Friday, 1 September 2017

Live music in Santander and beyond, July—August 2017

Two years and two months after that goodbye to Cantabria, I once again set my foot on the Santander soil. This time I have considerably less free time than I had back then and so not able to see live music as often as I’d like. Still, I’d better write down what I’ve seen here in what was left of July and almost all of the August, minus a week in Finland.

I have to say that nowadays most concerts in Rubicón start at 22:00 and are not free. However, the modest price of the ticket (€5) often includes a drink, which makes it even better value.

  • 26 July: Mabel Sierra & The Soul Band @ Rubicón, Calle del Sol 4
      Not one, but two concerts of Mabel in one week! They couldn’t have been more different. The first one: jazz, blues, funk and, well, soul... The Soul Band consisted of Iván Velasco (guitar), Miguel Sánchez (bass) and Natxo Miralles (drums).

  • 29 July: Mabel Sierra @ Plaza Porticada
      ...and the second one, (mostly) boleros, played on the occasion of finale of the Semana Grande (Fiestas de Santiago). The evening was warm and sunny, all the seats (garden variety) were taken, and I was hanging near the right-hand side of the stage, trying to listen to music (I couldn’t see much) and ignore the skateboarders and mobile-phone chatterboxes.
  • 29 July: Víctor de Diego Organ Trío @ Rubicón
      After the bolero show, I managed to get to (surprisingly empty that night) Rubicón, just in time to see the trio of Víctor de Diego (soprano and tenor sax), Abel Boquera (organ) and Carlos Falanga (drums). Very cool modern jazz with even cooler 1960s sound.

  • 5 August: La Lunfardita @ Rubicón
      La Lunfardita consists of Carol Dubois (vocals), Simon Gumbo (guitar) and Jesús Peñaranda (accordeon). This trio effortlessly fuses Argentine tango with Manouche swing. Or, as somebody else put it, “Esto suena como si Carlos Gardel y Django Reinhardt se fueran de juerga.” It was raining outside, the bar was packed with lovely people who did their best to sing along... it was probably the happiest music evening in Rubicón I’ve ever been.

  • 16 August: Reunión Trío @ Rubicón
      This was the last live music event I went to in Santander before leaving for Finland. The Reunión Trío is Iván San Miguel (double bass), Javier San Miguel (saxophones) and Diego Gutiérrez (drums). I’d buy a CD of their music if there was one for sale.

  • 26 August: Freedonia @ La Plaza Nueva (Plaza Barria), Bilbao
      It was a long flight from Helsinki to Bilbao that day, with an eight-hour stop in Frankfurt airport. I used that time to visit Frankfurt proper, where, by some reason, I’ve never been before. I have enjoyed the sunny morning, a stroll around the city, the market square, a glass of beer and an enormous Frühstück (“breakfast”, more like a dinner) in a Turkish restaurant. Rather than heading to Santander straight away, I stayed that night in Bilbao. And what a night it turned out to be! This happened to be the closing night of Bilbao’s Aste Nagusia (Semana Grande). They say that the best things in life are free, and this is especially true when the free things come in form of Freedonia, after the fireworks. The current line-up is:
        Maika Sitte: vocals
        Alex Fernández: tenor sax and flute
        Ángel Pastor: guitar and harmonica
        Fran Panadero: bass
        Israel Checa: drums and percussion
        Antonio García: trumpet
        Roberto García: keyboards
        Israel Carmona: trombone
        David Pérez: baritone sax

As a side note... Life is full of interesting, at least for me, coincidences. This was my second time in Bilbao (I don’t count the airport visits) and, just before the Freedonia concert, can’t explain how, I found myself in the very same pintxo bar where I was taken to by my first ever Couchsurfing host in September of 2014. And you know what? I still can’t remember how it was called.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Мастер и Маргарита

by Mikhail Bulgakov

Among many 50th anniversaries his year, one has a special importance for me (and, I suppose, for many millions of Russian literature lovers): 50 years since the publication of The Master and Margarita. I was first introduced to it by my mum’s friend, the late Aunty Sonia. (That’s how we called her, she wasn’t really my aunt.) Aunty Sonia taught Russian Language and Literature. She was Jewish, single (or divorced, I never asked) woman in her fifties, with beautiful eyes, unruly African hair and most amazing laughter. She lived at the edge of forest, in a log house which had a proper Russian stove and was full of books. I don’t know why Aunty Sonia took a liking to me and would ask my opinion on this or that. It might be that she couldn’t help testing me, or show off, or both.

