The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128093   Message #3979063
Posted By: GeoffLawes
25-Feb-19 - 08:03 PM
Thread Name: Songs in English about the Spanish Civil War
Subject: RE: Songs in English about the Spanish Civil War


The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff (Young’uns Cd & Show)

This post is a collection of information about the Cd and stage show called The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff which was created and performed by The Young’uns, (Sean Cooney, David Eagle, &Michael Hughes ) The following link will take you to a Youtube video made for the group’s 2019 tour. It provides a good overview of the whole project.
Below that link is a section called THE TRACK LIST , a list of all the Johnny Longstaff songs This includes a link to a YouTube video performance of each song by The Young’uns   . Below THE TRACK LIST    will be found THE LYRICS    which shows the lyrics for each song.   



1 Any Bread?
2 Carrying the Coffin
3 Hostel Strike
4 Cable Street
5 Robson's Song
6 Ta-ra to Tooting
7 Noddy
8 The Great Tomorrow
9 Ay Carmela
10 Paella
11 No Hay Pan
12 Trench Tales
13 Lewis Clive

14 Bob Cooney's Miracle
15 Over the Ebro
16 David Guest
17 The Valley of Jarama

? Hereteu Records
Released on: 2019-01-07
Lyricist: Sean Cooney
Composer: David Eagle
Composer: Michael Hughes
Composer: Sean Cooney




Reproduced in italics beneath some of the songs is information provided bySean Cooney which describes how the song was composed.


by Sean Cooney

Me name is John Longstaff in Stockton I was born

On a cold October morning my eyes first saw the dawn

Me grandad was a sailor he wore the jacket blue

And when I found his old sea chest I thought I’d be one too

Now when I was 10 the slump began and I did not know why

My belly should be empty and my lips should be dry

There were jam jars for cups and there were newspapers for plates

And all us kids a-waiting outside the factory gates

And it’s….

‘Mister! Mister! Mister!’ we said

‘Mister! Mister! Mister!’ we bled

‘Mister! Mister!’ we sang like the dead

‘Mister! Oh Mister! Can you spare any bread?’

One day we stole some duck eggs from a shop on Norton road

And we ran back to Willie’s house to cook our little load

But Willie’s Mam she were so poor she never had a pan

So we threw them in the kettle and soon it boiled and sang

But two rozzers traced us and they searched the whole house through

They found the pantry empty and all our stomachs too

Says Willie’s Mam ‘will you have some tea the kettle’s on the job’

Those rozzers smiled and shook their heads and they gave her two bob

‘Mister! Mister! Mister!’ we said

‘Mister! Mister! Mister!’ we bled

‘Mister! Mister!’ we sang like the dead
‘Mister! Oh Mister! Can you spare any bread?’

When I left school at 14 I found meself a job

12 hours a day in the rolling mill I toiled for my 8 bob

With the furnace men, the roller and the heaver over man

And the scars from those sharp edge springs I’ve still got on my hands

But one day misfortune took the heel from off me clog

And down upon the black hot steel I fell like a dog

There were burns on me back and hands I couldn’t carry on

And when I left the hospital I found my job had gone

‘Mister! Mister! Mister!’ we said

‘Mister! Mister! Mister!’ we bled

‘Mister! Mister!’ we sang like the dead

‘Mister! Oh Mister! Can you spare any bread?’

Out of work in ’34 and too young for the dole

Buried under ashes like a lump of idle coal

There were men marching to London so in with them I slung
But when I said I was 15 they said I was too young

So secretly I stalked them at a slower rate

Through Darlington, Northallerton, Thirsk and Harrogate

And when we reached the town of Leeds they found out me plan

And they said that I could march with them for now I was a man

This was the first song I wrote about Johnny in November 2015. I wrote it at home in Sheffield. The first two verses and chorus are inspired by passages in Johnny’s unpublished memoirs Any Bread Mister? This is how the book begins

‘Any bread left mister, any bread left?’

Came these words from children, who were waiting at the factory gates for the few employed men who had finished work for the day, and were walking out of the factories in Stockton On Tees. Sometimes the workers gave us some food; they had deliberately saved this food from their lunch boxes to give to us hungry youngsters. The look on their faces was one of sympathy; even we young children understood the look and the expression these men had on their faces. -< Any Bread Mister?


by Sean Cooney

We’re carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

And we will work once more!

