Shanneyganock's Chris Andrews pens Beaumont-Hamel anniversary tune
It's not quite what you expect to hear in a song memorializing the horrors of Beaumont-Hamel: the opening notes of an accordion, ringing out in almost uplifting lilt.
But that subtle musical surprise proves entirely appropriate for a song that Chris Andrews of Shanneyganock thought would prove easy enough to write — a whim that would come back to haunt the veteran musician as he tried to encapsulate a defining experience in history and personal tragedy into a few short minutes.
"I thought I was going to get a few emails and write a quick song and it'd be three or four days work," said Andrews ruefully, of his tune One More Will Stand.
"It ended up being one of the most stressful things ever in my life."
That stress came when Andrews realized the magnitude of what he'd taken on — sifting through an "overwhelming" volume of responses from relatives of Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldiers.
The suggestions poured in when he asked for inspiration to help him pen a CBC-commissioned song to mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel.
'It had to be their song'
The July 1, 1916 battle lasted 22 destructive minutes. And as Andrews read the personal stories from Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, he marveled at what diversity sprang from such a short span of devastation.
"Every one was so grabbing, and each one was so different," he said, reading over the stories that ran from accounts of shell-shocked survivors to miracles on the battlefield.
"There was one that really stuck out, one story of how a German soldier dragged their great-grandfather to safety and saved his life."
As the edges of each individual tragedy blurred together, Andrews realized he needed to sing of the bigger picture.
"To actually pick one story was too much, I couldn't do it. It had to be their song, you know what I mean? Everybody."
The creative process
Trying to create a universal sentiment in song doesn't sound easy, and One More Will Stand was an exercise in editing.
"The first time we recorded the song it was 10 minutes long! Too much!" laughed Andrews, adding it took several tries to whittle it down to its final, six-minute run time.
The lyrics wend their way from the soldiers departing St. John's, to Egypt, through to the tragic morning of July 1 and its lingering reverberations on the province's psyche, the song walking a fine line between facts and emotions.
"I hope that through this, and the music to it, that people will like the song and they'll understand the story a little bit more," said Andrews.
I wanted a song that when it came out, people would listen to it and be able to sing along.- Chris Andrews
And the upbeat accordion lilt throughout the song is no accident.
"Newfoundlanders and Labradorians keep this close to their hearts, and I wanted to make sure I did something that was different but not too far either," he said.
"I wanted a song that when it came out, people would listen to it and be able to sing along to it. And I think we did that."
Andrews said the song will "for sure" become part of Shanneyganock's live catalogue, despite the stress of writing it.
With files from Peter Gullage