Sonia: “Do you remember what David Samoilov (Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, etc.) said?”
I: “Er... Who is David Samoilov?”
Sonia: “A Jew. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
She used to wear jeans at home (well she was not my teacher, so I can’t say whether she was wearing jeans at work too), walk barefoot on snow, and chop her own firewood. One evening, we came to visit her. The conversation steered towards Jesus Christ Superstar which we both were fond of. Auntie Sonia said that she did not believe in God but believed in Jesus as created by Bulgakov. When she mentioned the scene of Yeshua’s death from The Master and Margarita, I confessed that I had no idea what she was talking about. “What?!!” she cried, “but this is impossible!” She fetched the book, found the page: “Here, young man, read it!” (She would boss me around, as teachers do, but always in a friendly way.) I was impressed. I can’t explain why I didn’t borrow the book back then though.

Fast forward five or six years: I finally got hold of it. This was a samizdat-style, A4-size tome (each page was a photocopy of a two-page book spread). And a few years later, a “proper” book. And then, another one. Annoyingly, all post-Soviet “Made in Russia” editions suffer from embarrassing spelling and punctuation mistakes that almost make me nostalgic for the Brezhnev era.

After all these years, I decided to read it in English, just to see how much is lost in translation. Now I finished the version by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and have to admit that it isn’t as bad as I feared. It could be that the 80-year-old Soviet realities do not translate as well as two-thousand-year old Judaean realities, but I guess most English readers won’t complain about that.

Margarita is my favourite female character of all Russian literature. Her devotion to the Master is admirable, but it was the transformation into a witch that made her my perfect heroine.

Маргарита ощутила себя свободной, свободной от всего. Кроме того, она поняла со всей ясностью, что именно случилось то, о чем утром говорило предчувствие, и что она покидает особняк и прежнюю свою жизнь навсегда. Но от этой прежней жизни все же откололась одна мысль о том, что нужно исполнить только один последний долг перед началом чего-то нового, необыкновенного, тянущего ее наверх, в воздух. И она, как была нагая, из спальни, то и дело взлетая на воздух, перебежала в кабинет мужа и, осветив его, кинулась к письменному столу. На вырванном из блокнота листе она без помарок быстро и крупно карандашом написала записку:
«Прости меня и как можно скорее забудь. Я тебя покидаю навек. Не ищи меня, это бесполезно. Я стала ведьмой от горя и бедствий, поразивших меня. Мне пора. Прощай. Маргарита».
Margarita felt herself free, free of everything. Besides, she understood with perfect clarity that what was happening was precisely what her presentiment had been telling her in the morning, and that she was leaving her house and her former life forever. But, even so, a thought split off from this former life about the need of fulfilling just one last duty before the start of something new, extraordinary, which was pulling her upwards into the air. And, naked as she was, she ran from her bedroom, flying up in the air time and again, to her husband’s study, and, turning on the light, rushed to the desk. On a page torn from a notebook, she pencilled a note quickly and in big letters, without any corrections:
Forgive me and forget me as soon as possible. I am leaving you for ever. Do not look for me, it is useless. I have become a witch from the grief and calamities that have struck me. It’s time for me to go. Farewell.
Margarita.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Summer jazz in Valencia

During my six-week stay in Valencia, I didn’t go to as many jazz concerts as I could or wanted. For variety of reasons, but chiefly because of my overall tiredness and forgetfulness. Why, I even managed to miss La Nit de Berklee, a free event featuring John McLaughlin himself. Damn.

