In October 2016 the question I’d posed myself on return from a 5 year stint living and working in Spain was answered with one listen of the song Ghost Dance by Tijuana Bibles off their EP Ghost/Dance/Movement.
Was there a Glasgow band that i felt could really make waves over in Spain and shake up the scene a bit over there with their music? And for me listening to that track, I felt I found exactly that with the boys from Coatbridge.
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard of them, in fact a few years earlier they played their first ever show (in Stereo ?) opening for my pals Sonic Hearts Foundation, as memory serves me. And since then I’d heard tracks such as Toledo, Wild River and Crucifixion.
But having been holed up in the north of Spain on a teaching gig from September 2010 until late 2015, my knowledge of what was going on back in the Glasgow music scene was lacking somewhat, a price paid for getting stuck into everything Spanish indie to help me with the language.
As I noted in a review of the EP, it was a sound that transported the boys from the Time Capsule to the True Detective-esque tumbleweed strewn backwaters of Louisiana. A beefy, mature sound catapulted by frontman Tony Costello’s stunning vocal ability and lyrics. A group where similarities could be drawn towards the likes of Queens Of The Stone Age, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and even Arctic Monkeys at their heaviest.
It wasn’t just bog-standard indie rock. It was layered, textured and at times dark as hell. Gasoline stained, full throttle tales of desert sacrifice cloaked in dirty leather and smelling of cheap liquor. And I loved it. And after having developed a decent knowledge of the music scene and tastes of the Spanish music loving public over there, to me it was a band who had real potential to do something over there and break into a market few groups dared enter.
Cut to less than a year later and here I was, on a plane over to Barcelona with the band as they embarked on their first ever Spanish tour, one put together after receiving a healthy dose of radio play by esteemed channel Radio 3, support from well known presenter Virginia Diaz and an interview in Spain’s top music site/mag, Mondo Sonoro to boot (see below).
I spent the time on the plane at 30 000 ft trying to acclimatise myself to the reality that – with their guitars and pedal boards in the hold – this was actually happening, that the boys and their manager Allan had put their faith in me to set this up. To book the shows (and support acts), drive the car and accommodation. And maybe the odd bit of translating where need be.
5 dates spread across 8 nights and 4 cities across a large portion of the country in cities such as San Sebastian and Oviedo in the north alongside Madrid and Valencia. Or in driving speak, 2000 km.
Our first stop on landing and just about squeezing all the gear into the van, which turned out to be a large motor, was San Sebastian, a drive which turned out to be a lot longer than expected on the drive through Catalonia and the regions of Aragon and Navarre.
An unscheduled overnight stop in Huesca treated us to majestic morning views over the surrounding mountains and lakes which felt more Swiss alpine lodge than Benidorm high rise hotel view most of us were used to as kids. That alongside passing sights such as the incredible and peculiar looking Monsterrat mountain range outside of Barcelona too.
The first show was as part of the launch party for the ‘hidden stage’ of the well known Kutxa Kultur Festibala music festival in San Sebastian in the Basque country, sandwiched between the French border 25km to the east and Bilbao 100 km to the west. The sixth edition of the festival, this year it was presented in the new location of the San Sebastian Hippodrome, and featured a bill with the likes of The Drums, Divine Comedy, Floating Points, The Hives and East Kilbride’s own The Jesus and Mary Chain as headliners.
And not a better place to kick off the tour, in the actual crypt of a former convent – gloriously renamed ‘Convent Garden’ – a stone’s throw from one of the finest city beaches in Europe, La Concha. A beach where Queen Isabella II was sent to by her medic to bathe at in 1845 to soothe her skin problems. Fit for a queen with scabs and fit for the Bibles.
Sharing the bill with the boys was Lukiek, the new outfit from Josu Ximun of Spanish indie band Belako (who are coming to Glasgow in December), a band who have gained massive popularity in the last few years in Spain – even opening the Heineken stage at this year’s Primavera Sound in Barcelona – with the prize of Best Emerging Artist at the Spanish Independent Music Awards catapulting them onto the biggest of stages in their homeland.
