A new and unique piece of modern folk theatre

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff – Documentary

Three time BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners the Young’uns present a new and unique piece of modern folk theatre.

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff is the story of one man’s adventure from begging on the streets in the north of England to fighting against fascism in the Spanish Civil War, taking in the Hunger Marches and the Battle of Cable Street. It’s a timely, touching and often hilarious musical adventure following the footsteps of one working class hero who witnessed some of the momentous events of the 1930s.

With their trademark harmony, honesty and humour the Teesside trio bring together 16 specially composed songs, spoken word, striking imagery and the real recorded voice of Johnny himself to tell a remarkable human story oozing with modern relevance.

"Enthralling, passionate, moving and hilarious… simply the best thing they’ve done." Louder than War

Album Coming Soon. Tour On Sale Now!

Explore our interactive app following Johnny's journey, through archive recordings and newspaper cuttings...

The Young Uns Johhny Longstaff Botw 3 4 18 8
The Young Uns Johhny Longstaff Botw 3 4 18 26
The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

Tour Dates

The Young Uns Johhny Longstaff Botw 3 4 18 31
The Young Uns Johhny Longstaff Botw 3 4 18 47
Union  Chapel 12 10 17  The  Young Uns 3    Photo By  Michael  Gethers Preview
FREE GLUTEN : SEE PAGE FIVE FOR THIS EXCLUSIVE OFFER
THE ONLY OFFICIAL NEWSPAPER OF THE YOUNG’UNS

BY OUR FRONTLINE CORRESPONDENT

Johnny Longstaff was born in Stockton On Tees in the North East of England in October 1919 and subsequently raised by his grandmother. When he left school he got a job in a steel-rolling mill, but due to an industrial accident he was hospitalised for several weeks. On leaving hospital he found that his job had gone to someone else. Getting further employment in the depths of the slump was virtually impossible and so Johnny joined the 1934 Hunger March to London in the hope of finding work in the capital, and so as not to become a burden on his grandmother through the application of the detested means test.

On reaching London he slept rough on the Embankment for several weeks with other lads from the north of England. Eventually he found work in Tooting and through his work colleagues Johnny became involved in local politics, joining the Labour League Of Youth, the youth organisation of the Labour Party.

In July 1936 Franco launched his failed coup against the democratically elected Republican government of Spain. The Spanish Civil War ensued, and in September 1937 Johnny volunteered to join the International Brigades, one of 35,000 recruits from all over the world who went to fight fascism. Johnny was in several battles and was wounded on four occasions, the last wound was very serious, temporarily blinding him.

He was repatriated with the rest of the British Battalion on 8th December 1938. The civil war continued until March 1939 and, as predicted by the Brigaders, the Second World War started six months later.

He died in December 2000 and is buried in St Mary’s Church in Portbury, Somerset.

70  Book 22  Johnny With Newspaper Takein 1934001
68  Book 14  Johnny At  Ripol  Catalonia001

HELLO CLEVEDON!

By Sean Cooney

In May 2015 we had a gig in Clevedon in Somerset. Before the concert a man approached us. He was carrying two pieces of paper. ‘This is my Dad’ he began giving me the first piece of paper – an old picture of a beaming teenager selling a newspaper on a 1930s street corner. ‘And this is what he did’ he continued handing over the second – a timeline of events that covered some of the great moments of the first half of the 20th century.

His name was Duncan and his father was Johnny Longstaff. He told me that if we wanted to hear more we could listen to Johnny telling his story in his own words on the website of the Imperial War Museum. I listened and I was enthralled.

Duncan was hoping we would write a song about his Dad. We wrote 16 and now three years after that night in Clevedon we are delighted to present the Ballad of Johnny Longstaff a multi media show featuring rare images and the real voice of Johnny Longstaff recorded in 1986.

¡ADVANCE!

SHOW PROGRAMME:

THE SONGS

First Half

Any Bread? / Carrying The Coffin / Hostel Strike / Cable Street / Robson’s Song / Ta-ra To Tooting / Noddy / The Great Tomorrow

2nd Half

Ay Carmela / Paella / No Hay Pan / Trench Tales / Lewis Clive / David Guest / Bob Cooney’s Miracle / Over The Ebro / The Valley Of Jarama (written by Alex McDade)

All songs written by Sean Cooney and arranged by Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes except where indicated.

