Workers’ Day, Showaddywaddy and Jendrix Rock Bar

Today is a bank holiday in Spain; indeed, International Workers’ Day or Labour Day appears to be celebrated on the first of May around much of the world. At least my friends back home don’t have to wait too long for their own May Day, even if, with routine avoidance of the rules of engagement, the British bank holiday is held on a different day from the rest of Europe. 

The result is the language school in Alicante is shut today and the city appears to be remarkably quiet. Knowing that things would largely grind to a halt, I went out and drank too many gin and tonics last night at the Jendrix Rock Bar. It’s quite a place; friendly, international and with the oddest mix of rock music I’ve ever heard. My smile was wry when ‘Under The Moon Of Love’ from Leicester’s finest, Showaddywaddy, was played without any sense of irony. More royalties for that man Bartram!

You meet characters in these bars. Characters who are travelling and escaping from their lives back home. Thomas is from Reykjavik. We’ll call him Thomas although that mightn’t be his name as I can’t quite hear him properly when he speaks. He has a sort of military swagger about him, a confidence that I suspect is partly put on to disguise his innate shyness. Thomas might well be quite high; his eyes are wide and his frequent trips to the bathroom see him returning with elevated glee. But it’s nice to chat to him about Alicante for a while. He loves the weather over here and the more regular day/night balance. He hardly sells Iceland to me though.

Daniel (and that is his name) is awkwardly sat at the bar. It’s fair to say that Daniel is quite likely on the autistic spectrum. A man in his late 40’s or early 50’s, he sports the most fabulous of bald pates; a monk cut with a tufty ring of hair sitting embarrassingly on top. Daniel tells me that his parents worry about him when he travels but that he likes to travel lots. He likes rock music and that’s why he’s in this bar wearing his ‘Hard Rock Cafe’ t-shirt. He once tried to write a biography about Freddie Mercury. He loves Queen and he loves the queen. From Downham Market in Norfolk, he tries to impress me with his heartfelt views about immigration and Brexit. I think he thinks that I want to hear his ‘leave’ rhetoric. I make it clear that I voted to remain and Daniel’s tune changes. I conclude that ultimately Daniel is decent and we head off for a game of pool. 

But Thomas monopolises the table. His buzz and energy ensures that he’s made friends with two Spanish chaps who are challenging him in a game. Thomas swaggers around the pool table as if he’s a world champion. He’s clearly not. He misses easy pots and fouls when it would be easier not to. He’s oblivious to the slight sniggers from those who are half-watching whilst they dance. Thomas inevitably loses and I play a game. 

And then I play another game.. And another.. It’s winner stays on and I’m in that zone where I’m making the most impossible of pots. I’m feeling invincible and I know that the gin is talking. I look across to the dancefloor and I can see Daniel’s glowing head, exuberantly bobbing up and down as he moves in stifled fashion. I realise it’s time to leave. 

Today, on workers day, I’ve not been productive. I’ve had a monster headache. 

 

 

 

 

Shelter – Stephen Karl and Handsome Animals

It’s raining in Alicante today. At one point, for about five minutes, it came down quite heavily. But, for the most part, this is the sort of rain that might register as light drizzle back in England. When I meandered back from language school this afternoon, people were sheltering in doorways or tentatively reviewing their instructions for putting up barely-used umbrellas. I took some delight in openly walking in the rain. I’m hardened to the extremes it seems. 

But the rain has served to quell my exploratory spirit. I’ve spent the afternoon drinking breakfast tea whilst eating tomatoes, cheese and bread. Instead of wandering around this fine city, I’ve been listening to music that’s been sent my way. I’ve barely scratched the surface. 

There’s a lot of great music being released but this track, Shelter, by Stephen Karl and Handsome Animals caught my ear on this rainy day.

“My heroes are Prince, Springsteen, Tom Waits, Townes Van Zandt”, says Stephen, clearly a man with fine taste. “A lot of these tunes that were written around this time deal with romantic relationship struggles: ‘Shelter’ is an honest story of a relationship that is failing, but it does it in an honest, compassionate, and not-too maudlin way by acknowledging what I’m experiencing, and what I love about the woman I’m losing, and how I basically do want the best for her.”

Sonic Breakfast thinks it’s a belter of a tune; the exact sort of Americana that sends us all wobbly and quivery. Stephen has a rich voice that digs away into your brain whilst his quality musicians burrow into your body.

 

 

Shelter is one of four songs on a split EP with another New York based act, Darlin Darlin. Perhaps in future Sonic Breakfast blogposts I’ll feature them. Cyndi, the other track from Stephen Karl and Handsome Animals on the EP is also a cracker, especially for those of us who like story-songs.

“I wanted to present a fun story, and ‘Cyndi’ is that—about a night when I was 25 and got a kiss from Cyndi Lauper,”, says Stephen about this track whilst men and women of a certain age fight back the feelings of envy. 

 

 

Back to school with the FB LSC group

Today I went back to school for the first time in over 25 years to learn a bit of Spanish. At 08:00, when the Enforex school opened the doors on us new starters, I was standing firmly outside of my comfort zone on Alicante’s esplanade. Initial assessment confirmed that I’m an absolute beginner (I took a test and guessed a lot) but my anxiety and nervousness soon crumbled as I got into the swing of things. By the time that five hours had passed I had to concede that I’d enjoyed the whole experience – and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s instalment.

 

For over a year now, I’ve been part of a closed Facebook group. FB LSC looked like lots of fun when I heard about it back in 2017. The idea’s a relatively simple one – a group of people keen to hear new music and to be pushed out of their comfort zones get together virtually to listen and comment upon new tunes nominated anonymously by others in the group. It all takes the form of a monthly song contest and (one of the immediate pulls for me) the scoring is based on the Eurovision point system. 

