Radiohead: Harry Patch (In Memory of) | Review

Thom Yorke's tribute to Britain's last surviving first world war veteran, who died last month, finds Radiohead at their most understated and serene

Those who tuned into Radio 4 this morning (Wednesday 5 August), received a nice surprise. At five to nine, Radiohead premiered their brand new song, a tribute to the late Harry Patch, the first world war veteran who died last month.

The simply titled Harry Patch (In Memory of) was aired just days after the band finished recording it. So what's it like?

It begins with Thom Yorke offering a desolate lament over bleak, circling strings that build as the song progresses. The lyrics follow Patch's perspective from his experiences on the battlefield, before moving to a bruising anti-war message: "Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out for themselves."

The final line comes from an interview given by a frail Patch to the Today programme in 2005: "The next world war will be chemical, but they will never learn."

Considering the solemnity of the subject, the song finds Radiohead at their most understated and serene, a respectful and ceremonial contrast to the fury of Harrowdown Hill, the song Yorke wrote in tribute to Dr David Kelly. Indeed, considering the specific nature of the track it would be unwise to use this song as a pointer to where Radiohead may go next.

Patch died on 25 July, the last survivor of the bloody Passchendaele assault. For 80 years he refused to talk about his war experiences, but eventually agreed to take part in a BBC documentary in 1998. Patch's realisation that he was one of the last links to the first world war persuaded him to go on record about it.

The lyrics to Harry Patch (In Memory of) are available on the Today programme website. You can download the song from Radiohead's official website for £1. All proceeds from the track will be donated to the Royal British Legion. Patch will be buried tomorrow (Thursday 6 August).


Dan Martin

The GuardianTramp

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