THE MUSICIANS:

The Young’uns

  • Sean Cooney – vocals
  • Michael Hughes – vocals, piano and guitar
  • David Eagle – vocals, piano and accordion
  • ...and featuring the voice of Johnny Longstaff

THE PRODUCTION:

  • Lights: Emma Thompson
  • Sound: Andy Bell
  • Staging and Projections: Cally
  • Promotion: Jeremy Davies at Root Music

THOUGH OUR TUNES WERE OLD ‘UNS OUR WORDS WERE ALMOST NEW

Of the sixteen original songs in the piece three have been put to tunes that would have been familiar to Johnny. Carrying the Coffin is to the tune of the popular marching song John Brown’s Body. In Johnny’s unpublished memoirs he wrote of how the hunger marchers with whom he walked to London in 1934 composed their own songs to this tune. The Great Tomorrow is to the tune of the Internationale the famous left wing anthem sung throughout the Spanish Civil War by Republicans and the international volunteers and remembered vividly by brigaders like Johnny many of whom sang it triumphantly as they crossed over the Spanish border. Ay Carmela was one of the most famous songs of the Spanish Republicans. The only non-original song in the piece is the Valley of Jarama which was written by Alex McDade the Scottish volunteer who was killed at the Battle of Brunete in 1937. The version we sing is known as the reunion version. In the spirit of using old tunes with new words The Valley of Jarama was always sung to the tune of old cowboy song The Red River Valley. There are many references in the lyrics to the words, memories and reminiscences of other British and Irish volunteers. Here are a few that have been particularly inspiring:

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

If a man fights for freedom in one place he fights for it everywhere Paddy O’Daire

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

It has required an incredible effort to concentrate on pure mathematics when the world seems on fire David Guest

‘if you lose your temper lose it properly’ David Guest

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

P2 Johnny

JOHNNY COMES MARCHING HOME

BY DUNCAN LONGSTAFF

It all started in October 1919 when Johnny Longstaff was born in Stockton On Tees where he remained until aged 15 when his adventure began; he was not to return to Teesside until he was 47 years of age.

My father had a very interesting and eventful life during the 1930’s and 1940’s, becoming an unlikely civil servant in 1948. From this date he devoted his time to being a family man and to his Union activities within the Civil Service. This continued right up to his retirement.

In 1986 the Imperial War Museum recorded my father talking about his life in the 1930’s, leading up to his joining the International Brigades, and his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. When the recording of this was concluded, Dad offered to speak about his time in the British Army during WW2, and this was gladly accepted by the Museum. I am really fortunate to have this first hand account of Johnny’s incredible life, and how he cheated death on several occasions, he was a walking scrap yard of shrapnel and bullets, with battle scars to prove it. Johnny did not come out of his battles unscathed: I can remember as a youngster hearing my father on several occasions screaming out whilst having a nightmare about some battle horror.

After his death I organised a gathering of friends of my father, members of the International Brigade and soldiers from the Rifle Brigade to commemorate Johnny. During this event, a former Regimental Sergeant Major of the 7th Rifle Brigade took me to one side and said “Duncan I want you to know that your father was a very brave man”. That statement from a fellow soldier of my father meant more to me than any medal.

I was in my mother’s house helping her tidy up, when I found Johnny’s written memoirs. They were originally written in the late seventies and early eighties. Pauline, my mother, told me that I should have his memoirs published. It was not until I had retired that I could devote any time towards this. When I started looking at his memoirs and listening to his tapes, I realised what a remarkable life my father had experienced. Although Johnny told me about his history (they were all in fragmented parts), I was now able to devote my time learning where he had been, where things had happened, and I could put it all together in a logical sequence.

In 2015 I found out about the Young’uns through the radio, and their song “The Battle of Stockton”, which describes the determination of the people of Stockton rising up to prevent Oswald Mosely and his Blackshirt thugs from marching through Stockton On Tees in 1933. My father never mentioned this to me, as he was only 13 years of age at the time, and was probably unaware of this event. However it is of significance to note what the local people thought of fascism. My father was raised amongst these working and unemployed men and women. This caring community who looked after each other must have influenced him all through his later life.

In the spring of 2015 the Young’uns were performing in Clevedon, and I was introduced to them by a mutual friend before the performance. After the show I met them again, armed with a short resume of my Dad’s life, and a link to the Imperial War Museum oral history department and Johnny’s recordings. My hope was that I would get a single song from them about my Dad. I did not hear from them for several months when, out of the blue, Sean telephoned me to say that they were interested in putting a show together solely devoted to my father’s memoirs, I was not expecting this in any way.

Later in the year the Young’uns visited Johnny’s grave, and sang some songs that they had written for the show. The show was not performed in 2016 as originally planned, and I thought that was the end of it, however they did record the Battle of Cable Street and my Dad’s part in it, I got my single song that I was originally hoping for, and was not too disappointed.

