Andalucia/Spanish Bombs

‘This year I’m off to Sunny Spain, Y viva Espana’. So sang the Swedish singer Sylvia in 1974 in a piece of Euro pop that provided the musical backdrop for British holidaymakers heading for the Costa Brava for years to come. Sea, sun and sangria,  British breakfasts and pubs -so became the picture of Spain for many summer visitors, with irritating singalongs like The Ketchup Song becoming an annual holiday fixture.

This is, of course, a partial and highly distorted view of a country also known for the flamenco, the classical guitar and an Islamic legacy in its past history, no more so than in Andalucia ,the large area to the south and home to Picasso, Segovia and Federico Lorca, whose poems were of the landscapes of Andalucia as well as the Vienna of With This Waltz. One summer I stayed with my family on an olive farm in travelling distance of Seville and amongst the same sort of countryside described in Chris Stewart’s book, Driving Over Lemons (trivia note-Chris Stewart was the original drummer with Genesis, before Phil Collins). The scenery was medieval in many ways, often stark under brilliant light with olive or orange groves, whitewashed walls and the sound of church bells from a distant village. Once, on a walk in the hills nearby, with rabbits all around , a group of wild horses appeared a few yards away as though from a fairy tale landscape.

The feel of the place, with the mix of Moorish and Christian influence and the patterned landscape, is captured in the first song here, Andalucia by John Cale, from his 1973 album Paris 1919 and later covered by Yo La Tengo. John Cale has had an idiosyncratic musical career -founder member of the Velvet Underground, work with artists from Nick Drake to the Happy Mondays, rock music, electronic music, instrumental ballet music, cutting the heads off dead chickens on stage. This lilting ballad, however, with Cale’s Welsh accent coming through, is reminiscent of Scott Walker’s Copenhagen in that the overall sound is more important than the lyrics, which-as with much of Cale’s work-are pretty impenetrable: though he does manage to rhyme Andalucia with ’see ya’. It is largely a love song with a few broad descriptive strokes – 'castles and Christians' - as background and with gentle guitar-led musical accompaniment by Lowell George and some of Little Feat.

However, it is difficult to visit Andalucia, as with much of Spain, without being aware of a more recent history than the echoes of the distant past hinted at in this song. The Spanish Civil War is still a reality with mass graves being found, and you can still see anti-aircraft shelters and bullet holes in buildings. It had huge significance inside and outside Spain. It was when Lorca was shot by Falange militia, Picasso painted Guernica and George Orwell and Laurie Lee fought with the Republicans and wrote their accounts in Homage to Catalonia and As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. It also provided the inspiration for a number of songs, including Phil Ochs’ Spanish Civil War Song and the Manic Street Preachers’ Number 1 hit of 1998, If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next (which holds some sort of status as the longest number one song title (without brackets))

So the second song here is one of these and gives another side of Andalucia, with Spanish Bombs by The Clash, off their 1979 London Calling album. In 3 minutes or so, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones give a potted history of the Spanish Civil War as the song’s narrator flies into Spain for a modern day holiday, with an ETA (Basque separatist) bombing campaign going on, and sees echoes of the Civil War all around. Lorca, the trenches full of poets, the Anarchist flags, the International Brigade, all get a fleeting reference - a striking illustration of the past and present merging. (In an admittedly tenuous link with a previous column, I once met on Waterloo Station the Scottish anarchist Stuart Christie, who had been imprisoned and nearly executed under Franco’s regime).

The Andalucia in these songs and described by Lorca – ‘Green, how I want you green/Green wind. Green branches/.The ship out on the sea/and the horse on the mountain’ – is a short drive from Malaga and the Costa del Sol but could be a different country .Still ‘ Y Viva Espana’ of course.


  1. Hi Geoff, I think I remember meeting you but I'm not sure, you'd have to jog my memory about when it was.

    Let me know if you haven't got my book from a couple of years ago (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Granny-Made-Me-Anarchist-General/dp/1904859658/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1284264017&sr=8-1) and I will ask the publisher to send you a complimentary copy.

