional British holiday resort. We were at the end of the longest pleasure pier in the world, playing in the Royal Pavilion and no, we didn’t have to make the long trek on foot with all our gear. Some very helpful people from the council provided us with trollies and then helped us to load them onto the train and away we went. This was the first time we had played in the Royal Pavilion, as part of their ‘Sunday Showcase’ where visitors were treated to a line-up of local bands all afternoon. What a great idea and what a great setting! Thanks to all our fans who turned up to see us.

Saturday 12 August 2017 – Laura and Jon’s wedding, Pontlands Park

IMG_20170812_223353402Laura and Jon are fans and also good friends who actually met at one of our gigs, so it was only fitting we should play for them at the luxurious Pontlands Park Hotel in Great Baddow. Having set up our gear early in the huge marquee before the wedding party arrived, we spent our time lounging on comfy settees in one of the many bars, (well some of us did – Jo took the opportunity to use both swimming pools, the sauna and the jacuzzi. It’s a hard life, being in a band). We all literally ‘danced the night away’ on a crowded floor and there were very impressive moves from some. Being in a wheelchair was no excuse for one wonderful lady who bopped away, amid a host of balloons tied all around her. We wish you all the best, Laura and Jon.

Sunday 8 August 2017 – The Blue Boar, Maldon

After the boars of Cambridge, another one, The Blue Boar at Maldon. This was our first gig at this gorgeous old tavern with its cobbled courtyards and low beams and wonderful real ale (Hair of the Boar is highly recommended). It couldn’t have been better; a warm, sunny afternoon in the pretty pub garden, large audience, made bigger by passing folk who saw us and came to watch, friends, some of whom I had not seen in a while and a couple who have booked us for their wedding in October. There were also a large number of very well-behaved dogs who greeted one another politely and then sat down with their owners to listen to ‘Sit Down’ from us. Thanks to our hosts who made us so welcome.

Saturday 7 August 2017 – The Hawthorns, Braintree

Slight change of pace today, performing at the Hawthorns in Braintree, a fund-raiser for the St Helena Hospice in Colchester. Although it was a brilliantly sunny day right up to our arrival, the heavens opened when we attempted to unload our gear. Luckily the organisers had a Plan B and we were in their huge, lovely dining room for the gig. We were minus Dave this time, he had a prior engagement at Priory Park, Southend, so Brian took over the job of counting us in and doing his twiddly bits. It was added bonus to meet an old friend and ex-boss of mine, Geoff, who had come especially to see us. And thanks to the resident who thoughtfully brought us all coffees when we needed them most.

Thursday 5 August 2017 – Cambridge Rock Festival

We’re old hands at this festival lark now. We absolutely love this one as we always get an enthusiastic crowd and get treated very well. What more could you ask for? The rain kept off and there we were, headlining the acoustic stage (acoustic in name only!). Because we were on at 10.00pm, the main stage acts had finished and we had the audience all to ourselves (and got two encores). It got a bit mad when the stage manager joined us for a bit of air uke during ‘Smoke On The Water’ but it made for some great photos. It was also a wonderful setting – in the grounds of an amazing stately home with a couple of huge bronze boars in the drive and a line of knights in armour silently watching over the proceedings. Thanks to Heather and all her crew who made this gig so wonderful.

Sunday 30 July 2017 – Jan and Duncan’s 40th Anniversary, The Gun, Basildon

This was a special gig for us as Jan and Duncan are our most loyal fans.  We first met them when we played at The Gun several years ago, and since then, they have come to most of our gigs, including those in the Czech Republic and Poland, so we were happy to help them celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary with family and friends.  They chose the set list, including the appropriate Kaiser Chiefs’ ‘Ruby’ and it was a good old knees-up all round, including the obligatory circle of swinging legs during the finale, ‘New York, New York’.  Thanks Jan and Duncan for supporting us through thick and thin and choosing us to take part in your celebrations!

Saturday 22 July 2017 – UkeFest, Barleylands

Our second appearance in this second Essex Festival and it was really exciting for me to be appearing alongside amazing acts such as Phillipa Leigh, Phil Doleman and Ian Emmerson, Ben Rouse and Opera-lele, who had appeared at our D’UkesFest in Hornchurch a while back.  We were a little delayed, being held up by about 80 Ferraris processing from Billericay to Chelmsford and then, inexplicably, we drove past lots of horses and carts outside a pub and overspilling onto the grass verge, but we finally got there and onto the stage in the pretty courtyard surrounded by artisan shops and the terribly tempting music store.  Martin soon caved in and bought a beautiful electric soprano Kala but the rest of us showed admirable restraint.  A great thanks to Terry and all his crew for making us feel so welcome and for looking after us in a manner to which we are not always accustomed!  Poor Phil and Ian had to face challenging conditions as the rain bucketed in fits and starts, but by the time we got on stage, it had stopped and there was even a watery sun at times.  Thanks to the resolute audience who defied the weather with umbrellas and good humour.

Sunday 16 July 2017 – The Archer, South Ockenden

Another day, another outdoor gig, as we embarked on our fourth outdoor barbecue at The Archer.  The pub itself has had a huge make-over and looks extremely glamorous with its new floors, lighting and décor.  But for us the Irish landlady, Anne, was the same; lovely and welcoming and plying us with coffee as soon as we arrived.  Very thoughtful.  We had our biggest crowd yet and of course more dancing from the audience which ranged in age from toddlers to teenagers and the more mature.  And the pub dog (the dog didn’t dance, although I’m sure it could have).  In the break we were all treated by an amazing display of Irish dancers with elastic limbs in beautiful costumes.

Saturday 15 July 2017 – Little Burstead Music In The Meadow

And there we were in the middle of Ellis Field – not the scene of a mighty historical battle or an alternative to Glastonbury – but better than that.  It was the venue once again for the fund-raiser that kind local residents hold regularly to fund worthy causes.  We have been here quite a few times before, under blazing heat, torrential rain and even a sizable thunderstorm but the citizens of Little Burstead are made of stern stuff and have even been known to dance with umbrellas under lightning.  It was a joyful evening with two excellent singing acts during our breaks and much dancing, drinking and barbequing.  The highlight for me was during the encore number ‘New York, New York,’ when we all formed a huge semi-circle and danced our way through the night, fuelled by a generous electricity link to someone’s house.

Saturday 8 July 2017 – Colchester Arts Centre

After a short break for trivial things like holidays, I was back in action with D’Ukes in a marathon day of ukuleles at the beautiful former church that is Colchester Arts Centre. First up, I helped Jo run a beginners’ workshop in a very civilised tavern, full of beautiful sofas and easy chairs. It was great to meet such enthusiastic, lovely people who were so keen to play ukulele. At 12 noon, our free festival began in the arts centre itself and between banging out a few numbers with Jo and her Dad’s band at intervals throughout the day (a real treat to play with other instruments, including banjo) and helping Brian on the information stall, I was pleased to be able to watch the acts, playing to a large audience.  There are some seriously good players out there!  I couldn’t believe how quickly the raffle tickets went, although it was a great prize – a beautiful slim-line travel uke kindly donated by the Barleylands shop, The String Salon. In fact, merch lady Pat had to go out and buy an extra book so we could go on selling.  Finally, after the last great song had been well and truly jammed and the ukes packed away, we cleared up and started all over again for the evening concert.  It was so good to be playing again after the break and the audience was amazing – so warm and encouraging even when we didn’t play Radiohead (we have so many songs now and it gets harder and harder to choose what to leave out).  Because we don’t like to disappoint our fans, Dave and Martin treated the Radiohead fans to a quick burst of ‘Creep’ as we packed away.

Sunday 18 June 2017 – South Bank, London

It couldn’t get more magical – us on a very warm day, set up on a tree-lined strip of grass by the River Thames, singing ‘Waterloo Sunset right next to Waterloo Bridge, surrounded by cake, strawberries and ice cream as we performed at one of the many ‘Great Get Togethers’ all over the U.K to commemorate MP Jo Cox. There was a baby at its first concert, kicking contentedly on the grass, teens, tourists and families, all strolling along the Embankment and pausing to listen, while the 200-year-old bridge gleamed with pride and the river, well, just kept rolling. We never met Terry and Julie, but there were many such couples and probably always will be.  A wonderful summertime gig.

Friday 2 June 2017 – Shack Recording Studio

Now isn’t that just typical.  No studio appearances for ages, then two come along in one week!  This is a very exciting project with our friends from the Gateway Club.  I’m not allowed to say any more at the moment, but watch this space!

Wednesday 31 May 2017 – Tony Fisher Show, BBC Essex

Closer to home and in a much nearer galaxy is our good friend Tony Fisher of BBC Essex fame. It’s always a pleasure to be on his show and he even obliged us by sitting in as an honorary D’Uke, singing the chorus in ‘These Boots Were Made for Walking’ as Martin was absent. We were able to plug D’UkesFest 2017 (Colchester Arts Centre, 8th July), and chat about recent gigs and goings-on. To cap it all, we bumped into the very delightful Wilko Johnson in reception. I don’t know who was more surprised, us, to be in the presence of such a celebrity and thoroughly nice guy, or him, to be suddenly surrounded by ukuleles.

Sunday 28 May 2017 – Outdoor Cinema, RHS Hyde Hall

Well, that was a first for us – in a sort of updated version of the piano player during silent films, we performed in front of the biggest screen I have ever seen in the beautiful surroundings of Hyde Hall to a large crowd equipped with deckchairs, duvets and light sabres as they waited for ‘Star Wars – The Force Awakens’.  There was a sudden downpour soon as we arrived but – it has to be said – the Force was with us and the sun soon came out.  Before long we were having our photos taken with a Storm Trooper who would have probably failed to be recruited in the sci-fi world as he was too nice, so our cunning plan to attack him using only our ukuleles was not needed. The hour went very quickly and we had to drop a lot of our favourite songs but the audience certainly appreciated it (there was dancing!).  A big thanks to the organisers, not least for the ample ‘pop up’ provided in case of rain.  Very thoughtful.

Saturday 20 May 2017 – Alzheimer’s Fund Raiser, SWF

Strangely enough, we don’t often get to play with ukulele bands so it was a real treat, not only to play with some, but also alongside people who are our good friends and have supported us at our other gigs.  And to help Peter with a very worthwhile charity. Deskman Mike gallantly did the sound for everyone, while Alan (back from Tadcaster for this event) was a very capable organiser of bands and keeper of the time.  First up was Freeway with former D’Ukes’ singer Geri setting the tone for the packed audience who responded well to their lively music.  They were followed by Maldon Ukulele Group (MUG) whose numbers resembled the inhabitants of a small town but who kept up the energy levels, complete with excellent vocals and obvious enthusiasm. Then UnderFret, presenting the well-co-ordinated slickness of a good cabaret act with their elegant clothes and fine vocalist.  By this time, we were dying to get on the stage and we really enjoyed ourselves.  ‘Comfortably Numb’ got a really rousing cheer, but the audience was just as happy with ‘Brown-Eyed Girl’ and ‘Duelling Banjos.’  A wonderfully enjoyable evening with over £2,000 raised for a very good cause.

Sunday 14 May 2017 – Colchester Arts Centre

After a few hours’ sleep, we were back on the road to a gig that seemed like coming home.  An arts centre which was once a church and still has its stained glass windows and stone font, it has been a backdrop for us on many occasions.  This time we were there to help celebrate Mayor Julie Young’s year of office, her End Of Term Bash.  It was a nice laid-back entertainment for all the charities she has supported and for her civic staff.  The dancing was enthusiastic and it was like a party among friends.  We will be back on 8 July for D’UkesFest!

Saturday 13 May 2017 – The Luna, Leytonstone

What a weekend!  Three gigs in two days.  Gig one was in aid of Independent Age – Advice and Support for Older People – at an assault course in Stapleford Abbots. (That sounds bad – no older people were harmed during this gig).  We entertained as children and adults hurled themselves with tremendous enthusiasm over every obstacle known to man to raise money for this very good cause.  We had the easy bit.  We managed to keep the rain away, more or less, and we even got goodie bags, just like the Oscars.  After that, we took off to a charming pub and amid the sound of whinnying horses, tucked into our belated Christmas lunch. Then we headed off to the Luna. What can I say? This was definitely one of the best gigs in our career to date.  A warm evening, an electric atmosphere, a great host, a room packed to the rafters, people who had come just to see us and a group of passers-by who stopped to listen and give us the thumbs-up.  We reduced someone to tears which tends to happen at our gigs and the enthusiasm and willingness to join in was overwhelming.  Even the cute dog on the bar was happy.

Saturday 6 May 2017 – White Hart, Grays

Tonight we were back in the intimate surroundings of the White Hart Pub in Grays – our second appearance with that ‘Will it be as good as last time?’ feeling.  We need not have worried, the dancing started early into the first half and showed no signs of slowing down at the end of the second half.

A really nice guy proved he was ‘quick on the draw’.  I thought he was from the Performing Rights Society but he proved to be a slick cartoonist and the only person I have ever seen to draw and dance at the same time. As well as some of our old favourites, (‘Smoke’, ‘Comfortably Numb’, ‘Duelling Ukes’ and ‘Jungle Book’), ‘Captain Of Your Ship’, sailed a pleasing maiden voyage and ‘Delilah’, already a classic, nearly brought the house down in a Shenfield Cricket Club kind of way.  We had to do two lots of encores and the buzzing of the place stayed with me long after I got home.

Saturday 29 April 2017 – Halstead Empire

Back into theatreland tonight and our first appearance at the Halstead Empire, a beautifully refurbished building with the most amazing ornate balcony housing the hi-tech sound and lighting system. We also had a large stage, which we love, a very large back-stage area with refreshments, (thank you all you theatre people for being so considerate), and a big, back wall on which to project our cartoon bus spilling over with cartoon D’Ukes and cartoon ukes.  We met some great people in the audience, from keen ukulele groups to those who had never picked one up or just wanted a fun evening.  (The ‘Yeehaas’ during ‘Ghost Riders’, were awesome).

Sunday 23 April 2017 – Southend Festival of Wheels

There were wheels everywhere – from skate-boards to bikes, penny farthings to traction engines, wicked motorbikes to cool cars – all spread along Southend seafront on a breezy St George’s Day. We were playing right by the old Kursaal, where Martin saw Deep Purple way back in the 70s. Little did he know he would be performing a tribute to them all those years later in the shadow of that famous venue, home of such death-defying rides as the Big Dipper, the Mighty Mouse and the Wall of Death.  Jo was able to ditch the chair as her knee improved and the sun even came out from time to time. No Mike, but the organisers provided a P.A. for us. We enjoyed the other bands around the town and even though the wind was keen at times, it was relaxing to sip coffee and watch the famous old train rattling down the pier.

Saturday 8 April 2017 – Cramphorn Studio

Another sell out at this great little venue. A new stage, superb lighting and helpful staff.  What more could you want? Our new songs are bedding down well and I have added a self-penned rap into the middle of ‘Too Good To Be Forgotten’. I now have nothing but undying admiration for all rap artists. You need nerves of steel and the fact that you have written it yourself does nothing to help you remember it!  Jo is still battling with a groggy knee but ruled the roost from her ‘captain’s chair’ at the front mic.  It was our ‘boots’ that did the walking under her watchful eye. Our merch ladies were involved in some serious selling and we got to have a good old chat to the audience as they left. We’ve got to know some of them pretty well now.

Saturday 25 March 2017 – The Retreat, Bocking

On familiar territory again with this great music venue, complete with snazzy lights fitted into electric guitars all over the ceiling and a stage which is a luxury for us in a pub.  Add to that a welcoming lady with glasses of iced water, a friendly crowd peppered with uke players and it’s the recipe for a perfect evening.  Jo looked incredibly cool on her barstool (no, not adopting a lounge lizard persona, she has ligament problems in one knee) and Martin proudly sported his one-off tee shirt resplendent with our new-look caricatures.  We brought in a new style intro for the band and off we went.  With all the new songs coming on it’s always a problem what to drop and we had to make some tough decisions on that one.  They will re-appear in future sets.  Great audience participation, especially during ‘Delilah’ and ‘New York, New York’.  With those two standards ringing in our ears, we headed off home to bed and the loss of an hour to British Summer Time  in the bargain.

Saturday 11 March 2017 – The Coppermill, Walthamstow

Now back down to earth from our wonderful mini-tour of Poland, we found ourselves in a good old English Pub, our first gig at the Coppermill.  It’s a charming if somewhat small venue packed with friendly locals and good beer.  The lack of space meant we had to set up with Dave’s side in front of the gents and Brian’s side in front of the ladies.  Luckily the ladies didn’t seem to ‘go’ as often as the gents but we happily stepped aside when requested and it was on very polite terms.  It was nice to know that some people came just to see us.  We took the opportunity to air some new songs  – ‘I Walk The Line,’ ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, ‘Karma Chameleon’ and a novel, fast version of ‘Parisienne Walkways’ – as well as bringing back some favourites such as ‘No Surprises’, ‘Creep’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.

15 to 19 February 2017 – Short tour of Poland

Monika (Poland festival promoter) and Ben (Czech Republic festival promoter)

Monika (Poland festival promoter) and Ben (Czech Republic festival promoter)

Day 1, T.E.A Microbrewery and Pub: D’Ukes’ first trip to Poland and a terrific experience for all of us. The first thing we did after dumping our gear at the hotel in Kraków was to explore this beautiful city with its iconic East European buildings, lavish cathedral and traditional market.It was amazing that, although it was full of pigeons, horses and smokers, the pavements were immaculately clean. After lunch we made our way to our first venue – an English pub and microbrewery where we were warmly welcomed by the hosts. The pub was close to the splendid castle Warwel, at the far end of which was a huge statue of a dragon, which occasionally belched out real flames. After a quick stroll around the castle grounds, we settled down in the T.E.A pub and brewery for a casual round the table concert, interspersed with brilliant beer and great pizza. We were joined by Ben Anderson and his partner Yanna, who had first invited us to the Czech Republic.

DSC_0158Day 2, Tryton Music Store and Café Szafe: After a free morning and a little sightseeing, we arrived at the Tryton Music Store in Kraków where Jo and Dave, with help from the rest of us, ran two ukulele workshops for beginners and intermediate players. The staff were lovely and welcoming, providing copious bottles of water for us (plus the temptation of an array of ukes for sale). After the group photo (one of many on this trip), we left for food (I can thoroughly recommend the Nap Nap Café and its heavenly pancakes with maple syrup), then on to the Café Szafe with its dark, dusty pink, green and bright blue walls and buzzing bar. We were led into a room with a small stage at one end where our host Monika provided us with delicious homemade Polish pastries. Then the concert. The place was packed, mostly with young people, and I have to say we went down a storm, although we had to quieten things down at the end to appease the neighbours after Smoke On The Water. As they were still demanding encores, we played an acoustic version of ‘Valerie’. (We had already played it once, but they wanted to hear it again!). We finally left to rousing cheers from the audience and entreaties to come back soon. We lost Dave for some time as he was commandeered for a series of photos, but we did eventually make it safely back to our hotel.

