The End Of The Summer

Friends tell me that the fabulous Shambala festival has once again been a riotous success over in Market Harborough. It’s always been one of my favourite festivals – and one that leaves me exceptionally sad when packing up the tent to head home on August Bank Holiday Monday. 

In years gone by, it’s marked the end of Summer for me. Often, but not always, it’s been my last festival of the year. The days can’t help but get shorter and colder; it’s not long before the central heating has to kick into action again; that’s if it hasn’t already done so. Schoolteacher friends have to head back to jobs they hate. There’s little bonus to look forward to in Autumn and Winter when Christmas rarely floats your boat.

This year feels different. July and August have frankly been too hot in this part of Spain but I’m told that September and October are much better months to experience. Far from being dejected, I’m excited by the new things I’m likely to discover. This is a year that’ll keep on giving. 

Progress on the novel has been slow and I’ve hardly been churning blog posts out with dedicated profligacy. 

Profligacy – there’s a word I really should avoid using in the future.

It has been a wonderful summer though. If I was truly able to live in the moment, I’d probably say it’s been one of my best ever; it’s certainly one that I’ll look back on fondly in years from now. Not having to worry about a day job has given me all sorts of freedoms I otherwise wouldn’t have. 

I slept under canvas when back in England for three weeks; the weather helped but what a glorious thing to be able to do. Looking out from the dewy tent over perfect panoramas of the Dorset coast; poring over newspapers and magazines and being truly able to appreciate the columnists’ craft without having ‘something’ else to do; not beating myself up for not rushing around madly; finding my own pace. These have been my favourite experiences. 

British festivals ensured that my need for the chaotic was still achieved; from the wet and cosy Lunar (review here) through to the simply extraordinary, out of the world Boomtown (review here) via the sizzling Bestival (review here), they’ve all provided summer memories to cherish. 

Just last week after a day exploring the Ricote Valley here in Spain (highly recommended when it’s less hot), Sarah and I stumbled upon the thermal baths and day spa at Archena. Full of water jets and forceful showers, plunge pools and wave trails, here you could massage and pummel your achy joints and muscles whilst looking out to the mountains north of Murcia. I’ll go there again. 

Fine food, simple sea swimming and  surprises beyond every T-junction that are waiting to be explored. 

It’s the end of Summer but it’s not the end of this crazy adventure. 

 

Naked feelings

I’m berating myself but I’ve not been writing much recently; a kind of lethargic sludge has accompanied my every move. I blame the heat. 

 

The summer in the south of Spain, slower to emerge than in previous years by all accounts, has now appeared with sweltering intent. I can just about get through the days but it’s at night when things get most unpleasant. This villa has no air conditioning and the temperature isn’t dropping much beneath 25 degrees. Should I be lucky enough to get to sleep, it’s very rare that it’ll be unbroken. The noises of nature at night are both eerie and exciting. 4 AM is always interesting out in the sticks. 

News rumbles through from the UK that the heatwave there shows no sign of abating. I’m coming home in a few weeks to cover a couple of festivals and I’m sure that the rain Gods are waiting for that to make a reappearance. 

Amidst the heat and the lethargy, I have been having fun as well. This has been a pretty special World Cup so far. I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to watch pretty much every game I’ve wanted to with beer or wine in hand. I’ve enjoyed/endured much of it alone in this villa but have ventured out once or twice. I found sports bars in Alicante that I liked when I lived there back in April and they’ve really come alive during this competition. 

Take Saturday afternoon as an example; an hour before kick off in the Red Corner, there was a mass of yellow shirted Swedes sat around most of the tables. The English were outnumbered but it was of no consequence because there was little of the hysterical nationalism that often rears its head back home. Everyone was up for a party, keen to cheer on their countries but happy to shake hands with the opposition. The Swedish masked their disappointment at the end of the game well and were magnanimous in defeat. It was the same when Japan played Senegal in the group stages. Countries coming together to watch football – it’s what it’s all about yeah? 

I’ve discovered a love for swimming in the sea. I had no idea how liberating it can be. The San Juan fiesta in Alicante was a colourful pageant; a crazy mix of bonfires, giant wooden structures, excitement and water. Somewhat drunken, I had no sense of the potential danger I was putting myself in when I nipped out into the sea to bounce over the waves at midnight. I lay on my back and looked out to the moon, not quite full but shining brightly. Some youngsters had bought guitars to the beach and I could just pick out their strummings as I lay there, head half submerged in the salty sea. ‘This is an experience to bottle’, I thought to myself, learning to live in the moment. 