And if not for a Facebook notice from my friend (and fellow Arco Iris alumna), I would have never discovered Mar i Jazz (16—18 June 2017). This festival took place in the Parque Dr. Lluch, next to the beach. I came on Saturday and Sunday and enjoyed it a lot. There were two scenes but no two bands were playing at the same time, so, in theory, one could wander back and forth and listen to it all. It was very relaxing and family-friendly, with lots of cute toddlers (and their parents) crawling around. I met old and new friends, spent some hours sitting/laying on the grass, had a nap and even ventured to the beach for a quick dip. In my opinion, Sunday had the better programme, Le Dancing Pepa Swing Band and Elektrik Jazz Mantra being the highlights.

Next Saturday, 24 June, I went to see the colourful and noisy Pride Parade (Orgullo 2017) boasting an apparently endless supply of samba bands. I really came there to cheer that very friend and, naturally, her band appeared the last! After that, I walked to Palau de la Música to see, wait for it, Gran Canaria Big Band. Far cry from Frank Sinatra Tribute, their programme Jazzethnic (which I’ve also mentioned in my other blog) is a fascinating mix of modern jazz with Canarian folklore.

As I was saying, there is no shortage of samba bands in Valencia. For two Sundays only, I (in company of Harold the Hedgehog) joined one of them. And that made me want more samba! Alas, my last Sunday in Valencia there was no rehearsal. I had to compensate for it with my second helping of the beach.

Finally, on Monday, 17 July, I went to Jardines de Viveros to see Chick Corea and Béla Fleck. (After missing McLaughlin, I thought I would never ever forgive myself for another mishap of such magnitude.) I can’t say I was impressed with the logistics. The website suggests that there is a limited supply of seats and so you have to hurry up with the booking. (The only type of tickets my friend could book on Monday were meant for people with reduced mobility.) Wrong! The seats in Viveros were of a plastic garden chair variety that you can buy in any bazar here for a few euro each. And at least a third of them were empty! Not only the tickets were pricey: this place sells the most expensive beer in Spain. No, for this kind of music, one needs a smaller, preferably air-conditioned, venue.

Enough complaining: the show was well worth it. I liked it all, but especially Children’s Song #6, Señorita and (suddenly!) two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. (Ah, that banjo sounding like harpsichord... pure magic.) The encores were, maybe unsurprisingly, Spain and Armando’s Rhumba: all these years and countless performances later, still as good (or better) as one could expect. But — back to complaining mode — I was really annoyed with the audience that night. It was like nobody, apart from me and my beautiful neighbour on the left that is, wanted the show to go on. You guys paid a lot for the tickets; couldn’t you shout “Otra! Otra!” a bit louder and for longer time?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Yuri @ Oxford Street

by Philip Sharkey

In retrospect, I feel grateful to the Russian Consulate for insisting on those special black and white passport photos. Which is just as well because that establishment didn’t give me any other reason for gratitude. And so, one grey winter day we took Yuri to Passport Photo Service at 449 Oxford Street, just opposite Selfridges.

The article about Passport Photo Service published in The New York Times on 20 July 2003.

From the walls, we were greeted by Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen, Winston Churchill and all four of The Beatles. Now there’s no reason why one shouldn’t decorate their walls with photos of The Beatles, no matter where taken. But in this place the pictures were telling us, “We are made here. Fancy joining us? What are you waiting for?!”

Naturally, Yuri joined them. In a few years’ time, we all joined them. Philip Sharkey, the owner, told us that he keeps all the negatives. If we wish to make more prints, we are welcome to pop in at any time. Sure enough, a few months later we came back. The negative was promptly found, and we’ve got this fabulous black-and-white portrait — this time bigger than passport-size.

Yuri, 1997

Since then, the studio moved to 39 North Row. I wonder if they still have the negatives.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Three minutes to departure

Ten days ago, I became an unlikely hero of Barcelona Aerport T2 rail station.

