Finally Understanding Flamenco

I’ve heard a lot about the village of Sierra Alhamilla as friends have always sung its praises. It’s only a 40-minute drive from our village of Lucainena de las Torres, has been used as a location in the TV drama ‘Game of Thrones’ (see photo at the end of this post), is famed for its spa and last night, there was a flamenco festival organised by the local town hall, so I thought it was worth a trip. We were planning to leave in the car, but somebody was trying to scupper our plans to leave the village…

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Local donkey, who comes to the field by our house sometimes for a bite to eat and to chill out

It’s been so hot over the last few weeks here in the south of Spain, even at night and so, I was more than happy to go to this concert which was held in the glorious gardens with views on to Almeria city itself. Spending time outside around midnight in the summer is understandably a popular pastime here and is one of my favourite things to do in Spain.

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I’m not a connoisseur, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy going to  see flamenco and went to a few when I lived in Granada, arguably its spiritual home. If you haven’t been by the way, visit Le Chien Andalou for fantastic performances in an intimate venue in the heart of Granada.

After eventually finding a parking space, we found seats in a beautiful setting surrounding by palm trees in the grounds of the Baños de Sierra Alhamilla and waited for things to get going, which they did at around 1030pm. By then we had also all been offered fans by the organisers which was a lovely and still quite necessary touch.

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Mrs Cortado, our friend John enjoying the freebie fans

After the inevitable speeches by local dignitaries, which were mercifully not too long, singer Montse Cortés was on first with musicians on guitar, cajon (type of percussion box) and palmas (claps) and they launched into their set which was traditional and enjoyable, though at times, I admit I found her voice and the guitar a tad too abrasive for my taste.

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After their show, there was an intermission where we could go for a drink and get some free soup! The event is called the ‘Caldo Minero’ flamenco festival. For those who may not know, ‘caldo’ is the Spanish word for stock, as used in cooking and ‘minero’ is Spanish for coalminer. The area used to be known for mining. And so, in addition to a much needed cold drink in the break, we could also get a small cup of Caldo Minero, hot coalminer’s soup. In August in the south of Spain. I’m going to ask some local friends to find out more, but if anybody knows the story as to why, I’d love to hear it.

This festival was offering different types of flamenco and although I’m a fan of flamenco singing and music, I’ve always thought that the dancing was just a part of it that I could take or leave. As a musician myself, I got the music elements, but I could never see why everybody raved about it so much. It had always left me cold. And then, the next group came on. With the musicians all in black and already performing with a professional subtlety lacking in the first group, you could already sense that this would be quite a different experience.

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Performing the more serious ‘cante jondo’ flamenco style, the two singers (Javier Rivera and Rosario Amador) and guitarist (Miguel Pérez) were fantastic. Like many musicians in flamenco, they all had the necessary technical ability and incredible passion, yet they did it in such a beautifully understated way, which I found quite unusual when compared to previous flamenco performances I’ve seen. It wasn’t just about volume and power, you could also hear the gentle, melancholy yearning in how they played.

And then came the dancers. The incredible David Pérez (whose company it is) and the magnificent Maria José León appeared in fabulously flamboyant outfits and within seconds, the entire audience was transfixed. David and Maria José seemed so in sync with each other and I also loved how they incorporated the traditional flamenco shawl (mantón de manila), making it a fundmental element of the first song. I’d never seen that before. According to Antonio, a flamenco fan friend, he had noticed more of the ‘Stomp’-style rhythms had been included, even incorporating a bastón (walking stick) as a percussive instrument, which together with the intricate footwork, was mesmerising as an additional instrument.

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David Pérez (Image courtesy of La Flamenquería)
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Maria José León (Image courtesy of Universo Flamenco)

For the first time, instead of the patronising insincerity of so-called professionals who turn up and seemingly phone it in , I was seeing how the passionate intensity and captivating sincerity of flamenco dancing could be integral to the performance and I loved it and I never thought I’d say that! Although the ‘stars’ of this particular set were the dancers, I loved the whole thing and how the musicians and dancers worked together. This company were on a different level to flamenco performances that I have seen before and if you haven’t seen them yet. I would highly recommend them! I’m strangely relieved that after more than 3 years living in Andalucia (two in the city of Granada and one here in Lucainena de las Torres) that I finally feel like I understand much more about flamenco and not just the music, but also the dancing.

