Bobby McGee’s, Sara Watkins, Bill Tapia: UkeTube

A very tough job sticking to my 10 video maximum this week. Those that the survived the ruthless cull include The Bobby McGee’s, a couple of performances from the NY Uke Fest, Sara Watkins and Tom Allalone.

You might notice Zoe and Jodi wearing prototype Ukulele Hunt shirts. They’re still at the testing stage – I don’t even have them myself yet. Read the rest of this entry »

Monday Exposure: The Bobby McGee’s

The Bobby McGee’s – No Friends (mp3) via MySpace.

The Bobby McGee’s are Great Britain’s premier ukulele group (and don’t the name of any orchestra suggest otherwise). Their music has been described as, “domestic violence with ukuleles,” and, “Dostoyevsky doing Lonnie Donegan.” I interrogated Jimmy (who, along with Eleanor,is the band’s singer/songwriter/ukulelist section) to find out more.

How did the Bobby McGees come into being?

The Bobby McGee’s came into being after I met El’ at a Libertines concert in Leicester. I was sad after watching my best friend marry an idiot and needed to do something to help make the world a beautiful place again…we formed the band that night, booked 3 gigs then decided we better write some songs…the name came from Bobby Gillespie & Alan McGee (who told me to “F@@K OFF!” after calling him on his drug habits…and then asking for a record deal….the emails are hilarious!)…and of course, the Kris Kristoferson song that my gran used to sing to us from the back of the car on long holiday drives…I think she would have hated our music, but it would have made my grandad smile!

What made you choose the ukulele?

Eleanor saw the band Herman Dune playing “funny guitars” and I bought her one for Valentines day… We both fell in love with them.
First chords I found were for “Anarchy In The UK” and “King Of The Swingers” and I knew that this was what I had been waiting 33 years to discover!

I have a MAHALO concert uke…I love it…I have a SHADOW pickup fitted in it which is great and AQUILA strings really do make a big difference….Eleanor plays what I believe is an old Slingerback banjo uke (looks just like one, but no makers marks on it!)…I had a lovely little old GRETSCH uke that I bought real cheap on ebay and repaired…but I ruined it when I slapped El’ on the ass with it during a recording session….I’d love a nice uke, but I’m determined to wait until someone offers to make one for me…so I’ll probably be playing MAHALO for the next 20 years!

Which ukulele players do you particularly admire?

Duke Marmapants (and his Hot Potato Synchopators) Have you seen this video?

Malcolm is a legend…a wonderfully honest guy and a great musician…he taught me everything I know…he has a great way of teaching, he just drops things into a conversation that spark my interest…”This is a diminished chord”…”This is a triplet”….then vanishes for six months while I work out my own way to play it!

We ran an fantastic open mic’ here in Brighton for 18 months THE UKULELE RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT SOCIETY (T.U.R.D.S. if you must!)…we gave prizes to all performers and had comment books for punters to scribble their thoughts in…imagine my joy one night last year when I discovered Malcolm had written “Wow…Jimmy has finally learned how to play his uke!”….TURDS will be back in July as soon as Eleanor has finished her finals…watch this space!

I also hugely admire George Formby (Malcolm will cuff my ears!)…I love the solos he plays…they are great, I’m just begining to work out what he’s doing…one day i will work out HOW he does it….I think he’s very underrated as a musician, but that often is the case for people who write “comical” songs ;-) There’s something very English about his playing that (even as a Scotsman!) I love…and anyway, just look at all the people he made happy, isn’t that the whole point?

Are the Bobby McGees characters or is that you?

That’s a secret!

The gig last month where I spat in the guys face and threatened to punch him for walking out, that was character….

Is it true you taught Emiliana Torrini to play the ukulele? That sounds like fun.

She asked me to…but we were both really busy and never seemed to be in the same town at the same time….I didn’t recognise her at first, I was at a gig watching a friends band and when she came and spoke to me I asked her to shut up till the gig was over….”do you know who that was?” everyone asked me, but to be honest, i think she wanted me for my beard more than my uke….I still have her number.

Is it possible to buy your stuff on anything but vinyl?