In our coffin is a man who went to war

He came back a hero, boys - beaten, broke and sore

He pawned all his medals, lads, because he was so poor

And he can’t work no more!

We’re carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

And we will work once more!

From the Clyde and the Tyne and the Tees we have come

From the Mersey and the Severn and the Yare and Taff and Don

Our rivers may be weeping, lads, but we are marching on

And we will work once more!

We’re carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

And we will work once more!

‘A land fit for coffins,’ is what they should have said

Cos if we can’t have work enough we might as well be dead

But while we’ve still got breath in us we’ll sing instead

We will work once more!

We’re carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

And we will work once more!

And we’ll carry our coffins all along Whitehall

And when we are fit to drop then into them we’ll fall

And Mr MacDonald he can bury us all

If we can’t work no more!

We’re carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

Carrying the coffin all the way to London town

And we will work once more!

The ground is gaping and me legs they feel like lead

The gravestones are grinning and the mourners are well fed

So bring out your jobs or bring out your dead

We will work once more!

We will work once more!

We will work once more!

Written in November 2015. Johnny explained in his oral testimonies that the hunger marchers with whom he walked to London composed songs as they walked along. Many were put to the tune of the popular marching song John Brown’s Body so it felt right to do the same.


by Sean Cooney

Well the cook was a crook and the manager a miser

Both were shirkers both were skirters both were bad workers and skivers

And the butties were disgusting and the soup was getting thinner

And all we got for breakfast each was half a soggy kipper

And the sheets weren’t changed and the smell was something funny

When we worked overtime the buggers took half of our money

I was a proud young working lad but treated like a convict

Feeling bold 15 years old I wasn’t going to stand it

We were waiting for a better day

Now in the north we were poor but we were poor together

But when you see the lights of London then you know you should have better

So when queueing for our bait boxes one cold and rainy morning

I said ‘stuff your bloody butties for they always taste appalling!’

The cook ran amuck and he flung himself towards me

He was cursing he was swearing, every dirty name he called me

Though I didn’t know what striking was and I was no abetter

I said ‘I’ll not go to work today till things round here are better!’

We were waiting for a better day, boys, waiting for a better day

So all us lads filed out the door and though the ground was sodden

For three long nights we all slept rough up out on Wandsworth Common

Till our pockets all were empty and they thought that we would give in

But we held our nerve and our reserve and fought for our living

Now on Trinity Road there was a little café

Where the busmen went for their tea and toast and coffee

And when they’d heard our story with us they were really taken

They yelled ‘give all these lads tea and toast and give ‘em egg and bacon!’   

We were waiting for a better day, boys, waiting for a better day

They asked us lots of questions and they heard each of our stories

They got all our facts and figures straight and laid the case before me

Then the police came arrested me - the trouble it was starting

But the lads ran to the café and the busmen came a marching

And the busmen spoke with splendid oratory

While the manager and cook each told a different story

It was plain as rain they were a pair of rotten scammers

They were sacked outright without a fight and now they’re in the slammer

We were waiting for a better day, boys waiting for a better day

As the manager was hauled away he snarled and pointed at me

He said ‘There’s the bloody Bolshevik, there’s the rotten commie!’

Now I’d never heard of either word so I just stood there smirking

Gave a sigh and went inside just glad that I was working

And to thank those busmen us lads were all contriving

We bought them each a tie all bright and red and shining

Now I did not know politics a leader I was not it

But now I knew what union meant and I never forgot it

We were waiting for a better day, boys, waiting for better day

Waiting for a better day at the YMCA

I wrote this whilst we were on tour with The Transports production in January 2018. I never used to be able to write whilst on tour. Most of my earlier songs were written at home with the guitar and the time and space to concentrate. More recently I’ve preferred writing on the road and this was put together and went through a week of rewrites and edits on the Transports tour bus and in a series of dressing rooms all over England. Johnny spoke at length of the stand he made against the manager and cook who took over at the Tooting YMCA whilst he was there in 1934. In this recording we don’t feature this narrative but the song follows the story accurately. However, I have embellished the tale by saying the crooks both ended up in prison! This is one of the most powerful lines in Johnny’s memoirs

It was far easier to be hungry in Stockton than it was to be hungry in London because we were all sharing the same poverty - Any Bread Mister?


by Sean Cooney

On the 4th October 1936 I was only a lad of 16

But I stood beside men who were 3 score and 10 and every age in between

We were dockers and teachers, busmen, engineers and those with no jobs to do

We were women and children equal, in union

Atheists, Christians and Jews

And we had so much to lose

For with Hitler in Germany, Franco in Spain we knew what fascism meant

So when Mosley came trouncing, denouncing the Jews to the East End of London we went

For I’d met refugees who had fled o’er the seas - Germans, Italians and Jews

And I knew their despair for what they’d seen there and I couldn’t let them be abused

We had so much to lose

Now 3,000 fascists their uniforms black had set off to march on that day

And 6,000 policemen intended to greet them by making clear the way

But we were there ready our nerves they were steady - 100,000 in mass

And we planted our feet along Cable Street and we sang ‘they shall not pass!’

