Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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A Perfect Miracle – Spiritualized

You’ll have noticed that ukulele-based songs are few and far between on this blog. That is kind-of deliberate, but also a reflection of the fact that, whilst I love playing the little 4-string wonder myself, it hasn’t let me towards wanting to listening to music made on the instrument. Call me a fraud if you like, a traitor if you want (in these febrile Brexit times, such accusations seem to get thrown around increasingly carelessly), but that is me.

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Now I don’t actually know that there is a ukulele playing as the backbone to this song. There’s no credit of a ukulele player in the album credits. But a number of other reviews of the song have suggested that’s what it could be, and to my ears that sounds totally plausible. So I’m going to go with it.

A Perfect Miracle is the opening song, and lead single, from Spiritualized’s most recent album, And Nothing Hurt. It’s a beautiful, hazy waltz-time lullaby that starts off with nothing much more than that strummed ukulele, but then builds and swells to an increasingly glorious crescendo – strings, choirs, the lot. Actually, when you peer behind the sounds the lyrical content of the song is not quite what it seems – yes, there’s lots of lovely sentiment towards a loved one, but as the song progresses there is a thread of uncertainty and ambivalence that creeps in. But there’s still glimmers of light, so let’s hope it all ends well, eh?

And the song sheet. Well, to be honest, this is such a simple song it’s almost embarrassing to have one! Basically the song is the same four chords, repeated in sequence throughout. I’ve transposed the song up a semi-tone, from B to C, to make it easier to play. But other than that there’s not much more to say (although you can thrown in the occasional Gsus4 if you wish, to give a bit more colour). I have included the backing choir lyrics which are sung in parallel with the last three verses, so if there are more than one of you doing this I’m sure that will sound lovely. Do enjoy!

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Twentytwo – Sunflower Bean

So here we with the second gig-inspired song in the last couple of months. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending a lovely evening with my daughter at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth, in the company of New York band Sunflower Bean.

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Four months ago Sunflower Bean meant nothing to me. Since then, thanks to finally taking the plunge with a Spotify subscription (other streaming platforms are available), I’ve managed to catch-up on more new music than I’ve probably done in the last five years. And The Bean (as nobody calls them!) are one of my favourites. Whilst the band can certainly rock the house (new single Come For Me being a good example), one of the things that I love about the band is that they certainly don’t stick to a tried and tested formula. Indie in the original meaning of the word, the parent album for this song (Twentytwo in Blue) has moments of stomping Glam rock, Velvets-flavoured Garage rock, west-coast soft rock, dreamy psychedelics and shoe-gaze. And yet doesn’t come across as the stylistic ragbag that may suggest – there is a unified vision at the heart of the band that is all their own, and that gives them their own, unique identify.

Twentytwo is – I guess – the title track of the album. A twenty-something perspective on growing up and coming of age, the song packs a powerful combination of melancholy and defiance that has echoes Fleetwood Mac and the darker moments in the Abba catalogue. Luxurious and nostalgic, this is the sound of a band who know there mind and will follow the muse wherever it will take them.

And so to the song sheet. Nothing too clever or tricky here. This is a great song to belt out, but needs some textures and contrasts to bring it alive. Note that the song sheet is for the full version from the album – the video above is an edited version of the song that loses a verse and a few other nips and tucks. Enjoy!


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Come Alive and This Is Me, from “The Greatest Showman” [UPDATED]

From the dark sounds of grunge to the corniest of dance-pop musicals, never let it said that you don’t get variety on these pages.

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The Greatest Showman has become something of a phenomenon. A contemporary musical loosely based on the life of celebrated American showman P.T. Barnum (and, by all accounts, taking a slightly revisionist view of his character), the film opened to something of a critical mauling at the end of last year, but has seen its star slowly rise through word-of-mouth to become the most unlikely movie success of the year. Even now, 9 months after it’s release, it is still showing at cinemas around the country, with new life being breathed into it by hugely popular sing-a-long events.

Let’s be clear. This film is not subtle and is somewhat formulaic. But it is also hugely entertaining, a constant barrel of energy and exuberance, driven by a star performance from Hugh Jackman, and a supporting cast that includes Zac Efron and Michelle Williams. And a power-packed set of original songs that carry the film through to its inevitable, feel good conclusion. The soundtrack is the work of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who were also responsible for the Oscar-winning City Of Stars, from the slightly less feelgood La La Land.

And so to the songsheets. For Come Alive, this – like a number of the songs from the film – really needs a strong rhythmic backing to work. I’m not going to try and suggest a strumming pattern for this, but you could do worse than listen to the rhythms in the song and try and ape that. Plenty of muted strums will add to the effect – some of those are indicated in the songsheet with the [X] chord. The song also has a number of places where it breaks into acapella / clapped interludes, that again you could do worse than try and emulate. Probably best sung with a group of singers.

As for This Is Me, this is becoming something of a modern classic. The gentle start, and breakdown at the beginning of the last chorus, are worth emulating to give the song some texture. Note that some of the lyrics overlaps, particularly with the oh-oh-oh-oh’s, and along with plenty of opportunities for backing vocals and harmonies, this is probably best tried with a group of singers.

Enjoy!

<Come Alive>  <This Is Me>


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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!

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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!


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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.

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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!


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Homecoming Queen – Brandy Clark

I’m not great at keeping up with new music. But come December I’m often scouring and sampling the end-of-year best album lists to see what’s gone down well, and what might appeal. Let somebody else sort the wheat from the chaff, I figure.

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So it was whilst doing that at the end of last year that I came across an album that was consistently in the upper echelons of those lists, at least in the Country music variety, and sounded up my street. One play through the album and I was hooked. Many, many plays later and I regard it, and it’s immediate predecessor, as stone-cold classics of heartfelt, intelligent, incisive songwriting, coupled to performances that are sheer class. The album is Big Day In A Small Town. The artist is Brandy Clark.

Clark has been around Nashville for years, penning songs that have been recorded by the likes of Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert, LeAnne Rimes and Kasey Musgraves, but it wasn’t until 2013 that she was able to record 12 Songs, her first collection of her own material. Critically lauded at the time, and hitting high in many of those end-of-year lists, 12 Songs did no more nor less than what it said on the tin. But what a collection of songs! Taking its cue from many of country music’s tried and tested themes, Clark treads a fine line between cliche and genuine insight, showing a real heart for the people of small-town america, without succumbing to some of the more reactionary viewpoints that can be associated with that.

Three years later she followed 12 Songs up with what is – in my mind – an even more impressive collection of songs. Again, doing what it says on the tin, Big Day In A Small Town is loosely themed around the ups and downs of life in such a small town. In that context (or indeed, any context) Homecoming Queen is a highlight, a poignant tale that looks back on how the life of a woman didn’t quite match the expectations that she might have had for herself when she finished high school. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking song, one that is full of humanity and compassion, and one that I’m sure everybody can relate to at some level.

The song was originally recorded by Sheryl Crow on her Feels Like Home album. Whilst it’s good, I prefer Clark’s version, which you can hear below, or alternatively listen to this stripped back acoustic version.

So here’s the song sheet. As with most country songs, there’s nothing too complicated here. I’ve thrown in a few little flourishes – the F4 in the intros and interludes that kind-of approximates to the original, and the C7s leading into the chorus, which are certainly optional and down to preferences. This is a great song (have I said that already!) so enjoy.