As venue’s go it had a real Oran Mor feel to it, a place I caught the Bibles in when they launched their last EP, with even confession booths for those ready to share their sins at the back of the venue. And show-wise, they really brought their A game, with the gathered crowd – who picked up tickets free in the local FNAC store – properly buying into their meaty and potent rock and roll exhibition.
So loud in fact was it that the folk upstairs in the still existing church part of the complex called the police to complain about the noise levels; levels which has surpassed the agreed limit for shows on their decibel meter. Some way to make your Spanish bow! Doing so did knock Lukiek’s time slot on the head a little to their frustrations with the venue, but none of which got away from the fact that the Bibles had arrived and in style to Spain, and had won over new fans at first blood.
I half wished I could have bottled up the feeling in my bones when the boys struck the first chords of ‘Apogee’ as they started their set. As I watched from the merch stand at the back of the room I wondered if I really was watching the Bibles in Spain playing to a Spanish crowd. And thinking that something I’d long dreamed of making happening was unfolding right in front of me. I could have shed a daft tear right there and then. And to think I had 4 more nights like this.
The gig also served to ease in guitarist Rory Boyle, of Glasgow band Dead Coyotes, into proceedings. Rory was on the tour filling in for guitarist James Brannigan who couldn’t make the tour due to illness. Shoes that Rory grew into and filled more than admirably over the course of the week.
With Josu and the Lukiek boys a new friendship was born our of mutual respect for each others music and a whole lot of whisky, beers and local tipple Kalimotxo (red wine and coke), and we celebrated the night out on the tiles in San Sebastian where we attended a Nice & Sleazy’s like dive bar and then a local neighbourhood’s street party – complete with an accordion super group singing, as Lukiek themselves do, in Basque as opposed to Spanish.
A late night that for a few of us turned into the next day, those of us that managed to lift our heads off the pillow took a wander along the 2 mile beach and into the narrow, bar choked streets of the old town to sample some local Pintxos and neck down a few hair of the dogs (or in drummer Mikey’s case, make a beeline for San Juan de Gaztelugatxe which doubles as Dragonstone in Game of Thrones), before stumbling upon a Hitchcock retrospective at the Museo San Telmo.
One that you’d think would manifest a million fold the hangover fear of someone the wrong side of 30, I couldn’t believe our luck in encountering the biggest ever Spanish exhibition into the director’s work, one which paid homage to Hitchcock’s visit to the city in 1958 for the world premiere of Vertigo at the iconic – and still so – San Sebastian Film Festival.
Mind’s suitably frazzled thanks to ‘Psycho’ loops in an actual tiled bathroom and Rear Window voyeuristic set pieces a well earned rest shifted the boys back into top gear for show number 2 at the festival proper, with a standard Spanish set time of 2 am to deal with.
That meant a midnight dinner on arrival at the festival that offered us a chance to rub shoulders with the other talent there such as Depedro, an acclaimed Spanish singer/songwriter who tours and plays with Tex-Mex indie rock band Calexico. A man who we found out was also, like the Bibles, familiar with playing a gig up Sauchiehall St, as he did in January as part of Celtic Connections.
The damp weather meant the ‘hidden’ stage was transferred from the outdoor stables area to a section underneath the main stand of the Hippodrome, not far from the main access point out into the main stage area, a move that worked heavily in the boys’ favour. Not for shelter but for the sheer unique ‘guerrilla’ feel to it, with the Bibles and Lukiek playing on flat concrete under the imposing green painted supports of the stand.
That, coupled with the 2am slot (which actually clashed with The Mary Chain) felt like an aligning of the planets, with the gig itself a full throttle collision course between a band with ‘ganas’ (desire) to puncture ears and throats and a boozed-up crowd baying for sharp teethed rock and roll.
