Thursday, December 15, 2011

Flamenco; an Englishman's passion. New edition - Books4Spain 2011
Flamenco is a hard church.
Of all the minority musical forms it is the one where even the most casual aficionado needs a certain level of familiarity to enjoy it. It is not easy listening and without the most basic awareness of styles and rhythm, is meaningless.
On the plus side it has to be admitted that many musical forms that are the preserve of racial minorities are almost impenetrable to people not belonging to that minority, mainly due to the desire for the music to be kept exclusive to the minority in question.
The Romany music of Eastern Europe for example is a zealously-guarded area where outsiders are not welcome, and often actively discouraged. But since the emphasis is on instrumental adroitness it is hard to see why a non-Romany should be considered as a less talented player than a gypsy. It must be a purely business-related consideration.
Spanish flamenco is rather different. In spite of what is commonly believed - that the dance is the pivotal endeavour, as some readers of this book will discover, flamenco can and does thrive without dancers, and indeed even without guitarists. In some modest get-togethers there is no guitar available and the singer will be accompanied by nothing more than rhythmic hand-clapping or discreet table-tapping.
Tony Bryant makes this point well, and also leads the reader elegantly from what is generally known as commercial flamenco to authentic cante jondo, with stops in between. And he has been fortunate, as indeed I have, because Spanish gypsies that live from flamenco do not try to dominate the art, having realised that non-gypsies can perform as well as gypsies, certainly in the vocal department. As Tony documents flawlessly, there have been many great singers who did not possess the voz afillá, the gravelly hoarse voice of the true gypsy cantaor. And non-gypsy guitarists and dancers are common.
All this may make it easier for a non-gypsy Spaniard to enter the fray, but what about an unusually tall Englishman with a limited knowledge of the language?  The book contains some very honest and self-deprecating accounts of Tony’s occasionally fraught attempts to get through the small door that leads to the garden where he wanted to be. Full marks for not being afraid to be laughed at, but the overriding question is why?
As an ex-drummer in an English band, Tony was initially baffled by flamenco rhythms (nothing new here; every newcomer is), and try as he might could find no connection with the world of rhythm and blues. As he astutely points out, Western music uses only the major and minor scales, while flamenco also uses the Phrygian mode (modo dórico in Spanish). Indeed, theses have been written about the flamenco beat, and there is nothing more absurd (or in bad taste) than a spectator at a flamenco party trying ineffectually to mark time. The twelve-beat cycle is unique to the art form.
There have been other books by foreigners, usually Anglo-Saxons, who attempted to enter the flamenco world with various degrees of success. The American, Donn Pohren, was the first with his ground-breaking works, The Art of Flamenco (1962) and Lives and Legends of Flamenco (1964); Gerald Howson, a proficient guitarist, still alive and well and living in south London, wrote the classic Flamencos of Cádiz Bay in 1965 (I followed him a few years later in the same area and with the same dramatis personae but I never wrote about it, probably because I was a rotten guitarist), and Duende by Jason Webster has been a much more recent success on a predominantly similar theme.
Tony’s book is different – mainly because he has been an intelligent spectator with a gift for drilling down into the history of this great art with a perception and an enthusiasm bordering on the academic – and possessing a sense of humour that sets him apart. He strives for nothing more than the fulfilment of a burning desire to learn as much about flamenco as any human being on the planet, and I doubt very much that this will be his first book on the subject.

Andrew Linn. Marbella Nov 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Englishman's obsession

