Comrades Come Rally: Holywell Music Room, Oxford, 8th March 2020

After spending time writing and rehearsing through much of January and February, March 8th saw Na-Mara’s first performance outing of the year.  We were honoured to have been invited to perform alongside fellow musicians and actors at an event to commemorate the contribution and sacrifice made by men and women from Oxfordshire to the fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War.  The venue was the Holywell Music Room in Oxford, a sublime and historical music venue once graced by Haydn himself and, it is rumoured, possibly Mozart. 

We set off in good time and made it into the one-way system and parking puzzle that is Oxford in enough time to get a decent parking spot, cuppa and a sandwich before making our way to the venue.

The beautiful Holywell Music Room was a hive of activity when we arrived as a small stage was being erected and the hall itself was being decorated with posters from the period and flags of various types.

By the start time of 7.30pm, the venue was pleasingly well populated.  After an introduction from event organiser Colin Carritt, whose father fought in Spain and whose uncle sadly died fighting there, we performed the title track of our second album, The Bite

Well known actors Alison Skilbeck, Tim Hardy and Jeff Robert then began to bring to life the story correspondence and poetry of many of the Oxfordshire International Brigade volunteers.  I, for one, remain in awe of the skill that actors possess to make the written word breathe.  All three made a great contribution to the evening that followed.

When attention turned to the role played by those who volunteered for medical service in Spain, we sang our song The English Penny, remembering nurse Penny Feiwel.  We later performed the song most associated today with the British Battalion, The Valley of Jarama, and we ended the first half of the programme by recounting the story of the 4,000 Basque child refugees to Britain in 1937, with our song ‘Only For Three Months.

Elsewhere in the programme we were treated to some truly wonderful Flamenco guitar from Marcos Young and it was a real pleasure to hear the powerful and beautiful songs and singing of Brenda and Manus O’Riordan. 

Having made our contribution in the first half of the programme, we were then able to relax and listen to Alison, Tim and Jeff, helped by Manus and Brenda, bring the story of the International brigades in Spain to its conclusion.  All of the performances in the second half were excellent but I must report that Alison Skilbeck’s rendition, in both Spanish and English, of La Pasionaria’s farewell speech to the International Brigades was breath taking.

Very many thanks to Colin Carritt, John Hayward, Chris Farman, Marlene Sidaway and their many colleagues who worked so hard to make this event happen and for honouring us with an invitation to participate.