Rarely have I ever can I remember being so swept up by a band and crowd at a gig (and I was sober as designated driver), with the setting playing perfect to a raw, gritty sound that bounced off the concrete and attracted folk in their droves looking to lose their shit, thanks to rip roaring versions of 6-12, Ominous, Pariah and a barnstorming cover of Pixies’ ‘Cactus’. Like a skeletal Barras in this small under-stand space in northern Spain, beers were flying, fists were pumping the air and bottles of rum being poured down necks by frontman Tony, whose vocal sounded like it was fed through a grinder to add to the raw feel of the whole shebang.
If the first night’s gig was a fist banged on a Spanish table, this was a bulldozer to a building. The Lukiek boys, after playing their own set prior to the Bibles, were front and centre loving every minute of the tunes they had only heard for the first time the night previously in the crypt.
And as the clock ticked away into the night we made our way back into town to rest up for an early rise for the drive to Oviedo, a drive to the capital of the region of Asturias past Bilbao and through Santander and the region of Cantabria.
With heavy hearts we said our goodbyes to San Sebastian and its stunning architecture, beach and food as we headed west out of the Basque Country through deep green mountainous forests alongside the sparkling waters of the Cantabrian sea, home to places like Laredo and the remarkable 30 beach town of Llanes – a favourite with Madrid locals escaping the city, as we moved from the region of Cantabria into Asturias, a place I called home for five years.
With every kilometre of coast line along the North the views and weather felt more Scottish by the second, a world away from the postcard Spanish typical tourist friendly sights of bullrings, Sangria and apartment blocks. This was the real Spain now.
The place of the Battle of Covadonga and heartland of King Pelayo, founder of the Kingdom of Asturias in 718 and lighter of the touch paper that became the Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors that ended in 1492 with the fall of the last Islamic state in Granada.
The gig in Oviedo was part of the city’s yearly San Mateo fiestas; a two week annual city celebration (like the Glasgow Fair or Edinburgh Fringe mixed with Glastonbury) choc full of gigs, theatre performances and film screenings, and one that brings in hundreds of thousands of people from all over the region and further afield.
This year on music alone the local council spent 1.25 million euros attracting the biggest names in Spanish acts and other international groups like Coatbridge’s finest Tijuana Bibles, who were headlining the ‘rock’ stage in the Plaza de Feijoo square as invited guests on the first Saturday night of the festival. What more could you ask for?
The only potential spanner in the works for a thoroughly successful show involved keeping the boys from overdoing it on the typical Asturian tipple of ‘sidra’ (cider), which, to the unbaptised, can blow your nut off such is its strength.
Following a centuries old tradition and by far the most popular drink in the region, Asturian natural cider is made by fermenting apples pressed using a process called ‘mayar’ after summer for a period of around 5 months with the resultant liquid bottled in characteristic green bottles.
It is then poured from a height into a glass to allow the beverage to be oxygenated and therefore take on the characteristics of a fizzy drink, one which is then drank straight away (usually a glass three fingers full). One that, given its freshness, can really oil up your gears, especially if mixed in with beers or spirits.
Luckily the hearty local food on offer on the famed ‘Cider Boulevard’ of Calle Gascona, a stone’s throw from the rock stage, kept the boys on a firm footing, with some cracking octopus cooked in olive oil and paprika, squid, mince dipped in cave matured Cabrales blue cheese and last but not least the famous Cachopo – breaded veal fillets with ham and cheese – enough to have us with our boots well and truly filled prior to another late 12.30 am Spanish stage time.
In a change from the previous night’s guerrilla gig setting, the Plaza de Feijoo square is an enclave with a stage tucked in against the historical surroundings of Oviedo University’s Psychology faculty building, the Archaeological Museum of Asturias and the marvellous 16th century Santa María Real de la Corte baroque church.
The setting made for an interesting sound check experience, with the band told that under no circumstances could noise be made before mass finished at 8pm. From one church experience to another, at least this time there wasn’t a decibel reader in sight.
Supporting the band were a handful of local rock outfits who were competing in a battle of the bands type competition to win a recording contract, with each night s special invited national or international guest on headline duties.