In the summer of 2017 I went to the Folk East Festival where the Young’uns were to perform. Just before their act Sean approached me and handed me a copy of their latest CD Strangers. At the same time he announced that the Young’uns were planning to do Johnny’s show in 2018, brilliant I thought. The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff was conceived with 16 songs , to be performed in 19 different towns throughout the UK. Johnny is no longer to be an unsung hero. I hope you all enjoy the show, and I thank the Young’uns for all the hard work they have put into putting the show together, I am sure it will be a great and resounding success.

A new and unique piece of modern folk theatre

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff – Documentary

Three time BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winners the Young’uns present a new and unique piece of modern folk theatre.

The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff is the story of one man’s adventure from begging on the streets in the north of England to fighting against fascism in the Spanish Civil War, taking in the Hunger Marches and the Battle of Cable Street. It’s a timely, touching and often hilarious musical adventure following the footsteps of one working class hero who witnessed some of the momentous events of the 1930s.

With their trademark harmony, honesty and humour the Teesside trio bring together 16 specially composed songs, spoken word, striking imagery and the real recorded voice of Johnny himself to tell a remarkable human story oozing with modern relevance.

"Enthralling, passionate, moving and hilarious… simply the best thing they’ve done." Louder than War

Album Coming Soon. Tour On Sale Now!

Explore our interactive app following Johnny's journey, through archive recordings and newspaper cuttings...

The Young Uns Johhny Longstaff Botw 3 4 18 8
The Young Uns Johhny Longstaff Botw 3 4 18 26
The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

Tour Dates

The Young Uns Johhny Longstaff Botw 3 4 18 31
The Young Uns Johhny Longstaff Botw 3 4 18 47
Union  Chapel 12 10 17  The  Young Uns 3    Photo By  Michael  Gethers Preview
¡ADVANCE!
P3 Batallion

THE INTERNATIONAL BRIGADE MEMORIAL TRUST

The International Brigade Memorial Trust keeps alive the spirit and memory of the 2,500 volunteers from the British Isles who fought in the legendary International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.

More than 500 of the volunteers gave their lives, warning that a world war was inevitable unless fascism was stopped in Spain. Britain meanwhile imposed sanctions on the elected government of the Spanish Republic, as fascist dictators Hitler and Mussolini poured troops and arms into Spain to help their friend General Franco.

We believe the exceptional example of anti-fascism and international solidarity shown by the International Brigades can inspire new generations in the struggle for democracy and social justice.

The IBMT also remembers all those who supported the volunteers and the cause of the Spanish Republic at home. The Aid Spain movement mobilised ten of thousands of people on the side of the anti-fascist fight in Spain and challenged the British government’s policy of appeasing the fascist dictators.

The IBMT brings together families, friends and admirers of the International Brigades, along with historians, labour movement activists and all others who share an interest in the unique story of the International Brigades.

The Spanish Civil War made an impact on Britain; a few went to Spain to serve with the International Brigades or in the medical services; some helped looked after the Basque Refugee children who sought sanctuary in the UK. Many were involved in raising money for ‘Aid For Spain’ charities. All were changed by the preparations for air raids, consciously drawing on the Spanish experience. The IBMT offer free lesson materials to allow 11-13 year olds see how events in Spain changed lives in Britain. In schools in each tour venue-town there will be lessons looking at the Spanish Civil War and that area.

Details of these and to find out more about the IBMT go to the website: international-brigades.org.uk

NEWSPAPERS FOR PLATES

Extracted from an original interview with Sean Cooney by Dave Freak

There’s a track on your last album Strangers about Johnny, called Cable Street - is this the first and only song about him you’ve recorded/ released?

Yes but also on Strangers is the song Bob Cooney’s Miracle which will also feature in the show as Bob Cooney was a man Johnny very much looked up to and admired when he was in Spain. Cable Street was the third song I wrote about Johnny. I wrote the majority of it while we were on our first tour of Australia in March 2016. We knew when learning it and recording it for Strangers that it would at some stage form part of a special show about Johnny but we didn’t know when that would come into being. The first song I wrote about Johnny is the first song in the show Any Bread and the chorus is inspired by his heart breaking memories of having to beg at the gates of the local factory in Stockton On Tees during the 1920s and using newspapers for plates and jam jars for cups at home. The hardship and poverty Johnny knew as a child was immense and it was something that informed everything he later did and strove to do in his life.

How did the idea for the multi-media show – The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff – develop?