Yes….write to us and ask…. I think you can also get them on itunes or something like that, check on our “ubercool” wee record label CHERRYADE:

I have two solo albums: “68 Love Songs (and a poem about shagging)”….and “Love Song 101″….that’s 170 songs all together (but if I’m honest, only 165 of them are any good)…I am desperate for someone to release those on vinyl, if anyone wants a “sampler” write and I’ll send them one….I love listening back to them and hearing all the wee improvements in my playing or thinking “How did I do that?” as I try to remember what chords I was playing!

Radio One have promised to play all the songs from the first album…but I think it would get them closed down!

Eleanor also has 14 new songs to record after her finals, most of which I haven’t heard…her music is beautiful, her uke playing is everything that mine isn’t, but she can play any instrument (well, anything but flute and clarinet!)…she’s getting really into Klezmer rhythms and chords so it will be real interesting to hear her new stuff.

We get to play with Kimya Dawson at Ladyfest in London next month…We’ve followed her for years and played with her 4 or 5 times, but I think post JUNO, things will be different!

A big thanks to Jimmy for answering my questions. You can visit The Bobby McGee’s MySpace (you can always judge a band by their MySpace friends, theirs include Uke Hunt favourites MJ Hibbett, Kimya Dawson and The King Blues and personal favourites of mine The Duloks and Spinmaster Plantpot) and buy their EP S’Amuser Com Des Fous on vinyl at Cherryade Records and the mp3s on iTunes.
The Bobby McGee's

Songs With Chords You Know – Updated

I like to keep a list of songs that use just the most common ukulele chords. Arranged by the order people usually learn them in. That way you can find some songs to play no matter how few chords you know.

And here’s the updated list including some notable new additions like:

- Lorde’s massive hit Royals as ukuleled by Walk off the Earth: C, Bb and F.
- Skinny Lister’s summer hit Colours: G, Em, D and C.
- Kelli Rae Powell’s massive singalong Some Bridges are Good to Burn: C, G, Am, F.
- Darlene Love’s Crimbo classic Christmas (Baby Please Come Home): C Em F G Am

C, F and G

If you prefer, you can use G7 in the place of G or vice versa for any of these songs.

NeverShoutNever! – Your Biggest Fan/Did It Hurt?
Noah and the Whale – Five Years Time
OK Go – This Too Shall Pass
Paolo Nutini – High Hopes
SoKo – I Will Never Love You More
The Bobby McGee’s – A Dog At All Things
The Lancashire Hotpots – He’s Turned Emo
The Tiger Lillies – Start A Fire
Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra/Kings of Leon – The Bucket

Plus Am, Dm and Em

Addams Family Theme Tune
Alton Ellis – Rock Steady
Black Kids – I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend to Dance With You
Darlene Love – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
Darren Hanlon – All These Things
Electrelane – Cut and Run
Garfunkel and Oates – Me, You and Steve
Florence and the Machine – Dog Days Are Over
GUGUG – California Sun
Israel Kamakawiwoíole/Jason Castro – Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Julien Dore – Cet Air-La
Kate Nash – Foundations
Kate Micucci/The Gooch – Mr Moon
Kelli Rae Powell
Last Shadow Puppets – Standing Next to Me
LP – Into the Wild
The Lumineers – Ho Hey
Phosphorescent – Wolves
She & Him – Sentimental Heart

Plus D

Allo Darlin’ – Tallulah
Allo Darlin’ – Space Christmas
Amanda Palmer – In My Mind
Antsy Pants/Bear Creek – Vampire
Belle and Sebastian – The Boy with the Arab Strap
Daniel Johnston – Living Life
Gothic Archies – Shipwrecked
GUGUG/The Ramones – Blitzkrieg Bop
Keston Cobblers’ Club – You-Go
Phredd – Elmer’s Electric Tricycle
Skinny Lister – Colours
The Dubliners and The Pogues – The Irish Rover
The Pogues – Fiesta
The Little Ones – Tangerine Visions
Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma
Velvet Underground and Nico – I’ll be Your Mirror
Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London

Plus A and E7

Camera Obscura – Cock Up Your Beaver
Florence & the Machine – Kiss With A Fist (don’t panic, you can use E7 instead of E in this song)
Joan Jett – Bad Reputation
Kate Micucci & Ted (Scrubs) – Screw You
Paolo Nutini – Pencil Full of Lead
The Pogues – Streams of Whiskey
The Weavers – Pay Me My Money Down

Plus Bb

Beirut – A Candle’s Fire
Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know (You can use C instead of C5)
Ingrid Michaelson – Be OK
Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love
Lorde/Walk off the Earth – Royals
Mumford and Sons – The Cave
Nevershoutnever – First Dance
Neutral Milk Hotel – King of Carrot Flowers
Noah and the Whale – Jealous Kind of Love
Sufjan Stevens – Lumberjack Christmas
The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight

More…

Mastered all those? Tackle more:

Easy ukulele songs
Beginner ukulele lessons

Songs With Chords You Know – Updated

Here’s an update of my list of songs with beginner level chords. So no matter how few chords you know you can still bash out a few songs.

