Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs

Raw and Refined

Raw and Refined is my first collection of original material. Written to soundtrack a documentary being put together about Southampton Ukulele Jam (SUJ) this was something of a learning experience in writing and recording.

The collection spans a number of styles, from simple and “raw”, through some chilled and laid-back vibes to the more upbeat, including a punk-style thumper.

Listen to tracks from this collection below by clicking on the title (more details on the individual tracks at the bottom of this page), and if you like any of it go to Bandcamp where you can download the whole album or individual tracks.

All profits will go to charities supported by SUJ.

1. The Punky One (Acoustic)

When Colin McAllister asked me to take on this project (not that that was how he saw it!) he mentioned a few possible genres that might work, one of which was punk. Clearly not always a genre associated with the humble ukulele (although allegedly Joe Strummer first started off with a uke) anybody who has seen and heard Southampton Ukulele Jam will know that there is a punk mindset that is core to the group’s ethos, and that punk songs of one sort or another (Ramones in particular) often make an appearance. So this was intended as something that captured that spirit. Basic in structure, basic in chords, but hopefully with a sense of punk’s spirit and enthusiasm. Featured on the trailer for the SUJ documentary.

2. Waves

Originally started with the chugging rhythm, this had a somewhat strange influence in the shape of The City And The Stars by the Neil Cowley Trio, a jazz piano trio. The inspiration, for what it’s worth, was that just because a track doesn’t have a singer doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to have a melody. Not revolutionary, I know, but this was the first time I put some deliberate effort into having some kind of melody, “something that you can hum in the shower”! Whether it succeeds in that respect you can decide. BTW, the song is named with a nod to a track by The Decemberists, which acted as the “inspiration” for the bass line.

3. Pearly

Intended as a more dreamy track, like Song 1 it’s based around a relatively simple picking pattern over a shifting set of chords. The occasional synth sounds crept in for the first time, providing a shifting backdrop. Named in honour of the Cocteau Twins classic track Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops, because I thought that the single strums – with effects applied – sounded a little like the otherworldly Cocteau’s sound.

4. Southern Shuffle

The first track to get public exposure through its inclusion in the original Kickstarter promotional video, this started off life as the original picked riff that introduces the song. The inspiration for this came from a song by Phil Cook called Ain’t It Sweet (along with a number of others on his wonderful Southland Mission album). Whilst this track doesn’t reach anywhere near the dexterity and skill of Mr Cook, it tries to capture just a little of that feel.

5. Winterdream

It’s been commented on by more than one person that this puts them in mind of sunshine and tropical beaches. Given that this was created in the middle of winter, and during a particularly grey period at that, I’m sure that may have been subconsciously in my mind. This started off trying to be anthemic in a Coldplay / Elbow kind of way, took a decidedly melancholic turning on the way, and I think ended up somewhere in the middle. Gets decidedly fuzzy and cracked up towards the end. I’m particularly pleased with how this one turned out.

6. Orange Static

The original aim here was to go for something jangly, along the lines of Orange Juice or The Sundays (that intention lived on in the title), less strummy and a bit more uptempo. The main backing track was finished and refined before even thinking about what might go over that in terms of melodies, riffs, etc. I like the way this one turned out.

7. Raw Groove

The second of the “raw” tracks to come to fruition (see Raw Speed for the first) this was meant to have a bit more of a groove to it than the first (hence the title).

8. Motorukik

Intended as an attempt to meld the krautrock motorik beat to the ukulele, the intention was to follow the keep it simple, keep it repetitive ethos adopted by the likes of Neu! and Kraftwerk. But with a ukulele!

9. Song 1

This was the first piece that I both wrote and recorded, hence the ridiculously original title. The basic chords (lots of lovely major 7s) and picking pattern had been something that I’d been messing around with for a few months, so when I began this project it seemed the obvious place to start. It’s pretty simple (a common theme?) and could probably be improved on now I have a bit more experience, but I like the feel and have kept it largely as it first originally appeared.

10. Raw Speed

Having given her a number of tracks, Amy (the documentary director) suggested that it would be good to have a few rawer, more rough-and-ready tracks. That seemed a reasonable request, given that it very much the spirit of the Jam. And so this is the first one of those. I didn’t want to it be just a straightforward C / F / G chord thingy, so threw a few twists in for good measure. But definitely not one for the refined side!

11. Golden Days

Designed to have a bit more of a swing than the other tracks, I’m still not sure that it works as intended. But you can be the judge of that. Initial inspiration for bits of this came from The Waterboys Fisherman’s Blues, but I don’t know that you’d recognise that by the time the track finishes.

12. Raw Static

This is a “raw” version of Orange Static, in the sense that it’s basically the same chords sequence. But given a bit more attitude (especially towards the end) and a lot more rough and ready.

13. Song 1 (12″ Remix)

The original Song 1 finished with a somewhat gratuitous 80s-style drum loop sample. So I thought it would be a bit of fun to take that one (or seven) steps further. The result is this – ukulele meets some slightly-laid-back-but-getting-a-bit-more-frantic-towards-the-end beats.

14. The Punky One (Electric)

Basically just a version of the first track with the amps turned up!

15. Glow

Glow wasn’t submitted for use in the documentary, and as such is something of a “bonus track” here. It is the first post-documentary ukulele-based piece that I’d put together, significant in that I felt less concerned with making this sound like a ukulele, and just wanted to create a piece of music.

You wouldn’t know it, but the piece took some of its original inspiration from a number of tracks on Goldfrapp’s Tales Of Us album, a record that is luxurious and atmospheric. I was also listing to Young Marble Giants quite a bit at the time as well, and I think some of that minimalism rubbed off here (e.g. the drum machine). I was also very conscious of a quote from an interview with Brian Eno that I read whilst doing this:

“The path of least resistance for anyone with a lot of sound-making tools is to keep making more sounds. The path of discipline is to say: Let’s see how few we can get away with”

So I’ve tried to subtract rather than add, keeping it simple rather than over-complicating.