Elvis Costello – Shipbuilding (Instrumental Tab)

Elvis Costello and Clive Langer – Shipbuilding (Tab)

This is easily one of the best protest songs ever written. And one of the best songs of any sort. The lyrics are as nuanced and thought-provoking then any other. But it’s the music – written by Clive Langer – that really makes it shine.

The song is in the key of E minor but you’re hardly ever using the Em chord. In my arrangement there’s a grand total of three bars of it. So the song never feels relaxed or settled. It’s always shifting. The jazzy elements unsettle the tune. All that is added to in Robert Wyatt’s version with his vocal wobbles.

I could keep rambling on but I’ll let you play it.


Buy the Elvis Costello version.
Buy the Robert Wyatt version.

View Comments


  1. Sharon April 12th, 2013 8:50 am

    Lovely! I have always loved this song. Thanks for making such a beautiful arrangement

  2. Paul April 12th, 2013 9:54 am

    Like Sharon says: really lovely, Al. Looking forward to giving this a go myself.

  3. Ivey April 12th, 2013 2:28 pm


  4. Lily April 12th, 2013 11:50 pm

    oh, this sounds rather lovely!
    Thanks for posting it :)

  5. Woodshed April 13th, 2013 6:54 am

    Sharon: Thanks very much!

    Paul: Happy practicing.

    Ivey: Cheers!

    Lily: Glad you like it.

  6. Gady April 13th, 2013 12:56 pm

    Thanks, also one of my favorite songs.

  7. Woodshed April 14th, 2013 7:54 am

    Gady: You’re welcome.

  8. rob April 16th, 2013 12:55 pm

    A great arrangement to a beautiful and touching song well done, and thanks for all the hard tabby work.
    ps how is the new book going?

  9. Woodshed April 17th, 2013 8:42 am

    rob: Thanks very much!

  10. Mark April 21st, 2013 8:52 am

    Great arrangement for a favorite of mine. Working on it. Matching the lyrics to the melody to try to get the tempo since I am not that skilled. Missing the third verse in your arrangement. Any chance you can tab it out? Thanks for a great website.

  11. Woodshed April 21st, 2013 4:31 pm

    Mark: Thanks. No plans to. I almost always shorten songs for instrumental versions. But I don’t think the third verse is too far from the first two.

  12. Joy April 22nd, 2013 4:45 am

    I love all of the arrangements, chords, and tabs that you put out! Ever since I started playing I frequent your site whenever I can. I was wondering if you could do some tabs from Wild Child and Danielle Ate the Sandwich?

  13. tbone November 21st, 2013 3:19 am

    Love this.

  14. Woodshed November 21st, 2013 8:43 am

    tbone: Thanks!

  15. Bill January 11th, 2015 3:08 pm


  16. Woodshed January 13th, 2015 10:42 am

    Bill: Thanks!

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