Once I listened to all 6 hours of Johnny telling his story on the Imperial War Museum website and shared it with Michael and Dave we knew that we wanted to tell the story through songs and use his voice to weave in and out of them in the spirit of the ground breaking BBC Radio Ballads of the 1950s and 60s (which were revived in 2006 and again in 2014 to mark the centenary of the Great War). The Radio Ballads of the 50s pretty much put the working class voice on the radio for the first time and songwriters like Ewan Maccoll and Bert Lloyd composed pieces inspired by the oral testimonies of real people who worked in a range of traditional industries and who had great stories to share. The songs wove in and out of the oral testimonies and these shows gave birth to some of the most enduring folk songs of the 20th century like Shoals of Herring and School Days Over. This was in November 2015. We knew it would be a big job and may be something that we could only have the opportunity to do years done the line. But Johnny’s story is so powerful and resonant we knew we’d definitely try our best to share it with people and when a touring opportunity came up and we had the opportunity of working with a great team Joel Borkin on sound, Emma Thompson the wonderful lighting engineer and Cally from Antar the idea of combining Johnny’s voice, new songs and visuals came into being.

He had quite a life - from begging for food at factory gates as a child to being awarded the American Bronze Star medal for gallantry in WWII. Are you looking at his whole life, or just key episodes or a key period?

Our song suite ends when Johnny is still only 19 and the Second World War begins. However even at this young age his life feels like one very well lived. We do make mention of his service in WWII but the show is really his journey to Spain and how his whole life before that seemed to prepare him from it – his natural instincts to speak out against injustice, his determination to defend the underdog. Running throughout the narrative is also his great innocence and sometimes naivety - Johnny reacting instinctively to events around him in a way that only a teenager would. And traveling through the tumultuous landscapes of the 1930s with the innocence of (in his own words) a lad who’d ‘never even seen a woman in the noddy!’

Do the songs use his own words, from those recordings and his memoirs? Or have you taken those as inspiration?

Johnny’s oral recordings have very much been the inspiration of the songs and indeed some exact phrases have been used here and there. We’ve also been extremely grateful to Duncan for allowing us access to Johnny’s unpublished memoirs where he elaborates more on his childhood and his experiences on the hunger march of 1934 and stories from here will also feature in the show. We’ve also had inspiration from the stories of many other men and women who made the journey to Spain in the 1930s and several of them will feature in the show like Lewis Clive the handsome old Etonian who won Gold at the 1932 Olympics and David Guest one of the finest mathematicians of his generation. Both men died in Spain and knew Johnny well.

Johnny’s Britain seems very distant to ours. Nazis on the streets, teenagers going off to war, children begging outside the gates of factories. We’re going to tell his story the best we can and hopefully his sense of justice and humour will be as infectious for our audiences as it has been for us.

P3 Ad
¡ADVANCE!

WHAT WOULD JOHNNY DO?

HERE’S A JOHNNY, THERE’S A JOHNNY, EVERYWHERE’S A JOHNNY JOHNNY

BY DAVID EAGLE

My finger is poised over the enter key, the press of which will complete my purchase, and instruct the people at Amazon to deliver me a phone charger. But then, something happens. I hear a voice in my head. It’s my conscience, which has recently undergone something of a surreal makeover. Usually, the voice in my head always sounded, I think, like me. But a few days ago it began morphing into the voice of Johnny Longstaff.

I suppose it’s little wonder that Johnny’s voice has crept into my consciousness and become the sound of my inner monologue. After all, for the last few months, Johnny has pervaded my days and nights, as I trawl through the hours of recordings made by the Imperial War Museum in the 80s, which contain Johnny’s life story, told by the man himself. A man who, despite having died eighteen years ago, is still nevertheless very much alive and kicking up a storm in my brain, berating me for my various quotidian choices, such as buying a phone charger from Amazon, a decision I am making chiefly because it will save me 2 quid.

Johnny was a great man of ethics, who took bold action to defend causes that he felt were implicitly right. This led him to fight fascism at Cable Street and in the gruelling Spanish Civil War, despite it being illegal and involving incredible personal sacrifice. Johnny’s story has made such an impact on me. Obviously I am a relatively privileged middle-class man who has had to make nothing akin to the kind of major moral choices that Johnny made. I think that my “liberal guilt” has been dramatically heightened by the persistent presence of Johnny in my life over the last few months, as I’ve ploughed through his hours of oral recollections, in order to compile the audio for this show.

There are so many examples of Johnny’s unwavering ethical boldness, and I have frequently found myself musing, in all manner of day-to-day situations, “what would Johnny do?” Obviously I have no actual thoughts of Johnny’s on the subject of purchasing mobile phone chargers from tax evading global corporations- he makes absolutely no reference to the subject over the six hours of his recorded life story, which is only to be expected, given that the recordings were made in the eighties.