16682033_411014782566495_1964372378852784070_nDay 3, Polish Ukulele Festival in Slawkow: Used to this schedule by now, we piled up into a minibus at noon to make the hour’s journey to Slakow and the white stone building with its massive wooden doors and stone floors where the festival was to be held. After a wonderful lunch at a local restaurant in our honour, we made our way back to the festival. Our green room was massive with a huge mirror at one end (such luxury!), and copious refreshments. The theatre itself had a huge stage which was lavishly decorated with fluorescent flowers and cut-out Hawaiian ladies with ukuleles. Amongst the many performers, we met up with Rita Braga, whom we first encountered in Prague, and some delightful dancers and musicians. Again, we were extremely well received by the audience, who especially appreciated ‘What’s Up’ and ‘Smoke On The Water’, for which Dave got a deafening round of applause. At the end, we went to meet our audience and actually got mobbed by autograph hunters and people buying our CDs. In the background were subdued chants of ‘Brian, Brian’ as people queued for hugs. We presented one fan with a signed CD and a tea towel as it was her birthday and she burst into tears with gratitude! Now we need to be brought down to earth a little and concentrate on our new songs for the next gigs. A special thanks to Monika and all her crew for their wonderful organisation and friendship and to Steve, who stepped into bass player John’s shoes for the tour.

Saturday 11 February 2017 – The Norton, Cold Norton

We play this great little community pub once a year and this time it was the launch point for our 2017 ‘Seven Years On’ Tour.  Crammed to the rafters, it has such a good vibe and we had a wonderful time, even when the fire alarm went off the ‘band played on’ in true Titanic style.  Luckily it was a false alarm.  We had a few hiccoughs before we started though, the oddest of which was that Brian got the little cap from his ear monitor lodged in his ear and couldn’t hear a thing.  Luckily Jo came to the rescue with the torch on her phone and a pair of tweezers.  Dave went all classical in the middle of ‘Smoke On The Water’ and the audience loved it.  Even the intensely cold night couldn’t dampen our spirits.  A good start to the new season.

Wednesday 8 February 2017 – The Three Elms, Poland Warm-Up

We don’t usually gig on a Wednesday but this was a bit special – a pre-Poland warm-up gig with stand-in bass player Steve before heading out next Wednesday for our first Polish Ukulele Festival.  We sometimes use the Three Elms for structured rehearsals.  It is cosy with the bonus of beer and it provides us with a no pressure venue with punters.  This time a large blue Staffordshire Bull terrier joined us.  His owner confirmed that it was the first time ‘Blue’ had shown such an interest in music,  sprawled out, resting his head on his paws and watching intently. Such is the power of the ukulele. We had a good reception from the few who ventured out on a cold night.

Sunday 29 January 2017 – D’Ukes, Gerry’s 70th

An early start to this foray out of the county (well, 9.00am, which is pretty early). Gerry had booked us without ever having seen us, apart from online, but he told us he liked the Ukulele Orchestra of Gt Britain and he wanted a ukulele band for his birthday party. No pressure there then. It was a picturesque trip down to Cranleigh, through hills, historic towns and villages, one of which had a statue of an enormous metal cockerel in the middle of a roundabout. (Don’t ask, I haven’t a clue!). That soon gave way to narrow roads, pine woods with a thick rolling mist all around us. (A bit creepy for me as I had seen the sci-fi film ‘The Mist’, only the night before). Luckily we encountered no monsters this time; instead, a large pub with a fashionable function room on the side, where we were told that Eric Clapton had been a guest the previous evening. We played a short set before retiring to a sandwich lunch and drinks in the next room in front of a roaring log fire, then a second longer set after guests had eaten a birthday lunch. There was some dancing and general jollity and Gerry said that we had exceeding his expectations, which is what we like to hear.  We presented him with the coveted D’Ukes tea towel and CD before heading back home in torrential rain.

Saturday 21 January 2017 – D’Ukes, Billericay Arts Centre

It seems fitting that we returned to the Fold for our first gig of 2017 just as we did in 2016, but with some new songs. This is a great little venue with warm friendly people who always greet us with hot coffee and invite us for an ‘after party show’, complete with wine and cheese. It was so good to be back playing together. For a different exit we decided to get all ‘show time’ with ‘New York, New York’ and dance out of the room singing so as to be ready by the door to wish our audience goodnight. One lady really made it for me when she expressed how happy we made her feel. That’s show business!

Friday 23 December 2016 – Tony Fisher Show BBC Essex

20161223_140513Our last gig of the year. It’s always good fun to chat to Tony, although we’ve not as yet fulfilled our life-long ambition to play with him on air – apparently he has too many buttons to press and not enough hands. After that we went down the road a little way and spent some time in the place we as a band were born – The Orange Tree Pub.  It had changed a bit but we soon got into our groove with festive drinks and a few songs.  A fellow uke player from our past heard us on the radio and joined us in the pub for a rousing version of ‘Minnie The Moocher’, complete with ‘Hi di Hi, Ho di Ho’ etc.  A good end to a great year and a lot to look forward to.

Fri/Sat 2/3 December 2016 – Lavenham Christmas Fair

thumbnail_dsc_0513If you want a real traditional Christmas Fair then this is the one – Tudor houses lit up with white lights, the famous Guildhall sporting a gin bar, old-fashioned Christmas treats and crafts, real trees and a wonderfully authentic Santa, complete with large stomach and broad smile. Oh and the mulled wine which was mentioned by the band at every opportunity (it paid off, we got free mulled wine). Another bonus for us was the guys on the Big Wheel who bought both of our cds and proceeded to play them all evening over their PA system, even while we were performing. D’Ukes in surround sound! We got over the shock of being introduced as a ‘banjo band’ and played for three glorious hours to a packed market. We got dancers, we got Mickey Mouse and Olaf and we got audience participation. Dave was in good form, acting as ‘merch man'(our usual ladies had the night off), even taking money while in the middle of a song. A big thank-you to the organisers, who got it spot on. Not a Slade Christmas song in sight!

Saturday 26 November 2016 – Christmas Gift and Food Fair

christmas-dukesA day at the races! Well, not quite, but it was our first visit to Chelmsford City Racecourse to help provide the entertainment at a Christmas Fair raising funds for the Helen Rollason Cancer Charity. And, luxury, we were indoors in the spacious foyer, complete with squashy sofas and stalls selling all sorts of festive fair. As well as the obligatory Christmas melodies, we took the opportunity to unleash three new songs on the unsuspecting public – ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’, ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘New York, New York’ which went pretty well. And we had a fan in the audience – the baby who saw us at the cathedral and the toddler who saw us at Southend – was in the front row with her mother. She serves as a reminder of how time flies when you are enjoying yourself. We ended up in Santa’s sleigh (well at least Jo and Dave did, the rest of us were draped decorously around), to have our photo taken. A great way to get in the mood for our other Christmas gigs.

Saturday 19 November 2016 – Christmas Lights Switch On, Southend-on-Sea

15079081_10154058560826099_8584942111478241939_nHaving heard the weather forecast and the proximity of our gig to the seafront, we made our carefully cocooned way to Southend, to be guests on the BBC Essex Stage for the great Christmas Lights switch-on in Southend. After a series of excellent acts and fireworks, we took to the stage, fearful that the already gusting rain would drive people back home. However, we reckoned without the hardiness of Essex people and we retained a loyal crowd, bobbing around in their ubiquitous BBC Essex high viz jackets (I have one too) and singing along to our dance set. On our way back, we heard the immortal chant of ‘Brian, Brian’ – it was two welcome faces from Shenfield Cricket Club and it made our day. Thanks to the forethought of John, we avoided parking problems by parking in Leigh-on-Sea and taking the train to Southend. On the way back we just had to take some photos on the platform and then take it further by busking on the train, faithfully videoed by Jemma. The song? ‘Fulsom Prison Blues’ of course. Lucky for us, our fellow-travellers were very tolerant and some even joined in and enjoyed it.

Friday 18 November 2016 – Mayor of Basildon’s Civic Reception

Seven years together today and still no itching! And what a way to spend our anniversary together! I’ve still not fathomed out what the collective name for mayors is, but it hardly matters. They know how to party, which is the main thing. We were in the Towngate Theatre at the request of the Mayor of Basildon, David Harrison, who was hosting a civic reception for other local mayors, councillors and dignitaries. He requested a set of sixties songs, but also including ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ and the floor was soon heaving to nifty moves and swirling chains. Everyone seemed to be having a brilliant time and John, with his publicity hat on, was in great demand. Very helpful theatre staff made it complete.

Sunday 6 November 2016 – Hawthorns Retirement Home, Braintree.

It might seem like a complete contrast to last night and as we relaxed in the beautifully, well-equipped coffee lounge on the third floor of the Hawthorns, with every kind of coffee you could imagine and cake, it seemed it would be like that, but we reckoned without the feistiness of the modern-day retirement community. We had a lovely warm welcome and the kind of dancing from one resident that we have got used to. We even sang them a Christmas song, just for the hell of it and discovered that if they weren’t exactly T Rex fans, they could certainly embrace the music. John proved very popular with his new, all singing, all-dancing spoons solos and more than one lady ‘rushed the stage’ to speak to him. And we have a return booking!

Saturday 5 November 2016 – Luna Lounge, Leytonstone

An explosive evening in so many senses of the word (and I’m not talking fireworks!). We all love the Luna Lounge for its enthusiastic crowd and tonight was probably one of the most enthusiastic we have ever had anywhere. A packed audience danced, sung and bestowed some lovely compliments on us afterwards in the street as midnight drew near. According to reliable sources we were the liveliest act the Luna had hosted for a long time. There was even an ambulance dashing past as we came to the climax of ‘Delilah’, which was probably beyond the call of duty. Sound man Mike was mistaken for a man from the council checking noise levels but then he does tend to look all official with his IPad and studious glances. I want to go back already.

Saturday 29 October 2016 – Brentwood Theatre

A welcome return to one of our favourite theatres, Brentwood. We aired ‘Sunrise’ from ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ for the first time, featuring a prominent John on the bass. We also reconfigured ‘Too Good To Be Forgotten with John letting rip on a wicked spoons solo. (Yes, I know, it’s not on the original but we are not simply a covers band). John hit the spotlight as the centre of attention and for once, didn’t get fired. Jo and I also featured a spontaneous, self-choreographed dance routine for ‘Smoke On The Water’ which seemed to go down well. Lots of friends in the audience and top-notch assistance from all the volunteers and technical staff at the theatre, made it a very rewarding experience for us.

Friday 28 October 2016 – Mayor’s Oyster Feast, Colchester

Seven years ago, I never visualised that in 2016 I would be on the balcony of the Mayor’s Parlour in the Moot Hall, Colchester, along with the rest of D’Ukes, surveying the busy market down below on a balmy autumn day. But here I was and we were booked to play for Madam Mayor Julie Young and other local dignitaries at the world-famous Colchester Oyster Feast. Amongst the splendid décor of antique clocks, mellow book cases and worthy portraits from other times staring down at us, we began a set, all chosen by the Mayor for her post-feast drinks. Liveried gentlemen and immaculately dressed guests poured in and surprisingly, some of them began dancing as soon as they crossed the threshold. And it didn’t stop there. They danced on all afternoon to favourites such as ‘Sweet Caroline,’ ‘Good Tradition’ and ‘I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper’. (No-one has ever danced at this function, or so we were told.) We received some great comments and gave away loads of cards. A brilliant afternoon.

Wednesday 26 November 2016 – Bob Simpson, Phoenix Radio

Our second interview this week (minus Martin, who was still at work) this time with our mate Bob Simpson on Phoenix Radio. We played three songs and had a good old chat about everything we had been up to since last time, as well as promoting our show at Brentwood Theatre on Saturday and having an interesting discussion on the appeal of the ukulele and how to engage with audiences. I have to make sure I know every inch of my blog before we go on as Bob always manages to pick out something and quiz us on it. This time it was what our favourite recent gigs were. We all managed to come up with different ones, but naturally, Brian waxed lyrical about the Shenfield Cricket Club.

Monday 24 November 2016 – Tony Fisher Show, BBC Essex

We’re getting old hands at this radio interview business. It’s always good to see our friend Tony, especially as, by his own admission, he has always got ‘a little ukulele in his hand’ (may God forgive me for that cheap joke!). Minus Martin who was actually at his day job, we played a couple of songs and chatted about up and coming gigs, including our concert at the Brentwood Theatre this Saturday. And we have been invited back on before Christmas. Thanks Tony and BBC Essex for all your support.

Saturday 22 October 2016 – The White Hart, Grays

A new venue tonight and a good crowd, swelling to a positive throng by the end of the evening. Fuelled by the excellent ale, they sang and danced like a fledgling Shenfield cricket gathering (see earlier blog). The good spirits were swelled by a contingent from Denmark, one of whom got quite emotional on hearing ‘Smoke On The Water’ and was determined that we should play in his country. We finished on a high, several encores later and left with a return gig firmly on the cards.

Saturday 15 October 2016 – Busking in Brentwood

14639865_10153961134021099_228944170899820762_nAudiences and their comments never cease to amaze me when out busking.  There we were, outside Marks and Spencer (and once inside to have our photo taken), when a very small boy, hand in hand with his father, studied us carefully and seriously before asking the question, ‘Do you use a generator?’  He looked somewhat disgusted and perplexed when we said ‘no, we use batteries.’  That child will go far.  Lacking Jo, Martin soldiered on with most of the lead singing and it was the first outing for our show-stopping rendering of ‘Sunrise’ from ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’.  We even had some people drop by who had seen us in Maidenhead.  Their reward?  We played ‘Valerie’ to them as a special request.  Many thanks to M&S for allowing us to play outside and to the silent beauty modelling the parka and standing in for Jo so well in the publicity shoot.

Thursday 29 September 2016 – Gateway Club, Braintree

It must be about the seventh time we have gigged at this club, and what a pleasure it is too!  We played to a capacity audience, mainly old friends who were there at our début and the fun just keeps getting better.  We got very well looked after, with willing hands to help carry our gear and drinks to keep us going.  Hope to see you again soon.

Sunday 25 September 2017 – ‘Southend Charabanc’ busking

As Dave had selflessly given up his birthday in order to busk with us in Southend, we thought it only right and proper to give him a carnival parade in return. O.K, I’ll come clean, the parade was in honour of the great ‘Estuary Festival’ and Southend had risen to the occasion with a good old-fashioned seaside weekend, including loads of street entertainment and a surreal procession with a giant turtle disco and exotic costumes. The sun came out with a vengeance and so did the crowd. Some were obviously prepared for us and took up their benches early. It was great to spot our long-time friends Jan and Duncan, who presented us with ‘ little sticks of Blackpool rock’ from their recent weekend away. A big thank you to the organisers, especially Emma, who had some formidable organising to do!

Saturday 24 September 2016 – Gemma and Paul’s Wedding

Cows, combine harvesters and cake but luckily not in the same building. The outer reaches of Black Notley provided us with a new wedding venue tonight and we played in a magnificent old barn reminiscent of a gothic church. We had a great time and a temporary new band member – Peter – a seasoned uke player who joined us for ‘One Day Like This’. Encouraged by the crowd, we left the confines of our ‘stage’ several times to immerse ourselves in the audience and the dance floor was packed by the end of the evening. Brian’s percussive cow is now reaching the end of its natural life (or perhaps we were spoiled by the real thing just outside) and I caught him (the cow, not Brian), staring wistfully across the landscape to pastures new. However he cheered up when we ended the evening with that good old hillbilly favourite, ‘Duelling Ukes’.

Sunday 18 September – Wivenhoe Mini Music Festival

Quite a contrast today! A charming pub garden, a barbecue, beautiful sunshine and a gathering of excellent acts throughout the afternoon. Jo’s Dad Peter, local radio presenter and long-time performer who made it all happen, provided a great ending to our summer festival season. This event is really growing in stature. It reminded me of a mini Czech Republic where audience and performers were all thoroughly nice and were generous with their comments. We ended the day in true Czech Republic style with a massed rendering of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’.

Saturday 17 September – Shenfield Cricket Club

The phenomena that is ‘Brian, Brian’ had not gone away (see earlier blog if confused). Our hosts always treat us very well and tonight was no exception. This was our third visit and this time we were given a little more insight into the rituals underlying this amazing crowd. Firstly, if we stopped singing (at the end of a song), they would launch into their anthem ‘All Hail Brian ’ including the words ‘Superman’ and ‘We got Brian’. Secondly, we discovered that ‘Those Were The Days’ seemed to be their most favourite song of all time which was accorded a ritual all of its own. They would stand on chairs, tables, or each other and bang on the ceiling with the palms of their hands. (Apparently there were bits of the ceiling on the floor afterwards). Other displays included making a huge pile of shoes in the middle of the floor and dancing round them during ‘Duelling Ukes’. Forgive me if I am giving away cherished anthropological secrets but it fascinated me. Oh and another thing, other bands get underwear thrown onto the stage – we got packets of crisps, which were jolly handy as the evening wore on. Did we get an encore? I’m not even going to bother to reply to that, but one thing I know – ‘Shenfield Cricket Club, you rock’.

Friday 16 September – Castlemayne Pub, Basildon

Our first appearance at this venue and there was something missing from our show – an audience. Well, we didn’t quite play to an empty room, but apart from family members and Mike the sound man, we had a total of three in the large bar – Our very good followers and friends Jan and Duncan and a man who came in at the beginning of ‘Comfortably Numb’, listened intently, gave us hearty applause and then left. Oh and the resident cat paid a visit, got up on stage and then fled, never to be seen again. Needless to say, we packed up early and then two more people arrived to see us and were disappointed! At least it gave us the opportunity to practise together after our break and to air two new songs – Bob Dylan’s ‘To Make You Feel My Love’ and our idiosyncratic version of ‘Delilah’, complete with gothic organ effect.

Monday 22 August 2016 – Tony Fisher Show, BBC Essex

Still on a roll from the night before, we descended on Tony Fisher at BBC Essex for a chat and play on his afternoon show at around 2.00pm. Tony is now an old friend as we have been on his show before and met him at UkeFest Essex, in his capacity as MC. Tony has caught the uke bug in a big way, buying his first instrument during the festival at Barleylands, Billericay and learning a song that day, with the help of George from the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and our very own Jo. What Tony didn’t know was that we had quickly learned his song, ‘Stand By Me’, in the foyer while we were waiting for the interview and we insisted that he played along with us. He borrowed Jo’s uke and we did it. It was Tony’s debut playing live on air and he did extremely well, especially as he had to twiddle various buttons at the same time. We also did our version of ‘Lay Down Sally’, (without Martin, he was at work). We’ll be back!

Sunday 21 August 2016 – D’UkesFest, Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.

