Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs

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Bright Side Of The Road – Van Morrison


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To the average punter in the street the name Van Morrison, if it means anything, means Brown Eyed Girl. For some reason (possibly because he has never earned any royalties for it) that song seems to have permeated the consciousness of the compilation-buying public at large to an extraordinary degree (see these playcount stats as an example). Whilst it is a great song, it seems a shame that one song kind-of hides for many people the far richer, ground-breaker and soulful sounds that Van has made throughout the rest of his career.

Born Gorge Ivan Morrison, Van’s music has always been grounded against a backdrop of jazz, gospel, blues, and folk, always imbued with a deep celtic spirituality that taps into his Northern Irish roots. Originally coming to prominence as part of the R&B band Them in the mid-1960s (seen here performing the classic Gloria) his solo career has – sometimes unfairly – always been measured against the high-water mark that was the follow-up to Brown Eyed Girl – the “mystical song cycle” that is the Astral Weeks album, an album regularly cited in top-album-ever polls. Following that up with the more accessible Moondance, Van produced a fine stream of recordings throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s. Whilst notoriously inconsistent in concert, and harsh on under-performing band members, the live albums that he has produced (particularly 1973’s It’s Too Late To Stop Now) show a man fully in control of his art, stretching and improvising, rising and falling, tight and loose at the same time.

Whilst some of my favourites are the stretch-out, blissed out tracks such as Summertime In England, Bright Side Of The Road holds a special place in my heart. It was the first track on the first Van Morrison album I ever bought (1979’s Into The Music, second-hand from Ross Records in Portsmouth). Full of sunny, bouncy optimism, this is a song that can’t help but put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. Driven along by Van’s harmonica introduction and interludes, on a foundation of light and airy piano, punctured by a brass section that includes Pee Wee Ellis from James Brown’s 1960s band, interlaced with some lovely violin lines, and topped off with the lovely contrast of Van’s growling lead vocal and the gorgeous tones of Katie Kissoon’s backing vocals.

Trying to get all that into a ukulele version is probably unlikely, but here is the song sheet anyway! It’s pretty straightforward, and follows the recording in terms of verses, instrumentals, etc. Play with a bounce, and play with a smile. Enjoy!




Dear Prudence – Siouxsie and the Banshees


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The Beatles, eh? What to say? Well to be honest it took me a long time to *get* them. They’ve always been around, always been part of my conciousness. Even if I didn’t know they were “The Beatles” those songs were – for someone growing up in the seventies – something that was kind-of taken for granted. They were just there.

It was only a couple of years ago that I dug beyond the obvious starting point (the 1962-1966 – Red – and 1967-1970 – Blue – compilations). And I must admit to being pleasantly surprised. The rawness and simplicity of the earlier recordings was a revelation, as was the sheer diversity of their later records.  For me the transition between those two eras is probably my favourite – particularly the Rubber Soul and Revolver albums. Branching out from those early roots, experimenting and diversifying, but still keeping things tight and concise.

Dear Prudence is a John Lennon Beatles song – written by and sung by him, apparently written in India about Mia Farrow’s sister. It comes from the sprawling White Album. And to be honest it’s not my favourite. The Beatles version – for me – feels a bit thin, feels like it could do with a bit more “oomph”, a bit more substance. I’m guessing that is in part because my first exposure to the song was through the 1983 version by post-punk pioneers Siouxsie and the Banshees. A much more driven, rock  version, with a maybe more obvious psychedelic feel to it, and with – to be honest – a far stronger vocal performance than on the original, it is always this version that is in my head when I think of or play this song.

The song sheet (below) was a bit of a faff! I found a number of guitar chord sheets for the song online, and also in my Beatles Songbook, most of which – to my ears – never did the song justice. Eventually I came across this, and used it as the basis for this version. What I really like is the repeating chord progression through the verses. I really don’t know what most of those chords are called – I’m sure that C/Bb, C/A and C/Ab aren’t right(!) but they are basically a C with a Bb/A/Ab on the E string. Just follow the chord diagrams on the sheet and you’ll get the feel. It sounds good to me. Enjoy!



How Long Will I Love You? – The Waterboys

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I hopped on the Waterboys train in the mid-80s, entranced by “The Big Music” © of This Is The Sea. Coming from my own personal affiliation with the celtic rock sounds of the time (U2, Simple Minds, Big Country, et al) it seemed a logical step to hook up with them. The big (huge!) guitar sound, the spiritual undertow, what was not to like?

Well Mike Scott (leader of the band) was obviously finding that sound and the expectations that were going with the success all a bit much, and threw a huge curveball by relocating to Dublin just at the point when the band were about to embrace stadium rock-ness, throwing himself into the sounds of traditional Irish music, folk, country, blues. The eventual official record of that time was the wonderful “Fisherman’s Blues” album, although that was very much a tip-of-the-iceberg syndrome – two subsequent albums of additional recordings from that time have already been released (Too Close To Heaven, and a bonus disc with the remastered original album), and this autumn sees a mammoth 7-CD, 121 track box set and a tour of the album. Excited? You bet!

Room To Roam“, the follow-up to “Fisherman’s Blues”, saw the band throwing themselves further and deeper into the Ireland, even to the extent of relocating to the Spiddal on the west coast (where the second side of Fisherman’s Blues was recorded, and immortalised on its cover), and it is from that album that this song is taken.

As an aside, and showing that a good song is a good song regardless of who is singing it, Ellie Goulding has recently released a version of the song to feature in the new Richard Curtis film “About Time“. It’s a really nice version, see what you think?

There’s nothing complicated about How Long Will I Love You?, either lyrically or musically. And it is certainly that straightforwardness that makes it all the more effective. Seven short verses, each prefaced withe the “How Long Will I Love You?” question, each responded to with an unambiguous declaration of undying love, many comparing that love to enduring nature and the elements. The Room To Road recording is a full-on band take, a real folk-rock hybrid. But this song – for me, at least – really works in a stripped down form.

The chords (see link below) are very straightforward (there’s only four of them!). The one thing the chord sheet doesn’t show is that there is a little two-beat bar after each chorus – listen to the recording and you’ll see what I mean. Also note that the chords are a tone lower than the recording, on account of it being easier for me to sing. The recording is in G, so if you want to play along to the recording then rather than Bb, C, F and Gm, the chords are C, D, G and Am respectively. Enjoy!