Another night, another children’s playground. Hold on, that doesn’t sound good. Let me explain. The other day we saw a poster advertising the 31st Alurahen night of Flamenco. It was this Saturday at 10:30 pm and so we thought we’d go. We had some tapas in a bar beforehand and also asked the waitress where the location was (as we were unsure). Good job we did, as we found out that we had to buy tickets. So we coughed up €7 each (you can probably tell I have just discovered the € key on my keyboard) and took our tickets. We left the bar with with waitress hoping we enjoyed our night. “Personally I don’t like it” she added. “Me neither” commented Tibu. So with the ringing endorsement of these Spaniards in our ears, we headed off.
The event was again being held in a school yard. This time there were lights strung between the basketball hoops and a temporary bar beneath them. We were too late to grab a table but we did manage to get on the front row. It was when I saw the size of the speakers I concluded that we might be in trouble. It was going to be loud. Proceedings began (late) and we sat back to enjoy the entertainment.
It started with a Bela Lugosi look a like telling us all about the acts then the Mayor and local MP said something before the first act came on. The group consisted of a guitarist (who looked like our financial advisor. That could explain how he spends his fees he gets out of us); a singer who looked like Bret from Flight of the Conchords (or Alfie Boe) and 2 backing singers/clappers. Flamenco is a bit like Shakespeare, you need to tune you ear into it. But it was only after the 3rd song I realised what the Western comparison to Flamenco is. There’s one bloke playing the music; another one at front singing (but not necessarily in time to the music) and 2 flunkies who randomly shout at nonsensical words (in this case “ole”). Flamenco is basically Spanish Hip Hop.
Now I’ve been dragged to a couple of Flamenco gigs before. I know its not just about the dancing but the music and the Duende (the spirit). I’ve even made a film about it. But I’d forgotten about the wailing. I know they are the Spanish equivalent of folk story tellers, but boy do they make a racket. Now don’t get me wrong, I do like a good bit of Spanish guitar and the playing was awesome. It was just the singing I was struggling with.
The other thing about it is that the songs are long. Like 10 minutes long. The first act was on for 45 minutes. Just time for a trip to the bar and back for the second act.
This was a very angsty solo lady (accompanied by her guitarist). She was more active than the first group though and moved her table, did a lot of fan action, winked at lot and even tried to get the crowd to sing a long (the man sat directly behind me was one of the few people who did. I was now being deafened in stereo). She came to the front of the stage, but we couldn’t hear her, so she went back to get her mic, but it wouldn’t stretch so she sang hunched over it. This woman knew how to put on a show.
The first couple of songs were ok, but then they all began to blend into one for me. And there were a lot of them. Apparently she kept saying “this is the last song”. 5 songs later she was still at it. She was eventually dragged of stage at 1:00 am when the MC came on to announce the half time interval.
The interval was the same as intervals in theatres the world over. People queued for drinks, women queued for the toilet, patrons got their sandwiches out for a midnight snack (ok, perhaps you don’t often get that bit at Sadlers Wells). At 1:20 am the next half started and a new group took to the stage. This consisted of a guitarist (who looked like James Blunt) and singer (who looked like Garry Kemp) but also a man playing a box, a violinist and at last, a dancer.
It has to be said that this dancer was no spring chicken, but she moved like Jagger (she could have been the same age actually). I had forgotten how much of Flamenco looks like a petulant child having a temper tantrum and I did spend a lot of the time thinking “oooh, imagine the damage all that stamping is doing to her knees”. At her age they might even be replacement ones.
She eventually left the stage at 2:05 am and by that point even the most hardened Flamenco fan in the group (i.e. Rachel) had concluded enough was enough. We could see the final act getting ready to wow the crowd (who had now got their second wind and were going to stick with this until 4:00 am if they had to) but we snook out and came home.
I think the lesson I have learned from this experience is that if something advertised itself as a “night of…” then it is literally a night of.