We sang ‘they shall not pass!’

Then all us young lads were sent to the side streets to stop the police breaking through

And with swift hands we made strong barricades out of anything we could use

And they came to charge us but they couldn’t barge us with fists, batons and hooves

With as good as we got we withstood the lot for we would not be moved

We would not be moved

And yes there was violence and yes there was blood and I saw things a lad shouldn’t see

But I’ll not regret the day I stood and London stood with me

And when the news spread the day had been won and Mosley was limping away

There were shouts, there were cheers, there were songs, there were tears and I hear them all to this day

And we all swore then we’d stand up again for as long as our legs could

And that when we were gone our daughters and sons would stand where we stood

Was the first time I’d heard two tiny words said by every woman and man

Now I say them still and I always will

‘No Pasaran!’

This was written during our first tour of Australia in March 2016. I remember vividly going through drafts of it in the passenger seat as we drove the dusty roads of Victoria to play at Port Fairy Folk Festival. We recorded it on Strangers in 2017 knowing as we did so that one day it would be part of a suite of songs about Johnny’s life. Inspiration also came from the memories and reminiscences of many other people who were there.


by Sean Cooney

In a doss in Charing Cross behind a big steel door

I met a man who had the dourest face I ever saw

He was grey as the grave, he was stern and he was grim

His name was Robbie Robson and I said this to him

I said ‘my name is Longstaff and I want to go to Spain’

‘Well are you sure?’ he answered me so I told him again

‘Well how old are you really lad? You look like 12 to me’

‘I’m nearly 20 sir,’ I lied, cos I was 17

‘Now there are things that you must know, lad, if you mean to go

To fight down in a foreign land against a fearsome foe

For the enemy is brutal, lad, and when you’re on the run

You’ll be lucky if you shoot him, lad, cos you won’t have a gun!

And you’ll be no good wounded, lad, by those dirty thugs

For when you go to hospital there won’t be any drugs

And when you come home blinded, lad, without an arm or leg

There’ll be nothing we can give you, lad, you’ll have to go and beg

And the clothes that you’ll be wearing, lad, they come in sizes 2

Too big or too small – but too small’s too big for you!

And when your arse is bleeding, lad, through scratching with the lice

Then you’ll remember me, lad, and think on my advice

And the food that’ll you’ll be eating, lad, it won’t be very grand

The beef is really of donkey and the coffee’s really sand

And when you’re gipping in a bucket, lad, and wishing for your Mum

You’ll remember me, lad, and wish you’d never come

You’ll be burned red like a lobster, lad, beneath the blazing sun

In the Pyrenees you’re sure to freeze with ice upon your bum

Digging trenches with your finger nails, lad, in the frozen ground

You’ll remember me, lad, and wish you’d turned around

So now you’ve heard my story, lad, it is the truth I’ve said

You’ll be either maimed or blinded, lad, or more than likely dead

So now you’re looking at me, lad, tell me your answer plain

I said ‘my name is Longstaff and I want to go to Spain’

Robson’s Song was written on one day in October 2017 when we were waiting to play the North Wall Arts centre in Oxford. Up until that day I’d never heard the expression ‘gipping’ (vomiting) until Andy Bell our sound engineer and producer said it. It seemed to fit perfectly for the song - thanks Andy. Johnny spoke at length about how attempts were made to persuade him not to go to Spain. Other veterans shared similar stories and experiences of ‘the dour faced’ Robson

They put me through a right third degree; at the end I said to him: ‘Don’t you want me to go?’ Syd Booth.


by Sean Cooney

We gather for the picture my five mates and me

Like dapper little devils, we are young and free

And I sit in the centre - the captain of the crew

My coat is an old’un but my shirt is almost new

And I sing ta-ra to Tooting and the lads I leave behind

For the train waits in the station and it’s time for me to ride

But I’ll take this tiny picture so wherever I may be

There’ll be Jim and Jack and Ernie, Norman, Les and me.

