By the Friday, the whole town was in on the Party, beneath the unforgiving sun, the blues fans boogied, shimmied, got drunk, and availed themselves of the spring water that flowed freely all over town, almost as freely as the beer! The variety of acts was great, even though I has some misgivings about the inclusion on the Thursday night of Fito and Fitipaldis (or Emerson and the Fitipaldis as I couldn’t resist christening them) -who were plainly a Spanish ‘chart’ band, and an undeniably big draw. A commercial decision? Certainly. The right decision? I’m not so sure.
The Friday night saw the likes of Little Mike and the Tornadoes – a fast talking New Yorker who delivered a powerful set…then we were assailed by Janiva Magness, a woman who, if the bio in the programme was to be believed, had suffered immeasurable hardships in her life. Her considered portrait alongside however, did not prepare us for the behemoth of bad taste that tottered onto the stage in impossibly high heels. The woman can sing, and sing well….but I can’t help feeling she needs direction, both in choice of material, and dress sense. But that’s just my opinion. I’d so wanted to see UK blues stalwarts Nine below Zero, but their inexplicable time slot of 3.30am meant that realistically wasn’t going to happen.
Saturday afternoon saw Suzzete Moncrief accompanied by guitarist Lito Fernandez on the stage in the old square. She did a great job, and had the sweltering crowd with her, particularly on ‘Dock of the Bay’ where the whole crowd attempted to whistle the solo!
Next up, Chino and the Big Bet, one of my favourites of the festival. A resonator guitar, half a drumset and an upright bass, this Spanish trio from Barcelona proved to be excellent exponents of Blues and Swing, having come 2nd in the European Blues Challenge. Although the seemed a little ill-at-ease out of the confines of their more normal club-sized gigs, they nevertheless delivered an endearing set with great style and feel.
The Saturday night of course, we headed to the Plaza del Toros for George Thorogood, but we were blown away by the band that took to the stage before him. the band of the festival for me. Los Coronas were simply magnificent. Imagine being thrown into a dream where you were at a rock concert that kept morphing between surf city, a Quentin Tarantino movie, and a Spaghetti Western, and you might get an idea what Los Coronas are all about. Their set, devoid of all vocals save “Poison Ivy” sung by their drummer, who does the whole set standing up (some of the most magnificent snare work I’ve ever witnessed, by the way) – is a journey, cinematic in scope, on the wings of blistering, glorious twanging guitars, channeling Duane Eddie, The Surfaris, and Ennio Morricone. Many years ago, in a covers band, we would play ‘Wipe Out’ as a filler, a throwaway number….when these guys exploded into it about three-quarters of the way through their set, it was pure joy. If anyone had told me I could not just sit through a 90-minute instrumental set, but wildly enjoy it, I would have said they were crazy. All wearing White cowboy hats and shades, and possessed of a trumpeter extraordinaire, surrealistically hailing from the Ukraine, they exuded style, cool, top-drawer musicianship and self-deprecating wit – they were one of the best live acts I have ever seen.
It is to George Thorogood’s credit that he was able to follow that, it would have killed most bands. his open statement “Somebody’s got to go to jail for rock’n’roll, it might as well be me!” set the tone for the evening, and he and the tornadoes delivered a blistering set that had to of course, feature his take on John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer”, and the classic “Bad to the Bone”, where he wrings ever last drop of blues out of the slide that attacks his hollowbody guitar.
Cazorla Blues – you have some festival here. Love the town, love the people love the vibe, but keep your eyes on what’s real. Don’t let pop insinuate itself. Keep this festival BLUES.
The festival not yet upon us, we continued to explore the town of Cazorla and surrounding areas, discovering the amazing story of the ‘open air’ church that would form the back drop for one of the blues stages. The history of the creation of this building reads like a Monty Python sketch, the architect designing and building it adjacent to the mountain, and on top of a river. The mountain promptly collapsed upon it, the church in turn collapsed into the river, then the rains came, the river had nowhere to go because of the rocks and church debris blocking its course, so it promptly rose up and washed everything about twenty kilometers away. This sort of thing happened often. Personally I think God was trying to tell them something, but well, the Catholics were clearly a stubborn bunch. It stands today as I believe, the only church with a river actually running underneath it!
It was fascinating to walk beneath the town square and the church, and wonder at the sheer bloody-mindedness that religious zealotry can provoke. There was supposed to be a statue of the virgin Mary in the alcove on the outer wall, but she didn’t make it. Probably too busy manifesting herself at the chapel high up on the ridge in order to put another collection-gathering scheme in operation. Pity, as I would have loved to see her presiding over the blues gig wearing a set of ray-bans and cradling a resonator guitar….
We finally made it to the Chapel high on the ridge via a punishing and circuitous route that also took in La Iruela and the amazing Castle there. Yes, they’ve got castles and watchtowers coming out of their ears round here, it’s almost reminiscent of that beacon-lighting scene in Lord of the Rings.
