The Emperor’s New Clothes and all that jazz

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“But he’s not wearing anything!” the little boy cried. And soon the rest of the people started to whisper, then shout: “He’s got nothing on!”; “He’s absolutely starkers!”; “You can see his willy!” or words to that effect. The little kid had burst the bubble, said the one thing everyone else was too afraid to say for fear of appearing unknowing or ‘not with it’.

Maybe it’s about time someone said the same thing about jazz. I’m not talking about all jazz, I like jazz. But there comes a time when some of these virtuosos disappear so far up their own arses, displaying such technical proficiency and rhythmic complexities that any listening pleasure, any musicality is lost. This whole ‘look at what I can do’ mentality in jazz is out of control. You end up listening to someone showcasing what they can do with their instrument and not what a group of musicians can do together to create good music. It’s like watching a badly scripted and poorly acted film but in ultra-ultra high definition. You can wax lyrical about the clarity and the sharpness of the colours or whatever whatever but in the end it’s still a shit film.

And so Stanley Clarke came to Gijón. I was so excited. I texted friends: ‘Stanley Clarke Sat. Nov. 12!!!’ I splashed out €60 on a couple of tickets, got dressed up and off we went. Stanley Clarke, for those who don’t know, is a giant in the bass-playing world. If you had to append the word ‘legend’ to a bassist there are only a handful who would be deserving of the accolade: Charlie Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins and our man Stan. So for the Jazz Gijón festival to bag such an artist was a big thing. It just didn’t work.

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In the heat of the night...

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By the end of the performance, the emotional electricity suffusing the audience was palpable: the combination of Bizet’s stirring music for his so-called “Spanish opera”, sometimes seamlessly segued into the genuine classical sounds of Spanish composer Albeniz, provided a heady soundtrack to an intoxicating mix of modern ballet moves and traditional flamenco. Carmen vs Carmen at the Jovellanos Theatre in Gijón was truly a night of so many goodies coming together, a perfect confluence of music and dance, passion and soul. My own soared as the troupe performed an encore. They wouldn’t have been allowed off stage without one, such was the demand from the stalls. The company, Iberica de Danza, had delivered.

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Black Week heralds in (growing) culture clash

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It had everything. You could buy an inflated Dalmatian bobbing high in the air on a length of string and then listen in on the latest in Scandi noir. You could gamble a couple of euros on some prize bingo and then pause to study an exhibition of harrowing photos of desperate people trying to float their way to illusory freedom across the Mediterranean. You could reach for EXSTAZY on one of the fairground rides before enjoying a sit and a beer while six authors round-table discussed the future of Latin-American literature. You could have your hair Afro-plaited, skewer your waistline on kebabs and sausages, marvel over the latest in explicit graphic-novel illustration, browse the ethnic market-stalls before takjng a selfie under the magnifying scope of Sherlock Holmes, then linger longingly along the terrace of bookstalls. What titles were there to covet! Somewhat pathetically I quite fancied a biog of the old Hollywood looker, Montgomery Clift, partly because of the very fact that it seemed so far out of its comfort zone. And so, as ever, all human life was here in Gijón at the Semana Negra festival last week. The 18th annual celebration of all things noir attracted the usual thousands of people and some of the most popular contemporary authors from around the world. Of course some thing are more “noir” than others: some aficionados believe that Semana Negra has developed a few too many grey areas. In recent years, cries have gone up that the whole festival has become too commercialised, forcing the real stars of the show – the writers, the books, the exhibitions – to take a back-seat in the shade. It’s not difficult to understand their point of view. Great though it is, for example, for such a great variety of food to be available to hungry festival-goers and for people in the catering trade to count on a bit of a boost in sales, not so great is the resulting stink that this accumulation of eateries throws up, an olfactory assault too reminiscent of oft-used frying oil and meat being seared/roasted/barbecued non-stop whatever the weather. But hey, in today’s economic climate no doubt the pitch rents help pay for the whole thing. What have fairground rides got to do with literature and film noir? Think Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. What has communal fast-food got to do with sci-fi? Think Ridley Scott and Alien and actor John Hurt’s last meal. And they’re just for appetisers... But are appetisers enough if the main course has been served up the same way too many times?

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Steps needed to make us join the dance

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One of the most original and innovative and exciting dance companies at work today put on such an inspiring performance at the Jovellanos theatre last week that they brought the house down, even though the house was, unfortunately, only half full. Such was the applause at the end that IT Dansa were barely allowed to leave the stage: the many and well-deserved curtain-calls went on for a good ten minutes. This was stimulating stuff, contemporary dance at its very best. Yet it’s not even a professional troupe. IT Dansa was formed some 18 years ago as part of a post-graduate dance course in Barcelona.and comprises the young dancers from around the world who have to surpass in some very demanding auditions. The standard is superb.

