Loft vinyl: (8) which LPs to pack for France. McGarrigles, June Tabor and Nanci Griffith in, Cream and Chopin out
Reporting the Troubles and sneakily catching some wonderful Irish music

Ukraine, Tom Paxton, Eric Bogle and songs of war

Time will tell whether Putin's evil aggression in Ukraine, and perhaps beyond if observers are right about his further ambitions, produces great songs of war. Conflict and adversity often do inspire musicians and composers as well as artists, writers and, of course, soldiers. Bill Taylor has come up with two other excellent examples of the genre, both the work of the superb, heart-in-the-right-place American singer-songwriter Tom Paxton ...

If ever we were in need of a good anti-war song, this would be thetime. A mad world growing steadily madder.
No, I’m not thinking of Eric Bogle’s No Man’s Land. Colin and I have differed over this one in the past. I don’t think it’s a bad song, by any means, but I don’t hold it in quite the same high regard as he does.

Photo by Geoff Pugh and reproduced with his permission

The one that comes to mind is by Tom Paxton, written I believe in 1969/70 and set in a military field hospital – the same setting as for the MASH, Korean War-era TV series – in Vietnam.

Jimmy Newman reduces the human tragedy of war to a simple one- to-one transaction; a badly wounded soldier and his friend in the next bed. I won’t call it a noble song but I do think it borders on brilliance. It’s a song that can bring me almost to tears.

This is a live version:

As I recall, I’ve seen Tom Paxton perform twice. The first was a good (if that’s the word) half century ago with Colin at Les Cousins club in Soho.

I think we took the train down to London rather his usual method, hitch-hiking. Either way, it was a rather sleep-deprived weekend and I don’t have much recollection of Paxton’s set-list.

I saw him again in Toronto in the mid-1980s. He sang Jimmy Newman and another, earlier, song, Mr Blue, which I think is apposite, if not to actual physical conflict then to the concomitant “fake news” war and the constant official manipulation, even coercion, that we’re subject to in this, the so-called Information Age.

Mr Blue was written in 1967. Its chilling message has lost nothing over the years. I’ve heard it done almost as a dramatic recitation but I think the more upbeat nature of this musical version underscores the menace in the


** The story of this photograph, and an extract from the lyrics of No Man's Land can be found at


Sue Nicholson

Not forgetting a young man singing Dylan's anti-war anthem; Eddie Vedder at the 1992 30-year Dylan tribute concert.


A phenomenal rendition of Jimmy Newman appears on the 1971 issued LP The Gathering at the Earl of Old Town, performed by the late Fred Holstein.
The album was reissued on CD in the late 1990's, if you can find one,you owe it to yourself to hear Fred sing it. I love Tom Paxton but I strongly recommend this version also. Heartrending.


Tom has done it again, working the John McCutcheon: Ukrainian Now -


Tom has done it again, working the John McCutcheon: Ukrainian Now -

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