Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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It’s Christmas! Again.

After last year’s posting of a bunch of Christmas classics (in my head, anyway – I don’t think the world has caught up yet), it seemed about time to turn this into a tradition (if that’s what doing it twice is) and offer up another bunch of obscure-yet-great Christmas tunes.

<Christmas In Paradise>  <Just Like Christmas>  <You Trashed My Christmas>

 

Exhibit Five. Christmas In Paradise, by Mary Gauthier. An American folk singer-songwriter, Gauthier’s songs often take the perspective of the ne’er do wells, poor and downtrodden of society, and none more so than this song reflecting the experience of the homeless in Florida at Christmas time. With a big heart for those who haven’t been so fortunate, this is a seasonal reminder that it’s not always a time of tinsel and good cheer. Best played finger-picked.

<Christmas In Paraside>

Exhibit Six. Just Like Christmas, by Low. Not exactly what you’d expect from a slowcore band, two-thirds of whom are Mormons. This song, from 1999’s mini album “Christmas” is a sleigh-bell-tastic Christmas classic that regularly makes those alternative Christmas song lists. The album, a bone-fide triumph, is way, way slower, darker and bleaker than this lead song might suggest, although no worse for that. But this track deserves to be up there alongside your Maria’s, your Wham’s and your Slade’s as a Christmas perennial.

<Just Like Christmas>

Exhibit Seven. You Trashed My Christmas, by The Primitives. The Christmas break-up is a recurrent theme in Christmas pop songs. And here’s a great record from the makers of Crash that combines that with a fuzz-laden, over-before-its-begun indie tune that should be being played everywhere for the duration of the Christmas season. How this tune has bypassed the public consciousness I cannot fathom, but here I am doing my bit to big it up.

<You Trashed My Christmas>

And for good measure, here’s the links to last year’s Christmas toons:


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Billy Bragg Songbook

In certain quarters, Billy Bragg must surely have obtained that most highly coveted status of National Treasure. But it’s probably fair to say that Bragg’s political activism and agitation will always mean that title is one that will never be fully bestowed. And that’s just the way Stephen William Bragg would want it.

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Over a career spanning nearly 40 years, Bragg has certainly forged his own unique path. Following failed attempts in a punk/pub rock band in the late 70s, followed by a fleeting period in the British Army, Bragg started playing solo concerts and busking with just his electric guitar for accompaniment, eventually securing a contract that saw the release of his debut solo mini-LP, Life’s A Riot with Spy vs. Spy (pay no more than £2.99!). With support from John Peel, and something of a music press favourite, Bragg emerged on to the public stage as a breath of fresh air – in a music scene that was becoming increasingly electronic and over-produced, the simplicity of Bragg’s format, and the direct nature of his songs, cut through. Musically harking back to punk, lyrically reflecting the reality of early 80’s Britain, the Bard of Barking caught the spirit of the times for a particular section of the country.

Political activism, of a decidedly left-wing nature, has always been a part of Bragg’s music from the beginning. And that has spilled over into various other initiatives, including the Red Wedge movement of the mid-80s and involvement in multiple campaigns and causes. That is a full-on part of the Bragg package. But what is often overlooked is that whilst Bragg’s songs do indeed reflect his political world-view, there are just as many – if not more – which reflect on the personal. Not just relationship songs (although those are there for certain) but songs that cover the wide spectrum of human experience. It is probably the combination of these two perspectives – the political and the personal – combined with a healthy dose of self-deprecation, which makes Bragg the interesting and much-loved character that he is.

As his career has developed, so have the avenues that Bragg has chosen to pursue. Musically he has branched out by recording a series of records with Wilco where they put unused lyrics of Woody Guthrie to new tunes and arrangements, performing with The Imagined Village (a constantly morphing folk music project), and an album of train-themed songs with Joe Henry that were recorded in various locations on a train journey across America. And he has recently been prevalent as an author, with both a musical (Skiffle) and political focus.

But it is for the music that you are here, right? And so here is a Billy Bragg ukulele song book. 30 songs spanning his career. Similar to the Johnny Cash songs, Bragg songs are – by and large – not complicated beasts. And obviously by-and-large they have been written for – and certainly performed in – a stripped down, solo context. So I think these songs translate well to a ukulele context, and are (mostly) designed to be sung loud and proud.

<songbook>

Also, see below for a list of the songs included in the book, along with links to individual song sheets:


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It’s Christmas!!

…and it’s time to roll out all the usual Christmas tunes. There’s always something reassuring about those old chestnuts (roasting on an open fire), and it is that recurring familiarity that wraps us in a comfort blanket of sound and memories. But those old standards were new once – hard as it seems to imagine – and their all pervasiveness hinders equally classic, but much less well-known songs, from getting the attention they deserve. So this post is a my small attempt to put that right, as I present four Christmas songs that – in my book – *are* classics, and deserve far wider attention than they get.