    Cheers and good blog!

  2. Wow Geoff - a treat: two songs and two ways to think about this place! Thank you as always for your incisive, eloquent brilliant writing and generous teaching, which I so much appreciate.

  3. Geoff - what a great book that is, Driving Over Lemons! It's wonderful to me that you've read it. As you liked that, you might enjoy Sacred Sierra: A Year on a Spanish Mountain by Jason Webster.

    Thanks for an exquisite column - incorporating the Spanish Civil War and literature and several artists - amazing!

  4. I'm fascinated by John Cale. His lyrics adapt, often brilliantly, the spirit of Dada-Surrealist poetry into the pop idiom. The contrast between the somewhat destructive playfulness of Dada and the Romantic thrust of the music sets up tensions that are never resolved, nor are they meant to be. I love how in "Andalucia," impressions of a woman, a place and history are woven inextricably together.

    Thanks for this posting, Geoff!

  5. Thanks for this Geoff. Strangely enough, I was aware of John Cale’s presence in The Velvet Underground largely because of his viola playing. Not exactly anyone’s choice of classic rock’n'roll ‘axe’, but it’s always been an instrument I’ve liked. I also knew he was Welsh. And that was about it. Once the original Velvets split up, I knew that Cale had made a couple of left-field albums for Columbia; one with trance/ambient pioneer, Terry Riley. Then, out of nowhere, came ‘Paris 1919′. It is one of those early 70′s albums – like ‘Surf’s Up’, Stackridge’s ‘Friendliness’ or the first Culpeper’s Orchard album – that were almost a soundtrack for my life at that time. I can’t remember how I first heard it or who introduced me to it, but I remember clearly being delighted and amazed by the craft of Cale’s songwriting and the care with which the songs had been arranged. It seemed almost an album divorced from any one genre, whilst partaking of most; there were bits of everything in there. With hindsight, it seems an even more remarkable achievement, given that Cale used two players – Lowell George and Richie Hayward – from the archetypal blues/funk band Little Feat and jazz-funk bassist Wilton Felder from The Crusaders as his companions for this voyage of discovery. It perhaps says a lot that the only track on the album where Lowell sounds like Lowell (so to speak) is ‘Macbeth’, which along with the cod-reggae ‘Graham Greene’, is one of the album’s more disappointing tracks. The rest (not that there’s a lot of it; the album clocks in at about 31 minutes) is pretty much pure gold – and amazingly pastoral in tone, given Cale’s origins in the Velvets.

  6. ‘Paris 1919' was rereleased earlier this year in expanded format, with a second disc added. It has outtakes and alternate takes, including some demos with just Cale on acoustic guitar and versions of the title track without strings and with just strings. It's very good.

  7. I think it came out in 2006, Alan - and I agree it's a great re-release (and the original is one of my top 10 albums of all time).

  8. my parents named me maya lucia because they liked this song so much and said my name would rhyme with andalucia!

  9. i know it’s blasphemy, but i prefer some of John’s solo work to a lot of VU’s work…

  10. How many punk bands wrote a song about the Spanish Civil War? Just another reason why I will always love The Clash.

  11. Such great choices for your Spain column, Geoff! Here were a few I had guessed you might do (which I guess also function as suggestions in case you write about Spain again!):
    Spanish Caravan, The Doors
    St. Agnes and the Burning Train, Sting
    Looking for Paradise, Alejandro Sanz and Alicia Keys
    Teatro, Willie Nelson