And the Bibles did not disappoint, looking as comfortable on the grand stage in front of somewhere in the region of between 600 – 900 people as they had done the night previously under the horse track stand. Frontman Tony’s vocals soared across the square bringing in people from streets around while Rory, Mikey and bass player Danny careered through the set which wouldn’t have looked out of place on a major festival stage back home in the UK.
Sounding both polished in size and scope while bursting with raw grit and drive against a 6 metre v 3 backdrop of the bands logo, it was little wonder the notoriously hard to please Oviedo folk in attendance were in raptures as the Bibles brought a slice of pure unadulterated rock and roll to a little known historical part of Spain. Another mega success.
One celebrated by hitting the town to take in all the chiringuito ‘popup’ bars set up in every nook and cranny in the old town to serve what felt like a million young folk out on the randan. A sight that really put the feelers on the guys as they soaked up the post gig high in an area the size of the Merchant City that had a population of young, good looking drunk Spanish folk in it that could fill to bursting about 5 Buchanan Streets, and that’s a conservative estimate.
One that deserves to be experienced once in a lifetime and makes Madrid and Oviedo seem like sleepy Highland towns by comparison.
A day off the next day afforded the boys the luxury of going full at it after three gigs in three nights, but we were up and ready to go the next day to appreciate the invite from Spanish second tier side Real Oviedo to visit their stadium to take in a league game against Cadiz.
A team who were once La Liga mainstayers, they have slowly but surely clawed their way back up the leagues after financial problems say them relegated to the fourth tier of Spanish football. Terrible for a team that call home a stadium that’s fit to host a Champions League final. Oviedo ran out 1-0 winners in a game bereft of any decent football, with the fans the real stars of the 90 minutes thanks to their non stop chanting and support for the home side.
A quieter night in Oviedo, with the rain making attendance at the outdoor concerts and pubs scarce, helped us ease into the drive through the mountains and up onto the Spanish plain as we headed for the Spanish capital for the upcoming show a day later at Costello Club.
A night in Madrid gave us the chance to soak up the buzz and atmosphere of the city, one that mirrored a Saturday night in Glasgow, even on a Monday night. A quick look at the main square and a wander into the Mercado de San Miguel led us to La Latina and a few wee beers – or cañas – before we headed up to Malasaña and hit the capital’s most iconic bar, La Via Lactea.
An old glory of the Madrid nightlife scene, one of the few remaining bars of La Movida counter-cultural period in the 80’s that ran through the city in the early post-Franco days, one that spoke of innovation, liberation that broke from the shackles of tradition imposed in the dictatorship. Its written on the walls of the place and I was glad to step inside with the boys for the first time to soak it up.
I’ve been in Madrid about a hundred times before but I’d never been in, partly because at the weekends there’s always a big queue waiting to cross the door. Thankfully, being a Monday night, it wasn’t as stoud as normal. Not that I remember much after the first (massive) rum and coke went down the throat.
Alcohol aside, what I cant forget to mention is how crucial a place El Tigre played for us during our stay in Madrid, on Calle Hortaleza along from our hostel in Chueca in terms of filling our bellies. Proper tapas that doesn’t cost you a penny when you buy a beer, so it goes without saying we spent more time in there than outside on the street in the city. A must visit if you are in Madrid.
The gig the next night was in the Costello Club, a cool wee venue a stones throw from Gran Via metro station down a wee side street. Like a mini, fancier Cavern Club, its curved brick ceiling had the feel of a classy wartime Anderson shelter with a bar built into it, and the perfect location for the boys to make their Madrid bow. And not just for the fact that the venue shared a name with both singer Tony and bass player Danny’s last name. Written in the stars perhaps.
Support on the night was from local lads The Ramblings, who were causing a bit a stir on the scene after winning a local radio competition that came with it a ticket to perform at Sziget Festival in Budapest – where they tell me they managed to sneak into Mac De Marco’s dressing room and share some booze with him.
