> Ewan MacColl > Songs > Jamie Foyers

Jamie Foyers

[ Roud 1941 ; G/D 1:106 ; Ballad Index McCST084 ; Bodleian Roud 1941 ; DT JAMFOYE2 , JAMFOYE3 ; Mudcat 3009 ; trad. / Ewan MacColl]

John Ord: Bothy Songs and Ballads

Willie MacPhee sang Jamie Foyers in a field recording from the 1950s on the 2011 Greentrax anthology Songs and Ballads From Perthshire (Scottish Tradition 24).

Sheila Stewart sang Young Jamie Foyers on the Stewart Family’s 1965 Topic album The Stewarts of Blair. This track was also included in 1998 on the Topic anthology A Story I’m Just About to Tell (The Voice of the People Volume 8) and in 2009 on Topic’s 70th anniversary box Three Score and Ten. The original album’s notes commented:

Another distinctively Perthshire bothy song, Jamie Foyers was printed by Robert Ford in his Vagabond Songs and Ballads, and also by Greig in article CXXXIX of Folk-Song of the North-East. Greig says he does not think it ever had much vogue in the North-East, but this is not true of the Aberdeenshire travelling folk, among whom it is widely known. Ford comments that it “was a prime favourite at the harvest homes, foys and Handsel-Monday gatherings in the rural parts of Perthshire before and about the middle of the last century”. There seems every reason to believe that the song is founded on an actual event, and that its hero was a real-life Peninsular War casualty. Ewan MacColl’s well-known modernisation makes Jamie an International Brigader.

Sheila learned the very handsome tune from her mother.

Elizabeth Stewart of Mintlaw, Aberdeenshire, sang Jimmie Foyers on her 2004 Elphinstone anthology Binnorie. Her album’s notes commented:

This famed Scottish soldier is based on a real person:

Sergeant James Foyers joined the 1st Battalion of the 42nd Regiment on Foot as a volunteer from the Royal Perthshire Militia in June 1811 and was killed at the siege of Burgos on 19 September 1812 during the assault on the San Miguel outpost […] Foyers was a weaver before he enlisted and his place of birth was ‘Campsay’, i.e. Campsie in Stirlingshire. (Greig-Duncan, vol. 1, p. 525).

Over the years these verses have been adapted to serve for various conflicts from the Boer War to the Spanish Civil War (in a version by Ewan MacColl), a testament to the universality of a tragic death far from home and family. Gavin Greig maintains that the song never had much currency in the North-East, but it is well known among Travellers, a subset of society he overlooked.

Ewan MacColl rewrote the traditional Jamie Foyers, making him an International Brigader fighting against the Franco-led fascists in the Spanish Civil War. He sang his version of Jamie Foyers in 1951 on a 78” Topic shellac record (TRC55), which was also included in 1954 on the untitled Topic album TRL1.

All the following are recordings of MacColl’s song:

Nigel Denver sang Jamie Foyers on his 1965 album Moving On.

Dick Gaughan sang Jamie Foyers in 1978 on Dave Burland, Tony Capstick and his album, Songs of Ewan MacColl, and in 2015 on the MacColl tribute album Joy of Living. He also sang it in 2011 on Martin Simpson’s Topic CD Purpose and Grace. Simpson noted:

[In the early 1980s] I was living in the Lake District and was frequently visited by Dick Gaughan, who was very busy, both solo and as a member of Five Hand Reel. Dick has been a massive influence on me, as a player and a singer and a friend. I heard him sing on many occasions back then, and I was always deeply moved by the emotional quality and content of his live work. Among the songs that Dick sang was Jamie Foyers, and I asked him to write out Ewan MacColl’s Spanish Civil War adaption for me, so I could learn it.

When the idea for this recording was first suggested, I wrote out a wish list and top of the list was Gaughan singing Jamie Foyers. The song in its traditional form tells the story of a young Scots soldier in the Peninsular War. Ewan MacColl lost two friends who fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, and he turned his friends into a more recent Jamie Foyers.

Cockersdale sang Jamie Foyers in 1994 on their Fellside CD Been Around for Years. This track was also included in 2004 on the Fellside anthology Enlist for a Soldier.