Since that revelation in Alicante, I’ve swam in the sea as much as I can. I’ve found a beach near here that you get to by walking along a boardwalk. The smell of the pine and the gentle breeze from the sea air heightens the sense of anticipation as you approach. I spend no more than a couple of hours there. I’ve got little interest in bronzing my white torso. It’s just the saltwater that I’m addicted to. 

Last weekend I went on something of a road trip. From the moment that I saw the line-up of Vida festival, I earmarked it as one not to miss. Any festival that can find space in its schedule for Of Montreal, They Might Be Giants, Franz Ferdinand, St Vincent and Calexico deserves credit. In addition to the stellar line-up, I was drawn to the ’boutique’ nature of Vida. Primavera, Sonar, Benicassim and Mad Cool all subscribe to the ‘big is beautiful’ motto whereas Vida is happy to cap numbers. It achieves on pretty much every level. This is a man who has been to a lot of festivals over the last years and very few have left me feeling as satisfied as Vida.

The location helps. La Masia d’en Cabanyes is a neo-classical house on the edge of Vilanova. Beautifully treed, exquisitely lit, you can’t help but feel pretty privileged when walking around these grounds. Small stages appear in hidden woodland alcoves; food vans emerge from behind lines of trees. Vines line the fields and our vista towards the mountains in the distance. This is a great place to watch the sun go down. 

I bought myself a wild side ticket. The website promised free beer, wine and cava tasting and that was too much for this Brit to resist. It was worth every penny. On arrival, I was directed to a separate entrance and led into a walled garden by the side of the house. Beautiful people sat on straw bales drinking cava and wine out of glass. I couldn’t help but think what carnage there might be if ‘free’ alcohol was on offer at a British festival. But this was Catalonia, a place where restraint and pacing yourself comes naturally; where binge drinking plays little or no part in proceedings. 

I’ll return to Vida in future blog posts. I’ve deliberately not written about the daytime activities that took place at the beach club; astonishing live music whilst drinking Aperol Spritz and looking out across Vilanova’s impressive bay. Suffice to say, I’ve already bought a Wild Side ticket for next year’s Vida. I’ve also bought a ‘Rat Pack’ ticket for a new event that’s being launched in December. Secret Vida looks like it’ll hold equal amounts of joy. 

On my first night in Vilanova, I took off all of my clothes and ran out to the sea to skinny-dip (undoubtedly a misnomer in my case with fat-dipping being a better description). 

This was all about throwing caution to the wind and losing inhibition. In lots of ways that’s what the last months have been about; stripping away the complex layers and allowing the naked feelings to surface. Long may that continue in this fascinating country. 

 

On moving into the villa

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast might care to know that I’ve now moved into the Spanish villa. A mere seven weeks after crazy dog woman’s leaving date, she has now finally departed. The strong whiff of dog will soon be gone as well.

I’m thinking about this post from the terrace of my villa. Whilst I write, a troop of Spanish people work on cleaning and sorting the accommodation. I feel immense guilt. I think I should be helping in some way, offering cups of tea, strumming tunes on my guitar or being generally convivial. Instead, I silently sit outside like a lord of the manor.  Frankly, although I’ll be paying for their services, it’s an economic exchange that I feel uncomfortable with. 

This morning, the pool was a dark and dingy green. Two big barrels of chlorine expertly administered by Pool man Ed, a Welsh carpet fitter who came here to retire but realised he needed something to do, appear to have done the trick. That and a fair bit of fiddling with the motor, a trick I suspect was used to confound me into thinking that the role of pool technician is not for every Tom, Dick and Harry. 

I broke down in tears on this very terrace barely four days ago. Everything seemed so overwhelming and it has been a long couple of months. Yes, I’m prone to drama but I was absolutely moving into a shithole of a place. I blamed Sarah who could do nothing from England. I shouted at people who were only trying to help me. I looked around and could see no way forward. I could write words about how I felt. But, I couldn’t actually do anything practical. I had no way of turning the green pool blue. To clean the dog hair from this place would have taken me months of hard graft; to fit the new light bulbs or fill in the holes even more time. Some people are born practical and I envy them more and more each day. 

Something beyond magical happened two nights ago, the first night I stayed in this remote space. When I turned the lights off, I was initially puzzled. Something was missing. A dog barked in the distance and then an insect fizzed. I could hear trees swishing in the slight wind. All was black save for a bit of starlight. It didn’t take long to dawn on me as I lay still, quiet and a little bit scared. This is no metropolis – there is no artificial street light, no constant hum from the late night taxis depositing the drinkers home from their last orders. This is like wild camping but under a roof with wifi. I pulled down the fly-guard, opened the window and took a big gulp of air. 

This is my life for the next year. Let the writing of the novel begin.

 

My first week in Spain

I’ve been in Spain for a week now having left Leicester with my carload of ‘stuff’ back in March.