Our third uke festival at this lovely welcoming theatre, was, dare I say it, the best yet? I know everyone says that in the marketing world, but it really was. From midday, people poured in to this free event and I can honestly say I loved every minute of it. We had eight superb acts taking to the foyer stage during the afternoon and they were really nice people as well. As we usually find, there seems to be no animosity in the ukulele world – everyone is respectful and admiring of one another and there is a genuine desire to get together, play, chat and learn from one another. I averted my eyes every time I passed the East Coast Wind stall – not because they didn’t have great ukes, but because they had really great ukes and I didn’t want to be tempted. They seemed to do pretty well without my trade and I saw some sheepish glances from musicians who really couldn’t resist ‘just one more’. I did give way to temptation on a smaller scale and I now have another of Astrig’s beautiful, hand-painted mugs, adorned with carefree dogs sporting ukuleles. Although I was busy helping Jo with a workshop, I did get to see most of the acts, apart from the fantastic Opera-lele. Lucky for me opera singers can project their voices massively and I got to hear them. A highlight for me was helping people with a great desire to play but just needing a little help with chords. We got them all strumming by the end of the day and that ‘ukulele smile’, that undeniable creeping grin that emerges when you play, came out like a late burst of sunshine. What a day! And we got some great comments on Facebook, with more than a little hint of wanting another one soon.

Sunday 21 August 2016 – D’Ukes concert, Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch.

Five-thirty pm and the foyer is empty, apart from us, theatre staff and a ton of equipment that needed to be shifted around and set up for our evening gig. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel that tired and after the sound check, we settled down on the comfy chairs and sofas for a bite to eat before the punters came in. I was raring to go. Seeing acts all day but not really playing yourself gets you all keen to be up there, strutting your stuff (well, it works for me anyway!}. We had a great audience, quite a few who had been with us all day, although it all looked dark to me for most of the time under the lights), and we even got two couples dancing at the front (almost unknown for a theatre audience). Only a minor emergency – when one of my tuning pegs got caught up in Jo’s shawl and I had to shuffle to the front with her and free it in the time it took Dave to shout ‘One, two, three – but apart from that, it went like clockwork. A big thank you to the thoughtful duty manager who bought us two large jugs of iced water backstage.

Saturday 20 August 2016 – Private Party, Colchester

Amidst dire warnings of strong winds and showers, we set up camp in yet another very charming garden for a house-warming party in deepest Colchester. It had been a little delayed as we could not make our hosts’ original date, but they kindly fitted in with our schedule and away we went, under a large marquee. True there were winds, but only about two gusts which swept away a garden umbrella at one point and a plant pot got broken, but other than that, the sun came out on cue and we all got down to the usual business of drinking, eating and generally having a good time. By the way it was a great idea to have a good, old-fashioned fish and chip van for the guests – they even did mushy peas and sausages. And the bar was outside, just like in the tropics. The only slight crisis in the proceedings happened when Martin, who was singing lead, swallowed a fly (It happens in the open air!), but luckily, as Martin is one of the rare carnivores in the band, there was no crisis of conscience).

Friday 12 August 2016 – Three Elms Beer and Cider Festival

It was hay bales and real ales all the way for our first appearance at this beautiful village pub, although this is not strictly true as we have been known to rehearse there from time to time.  The evening was balmy, bringing out the punters and their families, plus the now inevitable dogs, some of which actually sat on the hay bales and watched us! We had the luxury of a very large marquee and a crunchy gravel dancing area which one couple took great advantage of – and it was real, serious grown-up dancing.  Jo surprised husband Tony on their tenth wedding anniversary as she danced and sang with him during our quickly-learned version of his favourite song, Tom Waites’s ‘I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You.’  Ahhhh!

Monday 8 August 2016 – Steve Allen Show, TimeFM

A new radio station for us and an opportunity to plug ‘D’UkesFest’ and our concert at the Queens Theatre, Hornchurch on Sunday 21 August.  It seemed strange, playing in a studio in the middle of a modern shopping centre with a large window out onto the world.  People kept stopping to peer in and one lady wanted to know when we were going to perform outside.  Minus Jo, we played three songs and chatted with Steve.  As is the custom with radio interviews now, Martin presented Steve with our latest CD and tea towel.

Sunday 7 August 2016 – Cambridge Rock Festival

Fancy being on the same bill as legendary bands Focus and Curved Air?  Yes, so did we and we were thrilled to play a second time at this great rock festival.  More wonderful weather and hundreds of music-lovers of all ages and tastes.  We rolled out our best rock set, including my favourites of ‘Comfortably Numb’ and ‘Smoke On The Water’ and we were even allowed an encore, which is usually strictly forbidden.  As we left the tent, I had to perform as best I could, part of ‘Duelling Ukes’ for a sweet little girl and her father who had missed a lot of our set.  She could even say ‘Ukulele’ properly.  She left clutching one of our CDs, (we sold a creditable amount in a very short time).  I also chatted to a man with a dog called Gary.  This was Gary’s first festival, he said.  Gary seemed more interested in trying to eat my ice cream than extolling the virtues of the ukulele.  But he seemed to be enjoying himself.  I came home, clutching my festival tee shirt (well you have to don’t you, especially when your band is named on it, albeit in tiny letters at the bottom)!

Saturday 6 August 2016 – Wrabfest

The festival fun continued back in the UK for us with our first appearance at Wrabfest, and the setting was magnificent, with the estuary gleaming in the summer sunshine and the awe-inspiring Grayson Perry House rising up like a sugar candy castle in a fairy tale.  We hit the stage around 4:00pm, without John this time but Dave stepped into his shoes and we were soon well into our ‘songs without Dave’ set, although of course Dave was there but not playing his usual lead parts.  The leads in this case were played by Brian. (It gets complicated but they are nothing if not versatile!).  We were very well looked after in the food and drink department and got a great compliment from one festival-goer who said our rendering of ‘One Day Like This’, had made her cry with her friends. (At least, I think it was a compliment!). The place was packed although the festival was only in its second year.  I think it has a great future.

Sunday 31 July 2016 – Únĕtice Brewery, Czech Republic

To read about our trip to the Czech Republic in chronological order scroll down to Thursday 28th July. 

A lazy day today in which to enjoy the rest of the programme. We met up at the brewery again and began a very pleasant and now familiar routine of beer, tasty food and good conversation. Everyone was extremely friendly and whenever there was a lull in the proceedings, another band of uke learners struck up a lively song. We had periodic acts at the open mic during the day and top class acts in the barn again, including Kimo Hussey, Professor Pete and Rita Braga. Then there was a break while the raffle was called. We couldn’t believe it. Our merch maiden Pat, who had three tickets bought by John, won two ukuleles, which meant hurried calculations as to how she was going to get them in the luggage. But, as the saying goes, there’s always room for one (or two) more ukes and she managed it.

Then on to the final acts of the festival. The first was from Poland – PPNOU – who took my breath away with their energy and fine musicianship. They covered everything from ABBA songs – in minor keys – to the drinking song from ‘La Traviata’ and were masters of audience participation and having sheer fun. The second highlight and undoubted star of the festival was Taimane Gardner from Hawaii, who had been playing the uke since she was five years old. She displayed a dazzling virtuosity in all the styles she chose – from Flamenco to classical to rock – with seemingly effortless ease and was totally inspiring. It was really difficult to climb down from that mountain of genius, but we had to when the evening finally closed. Back to our hotel tonight and the UK tomorrow. More good news for us, we returned with a booking for two gigs in Poland next year.

Saturday 30 July 2016 – Únĕtice Brewery, Czech Republic

A gloriously sunny morning, so after another big breakfast, we all made our way to the brewery and the second day of wall-to-wall music. I must mention here our loyal fans and friends Jan and Duncan, who joined us on this trip as part of their thirty-ninth wedding anniversary, and Frank and Linda who saw us at the Maritime Room in Southend and similarly decided to join us. It means a lot to us to have our friends sharing in probably our best and most prestigious gigs yet. We generally chilled out on more Czech beer and food, browsed the stalls, determined not to buy any more ukes, and Brian and I walked around the village for a nostalgic look at the café we often frequented on previous trips and to take in the breath-taking scenery of woods and glistening lakes, not to mention beautiful cottages and farmhouses tucked into the hillsides and valleys.

Then came the main reason why we were here – our second gig of the trip and headlining in the brewery barn and the pressure of taking to the stage after so many marvellous acts. We witnessed the virtuosity of people like Michael Adcock and Andy Eastwood, fellow countrymen who blew me away with the rapidity of their fingers across the strings (although most of the time their hands were just a blurr), James Hill from Toronto, who used the uke like a miniature orchestra alongside his partner, Anne, who often turned her cello into a bass or percussive instrument and the sheer fun of the UkuleleBoboys and Les Poupeés Gonfleés from France. We had a really great intro as organiser Ben told the audience how meeting us in London inspired him to take up the uke and create the first Czech ukulele festival. I must briefly mention our dressing room – it was part of a huge barn full of grain sacks and other instruments of the brewing process, although the sleeping calico cat was just a reassuring mascot I think. In fact, Ben invented an impromptu competition for the performer who could successfully wake up the cat. It was won by Andy Eastwood, who received a banana as his prize. (Lets leave it at that – there are many things best left unexplained!).

Well, we finally hit the stage and had a whale of a time. Martin sang the first verse of ‘Eloise’ in Czech, which went down really well, and there were huge cheers going up when we began ‘Smoke On The Water’. There were UkuleleBoBoys and Poupeés Gonflées dancing everywhere, not to mention families and their dogs. We were called back on the stage for two encores and when Martin gave a guy our set list the said guy got really emotional. This is our kind of audience!

Friday 29 July 2016 – Prague and Pilsen

Let the festival begin! After a very full and delicious breakfast we all got the bus and metro to Prague. I’ve never seen so many ukuleles in one place and have still not figured out what the collective name is. Every opportunity was taken to strum a few songs. The train was one of those charming throwbacks to gentler times with carriages and corridors rather than everyone thrown together (in more ways than one). We rattled along the pleasingly scenic route to the strains of ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’ in the next carriage and gladly partook of the loaded food and drinks trolley that came along (the crisps were to die for – wonderful flavour, lots of them, very cheap). At last we arrived, in an endless stream of processing ukes, to our first gig. We found our very professional stage with sound and lighting rig at the beautifully historic Pilsen Brewery, where Pils larger was invented (Yes, I know you are thinking, there’s a pattern here, but not all our gigs are in breweries). Entered by massive iron gates, the whole place was like a contained village with cobbled streets, a restaurant, shops and a huge courtyard, complete with fountains and green spaces peppered with shaded seats and tables. Along one side ran a wall of archways, greenery tumbling down them like feather boas. Here families and their dogs enjoyed the evening entertainment and the sun that was still pretty hot. As a small boy in the crowd accompanied the bands on a toy guitar, we prepared to go on. There were so many excellent performers that I cannot really pick one out and they ranged from the traditional, the quirky, to pop and rock. All were hugely entertaining. We got a great reception. All age groups and musical tastes got together to enjoy themselves, and it showed. That’s what I really like about this country, people love their music but they are open to everyone else’s tastes too. And everyone, whether beginner or world-class act, is respectful of all the others. And the pilsner black beer is good too!

At the end of the evening, we all piled into coaches for the journey back. I feared it would be a long ride but the time seemed to fly by. I think it was because we sang and played all the way back. I must say the international harmonies weren’t half bad. It just goes to such that music truly is a universal language.

Thursday 28 July 2016 – Czech Republic Ukulele Festival

I knew it was going to be all good as soon as the wheels of our plane touched down on the tarmac at a very warm Prague Airport and it just kept getting better. Cars were waiting to pick us up, accompanied by very helpful and efficient organisers and helpers. Whether it was getting to a gig on time, ordering fleets of taxis back and forth to the picturesque brewery that was the heart of the festival, organising a get-together meal for the acts, or stepping in as we gazed helplessly at our small change, not knowing which coin was which, they were superb, as was Ben who engineered the whole thing. We were based in Homĕřice, a village about two miles away from the brewery and fairly near the airport (the local cockerels and overhead planes were very efficient alarms in the morning). It was soon down to my first Czech beer of the visit and certainly not my last! In the evening we were escorted to the festival village of Únĕtice, a familiar place to us now, where we were seated in the evening sunshine out on the terrace for a meal with ukulele acts from all over the world. We got on just fine, as we proved in the group photo. Ben presented us all with a beautiful coffee table book on Prague, which I was overjoyed about as I am a huge Kafka fan and he gave out all the important accessories like performers’ wrist bands and tokens for free beer and food. We split up as dusk descended and walked to the bus stop to the sound of many crickets rubbing their legs together or whatever it is they do to make that noise. We were all surprised when the bus turned up exactly when it said it would! We had a long day ahead tomorrow.

Sunday 24 July 2016 – Priory Park Bandstand, Southend

We hit the crowd with the first outing for our ‘Mexican Medley’ which matched the sunshine and the atmosphere of the hundreds of people who gathered at Priory Park for our gig.  We even had some people who had seen us yesterday at UkeFest Essex.   And a biker club who watched our set and then roared away with the suitably apt strains of ‘Smoke On The Water’ ringing in their ears.  We met lots of nice people and their dogs and sold more of our CDs.  The icing on the cake was when we were approached for a photograph by a sweet little girl and her parents.  It turns out she first saw us at a Chelmsford Cathedral gig when she was only six months old and was given the title of ‘our youngest fan.’  Happy days!

Saturday 23 July 2016 – UkeFest, Essex with UOGB

Well, I guess it had to happen some time and it happened today – we appeared on the same bill as the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.  Not only that, but we shared a dressing tent and some interesting conversation (wait for the autobiography!).  It couldn’t have been a better day, sunshine all the way, a huge stage and an enormous screen projecting us to the audience.  Strangely, we don’t often do uke festivals but this one was big, really big and we had a great time.  The bass units alone were like a mountain range and there were so many knobs and bits of machinery that even sound man Mike was a happy bunny.  Alongside celebrated acts like Ben Rouse, Phil Doleman, Zoӫ Bestel and Phillipa Leigh, there were many groups and societies of players sharing their songs with uke fanatics.  (I love the sound of a new uke being slid out of its box for the first time). And UOGB were superb.  A great vote of thanks to all the hard-working people who made it possible.

Saturday 16 July 2016 – Haverhill Arts Centre

Back to theatre shows and a visit to Haverhill Arts Centre after a five year absence.  This meant we were treated to fleeting but wonderful views of some of the prettiest villages in the country on our way there.  Makes a change from endless motorways.  The centre itself was small but beautiful; really nice staff and great changing rooms – Jo and I had a washing machine in ours????  We had lots a great comments afterwards and there seemed to be some fascination for the lack of amps and other such trickery on stage.  Such is the wonder of radio bugs and in-ear monitors.  There were even two people in the audience who had seen us there five years ago!  The new triangular layout for the vocal mics meant that we could indulge in all sorts of mad dancing and suchlike.  We signed a tea towel, heard the story of a guy who had gone to school with Gary Brooker, the memory of which resurfaced during our rendition of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, and basked in the reflection of a job well done.

Monday 11 July 2016 – BBC Essex Tony Fisher Show

I find that one way to beat the Monday morning blues after a great weekend is a good radio interview and we were lucky to have been invited onto the Tony Fisher Show at BBC Essex this afternoon (or at least three of us were, the rest were being gainfully employed elsewhere). Tony will be hosting Ukefest Essex on Saturday 23 July at Barleylands, Billericay where we will be playing alongside a lot of talent and we were able to chat about the band, our up-coming gigs and play a track on our latest album. Tony is toying with the idea of buying a uke himself. I’m sure he will have plenty of encouragement.

Sunday 10 July 2016 – Bures Music Festival

We are getting into the swing of summer and festivals now and this was our first visit to Bures Music festival. We were minus Dave, he was performing with JazzDuo at the Green Café near Dunmow, and even though it was raining on the journey, the sun came out when we played in an awesome and colourful Big Top which would have put a lot of circus tents to shame. It’s good to play with other bands from time to time and the quality of the performances were high. I must congratulate the organisers for their efficiency and helpfulness – even to the point of lifting gear and being generally welcoming and friendly. The stage was good too, big and black and starry! We got some good, rousing cheers and our presence was all-to-brief. Buts that’s the idea with festivals – keep the bands coming and keep the audience happy. They certainly were that. And we had the bonus of free beer and food. Loved the chips!

 

Saturday 2 July 2016 – Ben and Kate’s Party, Little Baddow

Another Baddow, this time the Little one although there was nothing little about Ben and Kate’s house, situated among the woods and a leafy lane of likewise exclusive homes.  They made us very welcome, providing us with hot drinks on arrival and a free rein on the food and drink.  Talking of rain, the other stuff we have been experiencing a lot of lately, it went away as we played, under two elegant gazebos. The sun came out, the children bounced on the bouncy castle and made good use of the swings and dutifully flocked towards us on demand when we came to ‘King of the Swingers’.  We received some very good comments and a possible gig in Sussex.  And we got home while it was still light!

Sunday 26 June 2016 – Sue Marchant Show, BBC Cambridgeshire

It was a definite case of ‘The Essex Invasion’ as we arrived at the BBC Cambridgeshire Studios to appear on the Sue Marchant Show, only to find our friends the Jamie Williams Roots Collective waiting in the wings to perform in the second half.  Friendly greetings and chants of ‘Essex Rules’ all round.

It must have been about five years since we bumped into Sue at Squealfest and we spent a very enjoyable time playing three songs and chatting about our upcoming shows.  She is now the proud owner of a D’Ukes CD and tea towel.  We also provided her with a first – Martin did a live Facebook video during our interview and it is now on view for everyone to see.  Please note that the whole film produced a mirror image – we are not left-handed!

Saturday 25 June 2016 – 70th Birthday Party, Gt Baddow

Not only was it a surprise party for Diane, who was celebrating her birthday, it was one for me too!  The place was full of my relatives – it’s complicated but the party was for my brother-in-law’s sister-in-law – so there were many familiar faces.  We were in a marquee when it rained (and even thundered) but the party-goers were determined to party and the birthday girl thoroughly enjoyed herself. I have never seen people dance ‘Hokey-Cokey’ style to ‘Comfortably Numb’, it was great in an odd sort of way.  There was even a rainbow behind our tent towards the end of the evening.   Everyone (and I mean everyone) danced and it was wonderful to see such a large age-range all having fun together.

Saturday 25 June 2016 – Ramsden Bellhouse Music Festival

Our second year at this festival, which was also in its second year.  We were on first as we had a second gig that day (our gigs are like buses!).  It was the type of festival that brings whole families out, equipped with food, drink and umbrellas.  People who are undaunted by dire weather prophecies.  True to our form, the rain stopped and the sun even came out as Dave, in a tribute to the referendum, played ‘Ode To Joy’ behind his head during ‘Smoke On The Water’.  An enjoyable set for us before we packed up in record time and onto our next gig.

Sunday 12 June 2016 – Green Cafe, Little Canfield

This gig was our contribution to Her Majesty’s birthday bash with a get-together with our friends from the Green Café. The place is staffed by volunteers and today they were specialising in excellent pizzas containing home-grown veg and lovely cakes.  Actually I bet not many street parties witnessed the kind of tribute Dave performed in the Queen’s honour, (‘God Save The Queen’ played on a ukulele behind his head during his solo in ‘Smoke On The Water’, although our fans are well acquainted with the repertoire by now).  We were lucky with the weather too. As soon as we started to play the rain stopped and the sun even came out once or twice. (Must be our lucky song, ‘One Day Like This’, which always improves the weather!).  A small but very select audience joined in with singing and dancing and we even got another gig – the people booking us changed the original date of their party so that we could play at it.