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Feeling the buzz up close and personal

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One of the Buzzcocks acted like a real punk after their gig at the Albéniz in Gijón last Friday, that’s “punk” in its old thick-shit guise as opposed to in the Sex Pistols’ thick-spit-wise. His dismissive arrogance was sorrily out of place. I had requested a post-show interview, duly turned up at the dressing-room door and agreed to wait while the band caught their breath after a driving performance that had the near-capacity audience pogoing like there was no tomorrow, never mind that the moves were from several yesteryears. (We all travelled back in time: it was a great night out.) The bass player finally emerged, brushed me aside and, lips curling in disgust, he spat at me, though this time not literally: “I have nothing to say to you.” He must have been mentally back in the day when some tabloid hack would chase the bad boys for a sniff of scandal or something more potent. (The substance of choice this time was of the corked bubbly variety. How anti-establishment is that...)

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Bar Pinzales opens new chapter in village life

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A new lease of life is to be injected into the heart of our village thanks to the best news of 2016 so far: the much mourned and much missed Bar Pinzales is to reopen very soon after more than a year lurking in the charred shadows of what used to be (see our February tribute). There has been a hive of activity in the venue across the road from the red house over recent weeks. Now the stage has been redesigned, newly painted and spruced up, all set for the bar to reclaim its rightful place as the centre of village life. And it’s now bright red inside, so that must be a good omen.

Red House had a sneak preview of the new-look bar and met Marcial, one of a group of friends who have rallied round former Bar Pinzales stalwart, Pichi, in a consortium set on rescuing the place from further decline and giving it back to the village. Marcial proudly gave us a tour of the place (though we do know it well) and outlined what will be on offer: tapas, espichas in the garden, lunches on the terrace, cenas in the ballroom, weekend programmes of live entertainment and, most important of all, the convivial atmosphere that has always been a hallmark of Bar Pinzales and made it such a great and welcoming place to get together with friends over a beverage. Marcial’s enthusiasm is unquestioned. So is ours.

Gijón bags itself some world-class status

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The ghosts of music past hang in the air, literally, in a few very select museums around the world, as far apart geographically as they would seem to be in status. On what level playing field, for example, does the Museum of Asturian Life in Gijón compete in stature with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York? The answer: bagpipes. There are only four internationally recognised centres of excellence devoted to this most evocative of instruments and one of them is that small room tucked away upstairs in one of the outbuildings of the Asturian Life museum across the road from Sporting’s stadium. It is not particularly spacious but it has put Gijón up there with the best.

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Barring an act of God...

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Flood, fire and economic pestilence robbed a village near Gijón of what was not only its social centre but also a popular venue for live entertainment. Bar Pinzales was forced to close its doors 12 months ago after one disaster too far, an anniversary not celebrated with any joy in the pueblo nor by the artistes who regularly earned a few bob performing there every weekend. Unfortunately for all concerned, there doesn’t seem to be much hope of a rescue plan for the bar any time soon. The accordion players, the one-man bands, the karaoke kings and queens, the crooners, schmoozers and comedians who appeared there will all have to wait some time before making a return.

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Jazz on the off-note

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According to a friend who knows more about these things than I do, most of the jazz heard in Gijón and roundabout is of the experimental kind. He even went to a concert in which just one solo double-bass player was on stage, keeping the audience rapt (evidently not entirely) in his virtuosity for a whole hour of, so I’m told, exploring the sounds and off-rhythms he could elicit from the instrument. It wouldn’t have been my cup of tea.

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Wath happened? Taking five at Toma 3

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We got stood up by the boss of Toma 3 after fixing and then confirming an interview date in his own bar, a very convivial place for us and, one would assume, very convenient for him. Something must have happened that even precluded a call to his staff to tell us he’d not be turning up. Don’t know what that was all about, with free publicity on the cards.

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About

Red House Work is the body of music, songs and videos written and produced by the band, Red House, based in Pinzales, Gijón. Here we also give you a flavour of our cultural and musical interests and those of others. Contact us on: redhousepostbox@gmail.com

Red House Work es el conjunto de la música, las canciones y los vídeos escritos y producidos por el grupo Red House, con base en el pueblo de Pinzales, Gijón. En esta web os ofrecemos también una muestra de nuestros gustos culturales y musicales y los de otra gente afín a nuestro proyecto. Podéis contactar con nosotros a través de:redhousepostbox@gmail.com