Flamenco; an Englishman's passion.   
I have been a musician for many years and during this time I have been involved with many different musical genres, but none so magical as flamenco.
My first experience with flamenco happened in Seville when I stumbled head first into a culture that was so very different to that of my own. I was intrigued and confused to say the least but I soon found myself being drawn into this mysterious and colourful phenomenon.
That was many moons ago and since then I have become engrossed in one of the most majestic cultures within the world of music.
In the beginning, the only thing that I understood to be true was that flamenco was relatively misunderstood and this was not confined just to the foreigners; the Spanish seemed to have little knowledge (or interest) in flamenco either.
I was assured that anyone who did have knowledge of flamenco would be unwilling to share its secrets with an outsider, especially a gacho.
So, totally unprepared and armed with all this non-information, I decided that I would try to see for myself what all the fuss was about. What I did not set out to do was write a book about it, this was something that happened along the way.
I soon began to realize that there was much more to flamenco than just song and dance; it was ‘a way of life’. 
Certain towns and villages in Andalucía have a magnetic attraction to flamenco aficionados, so I decided to bus and train hop my way around some of these antiquated old towns to try and get a true understanding of flamenco.
Jerez de la Frontera is the most regal of all flamenco territories, especially the neighborhood of Santiago.
This sleepy old gypsy district seems to have stood still in time and I wandered around tiny back streets full of small white washed houses with uneven walls and rotting window frames.
At every turn I found old bars and taverns, packed with memorabilia of Jerez’s huge contribution to flamenco. The corner shop was the main meeting place where the older locals met daily to chat and watch the world (and six foot three Englishman) go by.
It took me a while to get used to the unusual looks I received from the locals, especially the gypsies who seemed to treat everyone with extreme caution, even if you were an avid flamenco fan.
But I found that when people realized that I had a penchant for flamenco they were most friendly and forthcoming, although not always with information concerning flamenco.
One day whilst chatting with a guy about flamenco in a bar in Utrera, the topic of conversation was diverted in the direction of an approaching game of football between Chelsea FC and Real Betis. As I was English, I must also be crazy about football?
The old guy was dumbfounded that this Englishman had no knowledge of football, yet knew more about flamenco than the average Spaniard.
One thing I have found is that all those people who shared my passion for this art offered any amount of help that I may need.
I was once introduced to an old lady called Dolores in Seville, who wanted to tell me stories about the old flamenco days. She had been a lifelong friend of La Fernanda de Utrera, one of the most famous flamenco singers of the 20th century. Unfortunately Dolores died a short time after my first introduction and with her she took so many wonderful tales and memories of the flamenco way of life that I was searching for.
On another occasion, at a tribute concert for Manuel Montoya, I was introduced to La Chispa, the widow of Camaron de la Isla, as well as other members of this most celebrated singers family.
I managed to get back-stage to speak with this huge gypsy clan because I lived next door to one of the daughters of the Montoya’s.
It seemed that where ever I went I was introduced to someone who knew someone who could help in some way. 
On another occasion I had heard that the flamenco singer Fosforito. was to give a private flamenco recital the Castillo el Bil Bil in Benalmadena Costa.
On arriving at this small venue in Benalmadena, I was informed that the seats were reserved for a select audience of family and personal friends of the singer and of course the big-wigs from the town hall.
As I walked away, bitterly disappointed at my refused entry, I saw the singer in question entering a small bar opposite. I quickly followed him into the bar and asked for a photograph, to which he politely agreed. He asked if I was going to the recital but I explained that it was impossible to gain entry. A short while after explaining that I was researching a book and that I was also an avid fan of his, I found myself in the front row, along with some of the more important hierarchy from the town hall.
But it was not only flamenco performers who were monumental in the investigational research I was attempting, I also had a great deal of help from everyday people who all seemed to have a story or tale to tell.
I was once given a sack full of old Lp records by a lady in a bar who said that I would probably have more use for them than she. Some of the sleeve notes on these old records proved to be more than informative. I have been given black and white photographs of old flamenco artistes and these photo’s are priceless because many of the people in them have long since died.

I also met many of Spain’s top flamenco performers and I found them to contain a certain casualness that is lacking in most other professional musicians that I have met.
On the train journey from Seville to Málaga I once found myself sitting next to Remedios Amaya, one of Seville’s most respected flamenco artistes. We chatted and exchanged phone numbers and she also offered any help I may need the next time I was in Seville.
On another evening I met the singer Pansequito in a small back street bar in Arroyo de la Miel, which resulted in a free entry to a concert he was giving later that night. I had a chance meeting with Falette in a shoe shop in Seville, I met José Mercé in the bullring in Málaga, but one of the most rewarding times was when I interviewed the guitar maestro Daniel Casares after a concert in the old castle in Fuengirola.

I have had my camera confiscated after photographing the flamenco dancer Eva Yerbabuena in concert; got drunk on brandy with El Carrete, one of Málaga’s finest bailaors and been reprimanded by a woman who was infuriated that I had said, in a radio interview, that Cameron de la Isla had gained an almost Elvis status in Spain after his untimely death in 1992.
All in all, getting involved with flamenco has been one of the most rewarding periods of my life.
I have witnessed flamenco in some of the most romantic and beautiful settings and I have become acquainted with some of the most colourful and interesting characters involved with this art.
One thing I have learnt from all of this is that flamenco is not about being a star or an artiste; it is simply a way of life.
It is a contagious dance that is so passionate it will leave you spellbound or an outburst of duende fuelled song that tugs at your deepest emotions, or a light hearted bit of fun where nothing seems to matter and time is unimportant.
Long may it continue!

