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Cover Story: (67) Death Comes Easy. Harvey Andrews, Ian Campbell and a superior anti-war song

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Bill Taylor revives Salut! Live's popular but neglected Cover Story series with another look at songs of war, sadly topical. He reminds us of the advanced songwriting gifts of Harvey Andrews, not a household name but the composer of some classics of the British folk scene, from the powerful Hey Sandy, recalling a student, Sandra Scheuer, shot dead by the Ohio National Guard during a demo at Kent State University against the Vietnam War in 1970, to Soldier, wrongly seen by some as glorifying military endeavour but actually a very decent and human description of one serviceman's selfless sacrifice. Bill features two versions of another well-crafted Andrews song that tells simply of the statistically insignificant loss of yet another casualty of war ...

Harvey_Andrews_-_Popzien_1973_2
Photo of Harvey Andrews by Vara

The war drags on, to quote from a not-very-distinguished anti-war song by Donovan.

It was written at the height of the Vietnam War, a conflict that really did drag on and inspired a whole catalogue of “anti” songs, a great many of them not very distinguished.

I include in this Bob Dylan’s Masters of War, a litany of fairly obvious and sometimes trite imagery, far, far inferior to “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

As I wrote a few weeks ago, one of the most powerful anti-war songs in my view is Tom Paxton’s Jimmy Newman. But Paxton, too, could fall into the trap of easy rhyming couplets – I’m thinking The Willing Conscript, What Did You Learn in School Today and Lyndon Johnson Told the Nation.


On the other side of the coin, another of the best anti-war songs is, I think, not widely known and was written by someone who has had a successful musical career but whose name, I suspect, does not trip lightly off everyone’s tongue.

I only know two versions of Harvey Andrews’s Death Come Easy. They’ve closely connected.

The four verses (with the first repeated at the end) contain no blood-soaked metaphors or dizzying glimpses of Armageddon, just the words of a young man looking back at what he was compelled to give up to fight someone else’s battles.

I first heard the song on the Ian Campbell Folk Group’s excellent 1966 album, Contemporary Campbells.

 

It’s a forceful rendition with banjo, guitar and Dave Swarbrick’s mandolin underscoring the lyrics. Campbell wrote in the sleeve notes: “Harvey Andrews, who wrote this song and many others, first sang them at our club in Birmingham, The Jug O’ Punch. He soon became a local celebrity and is now becoming well known nationally through his concert performances and recordings. His songs are not much influenced by folk tradition but they present a very personal picture of life seen through the eyes of an urban Midlander.”

Andrews himself also released the song in 1966 on an EP – remember those? – entitled “A Most Peculiar Man.” (That didn’t, as far as I know, refer to himself – it was a cover of the Paul Simon song.)

Andrews, born in 1943, is still on the scene, though I believe he retired from full-time performing about 10 years ago. His website – www.harveyandrews.com – is in the process of being rebuilt but he’s also active on Facebook –
https://www.facebook.com/harveyandrewsmusic

I much prefer his version of “Death Come Easy.” With his own acoustic-guitar accompaniment, it’s slower and more contemplative. I hear a faint echo of Paul Brady in his voice.

A classic. A largely forgotten and overlooked classic, but a classic all the same.

 

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