And as we left the city and the grey land turned to green

I thought about those young lads and the things we’d done and seen

When we fought for the right to ramble the countryside all through

When the fences were all old’uns but the land was almost new

And I’ll sing ta-ra to Tooting and the lads I left behind

When we came to Newhaven there was one thing on my mind

But I’ll take this tiny picture so wherever I may be

There’ll be Jim and Jack and Ernie, Norman, Les and me

As night fell on the Channel and the wind sang on the sea

I thought about those young lads and the times they sang with me

When our tongues told of freedom and every note rang true

And though our tunes were all old’uns our words were almost new

So I’ll sing ta-ra to Tooting and the lads I left behind

As morning broke on Dieppe and the sun began to shine

I’ll take this tiny picture so wherever I may be

There’ll be Jim and Jack and Ernie, Norman, Les and me.

When the picture’s almost faded, when the memory’s almost gone

Will I sit then and wonder how we ever were so young?

Will there be young lads somewhere whose hearts are just as true?

When our old world has faded will theirs be almost new?

Then I’ll cry ta-ra to Tooting and the lads I left behind

80 years before me or 80 years behind

And when all that’s left’s a picture whenever that may be

There’ll be Jim and Jack and Ernie, Norman, Les and me.

Jim, Jack, Ernie, Norman, Les, me

I got the idea for this song whilst on a ferry to Prince Edward Island in Canada in July 2017. I scribbled some verses down but only went back to them in November 2017 when we were back in Canada staying at a friend’s house in Calgary. There’s a little bit of Billy Connolly’s I Wish I Was in Glasgow somewhere in the tune.
Johnny’s five mates were Jim Perry, Jack Brown, Les Hawesby Norman Horwood, and Ernest Harrison. The picture was taken on the day that Johnny left for Spain in September 1937. He didn’t have time to get it developed of course so he wouldn’t have carried it with him across the Channel as the song suggests but it was sent out to him in Spain and he did cherish it.


by Sean Cooney

When our young hero Johnny went for a bath in Paris

He saw a woman in the noddy that made him stop and stare

Well his eyes jumped out their sockets, his heart raced like a rocket

And there was something in his pocket that he didn’t know was there!

Noddy comes from this little story from Johnny’s memoirs about how he and the small group he was with were sent to the public baths to sober up before their medical in Paris.

Away we all went to the baths where I dived into one of the showers and stood shivering as the cold water turned me purple. A woman was singing, she was in the next shower cubicle and only a small partition separated us. I looked over the top, to find out that she was completely nude. It was the first time I had seen a woman 'in the noddy.' If I was drunk, the sight of that naked woman quickly sobered me up. I thought I was in the women's part of the public baths and did not know the French men and women used the same section. At least they did where I was! I quickly dressed and went back to have another medical. I wonder if those French comrades were having a bit of fun with us! - Any Bread Mister?


by Sean Cooney

There’s a song sang up in the mountains and there’s a song upon the sea

There’s a song sang in unison and a song in harmony

There’s a song sang in every timbre and in 47 tongues

Thirty thousand voices are all singing our song

And the more of us who learn to sing it then the sooner there will be

Peace beneath the branches of the lime and olive tree

From mine and mill and field and shipyard, from behind the company door

From the playing fields of Eton to the warrens of the poor

From Helsinki to Buenos Aires our reasons are the same

From Melbourne to Vancouver now we have come to Spain

For if you sing a song of freedom then it does not matter where

If your song is freedom then you sing it everywhere.

There are some of our number who have known the pains of war

There are some of our number who have never fought before

But there are none of our number would think it were in vain

To leave their warm blood spilled upon the dry hot soil of Spain

And if I end up on that roll of honour I’ll be in good company

If there’s peace beneath the branches of the lime and olive tree

One day there will be no fascist and no anti-fascist men

One day there’ll be no ‘us’ and one day there’ll be no ‘them’

For equality is for everyone no matter what we’ve done

The sins of our fathers will not ever harm our sons

For there will come a great tomorrow for everyone to see

Peace beneath the branches of the lime and olive tree

But if all our dreams are sold and bartered and if all our names are lost

And if everything we’ve fought for crumbles into dust

They will never take from me the love I felt that day

I went because my open eyes could see no other way

And if I live to be one hundred make this my legacy

Peace beneath the branches of the lime and olive tree

Yes if I live to be one hundred make this my legacy

Peace beneath the branches of the lime and olive tree

Written in Calgary in Western Canada in November 2017 it’s a song about a song. The Internationale was possibly the most popular left wing anthem of the 20th century. This famous song features heavily in the testimonies of many of the volunteers and many of the British described the incredible emotion of singing it at the moment they crossed over the border after climbing through the mountains.