 

By now I should be settled into the villa that will become home for the next year. But the previous tenant is dragging her feet and despite paying no rent to Sarah is showing few signs of urgency in terms of vacating. It’s all a tad frustrating. The lawyers might well need to get involved. Without Sarah’s permission, the current tenant (who we’ll call mad-dog woman for ease of reference) has been using the property as a dog rehabilitation home. The fixed kennels that have been installed on the land don’t appear to be coming down. This could be a long and drawn-out process. 

We’ve tried to use the time productively by touring around the vast and varied Muebles that operate in these parts. Warehouses by the side of roads almost look closed when you drive up to them (and some are – we set off an alarm in one when we innocently wandered in). But enter inside these sprawling caves and you’ll find all manner of home furnishings. We figure that the furniture currently in the property might need replacing when mad-dog woman and her troop of fifty dogs finally decide to leave. Not that anything can be bought as yet. 

We’ve also used the time to visit some of the lovely attractions around these parts. On the drive down from Bilbao we stopped overnight in Zaragoza. I wish we’d got the lift to the top of the Basilica on a day when my legs weren’t still feeling the ferry-wobbles. The view from up there of this fantastic city was surely impressive but such was my feeling of retrospective sea-sickness I clung to the lift shaft and barely looked down. 

The day trip on ‘Dave’s Coaches’ to Cartagena was also impressive. “Is this a history-like place?”, asked one punter to another, blissfully unaware of what they were about to see. In truth, although I’d read about the place in tourist and history books, nothing can really prepare you for being there. As you walk out of the Teatro Romano museum into the open-air space of the theatre itself, it’s hard not to be overcome by the sheer scope and size. I delivered my best Shakespeare soliloquy from the stage of the theatre, demonstratively flinging my arms in OTT fashion as I pondered the meaning of life. Sarah bought me back to earth by pointing out that this arena pre-dated the Bard by a mere millennium and a half.

Accidentally stumbling upon the burial of the sardine fiesta in Murcia last Saturday was another highlight. We caught the train from our temporary hostel in Crevillente keen to see the swish elegance of the casino and to experience the highly-rated tapas. We had no idea that we’d enter a city full of noise, vivacity and carnival troupes handing out toys and trinkets to wide-eyed children. As we shuffled down the main promenades full of Spanish cheer and beer, I couldn’t help thinking that the decision to spend a year adventuring in this country is a wise one. 

Sarah heads back to England tomorrow and then I’ll be very much alone. I’ve met lots of people willing to help in evicting mad-dog woman but it would appear that patience is the right tactic for now. She’ll go when she’s ready to and then I can concentrate on getting the villa into some semblance of order. Nothing seems to happen with haste here and it’s best to go with that flow. I’ve enrolled on an intensive Spanish language course in Alicante for the next two weeks. I’ll be sharing accommodation with other students, something that I last did 25 years ago. It’s been so long since I’ve attempted to learn a new language it’s likely that my brain will explode. In my spare time, I plan to listen to new music and blog about what I’ll find. I’m also going to see if I can get myself accredited for ‘We Are Murcia’,  an exciting festival that’s soon to take place in the city. 

Until next time, here’s a tune I heard whilst sat in the town hall in Catral yesterday. It took on new meaning amongst the inefficiencies and frustrations. 

 

 

 

Tentative plans for 2018

Have I fallen out of love with blogging? A quick look at the sparse, sporadic Sonic Breakfast updates in 2017 might well indicate that to be the case. To my shame, the regular ‘Sonic Breakfast Top Ten Of The Year’ feature didn’t even feature between Christmas and the New Year. 

In truth, I have perhaps lost a bit of that fire. It might come back or it might take another form but at the moment the thought of scanning through the ever-growing mountain of E-mails from PR companies and bands desperate to be introduced as the next big thing holds less allure than once it did. 

There’s such a quantity of great art out there that doesn’t see the light of day; so much great music that gets released to the slightest of fanfare; so many great films that are left in the editing suite to decay and rot. It all becomes a bit overwhelming. Whilst friends did end of year lists documenting their 100 favourite albums of 2017, I simply wallowed in the corner feeling fraudulent for barely listening to a dozen albums from start to finish in that twelve months. 

 A couple things are happening in my life that regular Sonic Breakfast readers might care to know about. 

(1) After 12 years in the day job, I’m taking redundancy at the end of March. I see this as a positive thing though it’s only natural that stepping out of a comfort zone also brings accompanying fears. My plan is to head to Spain. Sarah has a villa over there. I want to give myself the headspace to write words every day. With a view looking out towards real mountains, the ever-growing mountain of E-mails will surely seem less daunting to deal with.

