Newkulele — a good festival

Newcastle’s Newkulele festival was the first for me on so many counts.

I’ve attended a number of SPRUKE festivals, but never a festival run by another group. I had a great time, in part because I was a member of the BUMS Festival Group (BFG), a great band of performers (another first for me), and in part because there were some fantastic shows in a magnificent venue — Newcastle City Hall.

Newcastle City Hall

Memorable moments were Ukulele Death Squad and The Coconut Kids (almost, but not quite the same), the Loveys and Manitoba Hal. Sure there were other mainstream performers, but the aforementioned stood out, providing great music, quality performances, and entertainment.

The Coconut Kids, without their female parts become the Ukulele Death Squad. Both South Australian bands have so much energy, the performance leaves some of the popular Internet performers languishing in the background.

It’s the same with Hal Brolund, aka Manitoba Hal, to whom I have enjoyed listening over the last four years. Hal is a consummate professional, whose music and performance always differs. He has a depth to his repertoire that comes with the years of experience he enjoys, and though you can see him on YouTube, and Facebook, his stage presence is always original and entertaining. Due to the withdrawal of another performer, Hal borrowed a baritone ukulele and played a brilliant set from his baritone repertoire that hadn’t been performed for his Australian fans.

And come to mention it, just because some players seem fantastic on social media, that doesn’t mean they make good stage entertainment. So it was with Honoka and Azita, who are definitely talented. But if you’ve seen them on YouTube and Facebook, you’ve seen their best. Disappointingly, they did not play anything different from their social media performances, and although they got through a 30-minute set, they admitted they were done after 15 minutes. Great strumming though!

The Montgomery brothers came on stage announcing they were going to have some fun. They played cleverly, and they played well, and it looked like they were having fun. Sadly, it was not really entertaining for this member of the large theatre-based audience. Might have been better suited to a small intimate venue.

The Brisbane Contingent

For the first time, the Newkulele program was literally peppered with Brisbane performers — and I heard all of these guys — BUMS Festival Group (BFG), the Hypnotonics (my local heroes), Ukulele Saints, Girt by C,  the Redland City Ukes, and was that Darrel Reeves strumming with Nuke M?

The Brisbane contingent did us proud. The BFG had rave reviews from most quarters, with the Ukulele “Opera” a great success. A fantastic combo of songs and an intriguing narrative. Hypnotonics gave Newcastle a taste of Brisbane, with some extraordinary song and dance and instrumental routines. The Ukulele Saints were great, stretching their halos well above their heads. Girt By C performer, Peter Ransom, was accompanied by his lovely wife Jenny who danced the hula to “Little Grass Shack”. RCU, by far the biggest Brisbane group on stage, put in a very polished performance.

I look forward to attending Newkulele’s sister festival, our very own SPRUKE 2019 next September, to hear more of them.

Max B.