Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


Leave a comment

On My Way – Martyn Joseph

Sometimes I worry that the songs I post on here are too obvious. And sometimes I think the opposite. Today’s post definitely falls into the latter category. But this is *my* blog. So I’ll post what I want!

<songsheet>

Martyn Joseph’s music has been part of my life for nearly 30 years. I first came across him in 1989 when he played a stripped back set at the Greenbelt festival, a set that formed the basis the live album “An Aching and a Longing”. Since then I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen him in concert, often at The Brook in Southampton (a favourite venue for Martyn, to the extent that he released a live album and DVD recorded exclusively at that venue), but also in a variety of incarnations with Show of Hand’s Steve Knightley, and as a trio with Steve and Tom Robinson under the moniker of Faith, Folk and Anarchy.

For those who haven’t encountered Martyn Joseph, he is a Welsh singer-songwriter and guitarist, with shades of the Bruces Springsteen and Cockburn, whose songs have a strong social, community and spiritual conscience. A hard-working troubadour, almost constantly touring the UK, Europe and North America, releasing over 20 albums through his career, he is a performer who gives his all. His concerts are always full of passion, spirit and compassion, truly life-affirming and uplifting events despite what might seem to be gloomy themes and materials, something that he often references in a self-deprecating manner during those gigs.

On My Way is a song that was almost designed as a community sing-along, something reinforced by his starting to perform the song before it was even finished, and something which any audience will get drawn into whenever the song is performed. Taken from his 2010 album, Under Lemonade Skies, Martyn was quoted at the time of its release as saying that he was trying to write songs that are companions for people on the road, songs that make you feel that you are not alone. On My Way does that in spades, an encouragement to pick yourself up and carry on the journey despite what life my thrown at you, doing so in the knowledge that you are not alone, that there are others “running, loving, stumbling” along similar paths.

So here’s the songsheet. I’ve included two versions – one in the same key as the original (E), and one in F, which makes it easier to play. It’s designed for strumming rather than picking as on the originals, and so may lose a little in the translation. But only a little, as it’s a great song whose spirit shines through. Note that the video above is a live version with Steve Knightley – if you want to here the original studio recording it’s here. Enjoy!

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Up Above My Head, I Hear Music In The Air – Sister Rosetta Tharpe / Rhiannon Giddens

We’re digging back in time a bit with this one. Back to the days before rock and roll. In fact back to one of the more unlikely precursors of rock and roll.

<songsheet in C> <songsheet in G>

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is not a name that often appears in the pantheon of the most influential 20th century musicians, but the unique sound and guitar playing that she pioneered in the 1930s and 1940s paved the way for the rock and roll greats of the 1950s and beyond (Strange Things Happening Every Day is a particularly good example). Mixing spiritual lyrics with a gritty and rhythmic accompaniment, and performing in nightclubs and concert halls, Tharpe upset many in the religious communities of the time, but achieved real cross-over success, particularly in the 40s when she had a number of top 10 singles in the US.

Up Above My Head is a Tharpe original that uses the traditional call-and-response form of Gospel songs, with short, simple lines, and a number of thematic variations for the verses. Set against a rhythmic background of bass and piano, with Tharpe’s guitar playing (and soloing) over the top, the song was a big hit in the US in 1948, and has been covered many times since, including by Elvis Presley in a TV special, and most lately (and fabulously, if I do say so) by the hugely talented Rhiannon Giddens.

 

And so to the song sheet. There are so many different versions of the song, even by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, that it’s hard to know where to begin. So I’ve based the verses on the Rhiannon Giddens version, but created two versions in different keys, one in C, the other in G (the Giddens version is in F!). It’s pretty straight-forward, the only one note of reference is to say that the C7/G7 chord on the third line of each verse comes right before the second half of the line (e.g. “I hear music in the air”) rather than right after the first half of the line (i.e. “Up above my head”). Also, I haven’t put the responses in the lyrics as it rather crowded and complicated the sheet – but feel free (in fact I encourage you!) to put them in. Enjoy!

<songsheet in C> <songsheet in G>


1 Comment

Murder Ballads – Nick Cave

Part 723 of my continued but ultimately fruitless attempt to refute the myth that the ukulele can only do jolly and happy…

<Henry Lee>  <Where The Wild Roses Grow>

…and what better way to demonstrate that than with a double-bill from the prince of Goth himself, Mr Nick Cave. And to make it doubly grizzly, let’s make it two from the gore-fest that is his Murder Ballads album.

Nick Cave is something of a polymath, being an author, screenwriter and soundtrack composer, but obviously most notable for his songwriting and performing, initially with the post-punk, proto-gothic sounds of the self-styled “most violent live band in the world” The Birthday Party, and subsequently (and for the past 30+ years) with his band The Bad Seeds, Cave often explores themes of death, religion, love and violence in his songs.