After getting the hang of things by awarding my points in one contest (FB LSC 24) I was able to nominate a track in the next. I thought I was playing it safe going for a solid number from the back catalogue of The Lovely Eggs but it didn’t register much interest from the other panel members and limped home in 15th (out of 19 songs) place. The winners of that contest by some margin were The Babe Rainbow, a band I’d not heard of before but was happy to be introduced to. 

The LSC was founded by Conor Fanning. He still participates in the contest and was happy to provide a bit of background.

“I initially set up the group on last.fm. I cannot take credit for the idea as it is based on the Eurovision voting structure and there are other versions of this idea on the internet. The reason I set it up was I missing a social connection with fellow people who were passionate about music. Through the medium of last.fm I felt it was appropriate. What came from it was not simply just a means to express individual taste but also to form a community. During those days we were on average between 25-30 participating members. And the group as a whole had up to 400 members. The community aspect built from the live shows, people would comment and chat live as the songs were posted. It was a fun environment. It was particularly enjoyable for those who were open-minded to other genres and people’s negative comments on their entries. There were some members who appeared to take these personally sometimes and left the group. What was interesting was you would usually see a band of supporters actually emerge to encourage members like this to not take comments personally. The group also offered a general forum for discussion topics and lots and lots of games. This was a very active space that allowed members participating or new and old members to build a community-like environment outside of the contest. I honestly put a lot of heart into that group on last.fm so when last.fm removed the group function I was rather bummed out. The group on Facebook – I’m not involved with the administration side of it. I was actually asked by Martin for permission to carry it over to Facebook.”

Martin takes over the story:-

“I’ve been involved in the contest since 2010 and the fifth contest back when it was on the old last fm site.  At that time we were few in number.  Conor was the founder and Jens has been involved since the inception I think.  For me it’s provided a group of people who are passionate about an exceptionally wide range of music.  It’s opened my horizons to genres that I would previously never have even considered exploring.  It’s allowed me to look outside of the English speaking world and find some incredible artists from other nations.  It’s inspired my love for nordic female led folk/acoustic music and spurred me on to explore electronica in much more detail than I had previously.  To top if off, as well as being an excellent vehicle for musical discovery, it is peopled by a bunch of thoroughly decent folks.  There is no nastiness and everyone is free to disagree with each other on the songs.  When that happens it is nearly always done respectfully and it is good to get other perspectives.  I’ve been one of the hosts now for a long time and when Last fm ruined itself and got rid of the social aspect it was me that started up the facebook group. Jens and I then oversaw the migration to here from last and even prompted a few people to actually set up their first FB accounts just so they could stay involved.”

It’s fair to say that the track record of the tunes I’ve entered to date hasn’t been spectacular. Winning is obviously for muppets but I’m yet to come close. I’ve not even scraped inside the top five and one or two of my entries (which shall remain anonymous) have been placed last (although not with nil points). I randomly entered a song by Nahko that I was somewhat ambivalent about and his musing on dragonflies came in sixth overall – my best effort to date. A PR company has just sent me details about his new track; Hamakua resonates with me more. 

 

 

To get a sense of the latest LSC playlist, you can look here on YouTube. 

 

 

Why don’t you take a step outside of your comfort zone today, challenge yourself with something new and throw yourself into this fine bit of social network fun? To join, search for LSC General group on Facebook and request membership. Martin or Jens will then sort you out with what you need. Or, if that sounds too complicated just speak to me. Hasta pronto.

Barrio Boutik, Alicante and Illumenium

I had to write something at this desk – correspondence from a charming boutique hostal in the old town of Alicante. Downstairs in the Barrio Boutik, the bedroom has a little narrow alcove at the end of which is a small desk. There’s an ornamental lamp on it. And a mirror on the wall. Whenever I look up from the glare of my I-pad, I’m reminded that I desperately need a barber. 

 

The Barrio Boutik is exceptional value for money and a great place to stay. I think that the French owners were a little concerned that I might leave a critical and harsh review about the noise that surrounds. It’s located in a vibrant part of town and I was suitably warned after booking that Saturday night noise can permeate until the early hours. Us hardened festival-goers don’t mind the background beats as we drift off to sleep – and if it gets too much there’s always earplugs. 

 

Truth is that the noise is currently pleasant rather than intrusive. There’s a punk club just down the road and if I wasn’t such a loner I’d consider heading back out. 

Initial impressions of Alicante are positive. I’m here to learn a new skill but I do wish I was able to speak a bit more Spanish right now. From mid-afternoon, stags, hens and birthday bods have partied with raucous intent, plastic cocks stuck on faces with the dressing all fancy. I’ve felt like an outsider looking on. My ‘holas’ can lead nowhere.

Earlier as I walked up the esplanade, I was stopped by an enthusiastic youngster waving a CD under my nose. “Do you speak English?”, he asked. I was grateful to respond, to feel potentially useful. Turns out that Illumenium are an Estonian metal band. They’re wildly and widely travelling around Europe actively pushing their music into the hands of anybody who might listen. I refuse to feel bad for not buying the CD despite being urged to support a group of struggling musicians realise their dream. Illumenium’s determination is undoubtedly impressive, as is the quantity of their Facebook followers (“We have over 100,000“, I was told, the efforts to impress me by numbers falling upon deaf ears).

 

Of course, being the music geek that I am, I had to head home to this desk and listen to Illumenium. As I’d suspected, it’s not my sort of music. It could well be decent and the future of metal but I have no critical framework in which to base it. Regardless, I have all sorts of respect for a band that are taking such active steps to promote their music. I’d be keen to know what other Sonic Breakfast readers with a heavier taste might think.