Their singer had went a bit OTT at a recent festival in Madrid and broke his leg jumping off the stage (apparently he forgot how high up it was), so opted for a chair to sit on while playing and singing for the most part – or just hop around on one leg. Going one better than Dave Grohl.
A decent wee crowd there meant a good up for it feel washed over the place as the Bibles carried on the momentum from The Ramblings support slot, Tony again on top form that helped transform the air inside the warlike shelter space into one of aggression and purpose – they weren’t here just to get pissed and see the sights. New fans were there for the taking (see review below).
And like Lukiek did in San Sebastian, the boys from The Ramblings really took to the Bibles as they powered through tunes like Crucifixion, Leather and Wild River. A rare sight it was to see your man, the Ramblings singer, working up a sweat bouncing about on one leg with his crutch in the air. The raw, pounding locomotive that was the Bibles had transformed the wee man into some sort of deranged Long John Silver in search of loot. And fair play to him and his pals. And also the lassie from Kilwinning who showed up as well, the niece of Sammy from Crash Club.
As in awe I was of the Bibles once again taking the bull by the horns so to speak on gig number 4, I could sum up the rest of the gathered crowds welcome reaction to the show via the abuse I got off a few lassies there during the set when, I started, as per usual, arguing with my brother. Well, more like telling him where to go after he arrived late to the show.
Maybe the one and only time I’ll put on a gig in Madrid and he can’t make the start of it. The lassies that involved in the gig that they weren’t wanting a pair of daft Scottish guys shouting at each other block their enjoyment, telling me to politely ‘Shut the f*ck up’ while I’m at it. That was me told.
The only other (minor) hiccup of the night having to drive across the city after the show to return a borrowed bass amp to the lockup of The Ramblings boys and while there somehow reversing into massive skip, denting the back of the car in the process – lesser said about that the better.
A return to El Tigre (where else) to celebrate the show for a few beers and some scran after sorted us out before we set our minds on the last stop of the tour, a leisurely 3 and a bit hour drive down to Valencia – a city I’d only visited once before some 13 years ago.
And as we rolled up in the car into the city centre, I cursed myself many a time for having left it so long, as we drove past the Torres de Serranos gate and up the Carrer De La Pau street towards the unbelievable sight of the Torre de Santa Catalina and El Micalet (the cathedral tower), something I honestly will never forget, as we parked right underneath the cathedral.
It was almost too much food for the eyes set against the blue afternoon sky, so thank god we dipped into a bog standard underground carpark to give us some respite from the sheer beauty of the place. And queue the heat as we stepped out the motor, 29 bloddy degrees. Summer had truly returned as we made our way up back out onto street in search of our Airbnb.
I used to teach a Valencian girl English in Glasgow either at the Mitchell Library or at her place on Victoria Road, Rosa, an art critic for one of Valencia’s biggest newspapers. I couldn’t help but think of how she managed to justify an existence in Govanhill having left what for me was the most beautiful place I’d ever set foot in. Talk about extremes.
She’d put me in touch with an artist who she’d became pals with after reviewing an exhibition of his work. And going down that road instead of going into a hostel meant we came up trumps, with Jorge’s place slap bang in the centre of the old town in a traditional old building, filled to the brim with his own eclectic, surreal Dali-esque art work. A reward for the endless climb on the staircase that felt like an Everest summit attempt carrying all the guitars and gear.
Unlike in Madrid we were a little stuck for time so we made a direct beeline for the real beating heart of the whole city, the mammoth Mercat Central. Being siesta time, the market hall itself was shut, but we found a wee stall outside that rustled up some traditional paella in small, hearty dishes with a beer for a fiver, with the guy behind the stall scraping every last bit of rice out the pan to serve us up some traditional Valencian paella with rabbit, chicken, butter beans, tomatoes and flavoured with saffron, paprika and rosemary. As unreal as it sounds. Delicious.
I even felt like offering the guy to wash his massive pan I was so grateful for what I’d just wolfed down my throat, and in what surroundings too. I made a point of trying to go back inside before we left Valencia.