So 1996’s Murder Ballads was not exactly a bolt from the blue, but even by Cave’s standards it goes deep, dark and macarbe, sometimes to excess, albeit with a wry smile on its face. Composed of new and traditional murder-themed stories, taking the traditional use of the word ballad as a stories narrated in short stanzas, the album racks up a body count of 65 over its 10 tracks (bookended with a redemptive cover of Dylan’s Death Is Not The End). This is *not* background music, not easy listening, and certainly not for the squeamish (Stagger Lee has been described as “one of the finest foul-mouthed songs ever committed to tape, a swaggering tale of prostitutes and pistols, muddy roads and bloody murder”, and is brilliant!), but it is totally immersive, brilliantly executed career highlight.

To be honest, the two songs presented here aren’t totally representative of the album, but certainly are the two that probably translate best to the uke. Where The Wild Roses Grow is a duet with – of all people – Kylie Minogue, and gave Cave his one and only UK hit (what people buying Murder Ballads off the back of this song thought of it heaven only knows). Taking inspiration from the traditional song Down in the Willow Garden (also know as Rose Connelley), it tells the story of a man courting a woman and killing her while they are out together. Henry Lee is another duet, this time with PJ Harvey (with whom Cave had an affair, the breakup of which is a significant inspiration to Murder Ballads’ follow-up, The Boatman’s Call), and another variant on a traditional song (this time Young Hunting), this time turning the tables and telling the tale of a “the fury of a woman scorned”. Both songs tell their story in alternate versus from the man and woman’s perspective.

It is worth commenting on the videos for these two songs as well, as they are both remarkable. Where The Wild Roses Grow adopts the imagery of Sir John Everett Millais’ 1851 painting Ophelia, with Cave and Minogue in role. Henry Lee is a single-take, straight-to-camera, studio-bound video that practically explodes with the barely restrained sexual tension between the two singers.

 

 

 

And so (finally!) to the song sheets. In terms of chords, neither of these does anything tricky or unusual. Essentially these are ballads where the music’s job is to carry the stories. However there are one or two tricky timing issues. Henry Lee plays in 6/8 time, but chucks in an extra three beats (a 3/8 bar?) on the “a little bird lit down on Henry Lee” line. Likewise Where The Wild Roses Grow is also in 6/8, this time straight and without interruptions, the only slightly tricky bit being the first and third lines of the chorus, which is timed as [Gm] 1 2 3 4 5 6 [Cm] 1 2 3 [Gm] 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6 (if that makes sense).  I’ve also indicated on each song sheet where the singer is male, female or both. Enjoy!

<Henry Lee>  <Where The Wild Roses Grow>


Leave a comment

Caravan Girl – Goldfrapp

I was a bit late to Goldfrapp, if truth be known. It wasn’t until the more acoustic sounds of their fourth album, Seventh Tree, caught my ears that I started to pay attention.

<songsheet>

From the cinematic soundscapes of the debut Felt Mountain, to the glam-meets-dance of Black Cherry and Supernature, the folk-meets-electronica sounds of Seventh Tree, the 80s-revisited vibe of Head First, and the lush orchestral mood of Tales Of Us, Goldfrapp have always taken a highly-stylised and deliberate approach to the twists and turns of their musical career. Seventh Tree took inspiration from paganism and surreal childrens books, and marked a more earthier sound that was a deliberate contrast to the glamour and synthetic feel of their previous releases. Despite the folk stylings this was still a pop record, with songs like A&E and Caravan Girl having a commercial appeal that saw them become hits. Caravan Girl is a great song, a lovely, bouncing late-summer song that can’t help bringing a smile to the face.

And so to the songsheet. Nothing too tricksy here. It definitely needs a good, driving rhythm to keep it moving. Chord wise, all relatively straightforward, with the possible exception of the F/C – I don’t think that’s the right name for it, but basically it’s an F with a C on the top string. An F (or C) by itself will do if you feel so inclined. Finally, I think this would definitely benefit from lots of oooh-ing, la-ing and lovely harmonies. Enjoy!


1 Comment

The Way Old Friends Do – ABBA

It’s strange how songs crop up in the most unlikely of places.

<songsheet>

Yesterday I attended the Wickham Festival. It’s a local festival, just down the road, and I was attending because Southampton Ukulele Jam had been asked to perform, somewhat at the last minute. We had a blast (here’s a clip of us doing Blitzrieg Bop – that’s me at the back in the straw hat!), and got a great reaction from the audience. But it meant we had a free day ticket, so got to enjoy some great music, largely of the folk variety, from the likes of Eliza Carthy, Gaz Brookfield, Imar and Brighde Chaimbeul. Anyway, inbetween sets there was an interesting mix of music being played, often with something of a 70s soft rock flavour (blatantly appealing to the majority demographic in attendance). And then this song popped up. It somewhat surprised me that something from a hyper-polished Swedish pop group would crop up during an English folk festival. But on reflection, it actually fitted really well.