It’s a wonderful thing that events like these are offered by the local town halls. In addition to annual ferias/fiestas, even the smallest Spanish villages have a lot of outdoor events over the summer including sporting events, processions, street theatre, concerts and outdoor cinema for everyone to enjoy. The ‘Caldo Minero flamenco festival’ has taken place every 2 years since 1990 and long may it continue. I look forward to going back to Sierra Alhamilla for the spa, to have a look around the village and also of course, to the next Caldo Minero!

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The magnificent Maria Jose León and the musicians

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Sierra Alhamilla
Known as the only town at the Dothraki Sea in ‘Game Of Thrones’, the Baths of Sierra Alhamilla got its name from its Roman hot springs and baths
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Los Baños de Sierra Alhamilla
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Los Baños de Sierra Alhamilla

3 Months On The Road In The USA (Pt5)

 

The West Coast 

 

I’d always wanted to visit California. Los Angeles, Big Sur and Venice Beach for example, were all places I’d seen or heard in films, TV and music and they always seemed so exotic.

 

From the natural marvels of Yosemite and Sequoia, our trip was now taking us to ones of a different kind on the West Coast. We first headed to Monterey where we walked along Cannery Row, the old fishing area which has been prettified, but seemed a tad soulless and then drove to the lovely Pacific Grove where we just strolled along the ruggedly beautiful coastline.

 

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Later that evening, we popped into the delightful Carmel, which for somewhere so small, seemed to have an inordinate number of pricey shops. After dinner in a cute, little Italian restaurant we found, we thought we’d have dessert elsewhere and came across a local bakery which was closing, but we managed to persuade the assistant working there to sell us a few cakes which hit the spot.

 

And then, the day after, appropriately armed with a Beach Boys playlist (and a little bit of Johnny Cash too as I had really got into his music in Nashville), we set off on a gloriously sunny day down the coast along Big Sur, which really was as incredible as we thought it would be.

 

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We were heading towards our next stop at Pismo Beach, which was an excellent point to visit the nearby and magnificently strange Hearst Castle where we saw an eclectic mix of things including an absurdly opulent blue indoor pool with real gold tiles, as well as a few zebras in the grounds. We even managed to see a few elephant seals on the beach nearby.

 

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The next day was our 9th wedding anniversary and we were going to be celebrating it with some American friends who we had first met in Granada, Spain where we were living at the time and lived in San Luis Obispo further down the coast. Oddly enough, we ended up going to a restaurant appropriately called Granada. We had had a lovely meal and then, on our way back after the meal, we got our first American ticket for parking the car facing the wrong direction, which we didn’t even know was a thing! Another experience for the list…

 

The next day, we headed to Solvang, a slightly strange and sweet, seemingly Danish village in the middle of American wine country which even has its own windmill!

 

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On the way down the coast to Los Angeles, we stopped off at Santa Barbara, one of the many places referenced in American TV shows and films and although Mrs Cortado really liked the feel of the place, other than the low-rise architecture which is very common on this part of the country, it just seemed full of shops and little else to me.

 

Los Angeles

 

We rented an apartment in Marina Del Rey for a few days as our base for visiting LA. One of the first things we did was to get a sightseeing bus to take us around the city so we could get our bearings, as LA is even bigger than we had imagined.

 

I was surprised at how low-rise the city was. American cities we had seen thus far had been full of skyscrapers of offices and apartments, but one of the charming elements of LA is that this hasn’t happened. However, the city is an enormous sprawl where getting stuck in heavy traffic is the norm, even if you have 6-lane highways.

 

One sad reality we encountered was one morning while popping out for coffee, seeing the exit to our apartment building had been blocked due to a fatal shooting in the car park overnight. Like all big cities across the world, crime is a reality in certain areas, however this was our first experience of gun crime in the US.

 

On a lighter note, Mrs Cortado has always been a fan of Disney and her mother has always wanted to see the Disney parade, so Mrs Cortado’s parents came out for a few days to visit and my mother-in-law had the time of her life at the parade, while my father-in-law and I strolled around the pretty back streets of Little Venice stopping off at different coffee shops on the way. I really enjoyed hanging out in Little Venice. It has an unusual bohemian feel, but also a spectacular kind of light, especially as the sun sets. I recently watched ‘Californication’ and ‘Flaked’ where the neighbourhood is the backdrop for the TV shows, so I could see the area again and it was nice to see that same light and atmosphere coming across in the programmes.