Here were we, all young men from really all the nations of Europe joining this one song in their own language which seemed to express a yearning for the unity of mankind. I find it extremely difficult to explain how exhilarating this was. I don’t think I’ve ever felt the same feeling at any other time in my life.
- John Dunbar
Our reworking references the famous words of Cecil Day Lewis

It was not fraud or foolishness glory, revenge, or pay
We came because our open eyes could see no other way
The Volunteer, Cecil Day Lewis

It also owes much to these words of Bob Cooney

And if we live to be a hundred
We'll have this to be glad about
We went to Spain!
Because of that great yesterday
We are part of the greater tomorrow
-Hasta La Vista - Madrid! - Bob Cooney


by Sean Cooney

We are the lost sons of Albion

The men of the British Battalion

There is no gold path to glory Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

That is someone else’s story Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

Through the hills to Spain we furrow

To find a country cloaked in sorrow

Bodies in the wells were lying Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

Blood upon the church walls drying Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

Izquierada and derecho

Izquierada and derecho

Imedia vuleta Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

Izquierada and derecho Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

The first of us fell at Jarama

The earth was warm our blood was warmer

Thomas Carter came a- storming Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

Ne’er to see another morning Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

At Mosquito Ridge the earth was burning

Our tongues on fire our stomachs churning

‘Aviones!’ the Capitan calling Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

The bombs of Brunete falling Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

At Teruel the earth was frozen

We dug until our graves would open

Our clothes were old our guns were older Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

Our bodies cold our blood was colder Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

We are the lost sons of Albion

The men of the British Battalion

There is no gold path to glory Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

That is someone else’s story Ay Carmela! Ay Carmela!

Ay Carmela was one of the most famous songs of the Spanish Civil War and like the Internationale it was hard to get away from it when writing the piece. It seemed fitting to use this well-known tune in the way Republican soldiers did by putting original words to it. I’ve borrowed a very emotive line from Laurie Lee for the opening verse

No Gold path of glory, this, for youth to go to war, but a grey path of intense disquiet

-Laurie Lee - A Moment of War

Thomas Carter was a Hartlepool volunteer who died at the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. Sadly, we know little about him. Wherever we perform the show we try and include the names of volunteers who were local to that area at this point.

Though the songs were intended to weave in and out of Johnny’s oral testimony as part of the live show, each one was written in the hope that it could stand up on its own and be performed as an individual piece outside of the context of the show.   In order for Ay Carmela to do this it probably needs a few more verses.


by Sean Cooney

When Johnny saw Paella he was a sickly fella

He said, ‘I’ll eat that never!’ His eyes were all agog

So Johnny ate an orange and then another orange

Spent two days eating orange and three days on the bog!

When I was a youngster we were eating out somewhere and I refused to eat what was put in front of me I can remember my dad having a look of sorrow on his face when he said “Son if you are hungry enough you will eat anything.” He meant it. -< Duncan Longstaff

NO HAY PAN (There is no bread)

by Sean Cooney

There’s a rumble on the street

No Hay Pan

The sound of hungry feet

No Hay Pan
Morning breaks once more

Like a ship upon a shore

A boot upon a jaw

No Hay Pan

Now when I was a lad

No Hay Pan

The times they were bad

No Hay Pan

But we did all we could

Break any rule we would

Too hungry to be good

No Hay Pan

We crept into a church

No Hay Pan

And there upon a perch

No Hay Pan

We saw two candles then

We whispered ‘Lord Amen’

And we ate both of them

No Hay Pan

The silence of the town

No Hay Pan

Broken by the sound

No Hay Pan

A lonely mother’s call

Night begins to fall

The longest night of all
No Hay Pan

This song started on a flight to Canada in July 2017 and took a long time to finish. The story Johnny relates in the live show about being served cat meat was going to be its own song but I struggled with how to go about it and so we decided in the end that we’d let Johnny tell the story in his own words (though we edited out the bit where he said it tasted like chicken!) The second verse came from this email from Duncan

I went to see my Aunt, she told me of a story my Dad told her many years ago.
Dad said that he and his mates were banned from every church in Stockton, the reason for this, and as they were suffering from real hunger they stole candles from churches to eat. - Duncan Longstaff

The first verse owes something to this brilliant line in one of my favourite books of recent years

Morning broke like a frying pan - The Tusk that did the Damage Tania James


by Sean Cooney

We are three singing soldiers and now here we are again

We survived the Great War boys and now we’ve come to Spain

So crunch on your carbunchies lads and drink that canteen dry

Comrade one,


Your time has come, make those tonsils fly!

