Thursday, September 20, 2012

About Tony Bryant: A journey from youth to Andalusia.



I was born in London in 1961; just a few weeks after one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century took his own life with a shot-gun to the head. Incredibly, this was a man who had survived two World-wars and the vicious three-year Spanish conflict; as well as two plane crashes in as many days. 
Ernest Hemmingway was to greatly inspire me later in life, but before I was to become aware of this giant of literary genius, I was confronted with many life shaping hurdles that would alter and influence my life and the way I live it today.

My mother was one of nine children that were born of three different fathers, yet my maternal grandmother was legitimately married to just one of them; this resulted in a court appearance in 1938 during which she was accused of polygamy.
This, and the fact that my grandmother believed she possessed the power of the gypsy curse and lived through fear of irrational beliefs and superstitions, is the contents of a book I hope to one day publish. I descend, according to family lore, from gypsy lineage and the belief in superstition has subsequently run through my family until present day and although I do not live in constant fear of falling paint pots or black cats; I will refrain from placing my hat on the bed and become alarmed if a bird flies into my house. .
My paternal family was by no means superstitious, quite the opposite in fact; although it was surely from this line that I inherited my innate love of music.        
My paternal grandmother played the harp, mandolin, ukulele, spoons, and the jaws harp  . The latter was in fact the only instrument my father mastered, but his two brothers were adroit with numerous instruments that included banjos, harmonica, skiffle-bass, bagpipes, fiddles and combs..   
My mother is a pianist who also mastered the piano accordion and she still reads music and plays regularly today at the age of 81 and I have wonderful memories of regular family jam sessions when our small terraced house erupted with the wild musical grace of a Balkan Gypsy wedding orkestar.
I became the family’s drummer at the age of 10 (my first drum came from the body of one of my uncles old banjos that he had converted into a snare-drum) and by thirteen I was pounding the skins for a rock band whose members were students at my school; my introduction to the real world of sex and alcohol fuelled rock and roll came just a few years later.
At that time it was almost impossible for any down trodden kid to break into the world of rock and roll; that was until 1976, when the Sex Pistols hurled a string of four-letter abuse at Bill Grundy on live, prime-time television.
I, like so many youth of that era, was zipped along on a musical orgy of died-hair, ripped jeans and offensive tee-shirts during a pubescent revolution that shook England with the ferocity of a native uprising. There had been numerous musical rebellions in England prior to this, but Punk was the one that really made the youngsters realize that they could actually do something about the pathetic pit into which the once brilliant music scene in England had plunged.

I left school in 1977 - the Queens silver jubilee year – and because I had only ever dreamed of becoming a rock star; I hadn’t the faintest idea what I wanted to do, or more to the point, could do. I first worked as a shop assistant in an extremely old-fashioned iron-monger that sold nuts, bolts, washers and screws by the dozen, seed-potatoes and shallots by the ounce and paraffin by the gallon.
It was in this antiquated enterprise that I credulously learned that ‘skirting-board ladders’, ‘long-weights’ and ‘skyhooks’ did not exist but it was also a place where I learned the art of cutting keys without the assistance of an electric grinder, how to sharpen the cylindrical blade of a Suffolk-Colt lawnmower, and how to change the burner and mantle of a Tilley lamp.
I could tell the size of carriage-bolt by simply looking at it, measure (with-in inches) without the aid of a yard-stick and add-up in my head with relative ease; whatever happened to good old-fashioned intuition? I learned more in my time there than I ever did in school and it was this deep abyss of edification that I transformed from boy to man.

However, music was my calling and during the 1980s I pursued my dream of becoming a rock-star but, although I made a few records with various groups and supported numerous named bands of that era, by the end of this magical decade, I realized that this was not to be.
I was unemployed and fed-up with bumming around on a shilling and I eventually saw sense and decided to seek a trade where I would actually earn some money. I did, in fact, enter into one of the lowest paid trades –hotel and catering - but working as a chef has been my main source of income ever since.
It was the wonders of the culinary world that gave me my calling for travel as I was soon searching for the Italy, Greece and Spain of the colorful cookery editions. I had been offered work in a restaurant on a small Island in the Ionian Sea that was once the surrogate home of the novelist and poet Lawrence Durrell; although due to a lack of winter flights and also a dearth of money; I decided to train and ferry hop my way across Europe in order to take my new position in a small Italian restaurant on the Island of Corfu. 
This was a magical, albeit nerving, journey; a trip into the unfamiliar, yet charmingly rural, Europe. My journey started in Calais, after a ferry crossing from Dover, and continued on a rattling old sleeper-train through France and thence to Milan, where, after not being called by the guard who had fallen asleep whilst on duty, I found myself bound for war-torn Yugoslavia.  After a panic-stricken few hours in an archaic train-station where I understood no one and no one understood me, I eventually arrived in town of Brindisi: The port was full of Albanian refugees whose pitiful faces transferred a wretchedness and misery that I had only ever witnessed in the ‘World at War’ documentaries on television, and as I eagerly boarded the small ferry that would transport me through new waters, I felt great sadness at the plight and worthlessness of this desolate race