 

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Another day, we drove along the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu and were quite surprised to see how ’normal’ and un-film-starry this area was. Though I think the really big houses were safely ensconced elsewhere far away from the main road and coast. After a lovely lunch at a restaurant on the beach, we then headed into the beautiful Santa Monica mountain reserve.

 

Music & Film

 

We had now been on the road for several weeks and had had an incredible time, but we had also done quite a lot and so it was wonderful, to find a spot on Venice Beach one morning to sit down and just take it all in. Everything we had seen and experienced so far, including the fact that we were in LA (man) and especially, Venice Beach which I had always heard so much about through music and film and was also where Jim Morrison lived when The Doors first got together. I’m a big Doors fan. I also really enjoyed bumping into some of the street art in Little Venice.

 

 

Ever since watching ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ with James Dean when I was a teenager, Griffith Observatory has also always been on my list of places to visit – for those who don’t know, there are a few key scenes in the film located there. Having lived in Greenwich before, I had already been lucky enough to see a magnificent observatory, however the views of the city from here, including the Hollywood sign, were spectacular.

 

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As a big music fan, I had really wanted to see a gig while in LA as there were so many well-known venues which had hosted legendary bands over the years and one of these was the Troubadour. A small venue which had hosted a wide variety of artists over the years including Elton John, Buffalo Springfield, James Taylor, Guns & Roses, Tom Waits and Radiohead. We had got tickets to see John Grant who happened to be in town when we were. Although it ended up being quite expensive in that although the gig tickets were only around $60 in total, the taxi fare there and back was around $100! Fortunately, we are big John Grant fans and it was a fabulous gig in a legendary venue, so another wonderful experience on our trip.

 

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One of the last stops we made was in Laurel Canyon which was renowned for being the neighbourhood where Joni Mitchell, the Byrds and countless other singer-songwriters and bands from the late 60s made music and lived in (apparent) peace, love and harmony in the summer of love in 1967. As with Ashbury Haights in San Francisco, my expectations were impossibly high and it obviously wouldn’t be the same these days, but part of me was still hoping to somehow absorb this late-60s vibe through some kind of hippie-flower-power-like osmosis just by driving through the neighbourhood. I don’t think Mrs Cortado was as interested or as hopeful.

 

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In Short

 

Spending time in LA was sometimes like being in New York in that you were already familiar with places through TV, film and music. We loved visiting LA, but other than individual moments such as the Troubadour gig, hanging out in Little Venice and Disney, we didn’t really connect with the city as a whole as much as we had with previous cities such as New York, Chicago and Seattle.

 

Next Stop

 

So, after a few days here, we were off again. We dropped off the in-laws at LAX airport so they could go back to England and then, we headed off to our next stop – Santa Fe – where we would be beginning the southern leg of the trip. Yet another one which we had been really looking forward to…

Nothing Like A Coffee And Some Time

I’m sitting on a lovely, ever-so-slightly battered brown sofa in my favourite bar (Cafe Cyrano) in Almería, my recently adopted ‘big city’, listening to my new favourite album (‘Hey Mr Ferryman’ by Mark Eitzel) with a cortado coffee and an orange juice.

Lovely & slightly battered old sofa

I’ve just put my car in for a service. Not a big deal for most people, but having never owned a car until recently, it feels like a strangely grown up thing to be doing. I dropped the car off at 9.30am and am told it will be 3 hours, so I’ve popped into the city to mooch around and am really enjoying it as it’s not something I can really do in the village where I now live.

I’ve been walking around for a while enjoying the buzzy morning atmosphere of a working day here. As with many cities, there are lots of ‘things to do’ here, some of which I’ve done and others that I will do, but as is often the case, I find myself doing a similar thing ie ‘not very much’ to some people.

But the joy I get from simply sitting in a bar with a coffee, listening to music on headphones, writing, reading and reflecting on nothing in particular is immeasurable.

Some people these days might call this being mindful. I don’t know why doing this works for me and maybe it’s best I don’t know, so in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the positive and calming energy it gives me.