C, F and G

If you prefer, you can use G7 in the place of G or vice versa for any of these songs.

NeverShoutNever! – Your Biggest Fan/Did It Hurt?
Noah and the Whale – Five Years Time
OK Go – This Too Shall Pass
Paolo Nutini – High Hopes
SoKo – I Will Never Love You More
The Bobby McGee’s – A Dog At All Things
The Lancashire Hotpots – He’s Turned Emo
The Tiger Lillies – Start A Fire
Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra/Kings of Leon – The Bucket

Plus Am, Dm and Em

Addams Family Theme Tune
Alton Ellis – Rock Steady
Black Kids – I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend to Dance With You
Darren Hanlon – All These Things
Electrelane – Cut and Run
Garfunkel and Oates – Me, You and Steve
Florence and the Machine – Dog Days Are Over
GUGUG – California Sun
Israel Kamakawiwoíole/Jason Castro – Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Julien Dore – Cet Air-La
Kate Nash – Foundations
Kate Micucci/The Gooch – Mr Moon
Last Shadow Puppets – Standing Next to Me
LP – Into the Wild
The Lumineers – Ho Hey
Phosphorescent – Wolves
She & Him – Sentimental Heart

Plus D

Allo Darlin’ – Tallulah
Amanda Palmer – In My Mind
Antsy Pants/Bear Creek – Vampire
Belle and Sebastian – The Boy with the Arab Strap
Daniel Johnston – Living Life
Gothic Archies – Shipwrecked
GUGUG/The Ramones – Blitzkrieg Bop
Keston Cobblers’ Club – You-Go
Phredd – Elmer’s Electric Tricycle
The Dubliners and The Pogues – The Irish Rover
The Pogues – Fiesta
The Little Ones – Tangerine Visions
Vampire Weekend – Oxford Comma
Warren Zevon – Werewolves of London

Plus A and E7

Camera Obscura – Cock Up Your Beaver
Florence & the Machine – Kiss With A Fist (don’t panic, you can use E7 instead of E in this song)
Joan Jett – Bad Reputation
Kate Micucci & Ted (Scrubs) – Screw You
Paolo Nutini – Pencil Full of Lead
The Pogues – Streams of Whiskey

Plus Bb

Beirut – A Candle’s Fire
Gotye – Somebody That I Used To Know (You can use C instead of C5)
Ingrid Michaelson – Be OK
Leona Lewis – Bleeding Love
Mumford and Sons – The Cave
Nevershoutnever – First Dance
Neutral Milk Hotel – King of Carrot Flowers
Noah and the Whale – Jealous Kind of Love

More…

Mastered all those? Tackle more:

Easy ukulele songs
Beginner ukulele lessons

Benny Wenda

The guy playing ukulele in this clip is Benny Wenda. He’s also a leader of the movement to free West Papua from Indonesia.

He’s been living in the UK since 2003 when he was granted asylum after escaping arrest and torture in Indonesia. He now faces arrest and deportation after the issuing of an Interpol red notice.

On Radio 4′s Today program an Indonesian ambassador claims he’ll get a fair trial. Which doesn’t seem likely judging by Amnesty International’s report on Indonesia. The Indonesian government accept that torture takes place and calls it, “unprofessional”.

I heard about Benny from Jimmy off of the Bobby McGee’s:

I met Benny on a bus in Brixton coming back from a gig about three years ago. He had two beautiful little girls on his knee and a ukulele tucked under his arm. I had mine on my lap, we nodded in some kind of uke brotherhood recognition and we started talking.

Benny told me that he was a tribal leader in exile from West Papua, that he had been forced to flee the country under increasing fear for his life from the Indonesian government.

He had been recording a CD of ukulele freedom songs, “everyone plays ukulele over there!” he told me. We had lovely chat, He seemed like a lovely guy and when we shook hands and said “bye” at Victoria, he gave me a leaflet about his “Free Western Papua” cause.

