Friday, 2 August 2013

George Formby Society - a major Ukafrolic at Morecambe Winter Gardens! July 2013

"George Formby Society Convention

Saturday 27th July – all day event

Following the success of last year’s convention, Formby followers are back in full force for their latest fan convention at the Morecambe Winter Gardens! George Formby, one of Britain’s biggest stars of the 1930s and 1940s, famously performed at the Winter Gardens theatre, switched on the Morecambe Illuminations in 1950 and even judged the Miss Great Britain beauty contest at the Morecambe Super Swimming Stadium!"

So reads the Events page on the Morecambe Winter Gardens website. Such a beautiful old theatre, closed to the public since 1977, hugely in need of restoration... it had been arranged that the society would hold a one-day convention there, free to all, just for the fun of using a lovely old theatre that George had played in, of standing on the same stage, on the spot that he had stood on... we, the Formby faithful are used to going to conventions in Blackpool up to four times a year, and we wondered how well this one-off jaunt rather further up the coast would be supported, but no worries, there was a good crowd, and quite a few folk came in off the street as well, to see what it was all about.

Morecambe was a thriving seaside resort in the mid-20th century. It had three piers, several large theatres, and was once very popular... but I remembered it from the 80's, when we vowed we'd never return - an English seaside town that the world seemed to have turned its back on, sad and shabby in the extreme... (the piers all went ages ago.) So we had no high hopes of Morecambe itself when we set off to fight our way up the M6 motorway, notoriously busy on Fridays.

But we needn't have worried, the place looks so different now! We found the promenade a pretty and fun place to be, with new gardens, an iconic statue of Morecambe's most famous son Eric Morecambe, of the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise, and at the end, the fabulous art deco Midland Hotel, restored to glory in recent years. And the weather, too, was glorious - the sea was in, and people were bathing and swimming in it! Glory be indeed...

The first thing we had done after checking in at our hotel on Friday was to find the Winter Gardens, just yards up the street on the promenade.

Some key GFS members were already there, checking the place out and preparing for Saturday.
MY brain reeled as I took in first impressions looking around this large, once beautiful old theatre. The walls are stripped back to bare brick, the floor is bare, there are free-standing chairs in the stalls, where once there would have been fixed plush seating - and not all of them had been put out yet. At the same time, the ornate plasterwork on the ceiling and all around the circle appears virtually intact though sorely in need of new paint, and the imagination leaps to how it must have been back in the day; sumptuous, a veritable wonder-palace of entertainment. You think, all at once, how sad, but how wonderful that major efforts are being made to gradually bring it back to its former glory.
To see it, Look here for a smashing little video showing the interior, and all about the restoration work. I fell in love with the place immediately. And stunning professional photos here - you just have to look!
The photo above, (thanks Peter Pollard) shows Alan Kershaw on stage while Alan Chenery looks to his sound system... the anticipation grows!
A gorgeous day ended with a gorgeous sunset to rival anything Key West has to evening drinking good beer with good Formby friends, and we were all set for Saturday's fun.

Getting ready for the first concert....

The banner's out ready - and folk are coming in...

The lads are in town! Always great to see these talented youngsters!

Peter Pollard and Andy Poppleton - a great partnership...

I'd had no intention of going on stage - but Peter Pollard was having none of it - "You must - they need people to get up there...." so Caroline and I decide to give 'em Lili Marlene again. Quick practice outside - shame we live a few hundred miles apart! What a lovely stage to perform on... Laurel and Hardy, George Formby, Vera Lynn, Sir Lawrence Olivier (in the the film The Entertainer) - the Rolling Stones! And me. What a privilege - what a nerve!

You know, I started this blog just over a year ago to share my ukulele journey, and I have had such fun, made such good friends. I still feel as if I have no business to be performing on stage, and a little more comfortable as part of a duo or group - but it was a blast. I hadn't sung this since the first time we did it, back in March in Blackpool, and we can only run it through a couple of times anyway... but I sang the first verse in German, and Caroline winged it with some harmony. I think we got away with it. And the thrash - you know, where everyone gets up to play together... that was just tremendous on that stage at the Winter Gardens...

This was the afternoon concert. In the evening would come the best, some up for the first time that day, like the wonderful Matthew Richards, some giving us a second helping - Alan Yates, Lewis Clifton, Peter Pollard, and many other super performers too numerous to mention - and Caroline Stewart (was Robson) playing my lovely Kiwaya KTS-4 wooden uke, with "I'll See You in My Dreams" - simply tremendous. I'm so jealous. Wish I had her lovely voice.... but before that, we all piled out, down the road for a photo with Eric - the great late lamented Eric Morecambe - who once famously said, as he did a sketch with Andre Previn - "I'm playing all the right notes - but not necessarily in the right order!"


Thanks again to Peter Pollard for three of these lovely pics, and to LSH, my darling Long-Suffering-Husband for the rest...

This has been a longer post than usual and it's time I went and did something else... thanks for dropping in to share my uke journey!

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