No Pasaran (The Ballad of Jack Atkinson)

from by Joe Solo

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"Midnight, one Friday in January 1937, found me and four more Yorkshire comrades boarding a train at Sheffield bound for London on the first leg of our journey to Spain..."

So begins "Pounded Earth", the Spanish Civil War memoir of Rotherham union leader and political activist, Tommy James. One of those four men was Jack Atkinson, a lorry driver and Communist Party member from Hull. Tommy and Jack knew each other of old and were volunteers for the International Brigade on their way to fight Franco's fascists in Spain.

Jack was Giles Stevens's Great Uncle, an only child from a Romani family whose father had died in the trenches of the First World War. At 14 Jack had travelled to Australia where he had fought armed police in the eviction wars. He was a quiet man of 6ft 4", though known to be a little touchy with a drink inside of him. He was capable of swinging a cast iron bar stool with one hand, being a veteran of the days before power-steering. When Mosley and the Blackshirts held a rally on Corporation Fields in Hull over the summer of 1936, Jack was there helping run them out of town. He hated injustice and he hated fascism. Giles wrote this much in a letter to me and I'm so glad he got to hear this song before he died, it means a lot to me that he liked it.

Jack fought at the Battle of Jarama. Franco's troops were advancing on Madrid, and if they took the Spanish capital all would be lost. The International Brigade was rushed into the line. "NO PASARAN!" was the cry of the people of Madrid, and the men hollered it back. "They Shall Not Pass" it means, and thanks to men like Tommy and Jack, they didn't.

Jack was killed on 21st February 1937. Tommy was there and wrote:

"That day Jack Atkinson of Hull was killed. He fell before he had run many yards; a bullet through the eye killed him instantly. When I saw Jack fall, I ran to him, lifted his head and saw that he was dead."

He died making a stand against fascism, and sad though that is, I think if he'd had the choice he would chosen right there, right then and told them "bring it on".

I wrote this song to stand in Jack's boots and face down death with a snarl on my face, and I sing it pretty aggressively as a result. It was only when Rebekah Findlay put the violin on it a couple of weeks ago that it came into focus. I was glad I had my back to her, because the second she started playing I had tears in my eyes, she brought the sadness to the story that seems to underpin his bravado. Musically, I think it is Rebekah who makes this song, and I count it as my favourite of all the songs I've recorded.

So for Jack, for Tommy and for Giles, no pasaran comrades, la luca continua!!

lyrics

My name is Jack Atkinson and I'm not afraid
I'll live and die by this vow that I've made
The only good fascist is a dead one they say
And Jarama here we are

When I first left Hull all them months ago
I told them I'd come not to kill but to cure
But for an 'ambulance driver' my shot's pretty sure
And Jarama here we are

There'll be no pasaran
No pasaran
No pasaran today
The fascists have come for our freedom
And we ain't gonna give it away
There'll be no pasaran here today

I told my mother, "Now mother be strong,
For the left way is right and the right way is wrong
And you can stick that on my grave when I'm gone"
For Jarama here we are

There'll be no pasaran
No pasaran
No pasaran today
The fascists have come for our freedom
And we ain't gonna give it away
There'll be no pasaran here today

The curse may be cast, and the cast may be cursed
But you armies of darkness you'd best do your worst
For to win, yeah, well you'll have to get past us first
And Jarama here we are

There'll be no pasaran
No pasaran
No pasaran today
The fascists have come for our freedom
And we ain't gonna give it away
There'll be no pasaran here today

WORDS AND MUSIC
BY JOE SOLO

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from NO PASARAN!, released January 1, 2014
Joe Solo

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Joe Solo Scarborough, UK

Joe Solo is an award-winning musician, writer, poet, activist, broadcaster and washing machine engineer from Scarborough.

Live he has an ever growing reputation as both a performer and raconteur, being thought-provoking, comical and punch-the-air political often in the same breath.

He is not an artist you forget in a hurry.
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