Breaking off from his European Tour American singer-songwriter David Rovics rearranged a planned gig in Germany and flew into London to headline the Guernica 75th Anniversary Gala, as Philosophy Football and the International Brigades Memorial Trust took over Filthy MacNasty’s, off the busy Pentonville Road, for the night.
In his homeland Rovics is considered one of the heirs to Woody Guthrie, and he doesn’t so much mix pop with politics as immerse his music with passion and energy on the matters of the day; in an enjoyable set he performed ‘Stay Right Here’, his song about social injustice, recited comic poetry from Attila the Stockbroker, sang about the new fascists in Europe and gave a pacey rendition of the eternal favourite anthem, The Internationale.
And Internationalism is a theme throughout the evening, with traditional Spanish songs from na-mara, films on Guernica, conversation with historian Helen Graham and Guardian columnist Seumas Milne, and artist Peter Kennard discussing the art of war and the visual arm of protest.
Brixton based performance poet Francesca Beard kicked off the night with three poems, starting with two stylish ones written for the night. While the little Beard previously knew of the Spanish Civil War came from the film Pan’s Labyrinth, once invited to be a part of the night she quickly read up on the subject, initially humbled as everyone is when they first start learning the detail of the events in Spain. As she explains on her website, which contains all three poems, the angle of her first poem comes from Goring’s words at the Nuremberg trials, when he revealed he encouraged Hitler to support Franco not just to obliterate political opposition, but to test out his new technology in brutal fashion on civilians. Her second poem was a positive celebration to those who joined forces to fight the fascists, before finishing with an interactive one that had the crowd bemoaning the mundane acts of life.
From the poetry of Francesca Beard to the live music from David Rovics, the evening is a tribute to the lives lost in the atrocities at Guernica in 1937 as well continuing the spirit of internationalism and social justice from contemporary artists. Five years after the attack in Guernica Michael Curtis’ film Casablanca was released, which in one of many memorable lines had Signor Ferrari telling Humphrey Bogart’s Rick “isolationism is no longer a practical policy”. A truism popular culture and art continue to reflect.
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