Hope you’re having a good day too…

How To Celebrate The Spanish Sunshine

The sun has finally come out to play!

Although the sun has made frequent appearances of late, the accompanying chill still required a coat, however yesterday in Granada it was 26 degrees, so I left my coat at home, liberating myself from the confines of both the winter and my coat. I’d forgotten what a wonderful feeling it was to just sit outside feeling the glorious warmth of the sun on your face, especially after the winter.

To ‘celebrate’ happy moments in life, some people to sit with a glass of something and I do too from time to time, however being a bit of a music geek, this moment was too significant to not ‘celebrate’ with an appropriate song. But what music to complement this delicious moment when spring is here and you get the sense that summer is not too far away?

After probably a little too much deliberation, in the end I went with Facto Delafe & Las Flores Azules, my ‘first’ Spanish (though technically from Barcelona) band that I discovered last year. I love their laidback sunshiney ambient hip hop pop thing and the mood of what they do fitted the moment perfectly, especially on my favourite track ‘Mar El Poder Del Mar’ which I can see going on the compilation/mixtape where songs have soundtracked key moments in my life – maybe I should get that playlist together now?

Watch the video for ‘Mar El Poder Del Mar’ below.

Which song would you choose to celebrate the sunshine or other ‘happy’ moments in your life in Spain? Or do you celebrate in other ways?

Facto Delafe y Las Flores Azules “Mar el poder del mar” from Jaume Montané on Vimeo.

10 Things I’ve Noticed In Granada

However challenging things may sometimes get, wherever we live, there are always things that can make us smile if we take a moment to look around us. We’re all so busy at times that we tend not to, but it’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing as it has often inspired me and these are just a few things that I’ve noticed that have made me smile over the last few weeks and months wandering around Granada:

    • A man (a ham seller I would imagine/hope or perhaps a very slow ham thief)) trying to pack a full size jamon in between his legs to carry on his Vespa
    • At a recent flamenco concert by Vicente Amigo, I experienced flamenco Tourette’s for the first time. I’ve got used to people shouting ‘olé’ when they feel ‘duende’, however I had never heard what sounded like ‘agua’ before and certainly not seemingly every 30 seconds or so of the concert! Maybe the man sitting next to me was just really thirsty and was trying to catch the attention of one of the ushers…
Vicente Amigo
Vicente Amigo
    • A friend who has lived in the Albayzin for many years recently showed me around the area. Although I’ve been here more than a year now, I still hadn’t really explored it other than the usual tourist spots, so I was amazed to see the view from San Miguel Alto which was stunning. Lovely still being surprised by this city (You can see a panoramic image of Granada from San Miguel Alto in the header of this post)
    • A young girl in a red black spotted flamenco dress with a brolly up walking down the street and with her mother walking alongside holding up the bottom of her coat trying not to get her dress wet. I guess I’d never thought of flamenco dresses and rain together…
    • A red Fiat 500 parked in the reception area of a local photocopy shop. A creative solution to parking difficulties in Granada!
    • Snow on the mountains in the sunshine at the end of every street is still a beautiful thing no matter how many times I see it
    • The smell of incense walking past my local religious artefact shop takes me back to my childhood as an alter boy ringing the bell at Mass. I also like the very concept of a religious artefact shop where you can buy yourself a bit of religion if it takes your fancy, like a football memorabilia shop perhaps, though I imagine it would be difficult getting anything autographed…

Incense

    • Men of a certain age with (very) often jet black dyed hair bursting into flamenco song as they walk down the street (or maybe that’s just in the square outside my flat)
    • A man making screechy  bird sounds as he walks around Granada. At first I thought that he may be mute and that it may have been his sole form of communication, however I then heard him chatting about football with his mates when he wasn’t popping out of the bar for a quick ciggie and a bird-sound making break
    • A woman doing the sign of the cross as she leaves her apartment block to go to the cafe next door. Is the coffee not very good?

These are just a few things that have made me smile over the past few weeks while living in Granada. What have you noticed that makes you smile while getting around where you live?