Flamenco; an Englishman's passion. New revised edition coming soon. Also available as e-book. See  

Monday, October 24, 2011

Antonio Gades would have been seventy-five on November 14th and so out of respect for one of the greatest flamenco dancers of our times; the following is an account of his life and achievments.

Antonio Gades
Born in Elda, Alicante in 1936, Antonio Gades became one of the most revolutionary Spanish dancers of the twentieth century and one of the most revered figures in the history of the flamenco dance.
He helped shape the structure of the modern flamenco dance as we know it today and he was awarded more honours than any other Spanish dancer to date: However, his personal life was to play an equal role in shaping the young Antonio Etseve Ródenas into one of the greatest dancers the world has known.

Antonio was born in a cave-house on 14th November 1936; just a few months after the Civil war had begun.
His parents, who both fought in the war, were communists and both were active in the struggle to protect Madrid from the advancing Nationalist troops at the start of the conflict.
Antonio’s mother died in active duty but his father, a bricklayer by trade, survived the war and eventually moved his family to the capital.
Antonio did not have ambitions of becoming a professional dancer and although he would dance in the streets and taverns of Elda; he was fifteen before he took his first dance instruction.
His early years were hard and he undertook numerous jobs including messenger boy for the ABC newspaper and a stint in a photographic laboratory. He also trained as an apprentice bullfighter but none of these jobs were entered into with any passion; they were simply a means of helping provide food to feed the family during the ‘years of hunger’.

Although Antonio lived most of his adult life in the capital, he was primarily a country boy who had affection for the sea: A keen sailor and owner of a fine yacht, Antonio would often take to the waves when he needed an escape from the stresses of his life.

His dance was a mixture of modernism and the ancient tradition of flamenco and he performed on the most famous stages of the world, yet Antonio declared that he had received little help or recognition in Spain.
This was the case for numerous Spanish artists, writers and musicians who fled Spain because of the political climate that existed during the Civil war. For most of these artistes, a return to Spain during this time would have resulted in imprisonment or even death. (A death sentence, signed by five members of the Franco government, was issued on Antonio Gades in 1975)

Antonio’s entry into the Madrid Dance School was to be the start of his long and spectacular career, because it was here that he was noticed by the woman who would change his life forever.
Pilar Lopez christened Antonio with the name of Gades, because he reminded her of the bailarinas gaditanas, and it was with her company that Antonio would first see the world.
Antonio would eventually become lead dancer in Pilar’s company, a position he held for nine-years, and during this time he learnt the rudiments of classical and popular dance.
He also took advantage of the lengthy world tours that he undertook with her; studying different forms of dance in Russia, Paris, and Italy.

In 1964 he represented Spain at the New York Exhibition, where he was declared an idol of flamenco, however the following year his adaption of Don Juan was a failure; leaving Antonio penny-less because he had financed the production with his own capital.
Nineteen sixty-four was also the year that Antonio married the actress, Marujita Diaz, but their union was to last just twenty months and it would be four years before he married again.
In 1969 he presented his rendition of El amor Brujo, and, with his own company – el Ballet de Antonio Gades - he took this show to France, Italy, North Africa, America and Japan.
By 1971 he had separated from his second wife  Pilar San Clemente (mother of his two sons) and two years later he wed wife number three; child actress  Marisol.
In 1974 Antonio Gades announced his retirement to the world and after dissolving his ballet company, he fulfilled his ambition to travel around the world.
This was the period when he began to attract attention in Spain, although this interest was directed at his political connections, and so Antonio decided to slip into the background until the dust settled - in 1975 after the death Franco. 
In 1978 he was appointed director of the Spanish National Ballet and so back into the world of the dance; however, due to his political views he was relieved of this position in 1980.
Antonio became militant in the Communist party of the people of Spain and he remained active in this committee - which also linked him to the Communist Party of Cuba- for the duration of his life.        His circle of friends included people as diverse as Fidel Castro, Pablao Picasso and Rudolf Nuréyev, and Antonio’s staunch communist views would cause problems throughout his life.
Antonio Gades was a communist and he was a defender of the revolution in Cuba, a country in which he had strong political and personal commitments; Fidel Castro acted as the best man for Antonio when he married Marisol.                                                                                                                      Five-times married; Antonio was extremely good looking as a young man and won the hearts of millions of fans on stage and screen worldwide. His passion for the dance is said to have been equalled by his love of the cinema and it was his dream to be able to indulge in both; although his mastery with the dance was far superior to his ability as an actor.
His screen debut cast him alongside Carmen Amaya in the 1964 film – Los Tarantos; and it was this film that catapulted Antonio Gades to international stardom. During the 1980s Antonio starred in the trilogy of flamenco themed films by the Spanish director, Carlos Saura. These films were based on Fedrerico Garcia Lorca’s Bodas de Sangre, Manuel de Falla’s El amor brujo and Mérimée’s classic – Carmen.
It was the works of the Andalucían poet, Garcia Lorca that was to inspire Antonio Gade’s dance and ignite a glowing passion in his heart for flamenco.

