The ukulele orchestra feud continues with head UKUO man Peter Moss calling the UOGB “more of an amateur orchestra” and “a semi-professional outfit”. Which The Guardian followed up with, “Court papers show the UOGB turned over £4m over the past five years from a global concert schedule, which included shows at the Carnegie Hall in New York and Sydney Opera House”.
Way back in 2007 the second ever chord post I did was Despair in the Departure Lounge. Since then there’s been a steady stream of request for more Monkeys which I’d always replied to with, “I’ll do another Monkeys tab when they go back to making good records.” Johnny called me out on that promise correctly pointing out that the new album is awesome.
So here’s a medley of most of the songs on the album:
One for the Road/Do I Wanna Know?/Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?/Arabella/Knee Socks/I Want It All/R U Mine?
The trickiest bits for the fretting are the two big leaps on the fretboard. There’s the big slide up in R U Mine? where it isn’t such a big deal if you don’t hit it exactly. The really hard one is the 8th fret in bar 5. Cut that 1st fret note before it really short to give yourself some time to get up.
The trickiest bits for the strumming hand are the palm muting (i.e. lightly resting the underside of your hand on the string at the bridge to muffle the strings). In One for the Road and Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High? I’m muting all the strings. In Do I Wanna Know? I’m trying my best to mute the C-string while letting the E- and A-strings ring. As you can hear in the video I don’t always pull it off. It’s hard to get right so there’s nothing wrong with playing this section without any muting at all.
As you would expect of someone who started playing the ukulele when it was ignored and deeply unfashionable in the 80s, Will has an obvious deep love of the ukulele. And that’s reflected in this book’s wealth of uke knowledge, anecdotes and photos collected over decades of playing.
The book does a full sweep of the ukulele. The first half covers the history of the ukulele and notable ukulele players (those famous for ukulele, famous for their music and famous for other reasons). And the second half delves into how to play the ukulele. The writing is witty, informative and opinionated. I heartily recommend picking up a copy.
Will was kind enough to send me one and here are a few of my favourite bits to whet your appetite.
Laura Dukes, Rabbit Muse and Charlie Burse
Great to see these three getting some attention. It’s a crime that all Rabbit Muse‘s music is all still out of print.
Usually I’m the sort of pedant referred to in the book who points out that a tenor guitar isn’t a ukulele. But that Charlie Burse clip is so great I’m willing to overlook it.
The Ukulele Built in a POW Camp
For sheer bloody minded ukulele fanaticism in the face of misery and torture, Second World War veteran Thomas Boardman has to take the first prize.
There are a bunch of profiles of musicians and other famous folks who play the ukulele packed with interesting detail and anecdotes. But my favourites are the less well known like Greenwich Village ukulele painter Bobby Edwards.
The most impressive is the story of Thomas Boardman who managed to build himself a ukulele from whatever bits of wood, metal and wire he could scavenge as a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp in World War II. If you ever find yourself in the Manchester Imperial War Museum search it out.
America Takes Hawaii (And it’s Ukulele)
It came as no surprise that when in 1893 a group of European and US businessmen (with some gentle support from a group of US marines overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy…
Too many histories of the ukulele gloss over the machinations behind the uke’s first big push into popularity. So it’s good to it being pointed out that the ukulele was used by the businessmen who stole Hawaii from the Hawaiians to drive tourism to the island and fill their pockets.
Aside: After this good work it’s a bit of shame that he includes a couple of illustrations of the ‘topless Hawaiian hula girl in a grass skirt and lei’ variety.
Part of the strategy of these businessmen was to use songs and images to present a Hawaii packed with pliant, nubile women. And those songs and images are, unfortunately, still part of ukulele culture. With the huge contribution that Hawaiian women have made to the ukulele world it’s time to cut that bullshit out.
This is a criticism of the ukulele world in general rather than the book in particular. The writing in the book is very strong on the contribution of Hawaiians and women in general to the ukulele. And I think it provides the framework for understanding why these images are part of ukulele culture.
You caught her round the throat with it and strangled her… And you put another string on the ukelele – but it was the wrong string, that’s why you were so stupid.
*Spoilers for the 80 year old short story The Bird with the Broken Wing.* It gives me great pleasure that a character would be undone by their lack of uke knowledge.
The book also has the real-life murderous tale of Frederick Galloway ‘The Ukulele Slayer’.
Playing in a Ukulele-Only Group
Even though you’re all playing the same instrument, you don’t all have to play the same thing.
This is the bit I was really looking forward to. The only other people as well qualified to write about this are also in the UOGB. And with the number of people who are part of ukulele groups there’s no shortage of need for help on this.
Unfortunately, there’s just half a page on this. But it’s a good half page. And I’m still holding out hope of a full book on the subject from one or more members of the UOGB.
Being a Cole Porter classic, You’d Be So Nice has been covered by a horde of people including Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. But I’ve stuck to Victor and Penny’s ukulele version for the chord chart.
Another one for the Riffs for Ukulele series. Usual rules apply: they’re intended to be played for a lark (even more so with these punk pop songs); no, I’m not going to write up the full song; and they’re not necessarily in the original key (although only Sum 41 in this post isn’t thanks to some capo deployment).
After a bit of octave shifting the arpeggio riff in this one works way better on ukulele than I was expecting. Thumb and two finger picking for this one again. Try to emphasise the notes on the g- and C-strings.
Capo on the first fret for this one too. The switch from G to F at the end of bar two is very fast. If you’re struggling with it you can just switch the F for playing all the strings open like at the end of bar 4.
I’m not sure if this one entirely belongs in this post. But I’ve become obsessed with it recently. I tried to get all the discordant bits in. Which makes it much more difficult than it needs to be. Here’s a simpler version:
With all the intricate and dexterous actions that evolution has equipped our hands for it’s left us woefully unprepared to play an Fmaj7 chord on the ukulele. It’s made plenty of chord changes a pain in the arse too.
Laziness to the rescue! You can change the fingering of a chord or use a different inversion to make changes much more straightforward.
Here are a few tricky chord changes that can be simplified with a bit of rejiggering.
A to D
Here’s an obvious refingering. If you use your second, third and fourth fingers to play it you can keep your first finger tucked behind.
The Sucker Way
The Smart Way
Em to B7
In chord charts the B7 is almost always shown played with a barre. But it doesn’t have to be. Switch the notes on the g and A strings and you get the Em chord shape with everything moved across one string.
The Sucker Way
The Smart Way
G to B7
Another B7. This one doesn’t actually have a B in it. But thanks to crazy ear-shenanigans your brain fills in the B for you (here’s Vi Hart explaining it as well as why chords and scales are as they are).
The Sucker Way
The Smart Way
Anything to Fmaj7
If anyone tells you to play Fmaj7 the 2413 way throw your ukulele at them and run away. They are not your friend. In the first take of my trying to play the chord you can actually hear my wrist cracking as I attempt it.
The Sucker Way
The Smart Way
D7 to G7
Like the B7, this version of D7 doesn’t actually have a D. But it is way easier to play. This version is often called the ‘Hawaiian D7′ for reasons that elude me.