Mick West sang Jamie Foyers in 1997 on his Lochshore album Right Side o’ the People. He noted:

I first heard this song over twenty years ago sung by Pat Darlington inthe sessions we had in the “Vicky” (Victoria Bar). It’s only taken me twenty years to get round to learning it, sorry Pat! The original lyrics can be found in Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads and these are set in the time of the Peninsular War. MacColl updates the song to the time of the Spanish Civil War recognising the part played by Clydeside volunteers and others who gave their lives fighting in the International Brigade against Franco and rising World Fascism.

Chris Miles sang Jamie Foyers at Celtic Connections at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in January 2001. This recording was included a year later on the festival’s CD Scots Women.

Ewan McLennan sang Jamie Foyers in 2010 on his Fellside CD Rags & Robes.

Jack Badcock sang Jamie Foyers on the TMSA Young Trad Tour 2014. The liner notes commented:

Originally a traditional Scottish song, about a soldier who fought in the Peninsular War, Ewan MacColl’s version of Jamie Foyers is arguably the most renowned. His lyrics commemorate those, namely the 550 Scots, who fought voluntarily in the international brigades against the nationalists in the Spanish Civil War.


The traditional Jamie Foyers

Far distant, far distant, lies Scotia the brave,
No tombstone memorial shall hallow his grave
His bones they are scattered on the rude soil of Spain
For young Jamie Foyers in battle was slain.

From the Perthshire Militia to serve in the line,
The brave Forty-second we sailed for to join;
To Wellington’s army we did volunteer,
Along with young Foyers, that brave halberdier.

The night that we landed the bugle did sound,
The general gave orders to form on the ground,
To storm Burgos castle before break of day,
And young Jamie Foyers to lead on the way.

But mounting the ladder for scaling the wall,
By a shot from a French gun young Foyers did fall;
He leaned his right arm upon his left breast
And young Jamie Foyers his comrades addressed.

“For you, Robert Percy, that stands a campaign,
If goodness should send to old Scotland again,
You will tell my old father, if yet his heart warms,
That young Jamie Foyers expired in your arms.

“But if a few moments in Campsie I were,
My mother and sisters my sorrow would share;
Now, alas, my old mother, long may she mourn,
But young Jamie Foyers will never return.

“Oh, if I had a drink of Baker Brown’s well,
My thirst it would quench and my fever would quell.”
But his very live-blood was ebbing so fast,
And young Jamie Foyers soon breathed his last.

They took for his winding sheet his ain Tartan plaid,
And in the cold ground his body was laid;
With hearts full of sorrow they covered his clay,
And saying, “Poor Foyers!” marched slowly away.

His father and mother and sisters will mourn,
But Foyers, the brave hero, will never return;
His friends and his comrades lament for the brave
Since young Jamie Foyers is laid in his grave.

The bugle may sound and war drum may rattle,
No more will they raise this young hero to battle;
He fell from the ladder like a hero so brave,
And rare Jamie Foyers is lying in his grave.

Ewan MacColl sings Jamie Foyers

Far distant, far distant, lies Foyers the brave,
No tombstone memorial shall hallow his grave
His bones they are scattered on the rude soil of Spain,
For young Jamie Foyers in battle was slain.

He’s gane frae the shipyard that stands on the Clyde;
His hammer is silent, his tools laid aside,
To the wide Ebro river young Foyers has gane
To fecht by the side o’ the people of Spain.

There wasna his equal at work or at play,
He was strang in the union till his dying day;
He was grand at the fitba’, at the dance he was braw,
O, young Jamie Foyers was the floo’er o’ them a’.

He came frae the shipyaird, took aff his working claes,
O, I mind that time weel in the lang simmer days;
He said, “Fare ye well, lassie, I’ll come back again.”
But young Jamie Foyers in battle was slain.

In the ficht for Belchite he was aye to the fore,
He focht at Gandesa till he couldna fecht more;
He lay owre his machine-gun wi’ a bullet in his brain
And young Jamie Foyers in battle was slain.

He lies by the Ebro in far away Spain,
He died so that freedom and justice might reign;
Remember young Foyers and others of worth
And don’t let one fascist be left on this earth.