<A Pretty Good Christmas>  <Christmas Day>  <I Wish It Was Christmas Today>  <Vegetarian Christmas>

 

Exhibit One. A Pretty Good Christmas, by The Disappointment Choir. I know *nothing* about this band, although I probably should investigate them further off the back of this absolutely gorgeous Christmas song. This falls into that slightly-miserable-but-ultimately-hopeful category of Christmas tunes. As I write this we’re awaiting the results of the UK 2019 General Election, and the words to this somehow chime relevant at the moment – “I don’t know what the first of the next year will bring / But it’s going to be a pretty good Christmas”.

<A Pretty Good Christmas>

 

Exhibit Two. Christmas Day, by Kasey Chambers. Kasey Chambers is an Australian country singer and songwriter who, over the period of 20 years has established a solid body of work. Chambers was raised a a Seventh Day Adventist, and although she hasn’t aligned herself with the church for a long time, she retains a strong spiritual belief, something that comes through in Christmas Day (from her 2014 album, Bittersweet) which picks up on the religious aspects of Christmas, and offers a telling of the Christmas story.

<Christmas Day>

 

Exhibit Three. I Wish It Was Christmas Today, by Julian Casablancas. Former lead man from The Strokes, I Wish It Was Christmas Today was originally a novelty item on the US variety show Saturday Night Live. But Casablancas amped it up, gave it a new wave work-over, and from that emerged this real banger. There is just *no* reason why this song shouldn’t be up there on the Christmas repeat list.

<I Wish It Was Christmas Today>

 

Exhibit Four. Vegetarian Christmas, by Feet. Bang up to date, Vegetarian Christmas was – as I write – only released a week ago. But in my book this deserves to become a regular fixture on Christmas playlists. I’ve actually seen Feet a couple of times this year, firstly supporting Lauren Hibberd, the second time headlining themselves. And they were fab! Intelligent guitar-driven indie in a vein not dissimilar to Sports Team, this is a band that is full of character, imagination and variety. Vegetarian Christmas extols the virtues of a meat-free diet with a surprisingly traditional, family-centric view of the season.

<Vegetarian Christmas>


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Norman and Norma – The Divine Comedy

And here we are, back in 2019. Although this is hardly what you would a modern contemporary sound.

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For Neil Hannon, who essentially *is* The Divine Comedy, is not one to be swayed by a need to be relevant or now. Since 1989 he has ploughed his own furrow, quietly establishing a body of work (12 albums, at the last count) that largely falls into the category of Chamber Pop. With a wry eye for detail, an often unusual choice of subject matter (Hannon’s collaboration with Thomas Walsh, The Duckworth Lewis Method, even included a concept album about cricket!), and a predilection for melodies, harmonies, and rich, textured, often orchestral arrangements, The Divine Comedy were never going for the big time. They *did* achieve a measure of success in the mid-to-late 90s, somehow getting themselves aligned to the Britpop movement, and singles like National Express and Something For The Weekend established themselves in the hearts of the more discerning music lover.

[As an aside, one of Hannon’s collaborations included working with Duke Special, one of my favourite’s, for who he wrote the wonderful Wanda, Darling of the Jockey Club, and for which I’ve also done a songsheet]

This year Hannon released Office Politics under The Divine Comedy banner, a double album (the bands first) that is a loose concept album based on the workplace and the role of machines and automation in it. Norman and Norma is the lead single from that album, and tells a charming, affectionate tale of an un-extraordinary couple and their relationship, from their marriage and honeymoon, through to finding post-children contentment in a Norman and Saxon battle reenactment group (I said the choices of subject matter were out of the ordinary!), it has been described in one quarter as “an affectionate song about the peculiarly British awkwardness about sex in relationships that is as good as the best of Victoria Wood but here sounds like it’s sung by Jarvis Cocker” – what is not to like there!

And so here is the songsheet for Norman and Norma. It’s a fairly straightforward song that – whilst piano-based on the original – does, I believe, itself to a ukulele-based version, in no small part aided by the somewhat whimsical subject matter. I think this is a fun little song, and you can have a lot of fun singing it. Enjoy!


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A Gallimaufry of Songs

I’ve been pulling together my annual update to the UkeTunes songbook. And in the process I’ve come across a number of songsheets that I’d put together over the last twelve months for various reasons, and which haven’t made it on to this site. So I thought I’d collect them all together into a single post, in an attempt to clear the decks. Here they are – click on the song titles for the song sheets:

 

  • Andante Andante – Abba
    Another movie-inspired song, this slightly obscure Abba album track (from 1980’s Super Trouper) found its way into the Mamma Mia sequel, and as a result has had a new lease of life breathed into it.

 

 

  • I Wish – Stevie Wonder
    Another great song from a classic album, this time Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life. Funky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • The Lucky One – Alison Krauss
    A beautiful, sublime ballad from the rather lovely Alison Krauss. This was one of the first tracks that got me into country music.