A Cortado In Córdoba With David Bowie

I’m feeling very lucky today as I’m sitting in a bar outside the rather awe-inspiring mezquita in Córdoba in Andalucia in the last days of December while listening to the David Bowie single ‘Where Are We Now?’ that was his comeback single a couple of years ago. At the time, I remember the music press and fans all desperately trying to interpret the lyrics and the song in a million different ways and some were inevitably quite cynical, especially as David Bowie was 66 at the time and as some saw it, way past his most creative years.

However, for my part, I have now listened to the song countless times and I still think it’s one of the loveliest and most honest songs I’ve heard in a long time and certainly with a new year looming, asking ‘Where Are We Now?’ is perhaps a timely thing to be doing. Like many good songs, the subject matter is open to interpretation and for me at least, the primary theme is reflecting back over past moments in your life.

From where I’m sitting at this precise moment, reflecting over the last year since Mrs Cortado and I moved to Granada (I can’t believe it’s been a year since then?!), this song reminds me about ‘now’ and its power. The past is gone. The future is yet to happen. The only ‘real-time’ element in our lives that actually exists is now. So, after a rather heavy night of one or two finos, I’m enjoying this particular moment with some winter sun, my lovely wife and a cortado. It’s a good day. A very good day.

Wherever you are, whoever you’re with and whatever you’re doing, I hope you are enjoying your very own ‘now’ too…

Happy New Year!

Note this post has been edited from one originally posted on one of my previous websites http://www.grovehillcoaching.com in January 2013.

An Exciting Bus Journey To Seville

I’m on a bus at Granada station waiting to go to Seville as we have gig tickets to see my new favourite Spanish band Marlango tonight. 

This time last year in London, we’d have had to book a hotel, flights and time off work to have a weekend city break and don’t get me wrong, we loved doing it and often did, but now all we have to do is get a bus to go to Seville, one of my most favourite places in Spain. 

After almost a year of living in Granada, I’m still surprised every day by the fact that Mrs Cortado and I live here and that places like Córdoba, Ronda, Cadiz and Seville are now just a short(ish) drive away. One of the reasons why I’ve written a handful of posts on this blog about Things I Notice here is that I’m much more open to seeing and appreciating the little things which I would often have taken for granted when I lived in London. I guess after a year, we’re still in the honeymoon period of our time here. 

Admittedly, getting a bus perhaps isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but this bus journey doesn’t feel like just any bus journey. I’m meeting Mrs Cortado in Seville as she’s flying back from London at this very moment and it’s perhaps partly as a result of making this trip on my own that today especially, it feels like not only do we live here, but also that I live here and that feels good too as it had been on my mind for a few years. 

The bus company ALSA has even given me a bottle of water and a small cake-like thing which is nice of them. Comfortable seat (38 Ventana), sunny outside and beautiful views to come and it looks like I could even watch some kind of Chinese martial arts film dubbed into Spanish which would be a first, but however attractive that may seem, I think I’ll just put my headphones on (Marlango, naturally) and stare aimlessly out of the window as the world (or in this case, Andalucia) goes by as that’s always a good thing to do. 

As an aside, this is also the first post I’ve written and published on my phone (in case I’ve missed any typos). It’s quite a different experience on a moving bus with 3G!

Looks like, we’re off. Seville, here we come. Hope you have a lovely weekend too… 

7 Things I Love About Living In Granada Today

I know some people don’t like list blogs, but I haven’t done one for ages and today is a special occasion:

     

  • It’s late October and the sun is shining. I lived in London for 17 years and so, I still haven’t got used to this and it feels lovely
     

  •  I’ve been living in Granada for nearly 10 months. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here for years and things seem so familiar and yet, at other times I really feel like I’ve only just arrived and everything is so new and exciting. Either way, it makes the days interesting
     

  • As a huge music fan, since I arrived I’ve been looking for a Spanish band that I genuinely like as opposed to one that kind of fits the bill and this week, I discovered Marlango – watch video for the beautiful ‘Dame La Razón’ below…

 

 

     

  • I live in a city where they give you free tapas which somehow still manages to surprise me each time it happens and I’ve even found a bar where you get (very good) hummus tapas and as a huge hummus fan, this simple thing makes me strangely happy
     

  • It was impossible to bump into people in London without booking dates several weeks or sometimes months ahead. Here I literally bump into people in the local supermarket, in the bar or en route to classes. I think I need a synonym for lovely here…
     