Saturday 4 June 2016 – Elm Park Fiesta

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D’Ukes (minus Dave) with the Mayor of Havering, Councillor Philippa Crowder

Today we were back on Martin’s home turf of Hornchurch, helping to enliven the local fiesta, along with the Dagenham Girl Pipers and a vigorous gospel choir.  We were without Dave who had a prior gig (Priory Park, Southend, actually) so Brian volunteered to do the counting in.  We got some lively response from shoppers and passers-by who stopped to watch.  One woman who saw us at close quarters for quite some time professed she had not realised we were playing ukuleles! (A compliment?). Anyway our gallant ‘merch maidens’ managed to hand out all our flyers. We were even visited by the Mayor of Havering, Councillor Philippa Crowder, Consort Councillor John Crowder and Chairman of the Royal British Legion Branch Councillor Barry Mugglestone during our spirited rendering of ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ and of course we had to have our photo taken with them.  We also sold our last tea towel so for all of those who have our famous ‘caricature cloth’ keep it for posterity.  A new one will be available soon!

Sunday 29 May 2016 – Shenfield Cricket Club

Wow! What can I say? Followers of us on You Tube may be acquainted with a short film entitled ‘Brian, Brian’, a taste of how we were received last time at Shenfield Cricket Club.  Audience enthusiasm had not diminished with time and the ‘Brian’ fan club began their uproarious chanting about said band member long before we got to ‘Duelling Ukes’, in fact before we had even started playing!  When you get a fantastic audience like that you just want to go on and on.  And we did, playing extra time in the best sporting tradition and even resurrecting ‘Labelled With Love’ as a special request.  The surprise favourite was ‘Those Were The Days’.  Jo didn’t even have to sing the chorus, we just played and let the audience let rip. Next time I’m going to get some kudos of my own by telling them that I am in fact, ‘Mrs Brian’.

Friday 27 May 2016 – Ye Olde Rose and Crown Pub, Walthamstow

This was the third and final leg of our East London tour before we plunge into summer madness of festivals and we were back at an old favourite venue. As well as two new songs, (‘Lay Down Sally’ and ‘Too Good To Be Forgotten’) and the return of an old favourite – ‘Smoke On The Water’, we experimented with a new line-up with three singers at the front and a backline of Dave, John and Brian. One punter in particular had his own way of dancing which involved grabbing everyone who came in and getting them to join in.  Most seemed happy to oblige.

Saturday 7 May 2016 – Luna Lounge, Leytonstone

One of my very favourite pubs – small but with open doors on a sunny evening, punters spilling out onto the pavement and an interesting drive-by for passing motorists – it’s great.  Sound man Mike did his clever thing, controlling us all with his little iPad, our original desk being left behind for lack of space, while the cosmopolitan audience, wide in age range and expansiveness, literally ‘danced the night away’. We aired two new songs, ‘Drive’ and ‘Big Spender’, which went very well, although there were some nervous looking men when Jo went for her usual wander in the audience. Dave was praised for his amazing ‘sustain’ (it’s a guitar thing!) during ‘Comfortably Numb’,  and we ended the evening with the ever-popular Van Morrison and Neil Diamond, not to mention a very raucous ‘Ukulele Hoedown’.

Saturday 23 April 2016 – Rathbone Market, Canning Town

Now many musicians may say this is inhumane to the species – crashing into bed at approaching 1.00am after an exhausting theatre gig and having to be out again at 9.15am the next day for a trip to Canning Town, but we are made of stern stuff and never pass up the chance to play in public. We had a lovely little stage in the centre of the market and at times, the sun shone. But it was absolutely freezing! My hands were so numb at one point that I couldn’t pick up my plectrum. Luckily they were defrosted with hot coffee and it was all rock and roll. Dedicated market-goers watched us and we even got some ‘Rathbone Boppers’ who danced to everything we did. And we got to meet East-Ender’s actor Ricky Grover, who was on his home turf to support the relaunch of the market. He got to have his photo taken with us and got to hold a ukulele. Lucky man! Despite the cold we had a really good time and got well looked after. Interesting fact – five out of six of us are vegetarian – so although the offer of free burghers is kind, most of us will have to turn you down.

Friday 22 April 2016 – Maritime Room, Cliffs Pavilion

Well, it was the last date of ‘The Joy of Six’ tour (or the climax, as Martin calls it) and we managed to sell out five of the seven gigs, which isn’t bad. It was back in the Maritime Room with its floor to ceiling views of the sea, a fitting background to ‘Echo Beach’. We sold our last uke from the merch table, met a couple whose wedding we played at five years ago and played a few songs for the last time as we edge into our new set for the coming summer (if it ever does come). I love the bit where we meet the audience and chat to them as they leave – it’s then we find out who the closet uke players are! A very satisfying end to a very enjoyable tour.

Saturday 26 March 2016 – Cramphorn Studio, Chelmsford

The Joy of Six Tour, our sixth year on the road, our sixth performance at the Cramphorn, what does it all add up to? Given Martin’s warning about our recent number of views on Facebook – 666, it could be chilling, but I prefer to say 666 – the number of the beats, given we are a rock band! Anyway, there was nothing demonic about Saturday night when we played to a full house in Chelmsford, despite the sometimes raging weather outside. John aired his coconuts for the first time on ‘Ode to Joy’ and Jo recruited her usual ‘backing singers’ amongst the audience. We had lights too! And the bonus that Dave, Brian and I only live down the road so it was a quick trip back home given that we lost an hour when we put the clocks forward.

Friday 18 March 2016 – Fairkytes Arts Centre, Hornchurch

The next leg of ‘The Joy Of Six’ tour was also our first visit to Fairkytes Arts Centre in Hornchurch, an annexe to the main theatre but expertly kitted out for live entertainment, featuring stage, lights and an efficient, welcoming staff, who gained extra points for the way they looked after us – a huge green room, tea, coffee, water, wine and snacks, what more could you possibly need? The audience was small (in numbers, not size) but very eager to join in and become ‘Jo’s unpaid backing singers’ for the evening.  Even the bar ladies joined in with some cool moves and vocal responses. We had a great time. For the second time in two gigs, an audience member referred to me as ‘punk’??? Time for a change of wardrobe?

Saturday 12 March 2016 – Busking in Hornchurch

Our first busk of the season, to support the Marie Curie Daffodil Appeal and to publicise our first appearance at Fairkytes Arts Centre. The sun shone for us in Hornchurch High Street and we had a ready-made audience in the adjoining pub garden, which was a good start. I began to worry when bus drivers rubber-necked instead of looking on the road ahead, but luckily, there were no accidents. As the day went on, our set turned into a request show, as people asked for Procol Harum (fortunately in our set!), a repeat of ‘Duelling Banjos’  (a woman’s husband missed it first time round) and various Irish songs.  We sold a few more tickets for Fairkytes, had some inquires about gigs and it was all good fun. A toddler proudly showed us her tiny uke and air-played it with us.  Everyone should busk at least once in their life, even the dogs appreciate it.

Thursday 10 March –  Shack Studio

Back for our last day in The Shack studio.  We finished mixing the 14 tracks and then came the mysterious art of mastering where the album gradually gelled together under Grant’s capable hands.  Take my word for it, sitting on a comfy sofa with gallons of coffee and piles of sandwiches and listening all day is incredibly tiring. We tumbled out of the studio at 6.00pm with the precious master CD clamped firmly in our hands.  Got back home for half an hour, then back round Dave’s for rehearsal.  Can’t wait to get that CD out there!

Wednesday 2 March 2016 – Phoenix FM

One of the most surreal things I’ve done with D’Ukes yet! Taking part in a radio interview having completely lost my voice! Luckily it was our good friend Bob Simpson in his Phoenix FM show and he made me feel part of the show even if it was with the odd squeak. We chatted about all the great things coming up for the summer, including Ukefest Essex – our first all-ukulele festival in this country – and our Prague trip. Bob also played three tracks from our ‘Red and Back’ album. (Our new one is taking shape as we speak)!

Saturday 27 February 2016 – Witham Public Hall

On with the gigging again and our third visit to Witham.  It was a small but lively audience of all ages and including members of the Tollesbury Ukulele Group. Half of the band were still struggling with the after-effects of the flu bug, but as soon as we got on stage the adrenalin kicked in and we were off.  It’s a tradition now for us to say goodnight to people as they leave. That way we get to talk about all kinds of interesting things and they get to find out how we operate and achieve our sound.

Wednesday 24 February 2016 – The Shack Recording Studio Day 3

I gained a fascinating insight into the art of mixing today as Grant took our efforts from the last two days at the studio and began the magical art of turning the recordings into album-quality songs. The intention was to mix all the tracks and then master them but these things always take longer than you expect and by the end of the day we hadn’t finished all the mixing. We decided to buy more studio time to get the quality product we wanted, so we carried on the process.  I say ‘we’ but really it was Grant who did all the real work while we sat back on the comfy sofas offering the odd comment here and there.  He said he had never mixed a cow before (Reference to ‘Jungle Book’ for our fans!) but he handled it like the rest of the voices and percussion.  Almost there now.

Saturday 20 February -The Retreat, Bocking

A little matter of fitting in gigs between our recording! This was our first booking at The Retreat for a music night, sandwiched between Dr Feelgood one week and Richard Digance the next and we were very pleased that it was a sell-out. (A great feeling to see the message, sorry all tickets sold, on our poster!). It was a wonderful night – all age ranges and musical tastes, plus some good friends in the audience, including Dave Heaney from Leisure FM. It is gratifying to see we yet again pleased Pink Floyd fans (or at least Dave did with his amazing solo in ‘Comfortably Numb’), and ‘Heroes’ has become a personal favourite of mine as a very last encore.  We will return!

Friday 19 February 2016 – Shack Recording Studio, day 2

Today I entered the booth – the singers’ booth – for lead vocals to two songs.  I had never done anything quite like this before, but the minute I walked in, I felt very much at home, again, thanks to Grant. The rest sat on comfy sofas, waiting their turn, listening in and pretending to be judges on The Voice and then we all piled in for backing vocals.  I must say, I could get used to this and I gained very valuable experience in the method of getting songs across with feeling and power. A spot of Brian’s melodica finished up the second day and the wonderful feeling that we had something to show for our efforts.  Can’t wait for the mixing to begin!

Thursday 18 February 2016 – Shack Recording Studio, day 1

A great deal of excitement in the air today as we entered the studio to put together our all-important third album! We gathered, laden with loads of food, coffee, cold drinks and of course, our ukes, to lay down the instrumental and guide singing tracks. I was feeling kind of seasick – oops, no sorry that’s just one of the songs! Nervous is the word I was searching for as we all stood around in a circle, concentrating like mad and praying to hit all the right chords. We needn’t have worried, we were in the capable hands of Grant, who was incredibly kind and non-judgemental. His severest rebuke was. ‘’Well, shall we try that again?’ and ‘Don’t forget your tuning folks,’ which brought out the best in us. By the end of the day, we had laid down 14 tracks and were feeling very pleased with ourselves. Six o’clock and we stumbled out into the cold air, tired but happy.

Friday 12 February 2016 – Maldon Town Hall

‘The Joy of Six’ didn’t quite make it to Maldon. Jo was off sick with the dreaded bug that seems to have enjoyed visiting band members, going away, then coming back again with a vengeance! So five of us spread out on the spacious, modern stage to entertain Maldon’s U3A group. It was a full house with a receptive audience and in between songs Dave entertained the folks with a lesson on ‘musician clapping’ (emphasising beats two and four) as opposed to ‘church clapping’ (beats one and three).  They were fast learners, as you might expect, being keen 3UAers and they soon entered into the spirit of the thing.  At the end we got a roaring request for an encore.  This was a good excuse to air ‘Heroes’ for the first time and our homage to the great Bowie was appreciated, as was our Pink Floyd (according to a PF fan in the audience). We got well fed in the interval and I was presented with a lovely yellow primula in a pot – one of the perks of being the only female in the band that night!).

Saturday 6 February 2016 – Norton Pub, Cold Norton

The Norton is a friendly community pub which we gig once a year.  This time we included four new songs with a lot of pressure on Martin as three of them were his! I was pleased that I managed to get through ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ without incident.  (You know what it’s like with practising; you get one bit wrong, go over and over it until you get it right, then get another bit wrong, ending up with getting a bit wrong that is comparatively easy and that you have never got wrong before!). ‘Eloise’ went along nicely, as did ‘Karma Police’ and we had great fun with Jo’s ‘Good Tradition’, with the first appearance of the band’s ‘brass section’. It was also good to catch up with ukulele-playing friends who came to support us.

Sunday 17 January 2016 – Dave Heaney Show, Leisure FM

Dragging ourselves up this morning-after-the-night-before, we made another return to the Dave Heaney show on Leisure FM.  Taking over the studio completely, we replace all the normal trappings of a studio (reception desks, laptops, drinks cabinets, cuddly toys – yes, really!)  with all the gear vital for us to function, including a huge sound desk.  Thank goodness we only play ukes and nothing bigger!  Dave’s a great guy who always makes us feel good about ourselves which is lovely of him considering his next week’s guest is Gary Walker of the Walker Brothers!

Saturday 16 January 2016 – The Fold, Billericay

This was an evening of firsts; the first gig of 2016, the first leg of our ‘The Joy of Six’ tour, our first performance at The Fold and our first sell-out of the year.  It was a cracking night and the attentive audience seemed very happy, judging by the lovely comments we got as they left at the end.  The volunteer staff made sure we had plenty of hot drinks and invited us to an after-show party of wine, cheese and biscuits.  My kind of night

Saturday 19 December 2015 – Norden Centre, Maidenhead

Our last gig of 2015 and what a cracker!  This was our second visit to the Norden Centre in Maidenhead and we were welcomed on arrival with much needed coffee. (The carrot cake was delicious too).   There was plenty of time to set up, sound check and rehearse those all-important bits to polish the set, before we retired to our dressing rooms (yes – rooms – more than one!) to relax and eat.  The audience, although smaller (in number, not size – well we had to compete with the final of ‘Strictly!), were very warm and welcoming, with dancing in the balcony and cheers all around.  One man had even bought one of our tea towels before the break!  We did our usual thing of rushing round to the auditorium to say goodnight to everyone and we had a couple of photos taken with fans.  Because we’re like that, and because we can, we burst out with an impromptu version of ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home’), which was duly filmed, then it was back on stage to clear up, say our goodbyes and head off home.   Fell into bed again, at around 1.50am.  Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to all our wonderful fans and a thank-you to Jan and Pat for all their hard work on the merchandising table!

Friday 18 December 2015 – Rose and Crown, Walthamstow

Another Christmas at this wonderful pub and again we were joined by a huge melody (if that’s the collective term) of wandering carol singers, equipped with instruments as diverse as banjos, ukes and violins, who sang two nifty little Christmas numbers during a break in our first set.  As for the rest of the evening, it was a fascinating mix of people, with couples waltzing in front of us, a mass rendition of ‘Comfortably Numb’, and someone with a turkey on their head (don’t ask!).  ‘You’re So Vain’ had its first public performance and we sprinkled the set with a few seasonal songs. (Why are Christmas songs such earworms? I’ll be singing them all year now). Polly, my mascot bear, looked suitably grumpy all evening, (possibly due to the fact that she had to wear a reindeer outfit), but hey, Christmas comes but once a year and she’ll soon be back home in my collection).  A great way to begin the festive season!  Fell into bed at around 1.48am.

Friday 4 December 2015 – Lavenham Christmas Fair

The arrival of Olaf, the snowman from ‘Frozen’, who boogied away to one of our songs and a very surrealistic photo with Santa Claus, were just two of the unexpected but very welcome events on the first day of the Lavenham Christmas Fair. We were bang in the middle of the town square and right on the spot where witches were burned, courtesy of the witch-finder general. It looked utterly magical, with orange and pink reflections flickering in the upper windows of the medieval guildhall opposite, resembling flames from the witches’ pyres. All the surrounding buildings were clad in white lights.  There was a funfair, complete with big wheel, a hog roast, amazing cake stalls and crafts for sale – not to mention some very appreciated mulled wine for us non-drivers afterwards. We had a whale of a time, with Dave imposing the imaginative rule that everyone passing by in front of us had to dance (they mostly did!).  Even the brief loss of power did not deter us and we carried on acoustically and a cappella.  Some of our fans had travelled quite a long way to see us and we very much appreciated their support.  There was more than a hint that we will be back next year!

Saturday 21 November 2015 – Essex Golf and Country Club

Tonight we partied at the Essex Golf and Country Club with all those who had been unable to attend Martin and Lisa’s wedding.  A full house meant we had to inch our way towards the stage in our usual ‘Perez Prado’ mode and we launched into our set, largely chosen by Martin who is a fan of ours.  He is also a keen ukulele player, and to judge by the beautifully made ‘uke cakes’, he likes eating them as well. We even played ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ twice, when he revealed it was his favourite song in our repertoire.  (He also said he enjoyed ‘Make Me Smile, which made me smile).  And (important note), the festive pig made its first appearance, standing in for the ever-popular percussive cow.

Saturday 14 November 2015 – Brentwood Theatre

Two years ago we played the Brentwood Theatre in our first full concert there, and tonight we returned, this time to a packed house.  Lots of things were going on that night, we had lights – lots of them, and the show was being filmed and recorded for a promo video so we had to be on our best behaviour (as we always are, I might add!).  Some familiar faces from other gigs were there, as well as people seeing us for the first time including BBC Essex celeb Dave Monk. Apart from a glitch at the end – possibly a rogue taxi outside commandeering one of our radio channels – we had a wonderful evening with lots of audience participation and the lovely people at the Brentwood Theatre even reduced the price of drinks at our ‘after-show party’.  Nothing could stop us letting rip with our version of ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ in the bar before we embarked on our favourite task of packing up.  The icing on the cake? We discovered our headlining gig in the Czech Republic – the biggest international ukulele festival in mainland Europe – had been confirmed and some of our fans are coming with us!

Saturday 7 November 2015 – The Retreat, Bocking

20151107_200601[1]There are some gigs when everything goes right and you have the audience on your side throughout the evening.  Tonight was one of those evenings.  Another local pub, this time the Retreat in Bocking, and we were booked to do an Essex Dementia Awareness Fundraiser.  We were thoroughly spoiled; a great little stage, funky lights, but what made it doubly special were the people.   The organisers really looked after us and the crowd were great!  I had a lot of help singing ‘Make Me Smile’ and Dave and Brian had their usual supporters during ‘Duelling Ukes’.  One sad piece of news, my beautiful new Kala uke has stopped working and I await a replacement with impatience!

