The Young’Uns – The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff

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Perth Theatre
23rd May 2019


Twice winners of best group at the BBC2 Folk Awards, The Young’Uns’ latest offering tells the tale of Johnny Longstaff, a working-class hero who grew up during the Great Depression, marched in the 1934 Hunger March to London and volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War. The lads, Sean Cooney, Michael Hughes and David Eagle, interweave the recorded voice of Longstaff with witty and touching ballads, bringing his story alive and serving a timely reminder that the evils of poverty and Fascism aren’t that far in our past that we can be complacent.

In 2015, after a gig in Clevedon, Somerset, the Young’Uns were presented with a sheet of paper by Longstaff’s son, describing the main events of his father’s amazing life. Longstaff had also been interviewed and recorded by the Imperial War Museum Archives in 1986 and recordings form the heart of a unique series of songs that paint a moving portrait of a heroic individual who challenged the inequalities he saw and fought for a better tomorrow, both at home and abroad.

The trio sing some fine harmonies, sometimes a cappella , sometimes accompanied by squeezebox and piano. The lyrics are bold, often hilarious and always performed with warmth and humanity. The songs take us on Johnny’s journey from the backstreets of Teeside, down-and-out in London, sleeping on the Embankment, standing against Moseley’s blackshirts in the ‘battle of Cable Street’. Then, as an underage volunteer in September 1937 Longstaff walks across the Pyrenees into Spain to defend the Republic against Franco’s Fascists, fighting in appalling conditions, but never losing his resolve. Throughout his journey, Johnny meets some remarkable characters, fondly brought to life again in the Young’Uns’ songs.

This is the kind of history lesson that engages the heart and the head. The kind that kills Fascism. It’s the kind of history lesson that we should be taking our children to hear. I’m reminded of Orwell’s observation from ‘Looking back on the Spanish Civil War’, “…unfortunately the truth about atrocities is far worse than that they are lied about and made into propaganda. The truth is that they happen.” It’s important that the real witness of men and women who suffered and fought against despotism are heard. Viva the Young’Uns!

Mark Mackenzie

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