So, back at my laptop, I try to justify my purchasing decision to myself with the excuse that loads of other people do it and that the ethics of it are too complicated to take a hard and fast line. Normally I’d let myself off with such reasoning, but now that the internal voice has changed to that of an imperious Johnny, it’s much less easy to shrug off my feeling of unease. I vacillate, my hand hovering over the enter key, while I consider what to do. A few seconds pass, I give a defeated shrug, hit the back button on my browser (Google Chrome, incidentally, because obviously Google pose no ethical quandaries). Instead I decide to buy the phone charger from Currys. I have no idea what Currys stand for and whether I should feel uneasy about giving them my money, but the voice of Johnny is quietened and so I make the purchase.

It has been a tremendous privilege and honour to have gotten to know Johnny so well over the last few months. He was an incredible person. But, as well as an honour and a privilege, it has also driven me completely mad, as the last few paragraphs have illustrated. Hopefully, when you listen to Johnny’s words in this production, you will easily be able to follow along, and his recollections will seem completely congruent and clear. Johnny’s storytelling is highly enthralling and captivating, but he does have a tendency on these recordings to flit from subject to subject. This can be rather frustrating when you’re trying to simply get a sound bite that sums up the story to neatly work with some musical accompaniment. Often, I will be listening to Johnny telling a story, and I’ll be making edits along the way, believing that I am on the cusp of the perfect summation of the tale, only for Johnny to suddenly wildly tangent onto a completely different subject. I then have to spend ages feverishly scrolling through reams of audio, searching for the moment that he finally returns to the original story. Still, in fairness to Johnny, he didn’t expect that his recollections would be forming the basis of an audio/visual performance of his life, and I’m sure that, had he known this, he would have timed his tales to work perfectly over a 4/4 musical backdrop; he seems like that kind of man.

There are also times during his stories where he gets people’s names mixed up, and suddenly starts calling someone by the wrong name, meaning that I have to go back and splice out the real name from another part of the audio. I hope that these various reparations are not too noticeable, although there are a couple of necessary, clunky emergency edits during the show, which I hope won’t sound too arresting and obvious.

I apologise to my housemate, who has also had to listen to the sound of Johnny’s voice on loop, seeping through the walls, and for the many times he’s heard me shouting, “bloody hell, Johnny,” whenever he goes off on one of his tangents or says the wrong person’s name in the middle of a story.

But again, I must stress what a tremendous honour it’s been to get so intimately acquainted with Johnny. We never met him, he died in 2000, when we were just fifteen; but after months of being immersed in his voice, stories and principles, I nevertheless feel a great affinity and comradeship with him.

This same sentiment is shared by Sean, who has spent even longer with Johnny’s voice than I have, sculpting Johnny’s words and stories into songs. So familiar are we with his oral history recordings, Sean and I have sort of inadvertently developed a strange Johnny Longstaff based parlance. There are lines of Johnny’s speech that have become catchphrases. There are also Johnny Longstaff related in-jokes, and we will often find ourselves both simultaneously responding to something that someone has said by reciting the same Johnny Longstaff catchphrase, in Johnny’s voice, much to the confusion of everyone else present. As I say, it’s been an honour, but one that has definitely driven us completely mad.

Thanks for that Johnny.

P4 Img

Here at the editorial desk of Advance we like to adhere to our motto:

“Terminological inexactitudes which circumnavigate the suburbs of veracity”

However, it appears that our colleagues at The North Somerset Times went that extra mile on May 4th 2016 when they managed to print the wrong photo of the wrong people at the wrong grave and, to cap it all, Sean Cooney of The Young’uns seemed to become one James Bond.

We heartily applaud their adherence to a new form of truth. Their article bravely reads:

"Graveyards tend to be a sombre place, however not so much in Portbury on Thursday afternoon. Folk music band The Young’uns visited St Mary’s Church and sangs songs at the grave of Johnny Longstaff. The North East band were struck by Johnny’s story, who used to live in Stockton-on-Tees and moved to North Somerset.

Singer Sean Connery said: “We wanted to sing at the grave of one of our heroes – the extraordinary Teessider Johnny Longstaff who fought prejudice and inequality all his life.”

Longstaff walked to London to find work at the age of 15 in the 1934 Hunger March and was at the Battle of Cable Street when Black Shirts were prevented from marching through the East End of London by anti-fascists.

Lying about his age he was smuggled out to fight for democracy with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. He also served in World War Two.’

Drag to explore the interactive newspaper!
The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

Tour Dates

close
close