Friday 30 October 2015 – Yew Tree, Gt Horkesley

Another fairly local gig this week – at the charming Yew Tree Pub at Great Horkesley – celebrating a significant birthday for the landlord Paul.  This was Jo’s one-time local in her teenage years and she was soon swapping memories with him.  Paul had booked us after seeing us at the Cramphorn Studio in Chelmsford and he had also charged us with the special task of learning his favourite song, ‘Mack The Knife’.  He even joined us on stage to sing it with us, key changes and all, and received a terrific round of applause from his friends and family.  As usual, we got them all dancing by the second half and I was witness to what I can only guess is the latest baby dance craze which I have named ‘BBB’ (Baby Bottom Bounce).  I think you probably have to be under the age of one to do it justice and the little girl was obviously an expert, managing to lift herself off the ground while sitting down cross-legged and bouncing herself towards the lead mic.  A future star!

Saturday 24 October – Busking in Brentwood

Well, fancy that!  Our first busking spot in Brentwood, to promote our theatre gig on 14 November, turned out to be opposite the new Joey Essex shop opening the same day.  That meant we had a ready-made audience in the shape of a (largely young female) crowd waiting to gain admittance and meet the man of their dreams.  Although the ‘lad himself’ was too busy for a photograph with us, we had a good time with favourites such as ‘Fat-Bottomed Girls’ (not really appropriate for the audience) and ‘Comfortably Numb’.  After lunch, we decanted to the High Street with the newly-opened farmers market and entertained the passers-by with a second set.  Jo even adapted some of the words to suit the stall-holders, such as ‘These Crabs Were Made for Talking’, while Martin praised the ‘Giggly Pig’ home-made burger stall.  As usual, and I cannot explain this, very young children (and the odd dog) watched, fascinated as we played.  That’s the thing about busking I suppose, you never really know what the reaction is going to be.  Anyway, our game helpers Pat, Jan and Mark from the theatre gave out hundreds of our leaflets. Watch this space!

Wednesday 14 October 2015 – Phoenix Fm

Smiles all round, cheerful banter, sounds of ‘Madness’ echoing around the walls, it can only be Phoenix FM and out old friend Bob Simpson.  Yes, we were back on his ‘1,2,3’ show this afternoon and as usual, it was a happy experience. We were not all present (apparently some of us have to work you know), but we were reliably informed that at least Martin was listening in as he ate his lunch. Bob played three tracks from our first CD ‘One Night Like This’, and we reminisced over former gigs (none of which we remembered that well – after all we are coming up to our 300th gig and sixth birthday!).  In fact we have a lot of gigs to look forward to.  Better get practising!

Sat/Sun 10/11 October 2015 – RHS Hyde Hall, Rettendon

RHS Hyde HallThis was a two-day slot – almost a residency – in the beautiful grounds of RHS Hyde Hall as part of a woodland and beer festival.  We always say we bring the sun with us and again we did not disappoint.  It was a gorgeous, English Autumn weekend, with the trees glowing red and orange, the geese performing a spectacular landing display on the lake, the chainsaw demonstrators turning logs into reindeer (Martin was hoping for a uke as well!), the wood workers and carvers producing delicate turtles, giant wooden knitting needles and monster insects sunning themselves outside the tents.  I was sorry to miss the horse logging, but we were busy playing from 11.00am until 3.00pm (with a few breaks).  We had a large, appreciative crowd and sold out of our first CD.  The tea towels proved quite popular too (with a little ruthless plugging from Dave).  A brilliant weekend!

Thursday 8 October 2015 – Gateway Club, Braintree

gatewayWe were reliably informed by members of the club that this was our eighth visit!  I wasn’t counting.  I just knew it would be a lovely night in the company of good friends and some new faces.  I wasn’t disappointed.  They certainly know how to party at the club and it was good to meet up with Rachael and her replacement at the club, Mandy. And the audience were not shy when it comes to showing us some slick dance moves.  Dave handed out postcards as a little memento of the night.  The thing that amazes me most is that everyone seems to know the words to all the songs we do, whether it be ‘I’m in the Mood for Love’, or ‘Losing My Religion’.  We promised to return…

Saturday 3 October 2015 – Luna Lounge, Leytonstone

This was our first visit for a long time, but definitely worth it.  I love the Luna Lounge in Leytonstone – a tiny pub with a tiny stage but the whole glass front opens up onto the pavement, complete with tables and chairs so that punters can watch the world (and especially big red buses), go by while waiting for the band. There were a few people milling about when we arrived, but when I looked up after grappling with the setting-up procedure (a lot easier since we ditched the monitors!), the place was packed, as was the pavement outside!  It’s great to be back ‘in the groove’ and gigging regularly again.  We aired a new version of ‘Message To You Rudy’, which incorporated a ‘homage’ to reggae and ska.  Jo did her special version of ‘Happy Birthday’ (Altered Images), to beautifully decorated audience birthday member Sadie and also to Brian (although his birthday is not until Monday).  Thanks to the duo ‘Headspace’ who began the evening with some great songs and all the people who became D’Ukes’ Supporters on the night.

Sunday 26 September 2015 – Raphael Park, Romford

Raphael ParkNow all the nonsense of holidays and breaks is well and truly over, we played yet another outside gig as part of our Autumn season.  This was our first visit to Raphael Park in Romford and as we always say, the sun came out for us big time!  Perched up in the bandstand, we had a wonderful view of the rolling green lawns and a respectable audience, including a copious number of geese.  John confided in me that he caught his first fish in the river snaking through the grounds beside us, at the tender age of eight.  He quickly became vegetarian and the rest, as they say, is history.  There was another first for us – a new piece of kit in the form of in-ear monitors.  It gives us far more freedom, so be warned that we can now roam in any direction and no-one in the audience is safe!

Sunday 30 August 2015 – FleeceFest 15

20150830_202153-1Wow, that was a long break, but it gave us the opportunity to relax on our holidays, blow away the cobwebs, and sneak in the odd rehearsal for the coming season.  It was a great comeback too, headlining in Chelmsford at FleeceFest 2015, rounding off a day of music and drinking.  The dreaded thunderstorms and showers failed to materialise and we played a happy, uninterrupted set, charging into ‘Smoke on the Water’ for our first number.  Actually it was all a bit weird for me as I was facing directly onto the county hall building, which was my place of work for more years than I care to remember!  Little did I know then what I would be doing now!  Another co-incidence;  we found out that many moons ago we had played at the wedding one of our co-performers in the Grizzly Bearz and the happy couple live down the road from Brian and I.  Small world!.

Saturday 18 July 2015 – Two In A Day

Emsworth B&B party D'UkesAnother ‘Two in a Day’ today – both birthday parties.  The first was in the best of the Essex countryside near Manningtree where the imposing house and large, sloping gardens gave the most incredible views over the River Stour. Add to that an impossibly beautiful, sunny day, an almost festival atmosphere, where guests wore name tags, played ‘Chuck A Duck’, drunk crisply chilled wine or soothing cups of tea, and you have an idea of the great time we had. Several of them had secreted ukes about their persons, which they whipped out and played later and there was an excellent roving magician. Some arrived late, only to find us racing off to our next gig and were disappointed they had not seen us. Maybe another time?

Later that day: Sandwiches in mouth, we were off to the garden of the King William pub in Braintree – our second birthday gig today.  The marquee we were in took on an exotic eastern flavour as the evening wore on, with its mesh of lights adorning the far wall and ceiling, perfect for Hava Nagila. Fuelled by the excellent Moody Goose beer from the microbrewery (as opposed to the real moody geese in the garden) Jo and I took the opportunity to test some in-ear monitors (yes, we hope to free ourselves up from the floor monitors I keep falling over very soon). More exciting news on that front later. Although more eating and drinking took place than applauding (I don’t blame them, the cupcakes were gorgeous!) several guests came up to us afterwards to say how much they enjoyed the band. We also had a stage invasion, this time a canine one from an inquisitive pooch who examined everything on stage with prodigious sniffing, then pronouncing him (or herself) satisfied, disappeared into the audience.  Now time for a much-needed summer break for small, inconsequential things like holidays!

Sunday 12 July 2015 – The Archer, South Ockendon

One horrendous traffic jam on the M25 later, and we arrived at the Archer Pub, South Ockendon, where the generous hosts entertained the locals with live music and a free barbecue.  (I’m still not convinced that we fitted the billing of ‘Ukulele Orchestra, but that’s a minor point).  Having gathered for a serious consultation on various phones re the weather, we decided to play safe (literally), and set up indoors.  Needless to say, it remained dry and sunny all afternoon, but it was great fun playing in the bar and watching the space become a dance floor.  We got them roaring at the ‘Uke-off’ encore before settling down to another long traffic jam on the way home.

Saturday 11 July 2015 – Farleigh Hospice Open Day

Another week and another local venue, this time Farleigh Hospice Open Day in Chelmsford.  Miraculously the weather was still sweltering and we set up on the lawn by the ‘Hungry Hippos’ and ‘Toppling Tower’ games to entertain for an hour in the afternoon. John was shorter than usual as we were on a slope, but we could still hear him!  Our ‘Merch Maidens’ swept the board in the raffle, with Jan opting for a huge display of sunflowers, while Pat marched triumphantly off with the huge cuddly bear (now called Farleigh, I’m told).  Back home before dark and no more gigs today.  Luxury!

Saturday 4 July 2015 – The Fling, Hylands Park

D'Ukes Quintet at the FlingIt’s July and really summer now with soaring temperatures and lots of people decamping to a beach in the middle of Chelmsford. Must be the Fling. This is the most festival-like festival I have been to with all grown-ups (strictly over-18’s) and the blissful feeling that anything could happen. And it did. The Sensational Six were down to the Fabulous Five as Jo had to rush to the vet with a dog with a broken leg (hope all goes well, Scout) and we were on the main stage with tons of room.  We were second band on and got a decent crowd (in the sense of numbers, I couldn’t vouch for anything else) and we made some new fans judging by the happiness stealing over their faces.  ‘Comfortably Numb’ was enthusiastically received and summed up the state of both audience and performers.  Excellent day!

Sunday 28 June 2015 – Kris’ Birthday Party

At the more civilised hour of 1pm, we drove to our last gig of the weekend, over to Dagenham, (no more leafy lanes but you can have too much of a good thing!) and a surprise 30th birthday party for Kris. You can guess what the first song was! Actually, we played two versions of ‘Happy Birthday’ and Jo was able to roam again and play those party things that blow out and make a noise. (What are they called? Answers on a postcard please!). It was another sunny day and guests enjoyed themselves. There was even a Minion cake – I was jealous. Dave got a request for ‘Duelling Ukes’, which we obliged, and there was an enthusiastic shout for encores. What a lovely end to a great weekend.

Saturday 27 June 2015 – Two Festivals

Two festivals in one day today! Number one was the first ever Ramsden Bellhouse Music Festival, featuring a singer from ‘The Voice’, David Van Day (half of ‘Dollar’, guess that makes him Mr 50 cents), and of course, us. We elected to go on first because we had planned the day with military precision – on at 4.00pm, off at 5.00pm and onto the next gig. As it happened, we packed away in 11 minutes, a record even for us. I need to explain here that we were also lending a big hand to sound man Mike who, on Thursday had undergone an umpteenth operation on his eye and was under orders not to lift anything too heavy. At least he can drive now! The organisers were friends with the organisers for our next festival but they hadn’t realised they had booked the same band!

(Later that same day):

Ellis field moondance D'UkesWe have sped our way down so many leafy lanes recently that I’m beginning to think I live in the country! Another leafy lane later and we arrived at Little Burstead for ‘Music in the Meadow’. This is our third year of doing this gig and the last two times it bucketed down with rain and even thunder and lightning. However, tonight the weather was gorgeously warm and inviting. The good folk of Little Burstead, (and some even further afield), gathered together with loads of food and drink and we performed our three-out-of-four, pausing for celebratory fireworks as rather a lot of people present had birthdays which had arrived, just gone, or were looming. The creeping darkness brought forth a band of youngsters joyously dancing to a medley of, well, danceable tunes, and we roamed out to join in. Great night!

Friday 26 June 2015

A big bonus of being booked to play at the Langdon Hills Golf Club is the gorgeous panoramic view in the function room over the River Thames, with the lights of Canary Wharf twinkling in the distance. It was as much as we could do to tear our eyes away from the pink skies and slivers of purple cloud floating past, adorned by the occasional silhouette of gull and the paper cut-out of skyscraper. As usual, we received a very warm welcome from the Rotary Club that included a meal for us, even before we had played a note! There was not a ripple of conversation during our sets and, as musicians among you will appreciate, the only noise came from the applause and calls from encores. We even got a tantalising possibility of performing for a private party in Switzerland next year. Anyone for skiing?

Sunday 21 June 2015

southend bandstand 2015Our second gig of the weekend and we returned to a very sunshiny Priory Park in Southend for our third ‘Fun in the Sun – D’Ukes and the Great Outdoors’ gig.  A bigger audience than ever were camped out on the grass and we played in the very beautiful bandstand for a couple of hours. It was great to see one of our old friends and fellow uke player, Doogie, in the audience, who had travelled all the way from Brazil to see our gig (well, that’s what he implied on Facebook, I’m not so sure!).

Saturday 20 June 2015

me and bride sue croppedWe haven’t done many weddings lately so it was a welcome change to head down the leafy lanes of Suffolk to help Geoff and Sue celebrate their big day.  Dave had his now compulsory photo with the bride and we spent a delightful evening playing her choice of songs from our ever-expanding repertoire.  There was some very keen dancing going on and in the break we were provided with copious amounts of food and drink.  A guest singer joined us on stage for the first dance song, our (very) newly-learned Etta James song, ‘At Last’.   All the best for the future, Geoff and Sue!

Sunday 14 June 2015

The road to Shoeburyness seemed somewhat bleary to me this morning (could be the combination of late night and early morning!) as we sped along to perform for the Southend Half Marathon (luckily playing, not running!).  As we launched into ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’  a bunch of infants cavorted about in front of us, happily waving black and white flags and dancing as only infants know how.  Afterwards, we made our way down to the beach for a photo-shoot and there met Gemma (whose birthday it was today) and her family.  As a special request we played ‘Happy Birthday’ (Altered Images’) to her, then with sand in our shoes and happiness in our hearts, we made our way home.

Saturday 13 June 2015

Apart for last minute practice, we had nearly a whole day to get ready for our next venue – Colchester Arts Centre – a place we love to play and the last date in our ‘Red & Black’ tour.  It was also the 300th performance of D’Ukes so it was pretty special for us.  The audience made it doubly so; they were great and we had a wonderful time.  The guys on sound, assisted by Tony, did an excellent job (soundman Mike being on safari in Africa at the moment), as did Jan and Pat on the ‘merch’ table.  We made some new friends and went home very much on a high.

Friday 12 June 2015 (evening)

A few refreshments and a car drive later, we set up our busking gear in the grounds of the amazing Firstsite Gallery in Colchester.  The weather was still being kind to us as we entertained the people flocking to a new exhibition in what I think is affectionately known as the ‘banana’.  Lots of people were filming us but I didn’t have a clue who they were!  We played a lot longer than was intended, but hey, we were enjoying ourselves and the audience was too.  At least, no-one told us to stop until the weather intervened and it began to rain during our last song.  Not bad going.  We were home at a respectable time for a beer and a well-earned rest.

Friday 12 June 2015 (midday)

This was the first of the four-gigs-in-three days’ tour and we arrived, all fresh and raring to go, in Cambridge to take part in the opening ceremony for the Cambridge Buskers and Street Performers Festival.  Dave had his photo taken with the mayor, to adorn his Dave-with-Brides-and-Mayors album and then we got going, in front of the Guildhall and the market.  A group from Spain provided the dancing and photo opportunities and a sweet-looking lady handed us copies of the New Testament (don’t ask!).  It didn’t rain and was all very enjoyable.  Then, one of those weird, unexplainable coincidences,  a man who came to get a closer look at Brian’s uke, got chatting and we discovered that not only was he born in Chelmsford, and at St John’s Hospital (as was Brian), but he was born a day later in the same month as Brian!  We also found out his nephew was in Judas Priest – which proves you are never too far away from your favourite metal band!

Friday 5 June 2015

We are now on the Norfolk leg of our tour, although not so much as a leg as a digit, it being our only show this year in this fair part of the country.  It was our first visit to Diss Corn Hall, a rather wonderful old, large white building, reminiscent of civic buildings of the past, and we were thoroughly spoiled by the staff, offering not only their lighting and management skills, but copious cups of tea and coffee on arrival.  With amazing attention to detail (this being the Red and Black Tour) Martin wore his fetching reversible black and red uke strap, while John perfected his suitcase routine with some fetching retro labels and new instruments, including a  child’s trumpet and small bongos.  (If you are baffled by this last sentence then you clearly haven’t seen us perform lately – where are you?).  Comments by the audience were very encouraging, one lady reporting that she had never heard Pink Floyd played on a ukulele before.  We are full of surprises!

Saturday 30 May 2015

The Black and Red Tour forged on, this time in my home town of Chelmsford where we played the Cramphorn Studio for the fifth (?) time, and we sold out again, even though it was Cup Final Day.  We paid due deference to the beautiful game with a ‘Match Of The Day’ tinge in Dave’s ‘Smoke On The Water’ solo.  Jo was at her roaming best, pinpointing recent birthdays amongst the audience so we could try out her new rendering of ‘Happy Birthday’ (‘Altered Images’, not the other one).  It featured a unique trio of party whistle solos in the middle.  John worked up a nice little act with a suitcase full of toy instruments during ‘Ode to Joy’, and we met the audience in the bar afterwards on their way out.  So many lovely comments made it a really wonderful evening!

Saturday 23 May 2015

Not very rock and roll this, but we were up early today to gig in Cambridge in front of the very famous Corn Exchange.  (One day we aim to edge a little further back and play inside).   We performed to queues for the Food Fair, but also of course to passers-by, for a couple of hours.  Another toddler stood entranced (is our audience getting younger?) and one couple stayed for almost the entire time, giving generously before they left.  Alas, we were without Jo today so Martin had to work twice as hard as usual.  He managed it beautifully. And it didn’t rain!

Friday 22 May 2015

Friday night saw a welcome return to the Rose and Crown Theatre Pub in Walthamstow the next stop on the ‘Red and Black’ Tour.  By now we know what to expect here, a good space to play in, helpful staff and an always new audience who never fail to enjoy us in their own way, be it standing at the bar enjoying one of the good ales, munching into one of Peppe’s pizzas, cooked in a real pizza oven outside, or dancing wildly in front of us, with partners or complete strangers.  From toddler sized to those rather older, the punters all enjoyed themselves – and told us so afterwards!  We aim to please.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Another show tonight as we headed back to the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch for a sixth year.  Old friends and new fans joined us. We even had a fan up on stage for the whole gig, but only the kind that kept us cool under the warm evening and hot lights! Jo, the audience participation queen, got the audience fired up, while Johnny M enthralled with his dexterity on the spoons and triangle (often combining the two).  The sad thing about our shows these days is that, with our growing repertoire, it is very difficult to decide which songs to leave out. Our sets just keep getting longer!

