Over the Border, Na-Mara's 2017 mini-tour of Scotland (I), October 5th-7th 2017

Rob and I both love Scotland. As such, when the chance arose for us to play a series of gigs north of the border, we were absolutely delighted to accept. That the tour would also entail two gigs with our great friends in Scottish-Spanish folk collective Gallo Rojo made the prospect doubly delicious.

So, on a sunny Thursday lunchtime (5th October 2017) we set off. To break the drive north, we arranged with club organiser Rahel Guzelian at the Topic Folk Club in Bradford, to join club members in one of the club’s occasional singaround sessions. This also meant we could stay overnight with family and renew our links with the Topic Folk Club where we had performed twelve months earlier and, excitingly, we will be headlining in September 2018.

The singaround at the Topic was great fun. As one might expect of an historic club like the Topic, there is a lot of talent across a wide range of folk music and it was a personal joy for me that my brother also came along and performed a couple of songs.

After a hearty breakfast the next day, we set off for Scotland. The weather was gorgeous and the journey through the Borders stunning. We enjoyed two brief walks around Jedburgh and then Melrose. With such jewels to hand, it would have been a sin not to enjoy them.

We then drove the last fifty or so miles to Portobello on the eastern edge of Edinburgh where we were to play that night. We headed initially for Euan Johnston of Gallo Rojo's house where he had very kindly laid some food on for us, before we headed over to the gig venue at The Jaffle Joint on Portobello High Street. This was to be the first of two gigs on consecutive days remembering the fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War and the story of the 4,000 young children evacuated from the Basque country to Britain in May 1937.

(It is worth mentioning at this point that the MSP for Edinburgh Eastern, Ash Denham, had lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament on 12th September 2017 (S5M-07642) applauding the efforts of Gallo Rojo, ourselves and the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival (ESFF – see next blogpost) in remembering the Basque children of 1937 on the 80th anniversary of their arrival in Britain and wishing us well for this concert in Portobello. How cool is that!)

The Jaffle Joint was a lively venue that very much came alive through the evening. Friends and followers of ours and Gallo Rojo, along with members of the Basque Children of '37 Association filled the space in the bistro to bursting point and, from a tightly packed stage, we kicked the evening off with a punchy set that covered much of our Spanish Civil War repertoire.

The endlessly exuberant Gallo Rojo then drove the crowd to a frenzy with their powerful songs and great harmonies.

We then finished the evening off together with both bands combining to sing the famous Spanish Civil War song, The Valley of Jarama.

Many thanks to our great friend Dave Orem for capturing the evening for us all in pictures and film and thanks to the staff at The Jaffle Joint for their accommodation of all of our requirements through the evening.

After the gig, Rob and I left for Dave's apartment in central Edinburgh where we were kindly being put up for our time in Scotland. After the long drive and an energetic concert plus the prospect of an early start and another long drive the next day, we didn't stay up much beyond a cup of tea and a glass of whisky.

As many followers of Na-Mara may know, not long after the Basque Children arrived in Britain, they were sent onwards to a geographically dispersed set of hostels or 'colonias'. The only colonia in Scotland was in the small east coast town of Montrose, between Dundee and Aberdeen and it was to there we headed on Saturday morning.

This was to be an important day for Rob in that his father had been one of the 24 child refugees accommodated in Mall House in Montrose exactly eighty years before. This was his first visit to the town.

The local press had taken quite an interest in the story and Rob met with a journalist from the Dundee Courier at the house where the children were accommodated, which is still. However, prior to that happening, following a quick phone call to a good pal of Dave’s, we were invited to an impromptu lunch of soup and bridies at Rod and Verity's house where we given the warmest of welcomes (and the best of food).

After lunch, Rod kindly walked us all round to the house - an imposing structure of red sandstone now converted to flats, where Rob met with the reporter covering the story. After Rob had spoken with the reporter and photos were taken, it was time for us to go on to the venue for our Montrose gig which, this time, was to be an afternoon event.

The Neptune Bar (or ' Neppie') is a lively local music venue in the attractive town of Montrose. Througha mix of local publicity and mentions in the International Brigade Memorial Trust and Basque Children’s Association of ’37 Newsletters, a decent number of interested listeners assembled, alongside pub regulars, to see us and Gallo Rojo perform.

Both bands pretty much ran through the same repertoire as the night before and were both pretty well received. Being an afternoon gig meant the atmosphere in the Neppie was generally a tad quieter than in the Jaffle Joint the night before. The upside to this was that some of the quieter songs fared a little better than the night before and, this said, we still managed to have a little impromptu dancing break out at one point and there was some excellent interaction with those who’d come along to see us.

Following the gig, the focus was on packing up and heading back to Auld Reekie for some beers and a curry – and very good they were too.

I will talk about our involvement in the Edinburgh Spanish Film Festival in my next blogpost. However, let me take this opportunity here to thank Euan Johnston for all his hard work in fixing these two gigs up for us and to the wonderful Gallo Rojo for their friendship and their outstanding performances at The Jaffle Joint in Portobello and The Neptune Bar in Montrose. Thanks also to the staff of both those bars for being so accommodating to our needs when setting up the stages and rooms for the performances. Thanks to Charlie Williamson for his introduction to our performance in the Neppie.

Similarly thanks go to Simon Martinez and Barbara of the Basque Children’s Association of ’37 for their sterling efforts in preparing the venues appropriately for the gigs and to Mike Arnott of the IBMT in Scotland for promoting the gigs and coming along. All very much appreciated.

Finally, thanks go to all those - whether family, friends or just interested parties - who came along to see the two performances.