Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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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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Tricks – Stella Donnelly

One of the best albums of 2019, and one of the best gigs I went to this year, were courtesy of this lovely lady from Australia (via. old South Wales).

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If you’re asking “Stella who?”, then do not hesitate, go check her out. She released her debut EP, the wonderfully titled Thrush Metal, back in 2017, a record that contained a song called Boys Will Be Boys, which made some noise (unlike the song itself) and got her noticed in certain quarters. Described by Stella as her “attempt at making sense of society’s tendency to blame the victims of sexual assault and rape and make excuses for the perpetrators”, it’s a hard hitting song that delivers its message through a heartfelt vocal and a rather pretty solo acoustic guitar accompaniment.

Included on her debut album, this year’s Beware Of The Dogs, that pattern continues. Musically these song’s aren’t a difficult listen – sometimes jangly indie pop/rock songs topped off with Donnelly’s not-quite perfect but always engaging vocals. But the lyrics are another story – smart, biting tales from the perspective of a young woman, it has been described as a “musical encyclopedia of male assholes”. Whether that be the aforementioned Boys Will Be Boys, badly behaved men accustomed to relying on their power to protect them from consequences (“Old Man”), or this wonderful song (“Tricks”), which takes aim at male stereotypes and their expectation of her. It is typical of her lyrical directness, and includes half-way through a rather wonderful rhyme-that-isn’t.

And so to the songsheet. Firstly don’t be put off by those big-and-scary sounding chords – C#m7b5 is actually as easy as an F, and sounds even better. Secondly, just strum along to the track and it should all come into place – this is quite a straightforward song, despite the unusual chords, and is a joy to sing along to. Enjoy!


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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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Roy’s Tune – Fontaines D.C.

If anybody is band of the moment it has to be Fontaines D.C. The hype for this group of Dublin post-punk-ers has been building and building over the last few months, and with the release of their debut album Dogrel yesterday that is likely to amplify. And deservedly so, in my book.

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Fontaines D.C. are not for the feint-hearted. There music is a full-on assault – clattering drums, punching bass and take-no-prisoners guitars, topped with the full-on Irish brogue of lead man Grian Chatten. That voice is truly Grian’s own – it’s not going to win any competitions, but in the context of this band it is just what is needed. Drawing on Ireland’s long literary heritage, this is serious music that doesn’t shirk from the gritty reality of life as it is now – as one of their other songs taunts, “Is it too real for ya?”.

But for all their reputation as pummelling, aggressive noiseniks, Dogrel show’s there is more to the band than that. Roy’s Tune is a case in point – a poignant reflection on how the behaviour of giant corporations can impact on the lives of ordinary people. Guitarist and writer of the song, Conor Curley, had this to say about the song:

It’s sung to Ireland – from a mindset of frustration, depression, and a loss of innocence… A couple years back the EU awarded Ireland €14 billion in back taxes from Apple, but the government here refuses to do anything with the money out of fear Apple will move their headquarters. They care more about a giant corporation than the people of our country, and all we can do is sit there and take it. We wanted this to be a moment of reflection on the album. We included this song with the purpose of showing our intent as a band and as songwriters. We intend to explore whatever emotions or ideas we see, not just make ‘another post-punk album’.

Oh, and do watch the video (below). It’s great, and really enhances the song.

As with many of the band’s songs, their is simplicity at the heart. The song is – at surface level – very basic, really only two chords. But there is a power and focus at the heart of the song that gives it its strength. Essentially it’s the same pattern repeated throughout the song, so once you get that (spelled out in the intro in the song sheet) you’ll have it. I’ve included two versions – one in the original key, and one transposed down to make it easier to play (removing those horrible E’s and B’s!). This is a song that deserves to be sung. Enjoy!


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Give Stupidity A Chance – Pet Shop Boys

This song is so new, and so topical, that I wanted to get it out there before it goes of the boil. My fervent wish is that in 6 months time this is just seen as a historical aberration, something we look back on with a smile and say “Do you remember when…”. My fear and gut-feel is that won’t be the case, and that this will remain relevant for some time to come. I’m just going to let the lyrics do the talking.

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Intelligent people have had their say
It’s time for the foolish to show the way
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
Let’s give stupidity a chance

We’ve heard quite enough  of experts and their dealings
Why face the facts when you can just feel the feelings?
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
Let’s give stupidity a chance

Forget political correctness
I mean WTF?!
I don’t wanna think about the world
I wanna talk about myself!

Instead of governing with thoughtful sensitivity
Let’s shock and awe the world with idiotic bigotry
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
and give stupidity a chance

You say corruption, I say justified reward
Keeps the cronies loyal, chairmen of the board
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
and give stupidity a chance

Forget political correctness
Let’s talk man to man
Chicks are always up for it
You gotta grab whatever you can

We need a leader who knows that money means class
with an eye for a peach-perfect piece of ass
Not a total dumb-cluck just one of the guys
Let’s give stupidity a prize
Let’s lead this world a merry dance
and give stupidity a chance
Let’s give stupidity a chance

Maybe not the best ever Pet Shop Boys song, but at this time songs like this need to exist and be out there. Sing it loud!