(2) I’ll be renting my house out – or at least making use of the services of AirBNB. Close friends who’ve seen my house will know that there’s a fair bit of largely cosmetic redecorating work to get through if I’m going to achieve the Spanish dream in April.

(3) The day job workload shows little sign of abating. I’ll be kept busy before I go. Appalling at saying ‘no’ to things, I’ll also still be writing comedy festival reviews for the Mercury during February and knocking together the occasional piece for the fine Leicester listings magazine, Great Central. This all takes time. 

(4) I’ve been developing a love for ‘random’ word generation games. I’ve been managing that overwhelming pile of E-mails by not managing them and finding other ways to unearth great music and film. The internet has some great, little tools for generating random words. I’ve been using those words with which to search Spotify or IMDB movie databases. I’ve been forcing myself to expand my horizons; to listen to the music that a random combination of words entered into search tools might spew back; to watch the awful TV movie if that’s what the search results demand. Somewhat amazingly, employing such randomness rarely fails to delight and always seem to inform. Even when the art isn’t entirely to my taste, I’m taken down new and exciting avenues of thought. I’m discovering new things in a way that feels comfortable and pressure-free. I plan to keep playing around with such practice.

Yesterday, to my general surprise, I received a press invite to the incredible Eurosonic Norderslag festival. It takes place each year in January in Groningen, Netherlands and I was lucky enough to head out last year to review it for eFestivals. (My review can be read here). It’s happening next week which gives very little time to plan but after a bit of frantic arranging it does look like I’ll be heading out again. Despite all that I’ve said elsewhere in this post, I’m genuinely excited about the new acts I’ll get to spot. 

And tomorrow on Sonic Breakfast, I’ll make use of random word generation in order to introduce one of the bands on the ESNS bill. For now, feel free to take a look at this. 

 

Koudlam – Benidorm Dream

Drunk, after a weekend of excess, I missed my early morning flight to Alicante. No worries – I was able to get one later in the day. This was last July. I was picked up at the airport and taken to Little Britain, ex-patriot central. We dived into bars run by people called Dave and witnessed fights between proper English sorts who couldn’t cope with the combination of Sun Cream and alcohol required.

We bypassed Benidorm on the way to better parts of Spain.

Perhaps, if we had taken time to explore, we might have bumped into Koudlam. For his new record, Benidorm dream, the French producer holed himself up in one of the many high rises that dominate the Benidorm horizon. Like a modern day JG Ballard, Koudlam clearly saw rich pickings in his surrounds. Here we have a very postmodern, dystopian dance vision; a dream that conjures up scapes of land and sound that have an almost hymnal element – futuristic and yet rooted in the here and now.

It’s an album that was never conceived to be an easy listen. It’s not something to play if you want to snuggle up with your loved one on the sofa. There’s something pretty rotten going on in the Benidorm streets and Koudlam wants us to know he’s angry about it. But, it’s not all bluster and beats. The waves subside and a wash of calm saunters past – a temporary oasis amidst the fights, the seediness and the monstrous desperation. Almost hypnotic, this is how this part of Spain could be if we dare to dream with a positive spin.

We wander around, darkly dysfunctional. We head to a new party and pretend the drugs are designer. We wear flags on our shaven heads to be both symbol and sun-block. We pretend we’re having fun as we piss against walls and tag unfinished building sites.

We reach out to the mountains in the distance. Up there, we might get a fill of clean air; a swim in a waterfall sent from paradise.

Benidorm dreams.

 

 

Parlement – Blood

At home, I have been without heating and hot water for three days. This morning, covered with duvets and wrapped in scarves, I sat and waited for hours for an emergency response engineer to arrive. I wiped icicles away from my nose and stomped up and down in an attempt to break the block of freezing chill that was surrounding my feet.

Sonic Breakfast is a place where often you’ll find sweet pop. Such service will surely resume with a fully functioning boiler (I have been slowly defrosting this evening) but, for now, allow me to bring you some angry, guitar-laden, indie-rock from Spain. It’s perfect for stoking your internal fire – and that’s what I needed earlier today.

Blood is the debut single from Spanish newbies, Parlement. If Kasabian indulged in a ballsy-more-bluesy riff driven template, it’s what they could sound like. Yes, I get the Black Keys comparisons that are attached to the press release but this is far from being another lazy derivative. It has an explosive, Almerian edge.

The video is equally captivating. Beautiful people at a wedding service; a celebration of two people being in love that quickly descends into a raucous, riotous reception. With more twists and turns than a Shakespearean tragedy, this has a plot that’ll hold your attention until the closing drumbeat and the final heartbeat.

More singles and an album are promised in 2015 from Parlement. I hope that my house doesn’t need their rocking warmth when I next hear from them.