Death row records:  Richard Hughes and Troy Davis

Morbidly enough, I’ve always thought songs about capital punishment were a pretty fascinating sub-genre.

On this blog I’ve previously mentioned The Adverts’ punk classic “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” (a number 18 hit in 1977, pop-pickers!) and there are plenty more, especially in the folk tradition. One of my favourites is “Handsome Pete’s Last Ride” from the contemporary American neo-folk singer Al Duvall: “They pinned some jobs on me I didn’t do … the electric chair is sent for you / He said Handsome Pete, come and cool your feet / Hop up on the barbecue stool”. And that’s just the start. It gets darker and more surreal and bizarrely funny as it goes on.

Bleak humour is just one way of cheating the hangman in these kinds of songs, but in real life things are … well, just bleak. That’s why it’s great to be able to say another musician is tackling capital punishment – Keane’s drummer Richard Hughes. Not just writing a song about the death penalty either (although if he considers doing so, why not?) but actually doing a bit of a Johnny Cash and going into a US prison to see for himself. Tomorrow!

As you may have noticed if you regularly visit the Amnesty site, Richard is a committed campaigner against the death penalty. In particular he’s supporting Troy Davis’ 18-year-long effort to clear his name in Georgia. Troy’s case is now fairly well known (see earlier posts here and here) and, following a potentially crucial intervention from the US Supreme Court last month, could now be about to turn a corner. Troy’s set to get an evidentiary hearing and he could – could – be close to walking out of death row and becoming the 136th exonerated US death row prisoner since 1973 to “cheat” the executioner.

So tomorrow Richard Hughes is going to see Troy on death row in Jackson, Georgia. See Amnesty death penalty campaigner Kim Manning-Cooper’s blog for more up-to-date info on the visit.

The application of the death penalty in the United States (like everywhere else) is essentially a lethal lottery. If Troy Davis is finally going to get out alive it’s going to have a lot to do with years of superb and indefatigable campaigning from his fantastic family (not least his amazing sister Martina), his legal team, church groups, political types like Alistair Carmichael MP, and … [drum roll] … people with a good sense of rhythm! Check out Richard’s Hughes’ new comment article here and look at his photo-blog here.

I happen to know that Richard is also following the case of Hakamada Iwao in Japan, subject of a recent post on this blog. Among other terrifying things in Hakamada’s case is the fact that this poor guy has now been on death row for longer than any other single person in the world. It is, in the most literal and chilling sense, a death row record.

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