Tony Hillier

Hillier's Hotline

Issue #13 June 2011: Ukulele Utopia



Over the first weekend in July, our tropical wonderland will become a veritable Ukulele Utopia. For three days, Far North Queensland will be the centre of the uke-playing universe, and there’s every chance Cairns will remain on top of the world for a good while after as well.

The second Cairns Ukulele Festival (July 1-3) is on a mission to get itself into the Guinness Book of Records as a world record holder. “We want to break the official record of largest ukulele ensemble performing a live song,” explains festival director Gaby Thomasz. “We came close last year, but fell short of the record, so we’re going to try again this year at around 5pm on Saturday July 2nd at the Courthouse Hotel courtyard in the Cairns CBD. We need at least 852 players to break the record. We’re actually hoping to have as many as a thousand players, so we’re calling on everyone with a uke to come out and play. This is your chance to be part of history and break a world record!” The attempt has been officially registered with Guinness World Records.

The song that will be played this year in the assault on the 'Largest Ukulele Ensemble' record will be 'Iko Iko' - a number with a catchy calypso feel. More importantly, it only has two chords so it's easy to play.

“It’s fun to sing along to and extremely cheerful, so we are confident we'll have a great time again this year,” says Gaby Thomasz said.

Every person participating must have a ukulele and know the song selected, although they’ll be allowed to use a song sheet, which can be downloaded at the following web site:

Before the world record attempt on Saturday the 2nd, which is scheduled to take place at 5pm, Australia's #1 music book seller, Mike Jackson, will instruct the crowd on how to play the song.

Victoria VoxVictoria Vox

As well as the world record attempt, there will be performances in the courtyard of the Courthouse Hotel all day from midday onwards on the Saturday.  Ukulele Clubs and club members from around the country, from as far away as Perth, will once again descend upon Cairns and not only attend but also perform at the iconic venue. In addition, local schools are also chipping in with several schools performing during the day.

Quite a few local schools have taken on the ukulele as a formal classroom instrument. Although the St Andrews College Ukulele group only formed a few weeks ago, the members are so enthusiastic that they have already performed at two events and are listed on the bill for the 2nd of July at the Cairns Courthouse Hotel.

Following the World Record Attempt there will be performances by international artists. Italian ukulele and YouTube identity Lorenzo 'Ukulollo' Vignando will present a very special performance, incorporating a screen in his performance to show off not only his musicianship but also his amazing video editing skills. His videos have won numerous 'ukulele video of the year awards'. Lorenzo is flying in from Italy especially for this one-off performance!

Thanks to the tireless effort of Gaby Thomasz, festival sponsors Lanikai ukuleles and the Cairns Courthouse Hotel, this full day of entertainment is brought to Cairns, totally free of charge.

“Last year, we proved that this is a great day for the family. People from all ages and backgrounds came together to enjoy and make music. The location, the family-friendly atmosphere, food and sheer joy of people getting together to have a good time made for a very special experience,” she observed. “We look forward to another amazing day of entertainment and community spirit this year, and hopefully a record-breaking experience to boot.”

The performance component of the Cairns Ukulele Festival, which also features a Uke Art Exhibition (hosted by the Tanks Arts Centre) and Ukulele Building Course, commences with the Great Adventures Ukulele Island Gig, on Friday July 1st on Green Island. Two of the festival’s top artists, Japan’s Iwao Yamaguchi and Hawaii’s Craig Chee, will perform a concert and conduct a workshop each. These are included in the ticket price. All of the Green Island packages include the performances and workshops. More information at:

Book direct with Great Adventures. Phone 07 4044 9944 or e-mail:

If you mention the ukulele festival, you receive a special festival discount.

The action then switches to the Cairns Courthouse Hotel on Friday evening for the free session that will feature performances by emerging ukulele artists and a few established performers. There’ll be two stages, one in the front courtyard, and one in the side courtyard, with non-stop entertainment by more than ten acts.  Artists from around Australia will be featured in this Festivals Australia Australian Ukulele Showcase. Hosts of the evening are local ukulele identities Bosko & Honey. They’ll also perform during the evening.  From about 9pm, there will be a blackboard/open mic session.