After finding the Castle, we trekked ever higher, and began to double back along the high ridge towards the chapel that we had seen from Cazorla. It turned out, like so many places around here, to have a) a wonderful supply of natural springwater and b) an unlikely legend. call me a cynic, but I’m constantly amazed at the amount of places that magically seem to be the site of some kind of ‘vision’, which then gives rise to some celebration, money, etc, etc…SO lucky, don’t you think? Judging by the amount of places I’ve visited where Mary’s supposed have rocked up, she was certainly a busy woman, probably on a European tour. Apparently, in this instance, a bolt of lighting struck a rock, cracked it in two, and a shepherd fell down and whacked his head on it. When he came to, the Virgin was looking down on him…mmm…that’s not a miracle mate, that’s concussion.
Anyway, we made our way downhill, unconverted, in readiness for the following day, when Walking Stick Man would be the first act to take the stage at one in the afternoon. Unless we had a visit from the Virgin Mary of course.
there was a fabulous atmosphere in the square that first afternoon as the sun beat down, the beer and tinto flowed, and everybody immersed themselves in the acts performing. Later that evening, the action transferred to two other stages, including the old bullring where Brazilian blues harp player and singer Flavio Guimaeres and his band with an English Guitarist really impressed.
The old bull rings of Spain make superb concert venues, turning ‘Death in the Afternoon’ into ‘Music in the Evening’, and cultural differences aside, it’s a fair exchange.
The shows are relentless at these Spanish festivals, particularly this one, acts begin on the first of three stages at on in the afternoon, and wind up finishing in the Bull Ring around five in the morning! The first day was amazing, and there was so much more to see….but that’s in Part 4!
I’d only been home from Italy for a day when me and my partner Miki set off on our Motorhome, The Boomobile, inland towards the Spanish town of Cazorla. This beautiful place has hosted a Blues festival now for nigh on twenty years, and it’s somewhere we’ve been meaning to visit for a while, but my own gigs have often clashed, so this was the first opportunity we’d had.
We broke the four hour journey by overnighting by an embalse, or dam, built in the 80’s, resulting in a beautiful vivid green lake in the middle of a hot dry wilderness. A cafe by the shore was a welcome sight, serving ice-cream and beer to die for, and we undertook a huge walk around the dam and surrounding landscapes to assuage our guilt at pigging out!
The following day we hit the road again, making a stop in a village called Tiscar, which means ‘Mountain Pass’ in the Berber language, a reminder, like so many in Andalucia, of the Arabic influence of the past. The winding road, before disappearing into a tunnel in the rock face, passes the Sanctuario de Tiscar, an old monastery, and opposite was a large parking area where we pulled over.
A steep path and stairway cut through the rock led down to the Cueva de Aguas, an unbelievably beautiful place, where a thirty foot waterfall thundered through the natural caverns into an oasis below. It reminded me of my time on the island of Dominica in the rainforest there. To get to the falls, one had to bend almost double and pass through a fifty foot tunnel to reach it, making it all the more enchanting for that.
Not content with the punishing journey to and from the caves, we noticed an imposing stone watchtower atop the rocky cliffs that loomed over the Sanctuario. It had been the last Arabian refuge in the area until the Christians took it form the Muslims in the 14th Century. As we climbed the cliffs a little, I noticed, seemingly clinging to the sheer rockface hundreds of feet above, a metal grille staircase disappearing up into the distance. Further exploration revealed an entrance, unmanned, over grown, but passable, that led us to the base of this amazing metal construction.
Without a thought, we made our way upwards, on and on, higher and higher until we were within the foundations of the ruined tower itself, with no safety net, but, oh, what a VIEW! Stunning scenery stretching for miles, the rooftop of the monastery far below, the motorhome a speck in the distance. A tough climb, especially on the see-through grill of the staircase, but worth the effort.
The Watchtower at Tiscar
We eventually arrived in Cazorla a full three days before the festival was due to start quite deliberately, as we wanted to explore it as fully as possible before everybody descended on the town later in the week. It turned out to be a great idea, because Cazorla had so much to see and do, and the surrounding countryside was magnificent for exploring and long (and punishing!) walks.
The castle of La Yedra watching over the town was a great visit, and a legend connected with it told to us by the guide has given me a new Witch Cross song, so you’ll have to wait until our third album to hear what it is!
We parked up on the big open space where the Market is usually held at the bottom of the town, and one could follow the river up to the old Plaza through a beautiful riverside walk, the myriad waterfalls and overhanging trees providing a welcome respite from the unrelenting Spanish sun. However, pretty much everywhere we walked was uphill!
We had a couple of days before the music started, so we planned a couple of hikes….more about them in Part Three!