Wally Tapsell was a London lad as honest as they come

And when they picked the Commissars they said he could be one

So he bought a pair of thigh high boots long and laced and lean

And each night he left them by the door for someone else to clean

Now one night as I was standing guard along comes Barney Shields

I think he was the drunkest man that I have ever seen

Then Barney whips his johnson out, he swivels and he shoots

In no time at all he’s missed the wall and filled up Wally’s boots

Ah ya da da da da da da da da da da da da

Now here’s a little ditty for our four legged furry friends

Let’s hear it for the mules, me boys, they’re with us till the end

And here’s to the brave muleteers boys - the lads who make them go

But there’s one mule to break the rule his name you all should know

Well I reckon he’s a turncoat and now so do all the men

Cos when we’re near the enemy he tries to run to them

Well I sez to Bob, ‘that mule’s a spy what shall we call him?’

‘Well he trots towards the fascists so we’ll call him Chamberlain!’

Ah ya da da da da da da da da da da da da

Our cook is Hooky Walker and one day he sez to John

‘Young Longstaff do you like a drop, are you a drinking man?’

When Johnny said he hardly supped well Hooky smiles with glee

‘Then you can fetch the vino, boy, for all the company!’

So Johnny sets off into town with empty jars in store

He filled each one up to the brim till he was feeling sore

So he tried a little drop himself, he sucked it thirstily

And we found him three hours later, boys, sleep beneath a tree

Ah ya da da da da da da da da da da da da

So now you’ve heard our stories lads and now our song is done

Aviones are all swooping boys it’s time that we were gone

Wherever heads are drooping low and men lie in despair

In times of war when hearts are sore - we’ll be singing there

Trench Tales was written in February 2018 mainly in the van going to and from primary schools in Cambridgeshire whilst we were working on a project called the Sounds of Identity. In 2014 we recorded a trilogy of ‘trench tales’ for a WW1 compilation album called Songs for the Voiceless and it seemed fitting to bring back our ‘three singing soldiers’ and send them to Spain. ‘Carbunchies’ were chickpeas (they were crunchy because no British cook realised they had to be soaked overnight). ‘Salud’ is a popular Spanish greeting. The story of Wally Tapsell’s boots has been retold many times in the testimonies of British veterans. Tapsell died at Calaceite in March 1938. The story of Chamberlain’s mule was remembered by Bob Cooney. John Leith ‘Hooky’ Walker from Fife was the popular quartermaster of the British Battalion. He survived the war. ‘Aviones’ were aeroplanes.


by Sean Cooney

When Lewis Clive took his first swim he kicked his little legs so thin

And though he hardly had the room he swam around his mother’s womb

The midwife waited for a grip like a fielder at first slip

And the bunting it was all unfurled when Lewis dived into the world

But there was one thing held him down - umbilical cord a-twining round

He saw the pliers on the shelf and went and cut the cord himself

For Lewis Clive! Lewis Clive!

Couldn’t wait to be alive

Lewis Clive

When Lewis Clive became a man his back was straight, his arms were strong

And he became an Oxford blue and then in 1932

Beneath a Californian sun the umpire fired the starting gun

And the rings were blazing bright and bold when Lewis won Olympic Gold

And though he missed the boat back home Lewis Clive didn’t moan

It’s a long way from Americay but Lewis Clive swam all the way

Oh Lewis Clive! Lewis Clive!

Aint it great to be alive

Lewis Clive

Then one day in ’38 the big retreat no time to wait

The bridge across the river gone ‘swim lads,’ says big Clive ‘come on’

And like a swan leads her rank he steered us to the other bank

But Thomas struggled with the tide and flailed his drowning arms out wide

But Big Clive pulled him safe from harm and swam with him beneath one arm

And when the job was finally done he swam back and fetched his gun

Oh Lewis Clive! Lewis Clive!