  • I’m constantly surprised about how much goes on for such a ‘small’ city. In the last week alone, there has been:
       

    • a classic car rally
    • some kind of Cosplay convention (I stress I only know this because I saw a Harry Potter/wizard-like-dressed girl in the queue at Mercadona with her large magic scythe and no, that’s not a euphemism for anything. See below…)
    • Noche En Blanca (White Night) – a night of late-night free culture
    • fireworks for seemingly no particular reason (though imagine that it involves a Virgin and a Saint of some kind)
    • And of course, the ‘inevitable’ brass band of what looked like car mechanics in their blue mechanic overalls parading down the street playing mournful music

 

Classic Car (Granada)
Classic car rally in Granada… Or Havana?

 

Harry Potter girl in Mercadona
Harry Potter girl in Mercadona ‘Give me a discount or else I’ll wave my magic scythe…’
     

  • Earlier this week, in my capacity as coach, I was guest speaker at the Granada InterNations event and it was a reminder how creative people can be with their lives here and in Spain in general. As some of you may know, I also recently joined the WABAS (Writers And Bloggers About Spain) group which has been an incredibly supportive community whose primary objective seems to be to basically help each other out as much as they can if they can. The ‘expat’ often gets it in the neck for all kinds of reasons but it’s been a constant revelation in my time here and especially this week, how supportive people can be to their fellow ‘expat’ and without getting too hippy on you, that’s a really (dare-I-say-it again) lovely thing…

 
Living in Granada, Andalucia and Spain may not be perfect, however today I feel truly lucky to be living the life I have here…
 
Oh and in case you’re wondering what the special occasion is, see all the above.
 
Have a good weekend wherever you are…

Blackbirds

This post has little to do with Granada, Andalucia or Spain, however if you have a spare minutito or two, you can find out about one of the most beautiful songs in years by one of the most fantastic singers I’ve ever heard. The video is of a song called ‘Blackbirds’ by Fingersnap whose singer is the rather fabulous David McAlmont. Hope you like it as much as I do. And it sounds wonderful in the sunshine too!

And in case you haven’t heard it, this is a fantastic live video of a song he did called ‘Yes’ with Bernard Butler in 1995. 

 

How To Be In The Flamenco Moment

I recently went to my first flamenco gig/show at the well-known bar/club Le Chien Andalou in the Albayzin in Granada and absolutely loved it. Before going, I admit to having reservations about the night turning into some kind of so-called authentic ‘chicken-in-a-basket’ show designed for tourists, however it seemed more than authentic enough for my uneducated flamenco ears. The venue was small with only about 30-40 people in the audience and the stage was tiny and so the feeling was quite intimate.

Flamenco dancer Sara Baras performs next to flamenco guitarists during the filming of "Flamenco, Flamenco" in Seville
Flamenco dancer Sara Baras in the film ‘Flamenco Flamenco’ by Carlos Saura

I’ve never previously been too bothered about the dancing element of flamenco and so I was quite surprised seeing how important it was to the whole show. I saw how the guitarist followed the singer and then when she appeared, the two musicians both followed the dancer. You could really feel the almost primeval communication on stage and it was really hypnotic.

However, while all this was going on, there were a handful of people who weren’t watching and engaging with the show directly but filming it on their phones. Now I love technology and understand wanting to take pictures of an event/show/gig as a keepsake/souvenir, but why on earth would you want to film such an intimate event and watch it through a phone when it’s right in front of you? Isn’t the experience you came for in the reality as opposed to watching it after the fact? Unless you have a state-of-the-art movie camera, how good would the quality really be anyway?

Ian Brown

The situation reminded me of a comment by Ian Brown of the Stone Roses on stage at one of their comeback gigs a couple of years ago. He was getting annoyed about audience members filming the gig with their phone and not actually watching it when it was actually happening and said:

“If you put your cameras down you might be able to live in the moment. You have a memory there of something you’ve never lived.”

In a society full of constant technology, it is perhaps important to consider that although having ‘sparks’ to help you remember important moments in the past can be a lovely thing, experiencing the moment at the time you have it is surely the most wonderful thing, isn’t it?

This post refers to a blog I wrote on my other website Grove Hill Coaching. Read the full post here.