Like an ocean in disguise

My thoughtful, generous and lovely Becky gave me a really rather cool tenor ukulele for my birthday last month, complete with its own hard case, so I’ve been busily learning songs from Eddie Vedder’s most recent solo album, err, Ukulele Songs. (Singer Dave told me last summer that he’d bought a copy, only to be disappointed when he realised that the album was, it transpired, replete with songs played on the ukulele. I have no idea what he was expecting.)

Ukulele Songs has been nominated for Best Folk Album at this year’s Grammy’s. The award ceremony is tonight. Steve Earle’s tender and touching I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive – written in the shadow of his father’s death – shades it for me. Almost sacrilege for a PJ fan to write that, I know. But it is an oustanding album. Click on if you’d like to don some top-notch 90s clothes, travel back in time and revisit Pearl Jam’s 1996 Grammy’s appearance. It’s worth it just for the look on Stone Gossard’s face as Vedder articulates precisely how much winning a Grammy means to him. If you’d like to read an interview with Vedder from last summer about Ukulele Songs, click on And if you’re enjoying a frozen February in Blighty and would like to see the wind-swept, limpid-blue seas Hawaiian islands video of ‘Can’t Keep’, click

I digress. I’ll be posting more thoughts on this enchanting, heartfelt and – at times – heartbroken record at some point in the future. The deluxe CD edition of Ukulele Songs, via the Ten Club, came with a posh hardback songbook: the songs in tab form and loads of photos – I’m a sucker for all that stuff (shock). The tenor ukulele is larger than its standard-sized cousin, though usually with the same tuning (G-C-E-A). The G is can be tuned high or low; presently I’ve got it tuned low because the string snapped when I tried tuning it high. I’m going to sort this out soon. One of the charms of the ukulele’s sound is that high G tuning, which ensures that both up and down strums start with a high note, giving it that distinctively irrepressible uke vibe. If you want to replicate the ukulele tuning, stick a capo on an acoustic guitar at the fifth fret – the top four strings then match the (low G) uke tuning. Better still, go and buy a uke. They’re great fun to play.

To date, I’ve got ‘Leaning on a Lamppost’, ‘Can’t Keep’, ‘Sleeping By Myself’, ‘Without You’, ‘Broken Heart’, ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Longing to Belong’ more or less in the bag. There’s one significant catch though, my singing voice. It’s no Vedder. The uke is designed for playing and singing really, so I’ll just have to persevere. Lucky neighbours…

23-02-12 update: the folk Grammy went to The Civil Wars for Barton Hollow. worth checking out all the nominations this year: The Civil Wars, Vedder, Earle, Gillian Welch and Fleet Foxes.


About Mark Anstee

guitarist, Radio Seattle View all posts by Mark Anstee

Share, if it makes you sleep, if it sets you free, if it helps you breathe…

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