Acts that will be showcased from 5pm until late include: King Kadu (from Murray Island), Charles J. Tan (Victoria), Nam Nguyen (Victoria), Shaun Chandran (Western Australia), Terry “Terryukes” Sasaki (Queensland), Jon “Eugene Ukulele” Duncan (Tasmania), Renee Searles (NSW), Tyrone (Queensland) and Clare Quinn.

Bosko &Honey will also perform a set at Saturday’s Lanikai Ukulele Day at the Courthouse, another free session that will culminate in the world record attempt at around 5pm. Between 9am and 2pm there’ll be various workshops hosted by international artists. From noon onwards, there’ll be performances by ukulele clubs, schools and other artists. The world record attempt will be followed by a performance by Lanikai-endorsed USA artist Matt “Jumpingflea” Dahlberg with Cairns band The Derringers on guitars and Italian Lorenzo “Ukulollo” Vignando, whose uke videos have garnered massive hits. Check one out at:

HollywaiiansSweet Hollywaiians

The 2011 Cairns Ukulele Festival will culminate on Sunday July 3rd with a series of international showcase concerts at the Tanks Arts Centre. Morning tickets will include performances by the Craig Chee Band, Matt “Jumpingflea” Dahlberg, Iwao Yamaguchi, Renee Searles, AJ Leonard and many more. This ticket also includes a free ‘introduction to the ukulele’ workshop by Mike Jackson. The ticket is valid 10am-4pm. Evening tickets are for performances by Daniel Ho, Brittni Paiva, Victoria Vox, and the Sweet Hollywaiians. The ticket is valid 4pm-8pm. All day tickets allow you to see all performances. Ticket is valid 10am-8pm.

A mind-blowing performance of ukulele playing virtuosity from Canadian James Hill (star of the popular Mighty Uke documentary) climaxed the inaugural Ukefest. This year promises to be equally memorable. Your correspondent is particularly looking forward to catching the Sweet Hollywaiians, a 4-piece retro string band from Osaka, who appear to have stepped straight out of a 1920s’ black and white movie. All members have a love for Hawaiian, swing, ragtime, blues, calypso and Italian music. Together they have created, or perhaps re-created, a brand of music that’s true to the Tin Pan Alley style and era. Check them out at:

Iwao Yamaguchi, another of the Japanese acts, used to be a rock star. Now he’s the ultimate ukulele man, performing old school Hawaiian and jazz numbers. “With more than 10 albums to his name, his repertoire is enormous,” says director Thomasz. “His touch is simply beautiful,” she adds. The other Japanese soloist Shigeto Takahashi, she describes as an “amazing finger picker”. Thomasz saw him when visiting a trade show in Los Angeles some years ago. “His humble and unassuming nature and huge smile have charmed audiences around the globe.” Check them out at:

Multi Grammy award winning Hawaiian Daniel Ho, who mesmerised audiences last year with his beautiful blend of classical, island and reggae ukulele, is back by popular demand. “Daniel has fallen in love with Cairns … so much so that he is interrupting a tour of Japan especially to perform at the Ukulele Festival,” Thomasz volunteers. Here he is performing at last year’s festival:

Two young Hawaiian compatriots, Brittni Paiva and Craig Chee, will join Ho in Cairns. At 21 years of age, Paiva is already regarded as Hawaii’s finest female ukulele player. She has been influenced by jazz, rock, flamenco and classical music as well as music from Brazil, Japan, and elsewhere. See them in action at the following sites:

Victoria Vox, one of two Americans on the bill, is described by Gaby Thomaz as: “The most entertaining and engaging ukulele singer-songwriter I’ve seen.” Consolidating that claim, Vox has a degree in songwriting from the prestigious Berklee College of Music and is known among the ukulele community for her refreshingly modern and rhythmic technique. Here she is, performing Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’:

Matt “Jumpingflea” Dahlberg, one of the undoubted stars of last year’s festival, will be representing the States again. For those who missed him last year, here he is during his stay jamming at Music City in Sheridan St:

Tickets for the performances at the Tanks Arts Centre can be purchased at Ticketlink. Call 1300 855 835 or visit

Last year was a sell-out, so don't delay!

Summary of Cairns Ukulele Festival events:


More information at:


For up-to-the-minute information on what’s happening on the big gig scene in Cairns, and to listen to relevant tracks, tune in to ABC Far North on Friday afternoons between 4:45pm and 5:00pm for Tony Hillier’s World Of Music.


Tony Hillier