Commemorating the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Jarama, February 18th 2017, Day 2

Nearly all of the musicians involved in the 80th Anniversary concert commemorating the Battle of Jarama were up early on Saturday morning (18th February). There was a full and stimulating day ahead.

A small fleet of taxis was waiting to whisk us away to the area in Rivas-Vaciamadrid where the Charlie Donnelly memorial stands. Arriving well ahead of members of the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland and other fellow attendees for the monument’s rededication ceremony, we were able to grab a coffee and something to eat in a swish new sports centre nearby.

As the time approached for the ceremony at the memorial, we headed to the memorial site in a smallish garden maintained well by the local council. Poet warrior Charlie Donnelly was killed in action on 27th February 1937 only minutes after uttering what was to be the famous line, ‘even the olives are bleeding’. He had been in Spain little more than six weeks before his death and lay on the battlefield until his body was recovered and buried in an unmarked grave with several of his comrades on the 10th March.

This was a re-commemoration ceremony because, shameless to the last, this heartfelt monument to his memory, consisting of a rock from each of the 32 counties of Ireland, is regularly damaged by modern day fascists. Usually it is paint bombed or scratched but this time they had damaged it to the point that it needed physically replacing – but, however many times they damage the monument, it will always be repaired by those intent on keeping Charlie Donnelly’s memory alive.

The ceremony was a moving one with speeches of remembrance, the laying of flowers and a lament played by a contemporary relative on the bagpipes.

After the ceremony, the hundreds of people in attendance at the memorial mounted coaches to travel to another part of the Jarama battlefield to begin a guided walk. When the coaches arrived, those on the buses joined an even bigger contingent already there. As mentioned in my previous post, the walk, punctuated with historic explanation and motivational speeches, was moving, stimulating and educative in equal measure. I won’t recount the history of the battle here but would comment (with my entirely amateur eye) that this must have been a very harsh landscape in which to fight. The bravery of the International Brigades was immense, pitched as relative amateurs against battle hardened veterans and who, with fellow Republican troops, managed to halt the fascist advance on east Madrid and maintain control of the crucial Madrid-Valencia road.

After the walk, which lasted a couple of hours, the musicians were returned to Rivas-Vaciamadrid in time to grab a bite to eat before going to their nearby but different venue for the evening’s concert. Whereas the previous night’s event had been an act of homage, this was more of a regular concert with each of the artists playing 30 minute sets. In addition to those who had performed on the Friday night, we were joined on the Saturday night by renowned Spanish punk rockers Boikot, who feature in a new short film, Jarama, about the battle.

The Saturday event was being held in the Polideportivo Cerro del Telegráfo, a major sports centre, just across the road from the Auditorio Pilar Bardem. As we made our way to the venue, you could tell the gig was going to be there that evening from two hundred metres away. As ‘top of the bill’, Boikot were doing their sound-check first and you could virtually see the venue’s metal cladding panels throbbing with the volume.

When we got inside we could appreciate the vastness of the venue and see the fantastic stage that had been set up for the evening. As Boikot finished their sound check and departed to rest up before the gig, we sequentially went on for our respective sound checks which were promptly and professionally completed. It was no small task for the sound technician to tame the reverberations of a metal clad venue that was designed to accommodate sporting rather than musical activity. This was a plate reverb on steroids.

Such was the scale of the venue, it was a little difficult to build an atmosphere in the venue but steadily, through the collective efforts of the various musicians, a decent crowd assembled in front of the stage. Brigada Intergeneracional generously took on the job of kicking the evening off, which they achieved with aplomb. It was then great to hear Calum Baird ‘s wider repertoire which included his own powerful material. Andy Irvine then performed and, as always, it was a joy to listen to him.

By the time we went on, the audience was warmed up and, it being a cold night, we decided to keep things pace-y and upbeat where we could. So, we chucked in a few tunes and it was nice to see people jigging about. Since no-one had yet played it, we included our version of Ewan MacColl’s Jamie Foyers in the set and we finished with Navajos & Pirates.

We were followed by Lucia Sócam whose powerful voice wowed the growing audience and then, continuing to build the evening, Gallo Rojo went on and delivered a stunning set which deservedly earned them calls for an encore. They might have even got a second but time was pressing and the crowd was swelling with people arriving to see Boikot.

Many of those involved on the day’s battlefield walk had coaches arriving to take them back to their hotels in central Madrid and as they left and Boikot’s fans arrived the atmosphere moved more from acoustic to hardcore punk. The jive was literally jumping.

Most of the Friday night musicians stayed on for listen and a dance but a few of us who hadn’t slept well the night before headed out for a nightcap and a chance to get back to the hostel and get our heads down.

Many thanks to all of our fellow musicians who were all really considerate and quiet when coming back into the hostel later that evening - it was very much appreciated. Similar thanks go to the group member with snore-related issues who must have come into the dormitory, quietly lifted his mattress off the bunk and moved it to an anteroom to the dormitory where he then slept. I confess that, even with earplugs in and him being a considerable distance away, I was still able to hear him at different points through the night – but I managed a far far better night’s sleep as a result of his generosity. So many thanks to him.

The next morning was another reasonably early rise in order for us to get back to Madrid airport. Apart from a rather scary aborted take-off half way down the runway and the related time delays after that to check everything was OK with the plane, the journey home went smoothly enough.

We would like to thank FIBI and the Spanish and other organisers of this event for honouring us with an invitation to perform at this 80th Anniversary event. We would similarly like to thank our fellow musicians for both their music and their friendship throughout the weekend. It was a real pleasure to get to know everyone. But, finally, we would like to salute those brave fighters and medical staff who gave so much at the battle of Jarama to halt the fascist advance on Madrid. Their spirit lives on and their ghosts are watching concernedly as our current period of history unfolds. We must ensure that their sacrifice and that of those who followed on in the global conflict to halt fascism is not undermined by the resurgent fascism of today.