Friday 15 May 2015

Our first twinning gig and if it taught us anything at all it was that our friends across the water sure know how to party!  We were in TJs Bar, Gravesend, celebrating the thriving twinning association of Gravesham, UK and Chesterfield County, Virginia, with a get-together, complete with barbecue and plenty of liquid refreshment.  The USA visitors threw caution to the winds and heartily joined in the singing as well as performing some fancy footwork.  They even bought our tea towels, not to mention our CDs.  Thanks to the landlady for all her help and thoughtfulness, not least for providing us with hot coffee on arrival!

Thursday 7 May 2015

Like buses, you wait for ages for a radio interview, then two come along at once.  Today we were at BBC Essex for the Dave Monk Show, with half the band (Dave, Brian and me) plus two new uke players: Joe had taken the Dave Monk challenge to learn something new in 17 weeks in order to avoid talking or even thinking about the general election, and Tish had started learning at about the same time as one of Dave’s students.  Congratulations to Joe for confidently playing Over The Rainbow and An English Country Garden. Then it was our turn and we performed unplugged versions of ‘Duelling Ukes’ and ‘Ode to Joy. These were followed by a highly individual rendering of ‘Tiptoes Through The Tulips’ by Dave Monk himself – showing how the ukulele should really be played! And I just about remembered to vote afterwards!

Wednesday 6 May 2015

It’s always good to talk to Bob Simpson on Phoenix FM even with half the band missing, and John, Brian and I went on air to talk about our next gigs, what we had been up to since our last visit and the sad story of the missing duck, who we hope has found a better home. Bob played tracks from our new ‘Red and Black’ CD – strange that all this chosen songs were Martin’s.  We made him promise we could come back at least twice more so as not to offend the other singers!

Sunday 3 May 2015

‘Brian, Brian, Brian’, the chant from Monty Python’s best-loved film, bounced off the walls of Shenfield Cricket club as we began the famous ‘Duelling Ukes’ sequence at the close of this fund (fun?) raising event.  I even heard an audience member yell ‘Give us a sign Brian!’ as we drew to the close of what has to be the most boisterous gig ever. They even persuaded us to play for an extra half hour and we were happy to do that. This was as close to idolisation as we have ever been and it felt good.  We aired my new song ‘Come Up And See Me’ to a great reception and Jo raised the roof with her unique, audience-participation rendering of ‘Those Were The Days’. We had countless photos taken with the fans and Martin captured their rambunctious behaviour on video. John ‘Johnny’ Mattock was worshipped in the usual manner of popular bass players and Dave, well Dave was honoured, as always, by resounding cheers.  We will be back next year!

Sunday 26 April 2015

A private party at the Miami Hotel, Chelmsford today so not so far to travel and we all got home before dark.  The guests got up a wild conga towards the end and snaked all around us to numerous verses of ‘I Wanna Be Like You’ from The Jungle Book.  I can honestly say it was the first time I have ever seen anyone conga to ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ but they managed it beautifully!

Saturday 25 April 2015

The Black and Red tour turned distinctly ‘pink’ today as we busked at Romford Shopping Centre for a sunny celebration of St George’s Day.  An attempt was made to get into the Guinness Book of Records with the biggest gathering of princesses in one place. I can assure you no member of the band was dressed as a princess, in case it gives you nightmares.  They didn’t quite manage that but we all had a great time and we even sold some more CDs.  By the way, our first CD has now sold out so Dave reckoned we now had to be number one in some chart somewhere in the world!

Friday 24 April 2015

Next leg of our tour and it was a ‘If it’s Friday, it must be Southend’ type of thing. Not a bad feeling to be part of a sell-out concert with a brilliant audience in a packed venue and in the same building as Alan Carr! As Amy Macdonald might say, ‘This is the Life’!  It was our second visit to the Maritime Rooms at the Cliffs Pavilion and it rocked! Singing, dancing, air uke (and that was just the audience!). We roamed, we danced, we signed autographs, sold CDs and as usual, said our personal ‘good nights’ to every audience member as they left.  We also said goodbye to our old friend Alan Thatcher, who is soon to move away from the area (nothing to do with us, apparently), and who has taken many fine photos of us over the years and has travelled with us to Prague.  Good luck for the future Alan.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Venue four of the R and B tour, as I like to call it, was also our first visit to the Plough and Harrow, Leytonstone.  After the football on the telly was over (of course!), we moved in with our small army to this charming old pub and spent the next two and a half hours rocking the rafters.  People danced and people sang.  John surprised us in the middle of ‘Ode to Joy’ with a virtuoso spoons solo (you could hear Beethoven’s joints creaking as he rolled over) and Martin wandered off into the audience because there is no stopping him now he has his radio mic.  And the lovely landlord made sure we were well plied with drinks.  Good result!

Saturday 11 April 2015

Venue three of our ‘Red & Black Tour’ and we were back in the welcoming arms of the Lincoln Lounge, Kings Cross.  (First date without the duck!).  A small, but very selective audience danced with gay abandon and we had a very happy night, glad to be out playing again.  The two new songs that we slipped in – ‘The Living Years’ and ‘Those Were the Days’ – went well and sound man Mike made sure that ‘Comfortably Numb’ hit the rafters and beyond!  Got to bed at a very respectable 3.45am!

Saturday 14 March 2015

The second gig of our tour found us over the Essex border and our first foray into Gravesend. Across the River Thames we could see one of our old venues, the World’s End pub in Tilbury! The Middle Ei8ht gave us a good Kentish welcome and in return we tried our new swing version of Smoke On The Water.  Did I detect a little Grieg in your solo Dave? (yes) Well, it all goes to show we Essex people are a cultured lot.  We met some fun people that night and sold some more tea towels!  Thanks to Holi and her staff for stepping into the unknown and giving rock ukulele a chance.

Saturday 7 March 2015

Witham Public Hall and this was where the Red and Black Tour kicked off with our new line-up and our new songs and the beginning of some dance routines now that we are all wireless! I suspect some of this new enthusiasm for dancing has been the result of Dave just back from Cuba. What a brilliant evening! It was one of our best performances and we played to a packed and enthusiastic audience. There was dancing, John got to play his now infamous triangle solo and Martin aired his posh new Godin uke which he keeps on his person at all times. We also had a new ‘merch’ table with our latest CD, tea towels bearing the now ubiquitous caricatures of the band and posters. On a sad note, our dear duck, Duke, who has supported us from the beginning, seems to have made a bid for freedom and did not return from his usual sortie into the crowd.  If anyone knows of his whereabouts please contact the band. Martin is especially grieving and we may have to fund expensive counselling if his feathered friend does not return.

Friday 6 March 2015

A new year and we are back in the saddle and on the verge of our Red and Black tour taking in theatres and clubs the length and breadth of the Home Counties and London.  To kick off, we had a closely-guarded secret warm-up gig at the Black Bull in Chelmsford.  It was a case of ‘Back to the Future’ for us as that was the very pub in which we first performed in public five years ago, albeit three songs in an open mic.  Friday was also a great learning curve for us in that we were able to air a host of new songs (Comfortably Numb, Perfect, Because The Night to name a few) on the unsuspecting regulars (and a few friends) and to find out where all the glitches were.  Thanks to the great staff who made us feel at home.

Saturday 17 January 2015

2015 got off to a great start as we kicked off with our annual gig at the Norton Pub, surrounded by a packed throng of smiley dancing people, new fans and old friends, some of whom had been to the Czech Republic with us in 2013.  It was a night we tried out some new songs (Martin conquered ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ with heroic skill), old songs in a new key and some established favourites.  Brian and I both had new ukes to try out, and they didn’t disappoint.  Happiness all round!

Friday 19 December 2014

Our last gig before Christmas and the Rose and Crown, Walthamstow was all set to enjoy the festive season.  It had everything – the pizza man, ready to cook and serve to hungry punters, a giant Christmas tree as our backdrop and an unexpected support band in the shape of Christmas carollers, playing everything from banjos and violins to guitars and everything in between, who paid us a flying visit before enjoying mulled wine and journeying on to their next venue.  Unfortunately we had to do without Mike, our soundman as he was in hospital having an operation for a detached retina, but with the help of some equipment from our obliging host, we got going.  The dancing contingent came out early and happily jigged the night away (some of them perhaps a little too enthusiastically) and we all had a wonderful evening.  For those of you interested, our ‘dog of the night’ was Molly, a beautiful blue spaniel who curled up on the seat nearest to the stage and was impeccably behaved.

Sunday 14 December 2014

It was Christmas at the Cramphorn and the crowd were real good!  A sell-out concert and a stage enlivened by lights, Santa and a reindeer (O.K. not real, but convincing!).  We even went out on a limb to learn Mele Kalikimaka, a Christmas song from Hawaii, but to be fair, the audience did most of the work, with the help of our colourful garlands.  They entered the Christmas spirit with great gusto, so much so that when Jo told them to keep the noise down because there was a pantomime next door, they all shouted back, ‘Oh no there isn’t!’. We also had Rory in the audience, a guide dog who was as good as gold and didn’t turn a hair, even when we all took the whistling a verse or two.  Other highlights including a member of the audience shyly accepting her signed pink ukulele that she had bought from the merch stall and Dave jumping back a foot from the microphone in response to the great roar from the crowd when asked “do you want some more music?”. A great way to begin the festive season!

Friday 28 November 2014

Tonight we made one of our forays out of Essex, this time to the leafy suburbs of Berkshire and our first visit to the Norden Farm Arts Centre in Maidenhead. We got a tremendous welcome when we arrived and were thoroughly spoiled with a warm dressing-room, unlimited supplies of tea and coffee and a backstage microwave (an aroma of hotpot soon emerged as Phil eagerly heated up his belated dinner).  There was also a green room, complete with piano, carpet and squashy sofas, so we soon made ourselves at home.  On stage, the sound and lightshow were superb, but above all, we had a lovely audience, even after admitting where we came from. And one of our biggest audiences to date, especially pleasing considering we are about 100 miles away from home. We were heartened to find so many uke players in the audience who knew their stuff, and two people called Valerie! Martin had his first taste of freedom as he went wireless with his uke and enjoyed making full use of the generous stage.  We did our usual sprint out to the foyer as soon as the last note of our encore died away and were rewarded with friendly exchanges with the audience, all of whom had smiles on their faces.  What I’d call a very good night.  Berkshire has been well and truly D’Uked!

Saturday 15 November 2014

Our second visit to the Hornchurch pub The Good Intent and this time we had a different spot – under the dart board (luckily not being used).  We took the opportunity to air some new songs (Fat Bottomed Girls), revive some oldies (Ode To Joy, Sweet Caroline) and in the tradition of ‘Christmas comes earlier every year’, we gave a rendition of White Winter Hymnal and  Mele Kalikimaka, an Hawaiian Christmas special that becomes lodged in your head as soon as you hear it.  It was good to see people dancing (one punter must have been double-jointed) and we met up with some old friends and new fans. Shoulder up-date – almost back to full capacity!

Saturday 8 November 2014

Back down to earth today as we convened at Mike the sound engineer’s house to continue laying down lead vocal and backing vocal tracks for our next CD. Mike was in his study overseeing the proceedings, while the singers were in two bedrooms and Dave was with the rest of the band downstairs, listening in and intervening on his microphone if he noticed any mishaps.  We made good progress and were rewarded with some of Alison’s delicious homemade parsnip soup, almond cake and lashings of coffee! Great way to spend a winter afternoon!

Saturday 1 November 2014

What an amazing night at the Lincoln Lounge!  We love the place and this was our seventh visit to the cosy pub in Kings Cross.  You never know who and how many people will drift in over the course of an evening but we were lucky with a great audience including old friends such as Paul from The P’Ukes.  It also happened to be my birthday and as well as cards, a large glass of wine and a beautiful cake (with lit candles and arriving during Smoke on the Water), Dave departed from his usual Jimi Hendrix solo to play Happy Birthday.  The punters would not let us go home and we played a fourth encore after one of them began chanting ‘Another one or we’ll kill you’!  We finally staggered out some time after midnight, with another booking for April.  Shoulder update – it held up well for the full gig.  Will soon be wind-milling again!

Thursday 31 October 2014

Halloween night and once again we had been booked to entertain the senior citizens of Maldon as they enjoyed a fish and chip supper, courtesy of the local council.  Never knowingly backward when it comes to dressing up and fooling around, we all went suitably attired for the occasion, although there was some dispute over whether Dave was actually wearing a mask or not (look at the photos and come to your own conclusion!).   Phil brought his own coffin and looked convincingly corpse-like while our own bass-playing Count Dracula loomed rather too close for comfort.  Jo was described as looking like Gene Simmons from Kiss and Brian wielded a sinister-looking cat.  Martin came dressed as a commuter after a hard day’s work in the city.  The audience loved it and soon joined in with our very vigorous and demanding clapping routines.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Amazing that we make our first foray into a new area and we get two gigs there on two consecutive days!  So it was with a feeling of déjà vu that we sped along the motorway in Hertfordshire to our first gig at the Broxbourne Civic Theatre, Hoddesdon.  I think it was one of the biggest stages we have yet performed on and we had to acclimatise ourselves to the space and not all crowd together in the middle like we sometimes have to at smaller venues.  With Mike on the sound desk incorporating some pretty impressive amplification from the theatre we were all ready to go (shoulder holding up well).  For the first time we had them literally dancing in the aisles as they got their first dose of D’Ukes and we also received some very favourable comments from the punters as we serenaded them in the foyer on their way out.  We would love to come back some time.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Tonight was our first Masons’ Ladies night in a very smart hotel and golf club near Sawbridgeworth.  What a great audience they were! We were well looked after (our needs are simple, no Smarties without any red ones for us – just coffee, biscuits, more coffee, more biscuits…).  Although black ties, dress shirts and gorgeous gowns were the order of the day, they were a lively bunch who readily danced and enjoyed themselves at the drop of a hat and made us feel very much a part of their scene.  Some of them even came to see us the next night at Broxbourne!

Saturday 18 October 2014

No gig tonight so we took the opportunity to continue with some recording for the new CD round Dave’s (The Chignal Road Tapes part 2).  We were able to lay down seven lead vocal tracks and will reconvene soon for the next stage – six more lead vocal tracks and then make a start on the backing vocals.  Busted shouder update – on the physio now and some gentle uke playing at home. Not quite up to the ‘Ukulele Hoedown’ mayhem!

Thursday 16 October 2014

Back at one of our favourite venues this week – entertaining an enthusiastic crowd at the Gateway Club in Braintree.  This was our sixth visit and many of the audience are now firm friends.  There was a lot of concern expressed about my broken shoulder (still no uke strumming but percussion and singing) and as usual we were very well looked after with copious amounts of tea, coffee and fruit juice during the evening.  Jo lead the singing in a heartfelt rendering of ‘Happy Birthday’ to Barbara, a long-standing member of staff celebrating her 80th birthday and Martin managed to shake hands, hold a conversation with three people and sing at the same time!

Sunday 12 October 2014

With winter approaching and the last of our outdoor gigs now over, Sunday saw us deep in Bedfordshire celebrating the wedding of Ken and Mandy. This was my first gig since breaking my shoulder in two places last Sunday (and yes, I would like to say I did it crowd-surfing at Glastonbury, but as ever, the truth is more mundane; I did it falling over at home.  No uke playing now for about six weeks, but I can still sing and percuss like a demon).  The audience were soon up and dancing, while Dave had his now traditional picture taken with the bride.  We loved the fact that we were treated like guests, even having our own table and sharing in the splendid meal. (We vegetarians were well catered for).  Best wishes to the happy couple and thanks to Mandy who booked us after seeing us in Great Leighs many moons ago.

Saturday 27 September 2014

Deep in the woods of Thundersley, strange, coloured people could be seen, threading through the trees and trying not to get hit by rainbow salvos from guys in army gear.  It could only be the Little Havens Hospices’ Colour Chase and we were providing the post-race entertainment for the intrepid runners and volunteers.  As they powered down for a well-earned rest, we were surrounded by runners with lime-green hair and orange faces, while near-by families were invited to pelt one another with powder paint.  Strangely enough, we managed not to get hit, although Nobby had to move the sound desk to a place of safety.  Some runners even had the energy to dance! Thousands of pounds was raised so well done to all concerned.

Friday 26 September 2014

This was our second appearance at Phoenix Fridays, the monthly show of live bands recorded by Phoenix FM.  A great atmosphere and our collective morales were boosted by requests for a photo and autographs soon after we arrived.  There was a slight hitch during our first number, ‘Valerie’ when all the power and lights went out but we carried on, accompanied by the enthusiastic teenagers in the audience, who also knew the words.  Thanks to the other bands appearing  – The Aim, Wildfowl and Scarlet Echo for making it a fun evening, not to mention the sound guys and the audience who cheered Dave’s ‘Smoke’ solo and chanted ‘We Love You Brian’.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Lots of sunshine, sea and shellfish (no, I haven’t made a mistake and duplicated an earlier entry!) as we gathered again outside The Crooked Billet, this time for a Marie Curie fund-raiser. We were the first of three bands for the afternoon – Jamie Williams Root Collective and Pieface also played for free – and we had a whale of a time with the lovely crowd. We even sold one of our CDs to a man in an Iron Maiden t-shirt which made our day.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Today saw us back at the Halstead Conservative Club for the fifth time.  It was special for us as it was the place we recorded our first live CD and we had a couple in the audience who had seen us every time we played there.  We hope to be back next year but I wonder if they will have fixed the spotlight on Dave!

Sunday 14 September 2014

A welcome return to The Archer Pub in South Ockendon today for their annual BBQ and another very pleasant afternoon spent in the garden with plenty of beer and food.  We slipped in three new songs; Nora Jones’ ‘Don’t Know Why’, Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex on Fire’ and our own mash-up of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love and Kylie Minogue Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.

Saturday 13 September 2014

It was time for more recording and what we like to think of as the ‘Chignal Road Tapes’.  On Saturday afternoon we all piled into Dave’s house, complete with Mike and his enormous sound desk and spent some very productive time laying down tracks for our new CD. In between slurps or tea and coffee (and cake provided by Martin and Jan), we managed to record the backing tracks and some lead solos for 13 tracks. Looking forward to recording the vocals and percussion on a future session. Hope the CD to be ready in time for Christmas. A good stocking filler!

Sunday 7 September 2014

By now you know the score – blue skies, laid-back punters, lots of great acts, sunshine and plenty of beer flowing. Yes, another festival, this time at the Horse and Groom in Wivenhoe, by kind invitation of organiser Peter Kerr. This was the second year we headlined, and we had a great time. One of the good things about this business is chatting to people afterwards and getting to know them. This time they even coined a new term for themselves – ‘Ukies’, followers of D’Ukes. I like it!

