Despite learning Spanish twice during my life – once at school and then again, a decade-and-a-half later, for work – and acquiring a reasonably varied vocabulary, I did not encounter the title until yesterday evening. It does not appear in my dictionary, and so I have had to rely on the web’s favourite translation aid. As a result, I fervently hope that it does mean “cool stuff” and not something obscene and/or offensive (I can’t really afford to upset some 400 million readers at this stage in my writing career).
Even before encountering the title, my life yesterday had a somewhat Spanish flavour – despite no ham being involved. The new day started with a new book, The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón which I am reading in English translation (Southampton library does not provide a long enough loan – even with maximum renewals – for me to tackle it in its original tongue). At times, it does seem to be rather directed at me as a newly admitted writer and it is clear that Don Basilio would not approve of my style and its adjectival liberality. At other times, its protagonist reminds me of my brother – but I am only up to page 70, so this may change.
Last night, I had my first full experience of live flamenco – at the Arthouse Cafe, as regular readers might have guessed. I had seen a little flamenco-inflected guitar many years ago at the Meson Don Felipe in the Cut in London while I munched on tapas and consumed a glass or two of blude-red wine. On that occasion, it was just a guitarist perched precariously above the doorway leading to the facilities. Yesterday, Jero Férec and his Flamenco Group – fresh from Ronnie Scott’s – provided not just the guitarist but two singers and a dancer. Yet another amazing guitarist – and even more depressingly youthful than those that had come before him – and another musical style for me to enjoy at the Arthouse. The two singers were also extraordinary and I, at least, thought I caught more than a hint of the Umayyad caliphate in their slightly unearthly vocal performance – many years ago, I heard a small amount of a flamenco mass on CD, but it hadn’t prepared me for the reality. As part of the evening, I also learned that any previously attempts at rhythmic clapping were mere child’s play compared to the rigours of the flamenco beat: performers’ hands must be red raw after a performance.
On any normal night, the guitar or singing would have been the highlight – but to my surprise that honour must go to the dancing. Usually, dancing does very little for me – it usually seems at best pointless and often laughable. Last night, no-one was laughing: we would have been too scared. Despite being the very image of imperial Spanish hauteur, the dancer had a prosaically English name: Ollie Giffin. His dancing was commanding and somehow very adult: tap which is perhaps a distant cousin appears rather infantile in comparison. The dance is intensely physical and at time the rhythm seems impossibly fast for a tall man in relatively high-heeled wooden-soled shoes. He did have very sturdy thews which may have helped but, on a sample of one, I can’t be sure whether this was critical to his mastery of the dance. It is not just a physical experience for the dancer but also for the audience as the vibration is transmitted through both the room and your body. I strongly suspect that flamenco is an art-form best experienced live – with something vital lost in its recording (while I believe gaming controllers can provide haptic feedback, I doubt this has yet been exploited in the context of dance music). I feel rather privileged that I can experience some of the thrill of downtown Seville, just a brief stroll from my home. You can catch a flavour of the experience from the Arthouse’s Facebook page or via the link supplied above.
Incredible though the dance was, I do worry about young Ollie’s feet. The shoes looked less than comfortable and I fear that the combination of the violence of the dance and his sockless condition (his choice, I assume) would render his feet a mass of blisters, cuts and partially-healed scars. He did, wisely I would imagine, restrict his dancing to brief, if very intense bursts. Still, I have once again established my suitability, in all but the purely physical sense, for the role of somebody’s maiden aunt.
The title I came across when researching Jero after the concert. When even younger than he is today – still just at school, even – he released an album and it provided the title for this post which truly covers “cool things”.