Swore to keep us all alive

Lewis Clive

And how we loved his shining smile and the arms that swam for mile and mile

But Lewis Clive shall swim no more but maybe on a distant shore

St Peter’s standing at the gate, he says ‘Big Clive you’ll have to wait’

‘No bother’ smiles Clive with a grin ‘I’ll go and have meself a swim’

So he dives down to the seas of hell where all them fascists scream and yell

And when God sees just what he’s done he says ‘Moses, mate, you best be gone’

‘There’d be no need to part the sea if Lewis Clive had swam for me.’

Oh Lewis Clive! Lewis Clive!

How I wish he was alive

Lewis Clive

Lewis Clive was written at home in the summer of 2017. The dashing, athletic Lewis Clive (1910-1938) - Etonian, Oxford Blue, Olympic rowing champion, Labour Councillor - was adored by British volunteers. He was also the inspiration for the character Oliver in Mary Wesley’s The Camomile Lawn. The song mixes fact with fiction, of course, and owes something to the great mythical folk heroes the Big Hewer, John Henry and Kilroy. It also has a whiff of the music hall song My Brother Sylveste who ‘drank up all the water in the sea and walked all the way to Italy.’ Brazell Thomas was the Welsh volunteer whom Clive rescued from the fast flowing waters of the Ebro.


by Sean Cooney

When David Guest first wore a vest and sat on his nanny’s knee

He said ‘Nanny dear, it’s awful queer to live in luxury

Some boys have all the toys and other boys have none

It seems to be unfair to me - something must be done’

David Guest was charming and his voice rang like a bell

But when he lost his temper he really lost it well

David Guest was quickly blessed with his father’s tongue

And he would gob to every mob who did pass along

At nine years old and feeling bold he preached unto a throng

Of nursemaids who looked all amazed that something must be done

David Guest was charming and his voice rang like a bell

But when he lost his temper he really lost it well

Now David Guest was quickly best in every lesson read

Made Cambridge dons suck their thumbs and tug their beards with dread

He crossed the sea to Germany in 1931

He saw the Jews were being abused and something must be done

David Guest was charming and his voice rang like a bell

But when he lost his temper he really lost it well

So David Guest puffed out his chest and he did rant and rail

And for this deed and at great speed they sent him off to jail

When he returned how his tongue burned like something had begun

The pain he'd seen just made him keen that something must be done

David Guest was charming and his voice rang like a bell

But when he lost his temper he really lost it well

David Guest could hardly rest - it caused his mother pain

And though she begged David said ‘I must go to Spain.’

As the Ebro flows David knows the reason why we’ve come

‘When the world’s on fire you mustn’t tire - something must be done'

David Guest was charming and his voice rang like a bell

But when he lost his temper he really lost it well

David Guest shot through the chest by a sniper’s gun

And the earth was thin we laid him in on Hill 481

And those who heard his final words made sure to pass them on

‘Leave me still, get up the hill – something must be done’

David Guest was one of the last songs to be completed in March 2018. Dave wrote the tune after we abandoned an earlier version which had a much bluesier feel. The life of David Guest – Mathematician, Philosopher, Composer, Idealist, Communist - is captured beautifully in David Guest – A Scientist Fights for Freedom 1911-1938 which was compiled shortly after his death by his mother Carmel Haden Guest. In one anecdote we hear how the infant David met J. M. Barrie who asked him if he wanted to grow up. ‘Not if I end up looking like you,’ he replied! He wasn’t known to have a fiery temper in Spain but this quote from the adolescent Guest really captured my imagination..If you lose your temper lose it properly!

The names of David Guest and Lewis Clive along with Wally Tapsell from London, Harry Dobson from Wales and Morris Miller from Hull were etched onto a concrete monument in the mountains of the Serra de Pandols in 1938. Incredibly this memorial escaped the desecration and destruction of Republican monuments and graves that followed Franco’s victory in 1939. It was re discovered by a group of walkers in 2000 and is the subject of a beautiful David Leach film Voices from a Mountain


by Sean Cooney

Well you’ve all heard how 5000 oafs

Were fed by Christ with the fish and loaves

But on the banks of the Ebro in ’38

A miracle happened on my plate

We’d had no scran for two whole days

Fifty seven lads all hot and hazed

When come the Commissar with the grub – what grief!

A loaf of bread and a tin of beef!

