Uke Tunes

Uke-ifying my favourite songs


1 Comment

The Way Old Friends Do – ABBA

It’s strange how songs crop up in the most unlikely of places.

<songsheet>

Yesterday I attended the Wickham Festival. It’s a local festival, just down the road, and I was attending because Southampton Ukulele Jam had been asked to perform, somewhat at the last minute. We had a blast (here’s a clip of us doing Blitzrieg Bop – that’s me at the back in the straw hat!), and got a great reaction from the audience. But it meant we had a free day ticket, so got to enjoy some great music, largely of the folk variety, from the likes of Eliza Carthy, Gaz Brookfield, Imar and Brighde Chaimbeul. Anyway, inbetween sets there was an interesting mix of music being played, often with something of a 70s soft rock flavour (blatantly appealing to the majority demographic in attendance). And then this song popped up. It somewhat surprised me that something from a hyper-polished Swedish pop group would crop up during an English folk festival. But on reflection, it actually fitted really well.

Pre-Abba, each of the band members, in particular Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, had established themselves in various parts of the Swedish folk scene. And there has often been elements of folk music creeping in to their music over the years. The Way Old Friends Do is certainly one of those songs, initially just accompanied on the accordion, there is something pure and honest about this lovely song. Never recorded in the studio, the version that found its way onto 1980’s Super Trouper album was recorded live during the band’s tour in 1979, and the simple sounds of voices and accordion show that, for all the studio wizardry and perfectionism that went into ABBA’s music, cut to the core they were four great musicians.

There is *nothing* complicated in this songsheet. The song only has one verse, repeated. The chords are as straightforward as they could be. The only slightly tricky thing if you try to play along (the songsheet is in the same key) is that the recording is not in any kind of regular tempo. When played alone, it’s easy to give it that regular tempo, though. So enjoy!


1 Comment

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.

<songsheet>

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!


1 Comment

The Town I Loved So Well – The Dubliners

DublinersI was listening to the new Dexys album yesterday. “Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul” is a covers album with a loose Irish theme (loose in that it includes Rod Stewart and Joni Mitchell songs!). But it also includes a wonderful version of this gem, a song I loved but had almost forgotten about.

<songsheet>

The Town I Loved So Well comes from an unlikely source. Songwriter Phil Coulter was a professional musician, songwriter and arranger, responsible (amongst other things) for two Eurovision smashes (Puppet On A String, and Congratulations) as well as the England 1970 football squad’s Back Home, and the Bay City Rollers Shang-A-Lang. But away from the commercial focus of thos 60s and 70s pop hits, Coulter also indulged his love of Irish folk music, working with the likes of Planxty and The Dubliners. It was for the latter that he wrote this beautiful song.

Based on Coulter’s upbringing in Derry, Northern Ireland, the first three verses reflect on childhood memories of the two that he grew up in. But it is the juxtaposition of those verses with the final two which really gives the song it’s power. For in those verses he reflects on how all of that has been destroyed by the unrest and violence that gripped Northern Ireland during the last 60s and early 70s. Derry was the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacres, and much more deadly sectarian violence beside. And so the song is a lament for a lost innocence, and a forlorn reflection on what that violence has done to the place he loved.

And so the songsheet. Nothing tricky here, just four chords, for the most part straightforward timing. You can thrown a few Gsus4 chords in at the end of some of the lines, but it’s best kept simple. Sounds lovely when picked as well. Enjoy!
pdf-icon


1 Comment

Wayfaring Stranger

<song sheet>

wayfaringstrangerThe origins of this song, like so many in the folk tradition, appear lost in the mists of time. What is clear is that it is an American spiritual / folk song that surfaced in the 19th century, and has been variously adapted since then. There is no definitive version, no definitive set of lyrics (that I can discover). It is clearly of a spiritual nature, a song of life’s journey, of hope and looking to a better future in the light of the the troubles and hardships of today. Whilst there are explicitly religious (Christian) versions of the song (and I would guess that is undoubtedly its roots) the rather less specific / dogmatic nature of the first couple of verses have ensured a universal appeal.

That universality, and the beautiful, haunting nature of the song have ensured myriad versions of the song have been recorded. I was originally aware of the song from versions by Emmylou Harris (probably still my favourite), Eva Cassidy, Johnny Cash and Jack White (from the film “Cold Mountain“), but somebody has also tried to document all the versions out there – good luck to them with that! Of more recent and contemporary note is a version by Ed Sheeran, proving that it is a song that continues to speak to generation after generation.

So why a new ukulele song sheet? Well there are certainly plenty of versions out there, but none really did it for me by themselves. So this is something of a hybrid, culled from a number of sources. It’s in the same key as the Johnny Cash version, but purely because I find it easier to sing in that key. Transpose (or use a capo) if it doesn’t work for you. I’ve included two versions – page 1 I guess you called call the more universalist version, whilst page 2 includes the more explicitly religious verses (I sourced these from here). Take your pick dependent on your predilections. And enjoy! (BTW – if you fancy finger-picking, here is a pattern you might want to try)

pdf-icon