“THERE’S a valley in Spain called Jarama …” begins the well-known song, commemorating the doughty fighters of the XV International Brigade, who threw themselves against the far better equipped fascist forces in the Jarama Valley during the Spanish Civil War.
Much elaborated upon since, the original song is attributed to a Glasgow man, Alex McDade, who later died of the wounds he sustained in that battle.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to interview two of the last surviving Scottish veterans of the International Brigades who fought in the Spanish conflict, Steve Fullarton and Jimmy Maley. It was a humbling business. Maley, a spry 98-year-old when I met him, nonchalantly recalled the bloody chaos of Jarama, when he and his fellow-Scots brigaders came up against Franco’s Moorish regulares and he narrowly escaped execution after capture, as “a bit of a hassle-bassle”.
You can hear a lusty rendition of Jarama Valley by the former Glasgow folk band the Laggan on Scots in the Spanish Civil War: No Pasaran!, a compilation CD just issued by Greentrax, which combines songs from or in memory of that grim yet heroic period, when – in the face of Britain’s sham policy of “non-intervention” – more than 500 Scottish men and women served among the 40,000 members of the International Brigades fighting against Franco for the usurped Republican government. A third of them would never return.
In his sleeve notes, Daniel Gray, author of the acclaimed book Homage to Caledonia, describes the album as “a souvenir to be enjoyed and a clarion call to be heeded.” With the deaths of the last of their kind – Maley, Fullarton and a former Scottish Ambulance brigade driver, Thomas Watters, the baton, says Gray, has been passed to younger generations to remember their selfless example: “Our job is to remember, commemorate and oppose prejudice today”.
It was Gray’s publisher, Gavin MacDougall of Luath Press, who suggested the album, explains Ian Green of Greentrax, who had previously issued a warmly received double-CD of First World War songs, Far, Far from Ypres. “Gavin gave me a copy of Daniel’s book and it just went from there. I enlisted the help of Ian McCalman to record a number of the songs, as he had done with the First World War project, and it seemed a natural follow-on.”
As well as the Laggan’s rousing Jarama, the album includes a more elegiac view of the battle in Another Valley by Geordie McIntyre, who also delivers a haunting treatment of Viva Los Brigadistas with partner Alison McMorland and Alan MacDonald on small pipes. Other established material includes Dick Gaughan’s Jamie Foyers and a stirring old McCalmans recording of the marching song The Peatbog Soldiers.
In contrast is a wistful solo rendition in Spanish of a Republican song from the period, Si Me Quieres Escribir, and Edinburgh’s unofficial Chilean cultural attaché, Carlos Arredondo, delivers his own tribute, Viva la 15 Brigada. Also contemporary is The Wakes’ passionate delivery of These Hands, written by singer Paul Sheridan after reading an article about Jimmy Maley, while among some powerfully reflective moments is Iain Anderson’s reading of an eloquent poem by former brigadista Bob Cooney from Aberdeen, Hasta La Vista Madrid!
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