Six months later, totally unrelated, at a music festival on the south coast I met a young lady who came over and started talking to me about my ukuele. Her neighbour played and had shown her how to play. In the silly serendipitous way the world works it turns out her neighbour was Benny and we spoke about him and his daughters and his story, we’ve been friends ever since….

Today I heard on BBC Radio 4 that Indonesia were putting pressure on the British Government to have Benny extradited. According to the Indonesians he is a wanted criminal, an arsonist and murderer.

I don’t believe them.

I don’t know the ins and outs of his case and I certainly don’t know enough to pontificate on the situation in West Papua. But I do know it’s wrong to threaten to send a guy back to a police force that tortured him and continues to torture others.

You can find out more about Benny and Free West Papua on FreeWestPapua.org. And you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

Most Common Ukulele Chords

I was in the process of updating the Songs with Chords You Know page and became curious about the most used chords on the site. Here are the results (click it for the full size image):

And here’s one showing all chords used four times or more. The first thing that struck me was that it’s a Pareto distribution (near enough) which means if you learn the first few chords you’re going to be able to play most of the songs.

I was curious, so here’s a chart for the chords for ukulele-tabs.com’s most popular songs. The results are similar but there’s a much clearer gap after the top four. So if you want to write a successful ukulele song use the chords C, G, Am, F.

Songs you can play after learning 6 chords

Just learn these six chords:

C, F, G, Am, Dm and Em

And you’ll be able to play these songs:

NeverShoutNever! – Your Biggest Fan/Did It Hurt?
Noah and the Whale – Five Years Time
OK Go – This Too Shall Pass
Paolo Nutini – High Hopes
SoKo – I Will Never Love You More
The Bobby McGee’s – A Dog At All Things
The Lancashire Hotpots – He’s Turned Emo
The Tiger Lillies – Start A Fire
Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra/Kings of Leon – The Bucket
Addams Family Theme Tune
Alton Ellis – Rock Steady
Black Kids – I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend to Dance With You
Darren Hanlon – All These Things
Electrelane – Cut and Run
Garfunkel and Oates – Me, You and Steve
Florence and the Machine – Dog Days Are Over
GUGUG – California Sun
Israel Kamakawiwoíole/Jason Castro – Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Julien Dore – Cet Air-La
Kate Nash – Foundations
Kate Micucci/The Gooch – Mr Moon
Last Shadow Puppets – Standing Next to Me
Phosphorescent – Wolves
She & Him – Sentimental Heart

If a song doesn’t use the most common chords

If you come across a song that’s all Eb and Bb and you haven’t mastered those chords yet, there is a way to make it easier: change the key.

To do that visit this site. Take your complicated chord chart. Copy and paste it into the box. Go to the ‘New Key (required)’ drop-down menu and select C. Click ‘Click Here’.

Whatever it spews out will sound right and will usually be easier to play (if not to sing).

Favourite Chord?

All of which raises this question: what’s your favourite chord?

I’m going with Caug (1003) or add in the 7 as well (1001). Leave yours in the comments.

Friday Links

UkeToob is shutting up shop.

youkulele.com (the Italian ukulele site headed up by Jontom) has been putting up tabs – a mix of free and paid for.

I was interviewed by Got A Ukulele…

Peter Luongo discuss 30 years of heading up the Langley Ukulele Ensemble.

Trying to convince Ben Lerman to sell DIY ukuleles.

Kickstarters: Manitoba Hal is raising for his album. Amanda Palmer and Kim Boekbinder are raising for their joint single (Thanks to @im_a_mia).

The Duke of Uke are holding a 5th Anniversary Extravaganza in London next weekend. The first two nights are headed up by The Wave Pictures and Darren Hayman. And Saturday is a ukulele packed bill including Uke Hunt favourites like The Bobby McGee’s, Nigel Burch and Salwa Azar.

The Pixies on Uker Tabs.

Ukulele Video of the Year 2010: Nominations

I’m sure 2010 will got down in ukulele history as the year of Hey, Soul Sister (don’t even think about it: released November 2009). But I’ll be remembering the year for the diversity, skill and invention on display from the ukers. And it’s heartening to see that, despite all the mainstreamification and talk of the uke being for big get-togethers, it is still an instrument played by weirdos.

