A Review of the Harvey Andrews book
"Gold Star To The Ozarks"
"Gold Star To The Ozarks"
by Harvey Andrews
This review is written by Dai Woosnam, firstname.lastname@example.org, 11/07
I write this review from my home in Britain. And unlike most of my
pieces for Kevin & Maxine's Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews,
this is a BOOK review, and not that of a CD. It is a review of a book
written by a household name on the UK folk scene.
Were I Harvey Andrews, I would go do the following: I would pack my
suitcase and fly to Seattle and camp out in the grounds of the mansion
of the CEO of Amazon.com, Jeff Bezos. I would then refuse to leave
until he agreed to take a thousand copies of this book “see-safe”.
(Please excuse me wearing my one-time hat as a book publisher's
representative there: it just means, “supplied free, invoiced only when
And “sold” they would assuredly be, particularly at the competitive
price of £8.95. It seems criminal that, at the time of my writing
this review, the only way one can buy this fine book is at his gigs or
through his website.
But hey, whoa! Stop a moment. This is supposed to be a review and not a
slavish fan letter. Anyone can write a puff job. I, as an
independent reviewer, should be more cautious in my approach to this
review: and maybe END with that paean of praise, but first weigh up the
pros and cons.
And yet, I have to confess, I fell head-over-heels in love with this book from the very first page. But then, how could I not?
For the book starts with him about to do his first floor spot at one of
the most famous folk clubs of the Revival years: the Jug o' Punch, then
held in the commodious surroundings of Digbeth Civic Hall. And why this
fact registers with me is because when I turned up to live in
Birmingham toward the end of the 60s, it was the first folk club that I
ever joined. And former resident Harvey Andrews - by that time making a
name for himself nationally – could do no wrong with my fellow members
who packed the place (oh for such crowds today!), and his regular
return visits would be treated with acclaim.
I was subscribing to SingOut! back then, and kept seeing these songs by
a chap called Phil Ochs. I used to pronounce his surname as the
beast in the paddy field: it took Harvey to tell me that it should be
pronounced as the tree in the meadow.
But hey, that's enough of my reminiscing. This book is about Harvey's
reminiscing: and by golly, it's a book where every line rings true,
every comma, and even the gaps BETWEEN the lines.
It covers his boyhood and youth up to his 22nd year. It's not totally
linear - there is the occasional chronological jump – but it is a book
that doesn't make any acute demands on the reader. Now some of us would
see that as implicit criticism – the choice of vocabulary for instance
would never have your average reader reaching for his dictionary – but
as someone who has read far too many literary works where authors have
deliberately swallowed a thesaurus, I regard Andrews' economy of style
a very real plus point.
And you know what they say: clear pools are often the deepest.
But whereas there is an avoidance of “the abstruse” in his language,
there is no avoidance of anything in his choice of what he can recall.
The stuff from a half-century ago that he brings to the page is
remarkable in both its breadth of material, and his flair for breathing
life into it and bringing it on to the page like it happened yesterday.
And with a staggeringly good eye for detail.
Examples? Oh gosh, the book abounds with them and alas there's
just space here to list a couple. First, trust me, as a near
contemporary of his, brought up like him in a house with no mod cons
(and us in the Rhondda Valley never had bathrooms fitted like he did
when still in school!), I can personally testify that his description
of laying/setting a coal fire and then lighting it on a freezing
morning using a double page of a newspaper to “draw” it … well, it is
quite masterly. I had clean forgotten all the minutiae involved.
And, how he remembers the postman coming down the road to post him that
letter telling him he had passed the 11-plus. And suddenly Harvey has
baked his own madeleine cake for me. Reading his account, I feel my
throat go dry: I got that same letter.
(Talking of schooldays, I note that he calls a satchel a “rucksack”. Or
at least, I THINK he does. Because, that is what he and his mates take
to school. Today, yes. But back then? Doubtless the kids in
Brummagem were different to us South Walians in this
The real hero of this book is perhaps not Andrews Jnr., but Andrews
Snr. His dad Vic comes out of it as a real working class hero, and
Harvey owes him a lot (including saving his life when appendicitis
The book is full of surprises. Somehow I would never have guessed that
Harvey was someone who was not only an avid aircraft spotter, but was
also a former air cadet, marching and saluting. Nor did I imagine him
working on inter-city express trains pushing the refreshment trolley
down the length of the carriages, selling his wares. And who'd have
thought he originally suffered from stage fright? (The way he used his
own mental technique to overcome this problem, is brilliantly explained
on page 195: it is worth the price of the book itself, as sound advice
to aspiring performers.)
He has a great gift for capturing speech. I looked in vain for a false
note. The nearest I could come was page 65 which has his dear dad
saying “What good is Princess Margaret? I ask you. What is
Now, I'd bet my shirt that this usage of “what is she for?” can only be
traced back to about the mid 1980s, but such is the sheer INTEGRITY of
this book that Harvey would doubtless succeed in taking the shirt off
my back! So I'll withdraw the suggestion.
And that integrity is such that he allows himself to paint a “warts and
all” account of some events: he certainly shows himself to be a rotter
damaging someone's car and not putting a note on the window (callow
youth is no excuse, and he knows it). And he also shows real honesty
when explaining a vendetta waged against him at teacher training
college. I would have been too gutless, thinking that the casual reader
might have thought “there is no smoke without fire”.
Best of all, is the story he tells of how he lost his girl to a friend
at the first party he ever hosted. It has happened to us all, but most
of us have airbrushed it out of our memories, as being too painful,
even after all these years.
The book abounds with so much else. Fascinating lists of records
purchased, and diary entries. Generally, I find his taste simpatico
with my own at the same age. My eyebrows were only raised at him
now being puzzled as to why Anthony Newley played such a big part in
his listening life.
I am surprised at you Harvey! Had Newley been French, they would now be
raving over him as a great chansonnier. An extraordinary talent, both
as a performer and a writer (the latter sometimes with Leslie
Bricusse). In some ways the most underrated artiste in my lifetime.
You'd rewrite one line in that fine song about Jake Thackray: “I could
be NEWLEY, he could be Brassens”. (Oh yes for sure, Jake would HAVE to
But hey, any adverse criticism of this book would be churlish. Yes, in
a second edition, one would like an index, and perhaps the customary 8
rather than just 4 pages of photographs (though in some ways this is
such a good autobiography that it needs NO photos, here the author has
succeeded in making the characters all come alive in this reader's
It is just the “anorak” in me that wants additional pix I suppose, just
like it will be the anorak in me that makes me, the next time I am
driving along the M6, take the slightest of detours to check out the
Andrews boyhood home in Kenilworth Road, Handsworth.
And talking of detours: his account of his boyhood idyllic cycle rides
around his beloved Shropshire, was enough for me to reach for my
well-thumbed copy of “The Collected Poems of A E Housman” from my
There's no greater praise than that.
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