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Film explores Spanish exile of UK punk legend

Punk legends The Clash were packing overflow crowds in the early 1980s but as his band disintegrated, Joe Strummer showed up disheveled at a bar in Granada, Spain, and no one noticed.

Film explores Spanish exile of UK punk legend
"Obviously I am obsessed with Andalusia" says punk legend Joe Strummer (right) in Nick Hall's new documentary. Photo: STR/AFP

The Clash singer and guitarist eventually spent months in Spain and volunteered to produce for a local band, releasing an obscure album in a little-known chapter to the life of the widely influential British musician.

Filmmaker Nick Hall explored Strummer's Spanish sojourn in a documentary that premiered Saturday in New York at the third CBGB festival, named after the city's celebrated but defunct punk club.

The five-day festival showcased dozens of rock-themed movies and nearly 200 bands at venues around New York, culminating Sunday with a free concert in Times Square headlined by Jane's Addiction.

Times Square, then much grimier, was where The Clash nearly set off a riot in 1981 as the fire department tried to shut down a show that was vastly oversold.

Hall said that Spain at the time was less integrated musically with other Western nations but that Strummer was drawn to the Movida Madrilena, the counter-cultural scene following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Strummer brought a political edge to rock, with The Clash taking up causes from immigrant rights in Britain to leftist movements in Latin America. The Clash delved into the Spanish Civil War in "Spanish Bombs" off the classic 1979 album "London Calling."

In the Clash's only UK number one single, 'Should I stay or should I go?', Strummer and American musician Joe Ely repeat lines from the main lyric in Spanish.

Strummer traveled several times to Spain and at one point even vowed to dig the ground with a spade to find the grave of slain writer Federico Garcia Lorca in the Andalucia region around Granada.

In a recorded interview with a local journalist broadcast in the movie,Strummer was asked why he came to Spain.

"How do you say 'reason' in Spanish? 'Razon'? Muchos razones," Strummer says in ungrammatical Spanish. "Obviously because I am obsessed with Andalucia."

Strummer — first introduced to the country by a Spanish girlfriend – said he found the atmosphere "depressing" in Britain where conservative Margaret Thatcher had just won a second election decisively.

Hall named the film "I Need a Dodge: Joe Strummer on the Run" after an improbable episode several years before the singer's death in 2002. Interviewed by Spain's Radio 3 during the Glastonbury festival, Strummer repeatedly asked in broken Spanish if anyone had seen his Dodge car.

Members of Radio Futura — a top Spanish group at the time — explained in the film that Strummer had asked them to help buy a Dodge, an American car that was conspicuously large for narrow European streets.

The film follows a search for the Dodge, which Strummer apparently left in a garage as he suddenly returned to England in January 1986 when his then girlfriend Gaby Salter, whom he had all but forgotten about, gave birth to their second daughter.

The result of Strummer's time in Spain was an album by the band 091 called "Mas de Cien Lobos" ("More than 100 Wolves") that had a polished pop sound pushed by a Spanish label that barely knew The Clash.

After petitions by fans, Granada last year named a square after Strummer. But his melancholic experience contrasts with that of estranged bandmate Mick Jones, who after being sacked by Strummer found success with Big Audio Dynamite.

Hall spent four years on the documentary, saying he was drawn to the story as it followed the lines of what he wanted to do with fiction.

"I had in mind a fictional feature film based loosely on this idea of an English singer who was like the 19th century literary adventurers," Hall said.

Incidentally, the CBGB festival also featured the New York premiere of a film with similar themes, "Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed," which dramatizes John Lennon's 1966 trip to Spain.

The film, Spain's nominee for the best foreign language Oscar, stars Javier Camara as a Beatles-obsessed schoolteacher who tries to meet Lennon.

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MUSIC

Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop

Spanish rapper C. Tangana was taking a big risk when he started mixing old-fashioned influences like flamenco and bossa nova into his hip-hop -- but it's this eclectic sound that has turned him into a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic.

Meet the Spanish rapper bringing flamenco and bossa nova into hip-hop
Spanish rapper Anton Alvarez known as 'C. Tangana' poses in Madrid on April 29, 2021. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

The 30-year-old has emerged as one of the world’s biggest Spanish-language stars since his third album “El Madrileno” — the Madrilenian — came out in February. That ranks him alongside his superstar ex-girlfriend Rosalia, the Grammy-winning Catalan singer with whom he has co-written several hits.

C. Tangana, whose real name is Anton Alvarez Alfaro, has come a long way since a decade ago when he became known as a voice of disillusioned Spanish youth in the wake of the financial crisis.These days his rap is infused with everything from reggaeton and rumba to deeply traditional styles from Spain and Latin America, with a voice often digitised by autotune.

“It’s incredible that just when my music is at its most popular is exactly when I’m doing something a bit more complex, more experimental and less
trendy,” he told AFP in an interview.

And he is unashamed to be appealing to a wider audience than previously: his dream is now to make music “that a young person can enjoy in a club or someone older can enjoy at home while cooking”.

‘People are tired’

The rapper, who sports a severe semi-shaved haircut and a pencil moustache, has worked with Spanish flamenco greats including Nino De Elche, Antonio Carmona, Kiko Veneno, La Hungara and the Gipsy Kings.

In April he brought some of them together for a performance on NPR’s popular “Tiny Desk Concert” series, which has already drawn nearly six million
views on YouTube.

Shifting away from trap, one of rap’s most popular sub-genres, and venturing into a more traditional repertoire was a dangerous move — especially for someone with a young fanbase to whom rumba, bossa nova and bolero sound old-fashioned.

“I think people are tired. They’ve had enough of the predominant aesthetic values that have previously defined pop and urban music,” he said.

Parts of his latest album were recorded in Latin America with Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa of Buena Vista Social Club, Uruguayan
singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler, Mexican folk artist Ed Maverick and Brazil’s Toquinho, one of the bossa nova greats.

“What struck me most everywhere I went was the sense of tradition and the way people experienced the most popular music, and I don’t mean pop,” he said.

A new direction

C. Tangana started out in 2006 rapping under the name Crema. When the global economic crisis swept Spain a few years later, hard-hitting trap was
the perfect way to voice the angst of his generation. But after more than a decade of rapping, things changed.

“When I was heading for my 30s, I hit this crisis, I was a bit fed up with what I was doing… and decided to give voice to all these influences that I
never dared express as a rapper,” he said.

The shift began in 2018 with “Un veneno” (“A poison”) which came out a year after his big hit “Mala mujer” (“Bad woman”).

And there was a return to the sounds of his childhood when he used to listen to Spanish folk songs at home, raised by a mother who worked in
education and a journalist father who liked to play the guitar. The Latin American influences came later.

“It started when I was a teenager with reggaeton and with bachata which were played in the first clubs I went to, which were mostly Latin,” he said.

Studying philosophy at the time, he wrote his first raps between stints working in call centres or fast-food restaurants.

As to what comes next, he doesn’t know. But one thing he hopes to do is collaborate with Natalia Lafourcade, a Mexican singer who dabbles in folk, rock and pop — another jack of all musical trades.

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