I arrived on the island during a tropical rain storm; without a Drachma in my pocket and no idea of where the only person I knew on the Island actually lived. Fortunately, thanks to the benevolence and knowledge of an old farmer who transported me in an open back truck along with his dog and a duck, I was soon standing outside the picturesque trattoria where I was to be employed for the next twelve-months.
The restaurant was owned by a hackneyed Italian called Jackomo whose English had been learned from watching Hollywood movies; his wife spoke Italian, and Gaelic (as did he) due to her Welsh descent - hence the conversation often became garbled as it swopped and changed between  the three. 
After spending an exciting and mind-opening year on the island, I foolishly longed for England and all the normality’s that went with it and thereafter spent a non-eventful and extremely dreary few years back in England before I decided to head for Spain: It is here that I have stayed ever since.
I love Spain and its people, and it has been this wonderful country, especially Andalusia, that has inspired my first three books; one of which has recently been translated into Spanish - an honor for any foreign writer whose work is transformed into the tongue of the land he has chosen as his home.
It was in Spain that my career as a writer started to develop and my work has been intensified and enriched by the wonders of this great land and as Ernest Hemmingway once pronounced – “When a man feels at home outside of where he was born, it is where he is meant to be”. 
  

Monday, September 17, 2012


Review of
Flamenco; an Englishman’s passion – Tony Bryant. Sol y Sombra Books
Publisher: - Sol y Sombra Books  (2012)
ISBN  978-0-9563132-5-6

This excitingly fresh flamenco book tells the story of how an Englishman first became interested in, and eventually addicted to, a culture that is so different to that of his own; an art normally only associated with the gypsies of Andalucía. The author starts his story with his own musical up-bringing in London and discusses the similarities that exist within the evolution of flamenco and other world music like jazz and the blues. He also takes us on a journey through some of the small villages and towns in Andalucía where he met some of the most influential flamenco artistes of Spain. The book includes some amusing tales and anecdotes of things that happened to him whilst he was researching the book, like the old man he met in Utrera who wanted to talk about an approaching game of football between Chelsea FC and Real Betis. The old guy was dumbfounded that this Englishman had no knowledge of football, yet knew more about flamenco than the average Spaniard. Another amusing tale tells how his “disgustingly bad” Spanish grammar caused some humorous confusion in a bar in Moròn de la Frontera. He also describes in great detail some of the flamenco parties that he has attended and how different these impromptu juergas are compared to the commercial type that is staged for the tourists who visit Andalucía. The main reason behind the book is to explain the two immensely different sides of flamenco; the glitter and sparkle tablao and theatre flamenco compared to the cante jondo, the deep songs that have existed in Andalucía for approximately 500 years. The book includes an in depth chapter concerning the history of flamenco; with the departure of the gypsies from India approximately 1,000 years ago right up until the present day. He has also included biographies of flamenco artistes who are considered to have played a major role in the evolution and preservation of this culture. Tony explains many of the myths and legends that surround this predominately gypsy art, like for example the legend of the bald rooster; a hideous bronze statue that keeps a vigilant eye on a small town in Seville. But this book will not only appeal to lovers of flamenco because the author also describes some of Andalucia’s fiestas and celebrations like Semana Santa, the festivals and the romerias. The author realized that there was much more to flamenco than just music and dance and he deals with all aspects of life in Andalucía, especially the people, as he believes that they are what makes flamenco so unique. Tony say’s that he basically cut himself off from the outside world to immerse himself in the world of flamenco mixing with gypsies and andalusians alike in order to get a true understanding. He also said that flamenco became “like a cuckoo”, pushing to one side everything else that was once important, to become a major part of his everyday life. Tony Bryant is a lover of the purest, duende fuelled, gypsy flamenco and he holds no punches when explaining why he feels that the orthodox side of this art is being destroyed by the commercial scene that is desecrating this age old culture. I think the words of the author best sum up what he truly feels for flamenco. “Flamenco 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 will appeal to anyone who has an interest in andalucian culture and art; and of course to those who have a penchant for flamenco.