Memories of Blackpool – 2017

Just a blast from the past post tonight as I recollect on my 2017 trip to Blackpool, England for the George Formby Society (GFS) Convention at the Imperial Hotel. That is the UK’s major ukulele event that happens four times a year (quarterly) at the old iconic haunted hotel in Blackpool facing the Irish sea.

Blackpool Tower

I decided to go to GFS Convention in 2017 for two reasons: 1) to crack the George Formby strumming technique 2) to visit my best friend John Cash in Grimsby on the other side of the country on the East coast as well. Blackpool is on the West coast. When I arrived in England at Heathrow airport, a bomb had gone off in the Tube (their subway). My sister texted me that she had heard it in the news and I had just gotten there after a long flight from Montreal, Canada and the Tube was shut down and I didn’t understand why. Sis was saying a bomb went off.

Anyway, I took some expensive fast train downtown and then there was a fire at Euston train station (to get to Blackpool) so I had to walk to King’s Cross station to get a train on-the-fly to Blackpool via Leeds. I stood up on the train all the way from London to Leeds, barely moving with my baggage and uke. Such a horrible experience that I never want to repeat ever. Though once at Leeds, I got a seat in the connecting train and could sit down all the way to Blackpool while a loud woman from Essex with friends kept yelling she was from Essex! I wanted a drink but there was no beverage or food service at all.

Once I got to Blackpool and cabbed it to the Imperial Hotel. There was even had a bottle of white wine waiting in my room that I had pre-ordered. I could finally relax and let the weekend unfold.

Petey at the GFS Convention 1997
Can you find Petey at the 1997 GFS Convention?
Some live 2017 action (thrash group jam, Matt Richards, Mike Warren)

The two day weekend event has several components to it. It has thrash jams where anyone can get up on stage and play through some Formby songs as a group. You need to know the version from their own Formby songbooks usually in the open keys like C. There are also featured performers on both days. On the first day, they must perform only Formby songs and on the second day, they can perform anything on the ukulele. They also show a Formby film and have some group introductory lessons that I took. One guy sitting beside me corrected my index finger triplet strum that I had been doing too rigid-like. There was also a breakfast and a get-together in the backroom where one can sell instruments and just chat.

I had a great time and it was handy to stay in the same hotel so I could go rest in my room sometimes. Also, I could use the hotel’s wifi on my iPhone all over the hotel. There is also a nice bar and you can buy drinks and bring them into the banquet hall where the events take place. Very relaxed. They also set up a table of the society to sell song books, CDs, and other Formby-related stuff.

One neat thing is after it ended on Sunday night, we could sit the hotel lobby all night and order drinks from the front desk despite the lobby bar being closed. That was cool. I don’t think we can do that in Canada.

You can also walk easily to the different Blackpool piers and the tower. Hey! here’s a tourist shot of me when I went up the Blackpool Tower. You can take the Blackpool tram there if you don’t want to walk. The tram runs along the waterfront.

Petey in the Blackpool Tower on the wing of bi-plane
Petey in the Blackpool Tower on the wing of a bi-plane

I unfortunately never did a summary video of that October 2017 Convention. I’m not sure why. I had plans to do it and it was a great time in Blackpool. The very nice woman Lesley Fowkes helped me a lot with information for planning my trip to the UK and introduced me to many uke players at the convention. Unfortunately, she got ALS and passed on in 2020. So sad.

RIP Lesley!