His partner in all three of these films was Christina Hoyo, one of today’s leading Spanish dancers, and they became the new Antonio y Rosario of the flamenco dance scene of the eighties.

Cristina’s artistic break came when she was noticed by Antonio and she soon joined his flamenco dance company and went on to become his leading dancer; a position that she held for twenty years. During her time with him she also captured the hearts of the South Americans, especially in Cuba, where she was honored with the Grand Theatre of Havana Award for her spectacular performances with Antonio and his company.

Antonio was presented with the Carmen Amaya Award for his adaptation of El Amor Brujo and he also received the National Dance Prize in 1988: This was awarded for his efforts in “building a bridge between the flamenco tradition and the modern airs of Spanish dance”.
In the same year he married Daniela Frey, but this would only last five years:  Eugenia Eiriz became the fifth Mrs Gades and she was the woman who would be at his side throughout his illness and until he died.
In 1994 he toured the world again, with his stage show, Fuenteovejuna, which was based on a play by Lope de Vega and this was to be Antonio’s last production as choreographer. His last performance in Britain was in Carmen at the Sadlers Wells theatre in 1996.

The last three years of Antonio Gades life became a battle against cancer and he died in a Hospital in Madrid on July 20th 2004; his ashes were interred in the National Pantheon of Heroes of the Revolution, in Havana.
Just weeks before his death, Antonio had received the Order of José Marti, which was presented to him by his old friend Fidel Castro in a ceremony in Havana.
The Cuban Council of State said they had awarded Antonio Gades with this honour because of his “Refreshing art, his recognised exceptional talent as a dancer and choreographer, his love for those who struggle, and his proven friendship and loyalty to the revolution”.

© Tony Bryant 2011

                                        Antonio Gades; one of the greatest and most
                                           reverred dancers of the twentieth century.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Books4Spain and Tony Bryant

A new version of Flamenco; an Englishman's passion is soon to be released by Books4Spain.
This new edition has been completely re-edited with new photo's and a new cover and should be in the shops by early 2012.
Add caption
This will be the fourth edition of this book and a French edition is also in the pipe-line for next year release as well; I am also considering a Spanish edition of this book, but this will be much later in 2012 because of the release of my second book, A time-defying heritage, which is to be released (in English) in November. The Spanish edition of this book will be released in February of 2012. Busy times ahead!!!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Flamenco; An Englishman's Passion

Acabo de aprender que mi primer libro, Flamenco; pasión de un inglés, es ser traducido a francés.
Este libro fue publicado originalmente por el Museo del Baile Flamenco , en Sevilla y ellos haber informadome la nueva edición francesa, de la cual tengo poca información en el momento. Más noticias como siguen.

                                                             <<<< >>>>

I have just learned that my first book, Flamenco; an Englishman's passion, is to be translated into French.
This book was originally published by the Museo del baile flamenco, in Seville and they have just informed me of the new French edition, of which I have little information at the moment. More news as it follows.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Adios al maestro de Jerez de la Frontera

Wednesday 10th of August was a sad day for me. Not only did I become fifty-years and one day old, but my favorite aunt passed away after a relatively short illness at the ripe old age of 85.
Whilst collecting my thoughts, after receiving this sad news from my mother, I was hit with a double blow that came like a kick to the stomach.
News began   to filter through the internet that Manuel Moreno Junquera had died in a hospital in Jerez de la Frontera at just 55 years of age.

Moraito Chico, the name by which Manuel was better known, was one of the most inspirational guitarists on the flamenco scene of today and he was also one of the most respected guitarists whose services as an accompanist were sought by some of the greatest singers of the flamenco world.
His family have been pioneers within the world of this fantastic art and his passing has left a gaping hole in the hearts of the people who knew and loved him. Not only was he one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, but he was also a humble gypsy whose sense of humor and natural grace will be very sadly missed.
There a few words that could truly capture this man's natural gitanerias  and even less that could describe his domination of the guitar.
The guitar has lost it's master and flamenco has lost a son.
Adios para siempre El Maestro de Jerez.