Sunday 31 August 2014

Sunshine, shellfish, sea and spectacular skies!  What more can I say?  We must have been at the Crooked Billet in Leigh-on-Sea by the famous cockle sheds.  It is said by Dave (and this can make the rest of the band hold its breath) that the sun always shines when D’Ukes play out of doors.  And it was true.   A packed audience relaxed with cold beer and crustaceans while numerous elegant dogs (and one young starling with an eye for the main chance) pecked away for fishy treats or basked in the heat.  Luckily the Tide was indeed High by the time I got to that little number (somehow ‘The Tide is Low’ doesn’t really do it for me) and, as usual, we got people up and dancing.  A very nice start after our summer break.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Off to not-so-sunny Cambridge today and our first time at this great rock festival.  The heavens opened all the way down, but by the time we arrived the sun was at least grinning, if not smiling.  The mud was about 1 on the mudometer festival scale of 1 to 10 (1 being nothing to speak of, 10 being Glastonbury on a good day).  Soon we were on Stage 3 – the acoustic tent (bit of a misnomer, it had a sound system that could only be a glint in our sound engineer’s eye), and we thundered out our ‘Smoke on the Water’ in good rock festival style.  The tent soon became packed and we were allowed an encore (which we were told was never allowed on Stage 3).  We sold all our CDs and got to chat with a lot of wonderful people. We were also booked for a wedding, on the understanding we would find the would-be bride a boyfriend first. Big hint – we would love to come back next year!

Saturday 9 August 2014

It was on with the cycling shorts and down to Lower Thames Street, London to busk at the side of the road for the Prudential RideLondon event. One Phil short of a band, we played from 9.00am to 2.00pm with three fifteen minutes breaks (most of which we spent hiking a few miles down the road to the nearest toilet until the pub behind us opened). I have never seen so many cyclists, from the true pro to the family outing, from the latest superbike to the souped-up scooter and the penny farthing, streaming past us every few seconds and only pausing to take photos, pose with us or ring their bells in solidarity. We even caused a small pile up as some cyclists stopped to watch us and others crashed into the back of them. Jo very quickly and ably adapted one of her songs to ‘These bikes are made for cycling’ and it all went down very well. Add to that scorching sunshine and a carnival spirit and you will gather we had a great time. Pity Boris Johnson didn’t pop along for a ukulele photo opportunity with us. He’d have enjoyed that!

Saturday 26 July 2014

No rest for the wicked – we were up bright and early (well, early) next day and we headed off to the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch for D’UkesFest. For those of you not familiar with this famous event, it consists of an afternoon of uke-related acts, workshops, stalls selling uke products and a mass jam at the end of the day so that uke virgins and old pros can get together for a bit of a play and a sing-song. It was packed out (I noticed that the cafeteria ran out of scotch egg salad at an early stage) and everyone seemed to have fun. It was a good opportunity for us to meet up with old friends, make many new ones and chat to some of our fans (they do exist!).

After the last uke was packed away and punters had left, it was time for a D’Ukes sound-check for the evening concert, during which we were blessed by a roving nun (although this may have been due to the fact that there was a dress-rehearsal for a play in the main auditorium). After a pause, during which the staff put out extra seats, we bounced back on stage as a band and had a great time, running on adrenalin and goodness knows what else. A little break now before our next gig on 9 August.

Friday 25 July 2014

Another balmy summer night, another beer festival, this time at the picturesque White Hart Pub in Ingatestone.  We played in a large marquee in the gardens, surrounded by enormous kegs of mysterious brews which kept us well-oiled all night. At first the audience sat around large tables, looking on and applauding politely in all the right places, but as the evening mellowed and the age range widened, inhibitions were gently shed and by the end, their inner hillbillies had been unleashed to the sounds of our ukulele ‘hoedown’. The staff helped enormously on the trek from car to stage with all our equipment and the landlady really looked after us in the food and drink department. A very good night by D’Ukes’ standards.

Saturday 19 July 2014

This must have been one of the greatest in our four-year career.  Another hot night and this time at the fantastic Luna Lounge as part of the Leytonstone festival.  I think it would be fair to say, in all modesty, that the crowd loved us!  And we loved them!  In fact Dave wanted to hire coaches to take them around to all our gigs.  The tiny bar was packed out and folks spilled onto the pavements and passers-by halted their evening strolls to listen as we blasted through our favourites such as ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Basket case’.  And they ended up dancing again, often with strangers. As well as our encore of two songs, the audience demanded a third so we closed with ‘Hot Love’. And lingered long into the night chatting to some of them.  Hard to climb down from that high!

Wednesday 16 July 2014

It was our first beer festival of the year – headlining in Admiral’s Park, Chelmsford – on the second night under a sultry sun reluctant to set.  And what a night!  Punters to the right of us, punters to the left of us, quaffing the excellent ale and mellowing to the extent that the whole place transformed into a mad barn dance by the end of the evening.  (See the videos on Facebook if you don’t believe me).  There was a quirkiness of hats, ranging from the fetching fez of the guy Martin serenaded on the last number of the evening, to the santa hats, favoured by a quartet near the front.  Phil sported his very own broad-brimmed straw creation.  And guess what?  We had our very own bouncers and barriers to ‘protect us’.  The organisers treated us very well, with free beer and food.  What more could you ask for?

Sunday 13 July 2014

It was uncanny how the sun followed us to Southend’s Priory Park this afternoon after a morning’s downpour. Fans staked their claim to a space on the grass up to one hour before we began. We played in the beautiful retro bandstand while customers in the nearby café sat outside with ice creams to watch the fun. People really got into the swing of things, from a novel, ‘sitting-down’ Cossak-style dance to ‘Hava Nagila’ to a good, old fashioned ‘swing your partners’ barn dance to our ukulele hoedown. We also sold ukes and loads of CDs. Hard act to follow!

Saturday 12 July 2014

Now into the swing of gigs after our short break in June and we ventured outside to headline at Little Canfield’s ‘Big Gig’.  Playing in the garden of the Green Café where Eco-Friendly was not so much a catch-phrase as a way of life (even the toilet was an up-to-the-minute water-free affair), we drew the crowds and got them dancing. Add to that a pretty Essex village, honey, local food, local beer and a hot, sunny afternoon and you have a perfect English day.  Even a horse turned up!  Martin’s duck made a dash for freedom and had to be poked down from a tree with an umbrella.  We think he sensed he may be near relatives.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Chatting with Bob Simpson on Phoenix FM is a very pleasant pastime and four of us D’Ukes were doing just that today.  Dave, Phil, Brian and myself talked about our recent exploits and more importantly the up and coming D’Ukes Fest at Hornchurch Theatre on Saturday 26 July.  And Bob kindly played some tracks recorded during our performance at Phoenix Fridays back in February.  Nice one Bob!

Monday 7 July 2014

Wow! It doesn’t get much bigger than this! Le Tour de France, no less, and us camped out on a grassy knoll (no, not that grassy knoll), on the corner of Chignal Road, Chelmsford, along with several thousand other Essex folk celebrating the arrival of the bike race to end all bike races. The most intrepid among us (John, Martin) had arrived at 7.00am, followed by Dave and Phil, and they had begun a set (of sorts) while waiting for Jo, Brian and I to arrive.  Dressed in Tour de France yellow, we played to the waiting crowds from mid-morning until 3.00pm, with a few seconds break when the sea of helmets appeared and disappeared in seconds. The sun had followed us from Walthamstock and Blackmore and shone heartily all day. The crowd really appreciated the diversion and it soon turned into a carnival atmosphere with people lingering to hear the last of our songs.  Martin got adopted by a local moth wearing camouflage which attached itself to his leg all afternoon, while a toddler with an eye for the main chance, made an attempt to snatch our ‘Tour de France’ yellow uke.  I can’t say I blame her, we were all in a highly excitable frame of mind. And no, we didn’t get on the telly this time (curse ITV and its adverts), but three’s not a bad score!

Sunday 6 July 2014

Sunday afternoon and what better than to spend the time in one of the county’s prettiest villages celebrating a birthday with music in good company?  We were in Blackmore at Andy’s 50th and we had a great time in a marquee in the back garden, entertaining his friends and neighbours. The sun had followed us from Walthamstock and was happy to come to rest over this little winding road, with period houses standing on tiptoe on both sides, overlooking impossibly pretty gardens (It could have been Midsomer without the murders). We were invited to share the food and drink, which is always a good sign, and according to our host, everyone really enjoyed themselves.

Saturday 5 July 2014

Back with a bang at one of our favourite festivals – Walthamstock and my, how it had grown from the last time we performed there two years ago!  Although the weather was somewhat dodgy in the morning the sun came out in force during the afternoon and the sell-out event really got into the festival spirit with its fascinating array of stalls, real owls (probably real ales too) and non-stop music. The few drops of rain that signalled the beginning of our set only served to bring our audience closer to us and what a great audience it was. With beach balls and ducks flying around the tent, babies, teenagers and the more mature, really got into the swing of things, singing and dancing along. And some very pleasing comments for us. Thanks to the organisers for their sterling work. I hope we get invited back.

Saturday 14 June 2014

What a great last gig before a much-needed break for holidays. We were back at one of our favourite venues, Colchester Arts Centre, but on the same night as England played its opening game in the World Cup, so we were expecting a smaller audience than usual.  We were more than pleasantly surprised when our start was delayed while more chairs were put out due to a last minute rush. They were a wonderful audience so we were able to get a great rapport going, so much so that we (temporarily) lost the duck and a beach ball during our enthusiastic set. Jo shimmied with her version of the dance of the veils, John nearly wore out his spoons, Phil went down a storm and Dave and Brian were applauded before they got down to business in ‘Duelling Ukes’ and we got a standing ovation. We will be back next year, Colchester!

Saturday 7 June 2014

The words ‘outdoor festival’ and ‘rain’ usually go together as frequently as ‘egg and bacon’ or  ‘cheese on toast’ but on this occasion I am pleased to report, it was certainly not the case.  We arrived at Woodlands School, Warley and set up camp on an immaculate field – lush green grass and not a sliver of mud in sight – although some punters were equipped with the regulation wellington boots.  The sun shone down on us as we headlined an afternoon and evening of live and feel-good music and we soon whipped up a dancing contingent. By the end of the set, when we were well into Duelling Ukes and its subsequent hoedown there were teams of people on the shoulders of other people charging up and down like wobbly knights on top of very uncertain horses.  And we got free wine into the bargain.  A fun evening and a very good way for Brian and I to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

Saturday 31 May 2014

Up bright and early (well early!) and we sped our way to sunny Colchester for a spot of busking to promote our Arts Centre show in two weeks’ time. Setting up camp in Eld Lane, we sang our way through a complete set, had a bit of a break, then did it all again. Shoppers gave generously and the shops themselves were happy for us to be there – in fact one of them said he wished we were there every day – and they did their bit by putting up posters and taking flyers. Poster pup Scout raised the ‘wow’ factor by being unbelieveably cute and attracting admirers to our cause. With every leaflet given out and nearly every song sung we made our way home, tired but happy.

Friday 30 May 2014

We made a welcome return to a great pub in Walthamstow – Ye Olde Rose and Crown. Although we had to go on an hour later than planned (a play was in progress in the theatre upstairs), we soon got into our stride and made some new fans in the process. We had a bit of a scare when Martin’s duck went AWOL (probably because of its treatment at the last gig), but he found it cowering in one of our cases and it has now fully recovered. Total strangers danced with other total strangers and ‘Smoke’ went down a storm. Peppe’s wonderful pizzas, cooked in a blazing oven outside, made it a perfect evening.

Saturday 24 May 2014

We played our second gig at the beautiful Talbooth, Dedham today, this time for Matt and Alice’s wedding. The first time it poured with rain all day; this time it poured with rain but we did have sunny intervals which resulted in a rainbow across the perfectly manicured lawns which were greener than a Tom Jones song. Inside the marquee, the guests danced and danced, although at one point we lost them for a while as they all streamed outside to watch the miracle that is the sun. We soon got them back dancing in an extremely enthusiastic fashion and Martin’s duck was dropped-kicked to within an inch of its life. We managed to foil a plot to kidnap Brian’s cow just before his vital ‘cow solo’. A great evening with two encores and a special mention to the little girl who knew how to pogo to Ever Fallen In Love.

Saturday 17 May 2014

What a fun-packed Saturday that was! Taking up residence in Chelmsford’s Cramphorn Theatre for over 12 hours was well worth it. We were all there bright and early to set up for our third D’Ukulele festival which ran from midday to five pm and from my vantage point on the D’Ukes information stall I can safely say that it was a triumph. Seven great acts took to the stage during the afternoon, wowing the crowds with their dexterity and variety of music. An open mic session brought with it the unexpected pleasure of a tiny girl, playing solo uke to the crowd, followed by a succession of age ranges I would not like to guess at. Visitors browsed a great variety of ukes for sale on the Allegro stall or marvelled at Astrig’s beautiful uke-related ceramics. The day was rounded off in traditional style with a mass-uke jam. Despite having a broken and dislocated shoulder – he’s not one to do things by halves – soundman Mike worked with all the acts as well as us in the evening, ably assisted by Tony. Dave and John gave an interview to Chelmsford Community Radio where Dave demonstrated his famous ‘uke behind the head’ playing technique. John was sporting a spectacular black eye following an argument with a ladder but at least it was radio so it went unnoticed.

And What better end to a glorious day than playing to a sell-out concert in the Cramphorn Theatre. A wonderfully enthusiastic audience welcomed us with open arms (literally!) and we shook hands, hugged or spoke with most of them during our now-customary exit via the auditorium. And we made a lot of new supporters and friends.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Dave was on the radio (again!) this evening chatting about Saturday’s D’Ukulele and future D’Ukes’ gigs such as Colchester Arts Centre and Walthamstock. This follows recent phone interviews with the Braintree & Witham Times and the Essex Chronicle and studio visits to Leisure FM and Chelmsford Community Radio. Anyone would think we had a book to sell. Somebody happen to know Graham Norton’s phone number?

Saturday 10 May 2014

No gig tonight! For the very first time we had to cancel a gig when our sound man – the indispensable Mike – dislocated his shoulder. Apologies to Hatfield Peverel Village Hall but we promise to come back one day! However, with Phil volunteering to drive and the rest of us in training as roadies, we are looking forward to springing back into action at the Cramphorn Theatre next Saturday for D’Ukulele and our evening concert. Which brings me back to puzzling thought. What do normal people do on a Saturday night? O.K so there is Eurovision tonight, which is far from normal. Watching a film? Playing with your kittens? Cleaning your cupboards? Planning to tour your one-man-show(?)!

Sunday 4 May 2014

The second ‘slice of bread’ was a return trip to Dave Heaney’s programme at Leisure FM, where we chatted about ourselves (our favourite subject), up-coming gigs and where we want to be in the future. (Rich and famous doesn’t even begin to cover it!). Halfway through our interview, I noticed a commotion outside and a man rushing into the second studio with what looked like a sick baby in his arms. It turned out to be ace ventriloquist Steven Hewlett who recently wowed the audience on Britain’s Got Talent. He was a great guy who happily posed for photos with our family members.

Saturday 3 May 2014

Next up, the ‘filling’. We helped Beryl and Mike celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary at Rochford Bowls Club, What a great couple and what lovely friends, who danced the night away with the gay abandon of a bunch of teenagers. We were invited to eat with them and they even made us cups of tea and coffee as we packed away.

Wednesday 30 April 2014

A radio ‘sandwich’. First up, we descended on Chelmsford Community Radio at the picturesque Moulsham Mill to chat to presenters Lucy and Jamie, play a track from our live CD and to take part in a game. Jo was nominated for this as she was the slowest to say ‘not me’. Unfortunately, she did not win, but it’s the taking part that counts, isn’t it?

Saturday 26 April 2014

What a brilliant evening! The Lincoln Lounge near Kings Cross has always been a favourite of ours but tonight was just the best. A small but very appreciative audience roared its approval, Brian got a spontaneous round of applause for his melodica solo, Dave got mistaken for Neil Young, we got an offer to stay on a farm in Virginia if we ever toured the States, someone might book us for a divorce party and I got kissed by a punter bearing an uncanny resemblance to Johnny Depp. And where else would you get a landlord wielding his cordless drill so that we could hang our cables neatly from the ceiling? (Answers on a postcard please). Can’t wait to go back.

Monday 21 April 2014

No pub gig for months then two come along at once! Our second Easter outing was at the World’ s End, Tilbury, whose landlady Sam put on a fund-raising event for the Essex Air Ambulance. Lovely sunny afternoon, a hazy view of Kent in the distance, enormous container vessels gliding effortlessly by, the waft of barbecue and the contented murmer of families enjoying us and the sunshine. Oh and Brian made his debut as a raffle ticket prize announcer.

Saturday 19 April 2014

An evening of firsts – our first pub gig in quite a while, our first gig at the Good Intent, Hornchurch and a first outing for a recently learned song, Islands In The Stream. It was a lively crowd and we got some of them dancing, which is always a good sign. Johnny Cash proved a particular favourite, Dave got a lot of attention for his Smoke On The Water solo and John looked particularly fetching in chequered red and black sweat bands.

Saturday 12 April 2014

D’Ukes members Martin and John had a great time today helping out at a Hornchurch’s East Coast Music shop. Their two workshops at the ‘Learn to Play Day’ were full and resulted in nearly 30 people learning this great little instrument. John tells me that by the end of the sessions the majority of the students were able to play ‘You Are My Sunshine’. It looks as though we have made some new friends as well.

Saturday 5 April 2014

The weather being kind to us? Surely not? But yes, on Saturday we were playing outdoors and the sun shone. We were supporting the Canal Fun Day at Indigo Wharf, Chelmsford, and had great fun shoeing in some appropriate songs such as ‘The Tide Is High’ and ‘Echo Beach’. (O.K, so that last one was stretching it a bit). The Mayor of Chelmsford was there to unveil a specially designed sculptural bench and there was a treasure trail, beautiful narrow boats glided past like colourful swans as we played and importantly there were free cakes, lots of them, courtesy of the Oasis Church. What was not to like? There was a spontaneous rendering of ‘Duelling Ukes’ between Dave and a narrow boat whistle. (If you are intrigued you should have been there). A highly enjoyable afternoon.

Saturday 29 March 2014

Today saw us in the wilds of Lincolnshire, helping Anthony to celebrate his 40th birthday. It was another first for us – playing in the gardens of a most intriguing eco-house complete with its roof and walls of ivy. The garden was awash with a sea of daffodils, the rhubarb was as high as an elephant’s eye and the chickens were mellow. People danced and the 8th (honorary) member of the band, Anthony himself, who is learning the uke, joined us on Folsom Prison Blues. The birthday cake was wonderful. Thanks to Kirsty and Anthony for inviting us.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Another first! We are getting used to having colourful lighting at gigs but it’s quite a different experience to go on stage accompanied by swirling lasers. That’s what happened at Brookside Theatre, Romford on Saturday and it felt fantastic. Brookside is a charming community theatre run by volunteers and they really helped to make it a show to remember. As well as lasers, we had smoke, lots of coloured lights and a huge screen behind us projecting images to accompany our songs. We also met Fossie, the tabby theatre cat, who is not averse to coming up on stage, so we we are told. That’s the end of our current mini-theatre. Now we need to finalise the new songs for our next gig. Can’t wait.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Never let it be said that D’Ukes lets the grass grow under its feet. We were up early on Saturday for a trip to Romford and a delightful afternoon busking in South Street to support The Marie Curie Daffodil Appeal. It’s the first time Jo and I have sung ‘Waterloo’ opposite a municipal, er loo. We were also there to promote the last leg of our current theatre tour at the Brookside Theatre on Saturday 22 March. And… love was in the air; Jo’s Chihuahua fell for a Great Dane. Well, it is Spring…

Friday 14 March 2014

The third theatre performance of our ‘mini tour’ took place at the Witham Public Hall on Friday to a packed audience. The stage was great, a real stepping back in time to plush velvet curtains and ornamental columns decked with leaves and swags of fruit. We also gained more supporters on the way. Hope we get invited back!

