Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


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Lovers In A Dangerous Time – Bruce Cockburn

I’ve written previously about how much I love the music of Bruce Cockburn, and what it has meant to me. Prompted by the announcement of some UK dates in the autumn, I’ve been going back to his music, and enjoying it afresh. One of the songs that stood out was this one.

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The version that particularly caught my ear was from his live solo album, Slice O’ Life. The original version of the song appeared on the 1984 album, Stealing Fire, recorded at a time where Cockburn was turning from the acoustic, folk-y sounds of his earlier, 1970s recordings towards a more contemporary, rock-inspired source, something that coincided for him with a move in his lyrical outlook from an inward, spiritual focus towards a more outward looking perspective that – whilst infused with the spiritual – was more focussed on the world he saw, and the many injustices that he encountered as he started to travel more widely.

Outside of his native Canada, where Cockburn is something of an institution and widely reward, for most of his career Cockburn has been something of a cult figure. However “Lovers…” was a song that, alongside the much darker “If I Had A Rocket Launcher”, became radio hits in the US. And to this day it remains one of his more well-known songs (well-known being something of a relative term when applied to Cockburn), even being referenced by U2 in their song “God Part II” (“heard a singer on the radio late last night says he’s gonna kick the darkness till it bleeds daylight”). The song itself has been interpreted in multiple ways – as a response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, and as a commentary on the Central American experience that inspired “Rocket Launcher”, but whilst Cockburn is on record as saying that both of those interpretations are valid ones, his has said of the song:

“I was thinking of kids in a schoolyard. I was thinking of my daughter. Sitting there wanting to hold hands with some little boy and looking at a future, looking at the world around them. How different that was when I was a kid when, even though we had air-raid drills, nobody took that seriously that the world would end. You could have hope when I was a kid. And now I think that’s very difficult. I think a lot of that is evident from the actions and the ethos of a lot of kids. It was kind of an attempt to offer a hopeful message to them. You still have to live and you have to give it your best shot.”

The acoustic version of the song strips it back to its essence. A showcase for Bruce’s exemplary guitar technique (never flashy, but always rich and deep), it is further proof that the mark of a good song is if it works when reduced to one-person-and-their-instrument. And boys does this version work – arguably getting to the heart of the song in a way that the more produced original version *may* have clouded a little.

And so to the songsheet. This is based on the acoustic version, and definitely – to my ears – sounds better as a picked version. It is true that I could have made this a bit simpler, could have put it in an easier key. But (a) this version allows you to play along with the Cockburn version above, and (b) it just sounds much better this way. If you’re OK with barre chords then this shouldn’t be problematic. Playing the A chords in the chorus as barred chords on the 4th fret (see here) adds an additional texture to the song as well. Enjoy!

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Lord Of The Starfields – Bruce Cockburn

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fallingdarkI first became aware of Canadian singer-songwriter in the late-80s via. a copy of the Greenbelt magazine Strait. And I first heard his music via. a bargain bin discovery of his 1987 compilation Waiting For A Miracle. Cockburn emerged in the early 1970s as a folk/jazz influenced singer-songwriter. As his career progressed both spiritual and political themes became increasingly prevalent in his music, which during the 1980s became more rock-oriented in terms of sound. The 1990s saw him pick up display more roots influences (particularly on a trio of great albums recorded with T-Bone Burnett) before displaying more jazzy-influences on albums such as The Charity Of Night. To be honest much of his recent material has been less than stellar in my mind (with the notable exception of the double live album Slice O’ Life), but that doesn’t detract from the quality of that older material.

The Christian world-view was always a big part of the attraction of Cockburn to me. I guess that as that world-view (or at least the practice of it) has faded in relevance and credibility to me, so I’ve listened to less of his music. But that is probably my loss. Prompted by I-don’t-know-what I listened to a few of his songs last weekend and it reminded me of what a great and underrated artist he is (not to mention a phenomenal guitarist – I always marvel at how this live version of After The Rain is just one man!).

Lord Of The Starfields, from the 1976 In The Falling Dark album, has been described by Cockburn as his attempt at “trying to write something like a psalm”. It is deeply spiritual song about the wonder of creation, written from an explicitly Christian viewpoint. Whilst that viewpoint may be one I have less sympathy with than I once did, nevertheless this is still a wonderful and beautiful song – a song of awe and wonder.

So a ukulele version?! Well, on the assumption that a good song will always shine through, then why not. The songsheet is just chords, but I tend to finger-pick this one. I feel like the song deserves it – it is delicate and lovely (not words always associated with the ukulele, certainly not with my singing), and picking is my attempt to reflect that . Don’t ask me what pattern I use – I couldn’t tell you, and it’s probably different every time I do it – but give it a go. Enjoy!

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