Pre-Abba, each of the band members, in particular Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, had established themselves in various parts of the Swedish folk scene. And there has often been elements of folk music creeping in to their music over the years. The Way Old Friends Do is certainly one of those songs, initially just accompanied on the accordion, there is something pure and honest about this lovely song. Never recorded in the studio, the version that found its way onto 1980’s Super Trouper album was recorded live during the band’s tour in 1979, and the simple sounds of voices and accordion show that, for all the studio wizardry and perfectionism that went into ABBA’s music, cut to the core they were four great musicians.

There is *nothing* complicated in this songsheet. The song only has one verse, repeated. The chords are as straightforward as they could be. The only slightly tricky thing if you try to play along (the songsheet is in the same key) is that the recording is not in any kind of regular tempo. When played alone, it’s easy to give it that regular tempo, though. So enjoy!


1 Comment

Short Haired Woman Blues – Dave Rawlings Machine

So I’ve posted plenty of songs here from Gillian Welch. And with good reason – in my book she can do no wrong. But until now I haven’t posted anything from fellow partner-in-crime, Dave Rawlings. So ahead of a brand new album from him later this month, I thought it time to right that wrong.

<songsheet>

To be fair, it is somewhat artificial to make this split between Welch and Rawlings. The two have been inseparable in their recording and performing career, and are very much a democratic duo. It’s just that for each recording they have chosen one or other of them to act as the front to the other. True, Welch was four albums in before a Rawlings album appeared. But of late it has been Rawlings who has been more prolific, with the new album, Poor David’s Almanack, being the third in a period when Welch has only fronted one (albeit that was the totally sublime, career highlight that was The Harrow and The Harvest).

Together they plough a very traditionalist furrow, drawing on various roots traditions such as folk, bluegrass, country and old-time music, whilst at the some time having a sound that is all their own, and oddly contemporary. And in many ways the songs could interchange between the two of them. Short Haired Woman Blues, as an example, falls into that classic Welch/Rawlings stock of languid, stretched-out ballads that I just love. For me, these songs could go on forever and never outstay their welcome.

And so to the song sheet. A little more complicated this one, though not excessively so. There’s a batch of chords in there, not all of which are stricty accurate compared to the original, but ones which act as a (to my ears) reasonable sounding translation of the subtleties of the original guitar chords to the ukuele. In particular, that chord labelled and shown as B5 isn’t actually B5, but I think it fits OK into the song at that point. To my mind the song is best played pick (although I’m certainly not attempting to emulate Rawlings wonderful playing!), but it can be strummed as well. Timing can be a little tricky in places, but listen to the original and you’ll get the feel. Note the song sheet is in G, whilst the original is in G#. So capo 1 if you want to play along with the original. Enjoy!


1 Comment

The Town I Loved So Well – The Dubliners

DublinersI was listening to the new Dexys album yesterday. “Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul” is a covers album with a loose Irish theme (loose in that it includes Rod Stewart and Joni Mitchell songs!). But it also includes a wonderful version of this gem, a song I loved but had almost forgotten about.

<songsheet>

The Town I Loved So Well comes from an unlikely source. Songwriter Phil Coulter was a professional musician, songwriter and arranger, responsible (amongst other things) for two Eurovision smashes (Puppet On A String, and Congratulations) as well as the England 1970 football squad’s Back Home, and the Bay City Rollers Shang-A-Lang. But away from the commercial focus of thos 60s and 70s pop hits, Coulter also indulged his love of Irish folk music, working with the likes of Planxty and The Dubliners. It was for the latter that he wrote this beautiful song.

Based on Coulter’s upbringing in Derry, Northern Ireland, the first three verses reflect on childhood memories of the two that he grew up in. But it is the juxtaposition of those verses with the final two which really gives the song it’s power. For in those verses he reflects on how all of that has been destroyed by the unrest and violence that gripped Northern Ireland during the last 60s and early 70s. Derry was the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacres, and much more deadly sectarian violence beside. And so the song is a lament for a lost innocence, and a forlorn reflection on what that violence has done to the place he loved.

And so the songsheet. Nothing tricky here, just four chords, for the most part straightforward timing. You can thrown a few Gsus4 chords in at the end of some of the lines, but it’s best kept simple. Sounds lovely when picked as well. Enjoy!
pdf-icon