Live at Sage II
14th May 2022
On Eurovision night this year, I passed on the Song Contest Party with friends. And by all accounts missed out on a magnificent losing performance by the British guy. Don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t love the Eurovision booze and snackfest. These new Chicken Kyiv things, the Moldovan Reds, the Graham Norton’s annual snide asides that never get old… It does have an appeal, and whoever wins the Song Contest Sweeps gets to host in their Tyneside home next year. Resisting the Pizzas, French sticks and Stella Atois, I instead took myself to see a true World Class, European superstar, Flamenco supremist, maestro and child of Malaga, Juan Martin.
Sage II is a high banked, ‘in the round’ fancy concert venue. The perfect place to see, and more importantly hear one of the Guitar masters. Just a solo guitar, telling a region’s, and peoples’ stories. I’ve seen Martin in bands, with orchestra’s, in Manchester, Leeds, Sevilla, in fields, festival tents and big halls, he’s so wide ranging, so varied, so brilliant.
Theatre, audience, expectant, some flamenco lovers, some flamenca-ists, some attended his masterclasses. I’d no idea what to expect, he’s played with so many different styles. This was just him, two flamenco guitars, a seat, a mic for him, a mic for his guitar, job done, must be great to be his road crew, audience hushed, lights down, red and purple stage lights up, a door opens and the maestro is there.
Apologetic cough, a smile, and sits, smiles, straightens shirt cuffs, picks up guitar, capo on, pegs turned, strings tuned, strummed, and an intro, “this a tune from Cordoba”, and straight into the piece, fingers flying, drumming on the guitar, fast, fast, slow. Concentration from him and the audience… Absolute; change of pace, a flurry, a thump on the body, another flurry, stands, shows the back of the guitar, applause rapturous.
The etymology of each piece explained, the roots, the influence of Rajasthan, Gypsy homeland, (the heart of Flamenco), the importance of dance, the guitarist FOLLOWS the dancer, NOT the other way around, (never knew that) . Martin explained Flamenco’s roots in poorest Southern Spain, and how we in Europe should be proud of our own roots, (too right). Yes there were jokes, about football, about playing with touring troupes. How, though there was ‘no delta blues’, there was pain and loss, people uprooted, downtrodden, oppressed.
Playing through a series of flamencos, some familiar, those “hits” people demand to hear, Martin delivered. The less familiar I treasured, just him, his guitar, and his stories, insights and invention.
Great points he made, “practice, practice, practice”, it’s the only way to stay confident, stay competent. “you have to practice as often as a top athlete”.
He played with verve and pride. On the softer quieter passages, you could hear his foot keeping time, hear people breathe in the hall, whilst faster passages filled the auditorium with a flurry of notes, strums and soundbox thumps.
There’s nothing extrovert, nothing flamboyant, nothing flash, just pure emotion, full of life, vitality, and verve. It was a delight, a TedX talk from the Guitar. Martin apple too, about the post BREXIT problems of European groups touring.
For me, it was a delight to hear him, alone, able to improvise around the classic pieces, and that’s Flamenco’s beguiling charm. YES there’s song form, but, there’s more than enough space for each artist to make a song ‘theirs’. As with Jazzers so with Flamenco, there’s space there to add your story into the music’s soul.
I chatted to a 75 year old, who was a pupil, and usually spent a week a year at one of his tutorial schools. Leaving, we concluded that Martin seemed to be playing more aggressively, incorporating harder string hits, faster strikes, and more foot stomping.
We both wondered if it was caused by his claim “One of my recorded pieces has been posted on YouTube, accompanied by a few photos, and has had 9,000,000 hits.” And he’s had nothing from You Tube*. Yeah that would really piss me off too. He’s got every bloody reason to be angry. We both felt this was a man on a bit of a mission.
For me, he’s always worth seeing, always worth hearing and it’s because each night is a new creation, pieces are just an impressionist image. Of course I adore Andalucía, flamenco’s home turf and this is on the poppy edge of the music, but it’s a delight, an escape from the dull fears, and tears, and despair of today’s world. Made me pine for the white “Pueblos Blancos”, sips of wine, and, churros y cafe con leeche.
*I prefer to listen on Soundcloud and YouTube music where there’s no video. I listen to music, not watch someone’s images, and as Juan pointed out “Even if he wins, he only gets 50% - because the other half goes to the video - a few still photos… So, if you are tempted to watch him make sure it’s actually him, live and direct, so that he gets dues.
Grrrrrrrrrr rant over.
Outsideleft exists on a precarious no budget budget. We are interested in hearing from deep and deeper pocket types willing to underwrite our cultural vulture activity. We're not so interested in plastering your product all over our stories, but something more subtle and dignified for all parties concerned. Contact us and let's talk. [HELP OUTSIDELEFT]
If Outsideleft had arms they would always be wide open and welcoming to new writers and new ideas. If you've got something to say, something a small dank corner of the world needs to know about, a poem to publish, a book review, a short story, if you love music or the arts or anything else, write something about it and send it along. Of course we don't have anything as conformist as a budget here. But we'd love to see what you can do. Write for Outsideleft, do. [SUBMISSIONS FORM HERE]