Thursday 13 March 2014

I could really get to like this rock and roll lifestyle! Thursday found us at the Phoenix FM studio in Brentwood to do a live chat with Bob Simpson and play some of our tracks. Actually we weren’t all there because some of the band still have to work for a living, but four of us had a great time. Leaving Brentwood, we pressed on to Ilford and a newspaper interview in a charming little café with a reporter from the Romford Recorder. Then home for a quick bite to eat before rehearsals.

Tuesday 11 March 2014

Dave, Martin and John dropped in to the Lincoln Lounge, King’s Cross in the evening to experience one of Tricity Vogue’s infamous Cabaret Evenings and managed to have a long chat with the singer herself. There is an underworld of ukulele cabaret out there which one day may burst to surface! Excellent stuff and it inspired us to have thoughts of going to the Edinburgh Fringe one day. Good to chat with Paul from The P’Ukes and others too.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Next stop was the Maritime Room at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend overlooking the sea (actually the Thames at its widest!). The venue was another first for us, and a sell-out, with a great audience. Playing against a backdrop of a misty, twilight horizon on a mild, dreamy night was a bonus for us and we made a lot of friends, including ukulele players, and Martin received his third marriage proposal this year! Again, we were well looked after by the staff in the refreshment department. We will be back in Southend in July for another gig in Priory Park. Get your deck-chair booked now.

Thursday 6 March 2014

Our mini-tour of East Anglian theatres has begun with our first appearance at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich. And what a beautiful theatre it was, with its magenta walls and black Shakespearian balconies. The back-stage facilities were spot-on, with unlimited tea and coffee and even a silver sparkly loo seat in the green room toilet! We played to a largely new audience who thoroughly enjoyed it judging by the countless comments received as they left the theatre and later via email and Facebook. The theatre staff were great, providing us with a white backdrop for our new slide-show, plenty of smoke for our Deep Purple number, and an atmospheric light show. We are looking forward to a return visit already.

Saturday 1 March 2014

Our first gig in March was a warm-up at Hatfield Peverel Village Hall before taking to the road for our theatre tour. Arrived to set up and found the place completely deserted but within a short while of us playing lots of people turned up and made the evening worthwhile. The great thing about our band is that we have such fun and the audience take up our enthusiasm as they dance and sing along. We even met up with ex-founder member of the band, Jamie, who popped into his local for a beer and a happy reunion. Only six more gigs to go now this month!

Friday 28 February 2014

Last week saw our first live show for Phoenix Fridays at the Society of Old Brentwoods. We had a fantastic evening watching some great talent, including American-born, Colchester-based singer Philip Marino, Loretta and The Voice contestant Ryan Green. We received a very warm welcome from the audience when we took to the stage and made lots of new contacts and friends. Pleased with our performance and thanks to all the guys at Phoenix FM for making it such a wonderful evening which ended with much photo-taking and mutual admiration. Looking forward to hearing the evening on Phoenix FM in early March.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Telly last week, radio this week! We all went down to Leisure FM Studios Coggeshall on Sunday to chat and play live on the Dave Heaney Show. As well as seven ukes players, microphones, bass amp and monitor, we all managed to squeeze into the small studio along with bongos and various other percussion including the rubber cow and harmonica. Sound man Mike was relegated to the corridor so he had the luxury of space. We were also filmed on webcam so there was no hiding place and during our show we even had someone email us for a possible booking having just heard us, which was nice! Thanks to Dave and crew for the marvellous welcome and hot drinks on a very blustery day.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

We were on the telly (again!). ‘Come Dine With Me’ on Channel Four featured us as the after dinner entertainment when Tony from Colchester competed against four other chefs for a £1,000 prize. This was all recorded in secret last year at Tony and Jo’s house and we all had a great time introducing the ukulele to the other contestants and serenading them with ‘I Want To Marry A Lighthouse Keeper’, Tony’s favourite song. Our previous venture on the small screen was when we played to contestants in the Channel Five Big Brother House, entertaining them with some good old Johnny Cash!

Thursday 13 February 2014

What a great welcome we had at the Gateway Club in Braintree on Thursday! We were invited along to play to members at a Valentine’s social evening, with some of them in fancy dress (Hazel never thought she would have her photo taken with Elvis!). The evening went down a storm, with members of the audience joining in most of the songs and dancing enthusiastically. They are old friends of ours now and we are looking forward to going back.

Saturday 8 February 2014

Saturday night and it was party-time at the Marconi Club, Chelmsford to celebrate the birthday of one of Dave’s students. It was a great night with lots of dancing and the band gained several new followers. D’Ukes love a good party and some of the band took the opportunity to combine it with ‘Call Everyone Dave’ Day, to celebrate the life of the recently-departed ‘Only Fools And Horses’ actor Roger Lloyd-Pack. We sang ‘Happy birthday dear Dave’ but drew the line at Brian’s suggestion that we did ‘A Dave Like This’.

Minutes before we were due to start playing disaster nearly struck when Hazel’s ukulele had a severe pick-up malfunction, but every cloud has a silver lining and the result was she got to play one of the coolest-looking ukes on the planet (her opinion!). This may have been due in part to being married to the man who has two of the coolest-looking ukes on the planet!

Thursday 6 February 2014

Final rehearsal tonight before Saturday’s party. Pleased with our arrangement of Green Day’s Basket Case and making good progress with Echo Beach. Seemed complicated at first but it’s falling into place quickly. Also had time for a bit of admin: we all sat and addressed some envelopes of potential gig venues. Maybe sending a good old fashioned letter to a few places will get us a gig or two!

Saturday 1 February 2014

On this wintry Saturday afternoon we sat in Jo’s cosy Tudor sitting room surrounded by large congas, looking slightly apprehensive (us, not the congas). With us was Jane, renowned percussionist who has travelled all over the world playing anything she can beat, shake or tap while imparting her skills to others. Yes, this was a D’Ukes percussion workshop. Samba, son, rhumba – you name it we tried it. Before long we were cooking up a respectable beat and Dave was soon declared a ‘good slapper’. Other band members mumbled that it wasn’t as easy as it looks. Minutes later, as the sterling track says, we were all ‘in the mood’ and now the ukes were joining in as we added our new-found skills to the set.

All that shaking and tapping makes you hungry, so before long long we were happily tucking into a superb meal provided by Jo and Tony. A few glasses of wine later our skills seemed to have improved, or at least we had become much louder, and we rounded off this great evening by performing some more D’Ukes songs to our audience comprising long-suffering Jan (she won’t admit it) and a small dog intent on eating the furniture.

Saturday 25 January 2014

It was our belated Christmas dinner this evening at the Kings Head, Gosfield. It was good to be able to mingle with partners, relatives and some some of those who came to Prague such as Dave and Peter. We’ve got to thank the management for allowing us to bring small amps with us and perform a few songs throughout the evening, and also the customers for putting up with us. Alan Thatcher from Yester’Ukes dropped in and led a couple of his band’s songs with Jo singing, including a swinging version of Guantanamera. A chap from Leicester kindly took Dave’s hat round the bar and collected some coins for us. Pity he won’t be with us next time. Oh, the food was good too and we finished the evening with our usual crowd pleaser, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. Definitely would like to return in a few months time and invite lots more guests along.

2 November 2013

BEER, CHEER AND HAPPY NEW YEAR! The only sensible thing to do at Christmas is to enjoy yourself, so why not join D’Ukes as they head for the bright lights in London on the run-up to the festive season. First up on 7 December is the small but perfectly formed Lincoln Lounge, York Way, Kings Cross. Get in early for a cosy seat and a good view. On 14 December the band will rock at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub, 55 Hoe Street, Walthamstowe, followed by the Christmas party to end all Christmas parties at the Luna Lounge, Church Street, Leytonstone. All gigs are free.

NEXT YEAR… THEATRES GALORE D’Ukes are gearing up for a host of theatre gigs next year in what promises to be their most exciting year. They will be bringing their full stage show to theatres in Norwich, Diss, Southend, Witham, Romford, Chelmsford, Colchester and Hornchurch. Not only that, but 2014 sees the return of the highly successful D’Ukulele festival at the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford. Watch this space for further details.

MERRY CHRISTMAS! D’Ukes would like to say a big thanks to all who have supported them throughout another great year of firsts for the band: their first appearance at the legendary Half Moon, Putney, the first double sell-out at the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford, and the first time headlining the Czech Republic’s International Ukulele Festival. People making the year very special include loyal followers, promoters, theatre staff, publicans and uke sellers. A very Merry Christmas and happy New Year from Dave, John, Martin, Phil, Jo, Brian, Hazel, soundman Mike (Nobby), Tony (right-hand-man) and not forgetting The Duck!

03 October 2013

THEY’RE BACK FROM THE CZECH REPUBLIC AND RARING TO GO! D’Ukes and their followers are back from a stonking mini tour of the Czech Republic in which they got to play at one of Prague’s most beautiful theatres in the town centre, did an impromptu busk at a restaurant and ended up headlining the Czech Republic’s first ukulele festival – in a brewery. A big thank you to Ben and all the Czech guys for organising it, to the loyal fans who travelled to Prague and a Hello to all the wonderful new friends they made from Europe, the States and Australia. Next year could be one hell of a reunion!

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE A LITTLE JOHNNY CASH to ‘blow your Sunday evening blues away’ so why not come along to the Brentwood Theatre on Sunday 20 October at 7.30pm and let D’Ukes rock your boat. Whether you like hard rock or harmonies, Zutons or Zombies, there will be something for you. Tickets are available by contacting any band member or by ringing the Box Office on 01277 200305.

CHRISTMAS BALLS… The band is working hard in the period leading up to Christmas with charity fund-raisers, two Halloween gigs, the Community Links Toy Appeal in Newham, not to mention private parties and weddings. Use the website contact form if you’re interested in booking the band for your special event.

AND LONDON PUB CRAWLS… On 17 November the band is also making a welcome return to the legendary Half Moon, Putney where many of the very great bands of our time including the Rolling Stones, The Who and U2 once performed. On 7 December, D’Ukes will be back at the Lincoln Lounge, Kings Cross – a cosy venue but with a great party vibe – and will also be rocking the rafters at Ye Olde Rose and Crown, Walthamstow on 14 December and the Luna Lounge in Leytonstone on 21 December.

I WANT TO MARRY A LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER? Watch this space – the band will have some exciting news concerning this song!

01 August 2013

ALL THEIR BAGS ARE PACKED AND READY TO GO…. in the words of the John Denver song, D’Ukes are soon off to headline the Czech Republic’s first ever ukulele festival which features performers from all over the world. The band will be playing the Malostranská Beseda Theatre, Prague on Thursday 29 August, followed by performances in the Brewery at Únětice on Friday and the festival on Saturday. If you fancy a break in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, come along and join them, you will have a great time!

D’UKES ARE GIGGING MOST WEEKS SOMEWHERE IN THE COUNTRY but if you want to see the full unexpurgated show in the comfort of a top theatre near you come to Wyllyotts Theatre, Potters Bar, Herts, on Friday 27 September. Tickets are on sale now at the theatre at http://www.tickets.wyllyottstheatre.co.uk/calendar/2013-9-27.

Alternatively see them at one of the following:

Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop’s Stortford, Saturday 5 October http://www.rhodesbishopsstortford.org.uk/events/dukes-ukelele-band/
Brentwood Theatre, Sunday 20 October http://www.ents24.com/brentwood-events/brentwood-theatre/dukes/3493281
Half Moon, Putney, Sunday 17 November http://thehalfmoon.musicglue.com/events/17-nov-13-dukes-the-half-moon/

BEWARE THE ‘BEAUTIFUL DAY’ Just watch out next time you settle down for a D’Ukes performance and you hear them striking up the unmistakable sounds of the Olympic song ‘One Day Like This’ by Elbow. If you are in the open air, you’d best reach for your umbrella as the said song brought down more than was bargained for in an open air performance at a field in Little Burstead, Billericay, recently. The heavens opened, lightning struck and thunder echoed all around. Undaunted the hardy audience came out with umbrellas and danced in the rain. Order was restored the next day in Southend’s Priory Park, when the sun smiled on the band all afternoon.

10 June 2013

‘PEWS TO BOOZE’ TOUR CONTINUES  D’Ukes are performing to the pews on Saturday 15 June 8pm at a former church better known as Colchester Arts Centre. Tickets are available from the box office at www.colchesterartscentre.com or just turn up on the night. Next month the band are ‘playing the booze’ at the Chelmsford beer festival in Admiral’s Park on the afternoon of Friday 12 July. The band have already completed its first  ‘Pews to Booze’ tour beginning at Chelmsford Cathedral and ending up with a great summer beer festival at the Gun Pub, Pitsea.

FAREWELL TO GERI  Singer, uke-player and one of the founder members of D’Ukes, Geri will be playing her last gig with the band at Colchester Arts Centre on Saturday 15 June. It’s the end of era but knowing Geri she won’t be mothballing her uke, resting her lovely voice or putting her feet up.   Look out for her on the music circuit as she puts her talents to new projects.

….AND D’UKES SAID GOODBYE TO ST ANNES  D’Ukes performed a farewell gig recently for two of their favourite landlords, Dave and Pat Balcombe as they prepare for retirement. Dave and Pat of St Anne’s Castle, Great Leighs gave D’Ukes their first public gig three years ago and also made them a beautiful cake when they played their 100th gig. Dave and Pat have worked tirelessly to promote live music and the band wish them well.

NEW VIDEOS SHOW D’UKES IN ACTION  Watch out for new videos of the band in action at their sell-out shows at the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford. Join ‘I’m A D’Ukes Supporter!’ on Facebook and you could have a song especially dedicated to you at a gig.  You may also catch sight of the band busking in a street near you this summer!  If so, come over and say ‘Hello’.

NEW TWITTER FOLLOWERS  now include a uke player from Hong Kong!  Just goes to show, music (and the uke) is a universal language!

D’UKES AT RHODES  D’Ukes have added another theatre gig, their first at the Rhodes Centre, Bishops Stortford on 5 October. For those interested it will also include afternoon workshops for beginners and improvers. Watch this space for details.

30 April 2013

CHELMSFORD GOES UKE CRAZY! Chelmsford positively buzzed last weekend as D’Ukes held their second ukulele festival in the city. The Cramphorn Theatre was packed out all afternoon with enthusiasts watching a series of tremendously talented bands take to the stage and wow the audience with their performances. Those new to the instrument were able to learn chords and songs at a workshop, buy a new uke from Andy at James Dace Music’s stall and then perform on stage in the mass jam at the end of the day. There was also Astrig’s stall selling beautiful mementoes in the shape of hand-crafted ceramics and tiny animals sporting ukuleles. Some these designs have featured in the Harry Potter films and Star Wars.

AND CHELMSFORD WENT D’UKES CRAZY TOO! On Friday and Saturday evenings last weekend D’Ukes played to full houses at the Cramphorn Theatre and earned two standing ovations and a record number of people asking to join their Facebook page D’Ukes I’m A Supporter. Join now if you haven’t done so already and get regular updates on where D’Ukes are performing.

TICKETS SELLING WELL FOR COLCHESTER If you missed D’Ukes last weekend, or have never seen their full show, why not book tickets for Colchester Arts Centre? It’s a brilliant venue with a club-like atmosphere and a great vibe. Tickets are now on sale for Saturday 15 June at 8.00pm, price £10 (£8 concessions) and are available from Colchester Arts Centre Box Office on 01206 500900 or online at http://www.colchesterartscentre.com/gigs/dukes-1.

D’UKES DO QUEEN’S ON SUNDAY 2 JUNE at 7.30pm. If reclining on comfy sofas is your thing, don’t do it alone at home in front of the telly. Instead, bag your own at the Queen’s Theatre Foyer and settle down to D’Ukes and their full stage show. Tickets are available, price £10.50p, from the theatre box office on 01708 443333 or online at http://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/shows/277/dukes.

CATCH D’UKES ON PHOENIX FM on the Bob Simpson Show, Sunday 12 May. It starts at 3.00pm and will be featuring chat and live music from the band. To listen live, tune in on http://www.phoenixfm.com/listen-live/.

20 March 2013

BISHOPS STORTFORD THEATRE GIG ANNOUNCED  D’Ukes will be performing at the Rhodes Theatre in Bishops Stortford on Saturday 5th October. The band will also be hosting afternoon workshops to cater for all ukulele players including beginners and the more advanced. More information to follow.

MARIE CURIE FUND RAISER A SUCCESS The band enjoyed a successful day on the Kings Road busking in front of shoppers and tourists last Saturday collecting hundreds of pounds for the Marie Curie charity. D’Ukes are hoping to be equally successful for Farleigh Hospice in Chelmsford city centre on 22nd June.

7 March 2013

CRAMPHORN THEATRE TICKETS SOLD OUT ALREADY! The evening concert that follows D’Ukulele has sold out two months ahead of its Saturday 27 April performance date. A new date has been added: Friday 26th April so if you still want to see the band telephone 01245 606505, or book via the website at: www.chelmsford.gov.uk/theatres

D’UKES HEADLINING FIRST CZECH UKEFEST The band are heading off to the Czech Republic again, this time from 28 August to 1 September, to take part in the country’s first ever ukulele festival featuring acts from around the world. They are also performing at a concert in Prague itself. Some of the band’s fans will be travelling with them over the five-day break and the band is looking forward to meeting the friends they made last year at the Masopust carnival.

‘OVER THE MOON’ is what you could say the band felt about playing the Half Moon Pub, Putney, one of their most prestigious gigs yet. In January they trod the boards where, in the past, bands such as The Rolling Stones, U2, The Who, k.d lang, Kasabian, Morrissey, Van Morrison, Kate Bush, Amy McDonald and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain performed. Even better, they have been asked back in November!

D’UKULELE! COMING IN APRIL It’s now the second year of D’Ukulele which is again being hosted by the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford, and will take place on Saturday 27 April 2013. The event will be opened by the Mayor and Mayoress of Chelmsford and a stunning line-up has now been confirmed, many of whom have not performed at the festival before. There will be the old favourites too, ukes and uke-related accessories for sale, hand-made ceramics, an open mic session and of course, the ever popular mass strum! An information stall will be on hand to answer all those uke-related questions you never knew you wanted to ask until now and refreshments will be on sale. The festival runs from 12 noon until 5.00pm and admission is £3 on the door.



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