Some of you who know me may have seen my ‘business’ card, which under my name says “London – Lagos – La Herradura”. The first two are self-explanatory: the third requires some explanation.
When our father died, coinciding with her retirement, my sister Anne (for the avoidance of doubt, ‘same mother, same father’) decided to do something different. Without going into a long account, some five or six years ago, after some desk research and a look see visit, Anne took herself off to the once small fishing village of La Herradura. Named after the shape of its horseshoe shaped bay, the village is in Andalusia some ten miles east of Nerja. Being just a fraction too far for the typical Brit tourist invasion of Malaga, especially before the main highway was built, it caters for Spanish holidaymakers who flock down from Granada and even Madrid in droves in July and August (actually increasing the population from circa 3,000 to over ten times that number) but who ignore the place for the rest of the year, apart from the occasional festival or Saint’s day. This means the owners of the bars, cafes and restaurants, are more than happy to accept the couple of hundred assorted Brits, Scandinavians, Dutch and other ‘expatriates’ * who love the gentle, relaxed ‘off season’ feel of the village – especially as the majority are not of the ‘fish & chips’ brigade but rather speak at least some Spanish and build relationships with the locals. Many of the Spanish residents come from families who have lived along this coast for generations as fishermen with sugar cane, bamboo or olives as their traditional ‘campo’ produce. For some reason, over the years, this small stretch of coast has attracted retired musicians, people who like to strum the odd chord or, as in the case of Anne, who occasionally sung in a pub band, busked or just love to belt out a tune in the shower. It has also become the home of several musicians who earn a decent living during the holiday season and who can relax, playing in the local bars, writing and even recording during the winter.
The musical tradition also extends to being a centre for Spanish and Flamenco guitar playing and hosts two bespoke guitar factories. Guitarists come from all over the world to Stephen Hill’s guitar studio and in the ceremony in the small castle’s evocative hall (usually just two or three times a year) local players of note put the guitars through their paces before they are taken away by their new owners. Even the main beach road is called ‘Andre Segovia Playa’.
And this brings me to the point of this particular blog – the music. Every time, usually a couple of times a year, when I visit my sister I get to hear some incredible music in one of the local bars – for free! My two favourite venues are very different and as I love them both I invited friends from the old Brighton Student days, from Chiswick and those Nigerians that could make the trip to join me at each of them to celebrate my 65th. The first at the more traditional restaurant Las Maravillas featured the house Flamenco band ‘Grupo Pablo Escudero’ led by Pablo on guitar and Diana singing and ‘palming’ (the surprisingly highly skilled art of hand clapping) who generally play on Sundays, more of them later. The second gig was at what I regard, simply, as one of the best bars I have been to anywhere in the world. ‘La Cochera’ run by Antonio and his partner Mario is quirky and idiosyncratic and totally unique. The décor is to be seen to be believed, the garden, especially after a recent reconstruction is just heaven and Antonio’s music selection is eclectic and compliments the amazing ambience of the place: sometimes tranquil and chilling while at others urging you irresistibly to tap your feet or jump up and dance.
At my birthday gig we were lucky to have persuaded Mama Paula to bring down her blues band to play. Simply put, if Paula Bramlett had been a bloke in the sexist world of 1970’s rock music she would have become a household name as a blues and rock guitarist. As it is, even though she has played at the Albert Hall (at Lonnie Donnegan’s memorial) and was in a band for some time with Ten Year’s After’s keyboard player Chick Churchill, she plies her trade down across the Costa Del Sol with a number of first rate Spanish musicians like Marcelo (no mean second lead guitar himself) or expats, like Anne’s ‘grumpy old men’s coffee club’ colleague Terry on bass. Here is a link to some footage of her gig at La Cochera that also features our Dutch friend Tijs.
MAMA PAULA BLUES BAND AT LA COCHERA – OCTOBER 2018
Unfortunately, this most recent trip I was not able to catch a Mama Paula gig, though we did hook up for the proverbial ‘few beers’ with the effervescent Lynn and the fellow spirited travelling girls Jackie and Jane. However, Anne and I did manage to catch six gigs or jams over a four day weekend which does tell you how much live music there is available – and there were even a couple we didn’t have time to get to! The two I really want to highlight were the amazing Richard Ray Farrel and my own sister’s vocal spots with a local guitar player, Jose Montalvo Martin, who has his own band and runs his own jam evenings in the neighbouring town of Almunecar. Before I touch on those – a quick word about Anne’s friend Victoria Danza who has her own band playing light jazz and soul numbers. She is developing a lovely mellifluous voice and is well supported by a number of local musicians. I caught her at the Herraduran beach spot of Bambu Playa. I am not a fan of their food or service but the place does provide the perfect setting for some live music. Take a look at the amazing backdrop, Victoria’s smooth tones and a clip of Anne’s guest spot.
One of the highlights of the week is Sunday lunchtime Flamenco at Las Maravillas. Pepe and his family run the place, which specialises in first rate local fish dishes and Diana, his daughter who for most of the week waits at table, sings (Canta) and ‘palms’ to Pablo’s Guitar and with guest dancers each week. This particular week the dancers were Enrique and Vanessa who also danced at my birthday celebration there. No matter how many times I see genuine Flamenco (and I am not talking the tired tourist version available in Torremolinos) I am always blown away by the athleticism and sensuality on show. If there was ever a dance form that brings out the powerful sense of violence and repression of Spain’s history, of the bloody ‘campo’ soil and the passion of those that worked it, Flamenco is it.
This particular weekend saw a guest guitarist, Miguel Angel Martin. Where Pablo is all passion and intensity, Miguel has a lighter, more ethereal tone – their contrasting techniques highlighting the different styles contained in this one musical form. Not that I can claim to know much about it, except that I count myself fortunate to travel to this village, sit and eat with friends in convivial surroundings and enjoy some of the music that I can share with you here.
Can you imagine! All the music I have posted was available in bars and restaurants where the only admission fee is a beer or maybe an inexpensive meal. It’s not surprising that Anne loves the place so much and that it has inspired her to stretch her own vocal chords. For her guest spots and one of the best Blues guitarists I have seen, catch the next blog.
Oh and by the way, there is more of Mama Paula on her website and where you can access her music and even book her for a gig — https://www.mamapaula.com/
@ for info and the guitar courses see http://www.stephenhillguitars.com/guitar-making-courses.html
* Yes, ‘expatriates’ as opposed to ‘immigrants’ – what’s in a name you might ask – probably the opportunity for another discourse at a later date!