The real purpose of the vote: to get people watching excellent musicians. So if there’s a video you think has been cruelly overlooked, be sure to give it a nomination because I’ll be watching anything I missed first time round.

For the first stage, everyone gets to nominate up to 5 videos – leave them in the comments. From those nominations, I’ll cobble together a list of ten (ish) that will be voted on next week. Use whatever criteria you like. I went with whichever videos/songs I enjoyed most.

The Rules

The rules remain as ramshackle as ever:

- There has to be a ukulele in there.
- Videos must have been originally uploaded in 2010.
- Videos must be publicly available online.
- Maximum of five nominations per person.
- Post your nominations in the comments.
- Nominations close midnight 7th February (Hawaii time).
- Ten acts with the most nominations go into the final vote with their most nominated song going forward.
- No prize. Just the love and admiration of the heaving masses.
- No sucking up by voting for me.

Don’t panic if your comments don’t show up right away. First time commenters and comments contains a few links can get held back for spam checking.

My Nominations

Serious problems narrowing it down to five this year. It kills me to leave out Manitoba Hal.

Little6ster – I Wish…
SoftSpot – Half a House
Jónsi and Nico Muhly – Go Do
Kaki King – Falling Day
Secret Home Party – Reciprocation

Videos You May Like

To jog your memory, here are some more videos that have caused a stir in the comments, on the net or in my pants:

Keston Cobblers Club – You Go
Brett Domino – Justin Timberlake Medley
Manitoba Hal – Poulet Shack
4DJB25 – Esmerelda
Savannah Smith – Ventriloquism
Sanfordandsong – Flim
Matt Griffo – One Love
Jim Boggia – Thunder Road
Ben Lerman – Ben Lerman Plays the Ukulele
Ukulollo – Knight Rider
U900 – Twist and Shout
Agathe and Fine – Rambling Man
The Ooks of Hazard – Kids
Lila Burns – Young Hearts, Young Minds
White Hinterland – No Logic
The Bobby McGee’s – Bang Bang Bang
Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra – Short People
Jake Shimabukuro – Bohemian Rhapsody
James Hill and Victoria Vox – Billie Jean
Yoyoyo Acapulco – Orange
Mike De Velta – Fuller’s Hill
Bella Hemming – Play Guitar
Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer – Songs for Acid Edward
Antarctica Takes It – C&F
Sophie Madeleine – The Rhythm You Started
Veronica Sbergia and Max di Bernardi – Take It Easy Greasy/Dirty Mother Fuyer

Wednesday Links

16 years in the making, the documentary of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in Japan has arrived (half an hour long).

If you’re looking for some uke music on Boxing Day, Resonance are broadcasting four hours’ worth of performances from the Wukulele Festival including Sophie Madeleine, The Re-entrants, The Bobby McGee’s and an unmissable set from Bob Brozman. It starts at 8pm (GMT) and you can stream it on their website (or listen on 104.4FM if you’re in London). And take a listen to the Uke Hunt Christmas podcast if you haven’t yet.

The Melbourne Ukulele Festival has grown to encompass a whole week (25th of February till Tuesday the 1st of March, 2011) and a number of cities. The program includes The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, Bosco and Honey and Shelley O’Brien

Ken Middleton has a new ebook out, 12 Hymn Tunes for Ukulele, which you can buy on his website.

Google have invested $600,000 in Miso Media (who made the miSonata app with KoAloha).

Corktown Ukulele Jam mix up ukes and strings for the Hallelujah Chorus.

Holland Greco (who opened the first Uke Hunt podcast) has a uke cover of Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance on the Frank Zappa birthday album.

UPDATE: Must be the season for books. Lil Rev has just sent me info on his latest book 101 Ukulele Licks (PDF link).

Friday Links

Radio Ukulele.fr has a lovely selection of tunes (in the right-hand column). Highlights include Ohta San, Jesse Kalima and The Old Blind Mole Orkestra.

I confess, I’m completely addicted to the ShayTards. And now they have a ukulele theme tune.

Atomic bomb responsible for ukulele revival.

German take on the ukulele revival.

Nice to see an add that’s not using the uke for beachy associations but the noble tradition of lightly disguised filth.

The Pixies uke it up on the tour bus. (Thanks to Paul).

A solo session from Jimmy of the Bobby McGee’s (starts about 28 minutes) including the legendary 69 Ways To Make A Woman Come.

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