Now all us lads were filled with strife

Till up comes Cooney with his tiny knife

And before the land could wolf the sun

Every man had a corned beef bun

Well Jesus may have got more done

But he had five loaves not just one

And Jesus’ men weren’t clemmed like we

They’d not fought fascists in a hot country

So if he can share with all us men

We can share the earth and start again

‘Sharpen your knives’ Bob Cooney said

‘Bring out your beef and bring out your bread!’

We can share the earth, we can start again

Amen! Amen! Amen! Amen!

Bob Cooney’s Miracle was written in Sheffield in November 2015 and recorded on our Strangers album in 2017. My namesake Bob Cooney (1908-1984) came from Aberdeen and was one of the leading figures in the British Communist Party in the 1930s – so much so that many attempts were made to prevent him going to Spain where he might well have been killed.   He went on to serve in WW2 and spent the rest of his working life in Birmingham where he is fondly remembered as a singer, songwriter and raconteur on the Birmingham folk scene. The story of his ‘miracle’ is taken from his memoirs Proud Journey. The tune is borrowed from the Bonny Bay of Biscay – O. ‘Clemmed’ is a wonderful slang word for hungry.


by Sean Cooney

I’ll always remember crossing the river

Crossing the river long before the sun

We were dressed up like scarecrows, but scarecrows have more clothes

I carried a blanket and a rusty old gun

When we reached the north shore was then my sweat did pour

For I knew that death may be waiting there

His silence was goading, his hush was foreboding

As we left the pontoons he did not appear

Through dry fields and vineyards how quickly we traversed

Quickly we traversed with hardly a sound

The sun came up scorching - a searing hot morning

And our alpargatas tramped on the dry ground

Some thought they were dreaming, some were not believing

For four hours we marched without any fray

But I knew past this lulling a storm would be coming

A storm would be coming to blow us away

Soon it all started we dropped and we darted

Into the vineyards some cover to seek

And Sexton was lucky a bullet so plucky

Passed through his broad face and sailed out his cheek

But onwards we hurried and forwards we scurried

The Sierra Cabols our shoes cut to shreds

But our luck was fairer when we took Corbera

And made our first camp on a dry river bed

The sun came up shining and we came up climbing

Into the mountains then came the cries

“Avion! Avion! And down came the bombs

And they blew up the dams and cut all our supplies

And soon there was sniping and soon there was griping

And two lads fell by me with hardly a sound

As their blankets hugged them two graves I dug them

In the thin soil when the sun had gone down

We’d no food for three days, no water for two days

With my empty bottle I crawled through the vines

Til a morsel I found there - some grapes on the ground there

And all the lads swore they were better than wine

By the town of Gandesa we met our oppressor

A hill loomed before us all stark in the sun

And like kids in a story we all hoped for glory

And the name of that pimple was Hill 481

Over the Ebro was the final song to be completed in March 2018 barely a week before we premiered the show! It was touch and go whether we could arrange and learn yet another new song but we just about managed it. Cyril Sexton was a London volunteer who, like Johnny himself, was lucky to survive the war after being shot through the cheek. We were delighted when his son Clive came to see the show at Cecil Sharp House in April 2018 and nodded enthusiastically all the way through. The song closely follows Johnny’s account of the build up to the Battle for Hill 481 in Any Bread Mister?


There’s a valley in Spain called Jarama
It’s a place that we all know so well
It is there that we gave of our manhood
And most of our brave comrades fell

We are proud of the British Battalion
And the stand for Madrid that they made
For they fought like true sons of the soil
As part of the 15th Brigade

With the rest of the International Column
In the stand for the freedom of Spain
We swore in that Valley of Jarama
That fascism never will reign

There’s a valley in Spain called Jarama
It’s a place that we all know so well
It is there that we gave of our manhood
And most of our brave comrades fell

Now we’ve left that dark valley of sorrow
And its memory we ne’er shall forget
So before we continue this reunion
Let us stand to our glorious dead

The Valley of Jarama is the famous anthem of the International volunteers who went to Spain and now of the people who work tirelessly to keep their legacy alive. The original version was written by Alex McDade from Glasgow who died at the battle of Brunete in 1937 and was sung to the tune of the Red River Valley. The version Johnny leads us in is fittingly known as the reunion version. Though I’ve heard it hundreds of times, listening to Johnny’s voice tremble with emotion in the closing stages still moves me to tears.

Many thanks to Sean Cooney for generously helping in the collection of the information in this post
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CD Reviews

Johnny Longstaff Voice Recordings held by The Imperial War Museum