Allow me to explain. After sleeping through most of the Norwegian Air flight Gran Canaria—Barcelona, I woke up refreshed (stiff neck notwithstanding) and quite ready for some food and drink. The station attendant at the Aeroport T2 kindly informed me that the next train to Barcelona-Sants is delayed by about ten minutes. I had half an hour to kill. Naturally, I found myself in a station café enjoying a good company of a pincho and a caña. The anxiety that kept hold of me for the last five days had finally relaxed its grip. I’ve landed, man.

Quarter an hour later, I was surprised to see the ostensibly delayed train showing up. Suspecting that it would attempt to depart on time, I paid, grabbed my backpack and promptly left.

In the train, I found a cozy seat next to the window. There was a middle-aged couple sitting opposite. Just to be sure, I asked them whether this train was indeed going to Sants. It did, they confirmed. (Unless I totally misinterpreted their Catalan.) When there was about three minutes left to departure, I realised that something was missing from the picture.

That’s right. My luggage.

What followed would have put Usain Bolt in shame. I left the carriage, ran out of the platform, into the café — the suitcase was exactly where I left it, viz. near the bar stool I occupied until a few minutes ago — the barman and the patrons just stared in astonishment — grabbed the suitcase, did a 180° turn and left the café without slowing down, ran back through the gates — the station assistant, apparently frightened by the expression on my face, quickly opened them for me and shouted “Corre, corre!” — and so I did. A few seconds later, I was sitting, panting, in the very same chair opposite the middle-aged couple who were nodding their heads and showing me thumbs up as the train began to crawl away from the airport.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

In memory of Sergey Valkov

Таких людей на самом деле не бывает. Они из книг, из сказок — никак не из нашей реальной жизни. Серёжа был на самом деле.
People like him do not actually exist. They are from books, from fairy tales, but by no means from our real life. Seryozha actually did exist.
Yuri Demin

On 11th June 1997, I received an email with a header: “Your friend is dead”. The body of the message was not much longer. That’s how I learned of the death of Sergey Valkov1.

I met Sergey for the first time in 1978 or 1979, can’t be more precise, at the Cine-Photo Section of the Moscow Young Pioneer Palace, of all places. I was in the animation group, he was with the camera operators.

Apart from our love of cinema, we were both interested in guitar. Sergey was a poet and a singer, a self-taught cantautor. He was dreaming of making his own film. He wrote script and songs, found actors (well he himself planned to play a role), but he didn’t have any equipment on his own, and it proved to be impossible to shoot in the Cine-Photo studio without the approval of худсовет (“arts council”) of MYPP.

Performing at the Cine-Photo Section of the Moscow Young Pioneer Palace, ca. 1980

Saturday, 3 June 2017

El paraíso perdido

by Pablo Auladell
based on the poem by John Milton

I’ve never read Paradise Lost and don’t plan doing it any time soon. Not in the 17th-century English, anyway. But this book, I couldn’t resist. Naturally, without reading the original, I can’t / shouldn’t / don’t even want to comment on how well Auladell reinterprets the Milton’s magnum opus. For me, this dark comic is a masterpiece in its own right. The illustrations work magnificently even without those few bocadillos (speech balloons). But, as I was reading them, I was thinking that they must be sung in a kind of opera or musical.

Satan/Lucifer is a flawed tragic hero. You don’t have to like him, but he earned my respect fair and square. He appears to be physically fit, has a pair of good-sized wings and spends most of his time wearing nothing apart from a trilby hat. I imagine him singing in dramatic baritone. His enemy, God the Father, is a neuter-gender beardless fatso in flowing robes that hide its anatomy. Its voice must be heldentenor until it breaks into screeching falsetto. It is a deeply unpleasant character, as I always suspected. Eve is lovely, intelligent, curious and independent. On the other hand, her husband comes along as a needy baby. Adam’s face is indeed a likeness of GTF albeit he is unmistakably male. I am pretty sure that Eve is a lyric mezzo-soprano while Adam most probably is a lyric tenor, although he’d better be quiet.