From there it was soundcheck time, and we made the short walk with the gear round to the Loco Club venue, one I’d heard great things about from people both back in Glasgow and in Spain. My pal Blair manages The Wellgreen, a band from Clydebank who have been making in-roads in Spain ever since they released an LP with Pretty Olivia Records. He told me the venue was a total gem to play at, which the boys had done last year while on tour in the country with Spanish boys Star Trip.
And a gem it sure was, a smaller King Tuts with a massive bar, DJ booth and semi circle shaped stage, with the walls full of cool gig artwork of previous bands who had visited – the biggest poster reserved for a certain Teenage Fanclub, we were in good company.
I’d been recommended a local band to support, Doctor Lobo, a band who sat at a distance musically from the Bibles with a soaring melodic and broody output (exemplified by tunes such as ‘Laura’) but nonetheless made for a great band and show, and the boys themselves seemed genuinely honoured to be able to open up in their hometown for a visiting British band. Guess it doesn’t happen that often.
Unlike back in Glasgow, Valencia crowds are tough to tap into, and if they don’t know you, they are less willing to take a punt on an overseas band, and more so midweek with folk working. Even with a local support to boot. But the boys soldiered through and showed their professionals in spades with another sterling performance to see our time in Spain out in the best and most fitting way possible (see photos below).
A show that was especially good in the eyes of the gathered local press and photographers in attendance as we found out to our advantage the next day. Credit also to Doctor Lobo who warmed up the crowd perfectly and served the Bibles up to really go at it with the same energy witnessed from day 1 over on the Spanish main.
And with a few more shirts sold, nice word exchanged and promises of bigger and better returns made with fans and fellow musicians alike the boys packed up their gear for the last time on the final day of the cross country adventure that was their first ever Spanish tour. One toasted too with a few beers in the iconic Romanesque surroundings of an outdoor terrace of a cafe on the Plaza de La Virgen in the old town, at midnight still in tshirts, overlooking the Cathedral of Santa Maria , the Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados and the imposing Turia fountain depicting Neptune and 8 naked women – an allegoric representation of Valencia’s Turia river and its 8 irrigation channels.
The next morning brought with it some time to have a wander around the old town, paying firstly a visit to the top of Torres de Serranos gate to get a sense of the city – interestingly the birthplace of Spain’s equivalent of ‘I’m on another planet’ (Estoy en la luna de Valencia) which derives from folk who were locked outside the city walls at night and had to sleep under the light of the moon as opposed to under their own roof.
From their we made it into the Mercat Central as planned, and were suitably dumbstruck by the sheer buzz and size of it. Somehow over 300 different commercial dealers squeeze into over 1200 stands under an iron roof that spans over 8000 square metres. It seemed everyone in the city was here for their messages, be it for fish, fruit, spices or meat. I couldn’t leave without picking up some traditional local tinned pimenton paprika to take back with me.
And with that the clock struck for us to get our backsides in gear for the drive up the coast to Barcelona, where the adventure all began and where our flight back to Prestwick marked the end of the tour. Not before a nostalgic drive by Benicassim, scene of plenty of unforgettable festival moments over the years in the sweltering summer heat of the campsite and festival arena, before being brought back down to earth with a bang with the extortionate tolls.
The whole tour felt all over as quickly as it started as we sat on the plane home digesting the places we’d visited, the people we’d meet, the food we’d consumed and the booze we had drank, moments which formed the backdrop to the shows the boys played and really, without a shadow of a doubt, rocked, just as I knew they would.
And i thought back to the moment I listened to Ghost Dance for the first time, and the first time I spoke to Tony on messenger and told him that Spain was there’s for the taking and the first time I heard them play the Bibles on Radio 3, Spain’s biggest and best radio station. And I wondered how I’d managed to put it all together and how it ran near perfect, and how proud I was of the boys for buying into it and just tearing it apart, with myself and them on the same wavelength in thinking that, such was the week and a bit we’d had, it was time to start thinking about the follow up trip.
Viva Tijuana Bibles
Viva Rock and Roll
Viva La Aventura