  12. Geoff, I thought you might be interested in my synesthesia art:


    I did this as a commission for a friend of mine who used to run my favorite house venue, The Coop. This piece is done on a 3 by 2 foot piece of recycled wood in acrylic and spray paint. The request was for the Clash's entire self-titled album, but specifically the song "Spanish Bombs". I ended up focusing on guitar and vocals mainly, as most precussion registers in the browns, tans, grays, and dark oranges and don't really fit in well with other colors. A lot of the guitar parts are meduim-range (at least for most of their songs) and come off as a bright orange-red with jagged edges, while lower notes on electric guitar and bass are what I call 'stright-up' blue. Even lower notes are dark, dark red and highest notes are pings and streaks of lime green and yellow. On "Spanish Bombs," the lead singer's voice is a comfortable shade of light grayish blue. It doesn't fan out too much and seems to stay in a pretty compact space in my head (usually slightly off to the left, with the guitar taking up the most of the center and the bass catching the edges). Seeing color in a three-dimensional space around my head made painting such a large canvas challenging but fun. And I was totally covered in paint by the end of the days that I worked on it. In all, this took about 9 or 10 hours of work and I'm quite satisfied with the result.

    Thanks for the column.

  13. It's interesting how the Clash song also mentions the Troubles in Northern Ireland - as though they're trying to draw a parallel to the Spanish Civil War somehow.........

  14. Thanks for the suggestions-I must read Sacred Sierra, I hadnt heard of it. I know what you mean about blasphemy and the VU, Desiree. I dont know if you know the series of cartoons by HM Bateman, 'The Man who...' ( a series of scenes of someone causing moral outrage as in this one of The Man who Lit Up at the Billiard table
    I once caused something similar by saying I liked the Kinks more than the VU.
    The piece of synthesis art is amazing, Sarah.

  15. I didn't know of the HM Bateman series at all, but I love the idea and the one you sent, and just now I found this whole gallery of them, in case anyone is interested: http://www.hmbateman.com/gallery.htm

    I like the Kinks more too, more than the VU, although my introduction to the Kinks is very recent (through your first column on Waterloo Sunset)!

  16. Thanks Geoff! Let me know if you ever need a commission, like for a book cover or something!

  17. Great column Geoff - so many references (especially the literary ones about the Spanish Civil War, like George Orwell) that I didn't know about.

    You probably know it, but the song Jarama Valley by Woody Guthrie (recorded later by Pete Seeger I think) is a great song of the Spanish Civil War.

    Then in 2006, Seeger released a great album called "Songs of The Spanish Civil War: Vol 1".

    Finally, there is Viva la Quince Brigada by Christy Moore, too - definitely worth a listen.

  18. Geoff, I thought you might enjoy this poem by African American poet Langston Hughes (a socialist) about the Spanish Civil War. It's from 1937, titled "Moonlight in Valencia."

    Moonlight in Valencia:
    The moon meant planes.
    The planes meant death.
    And not heroic death.
    Like death on a poster:
    An officer in a pretty uniform
    Or a nurse in a clean white dress---
    But death with steel in your brain,
    Powder burns on your face,
    Blood spilling from your entrails,
    And you didn't laugh
    Because there was no laughter in it.
    You didn't cry PROPAGANDA either.
    The propaganda was too much
    For everybody concerned.
    It hurt you to your guts.
    It was real
    As anything you ever saw
    In the movies:
    Me caigo en la ostia!
    Bombers over

  19. I like that Langston Hughes poem, but prefer his "Postcard from Spain," published in the magazine Volunteer for Liberty in 1938. It sums up exactly why the Spanish Civil War meant something to black Americans.

    Dear Folks at home:
    I went out this mornin'
    Old shells was a-fallin'
    Whistlin' and a-fallin'
    When I went out this mornin'.
    I'm way over here
    A long ways from home,
    Over here in Spanish country
    But I don't feel alone.
    Folks over here don't treat me
    Like white folks used to do.
    When I was home they treated me
    Just like they treatin' you.
    I don't think things'll ever
    Be like that again:
    I done met up with folks
    Who'll fight for me now
    Like I'm fightin' now for Spain.

  20. I don’t know whether you have ever heard this song, most people haven’t and it has taken me ages to find it on the net. Tom Robinson, he of “2-4-6-8 Motorway” fame wrote a little known song using a combination of evocative imagery and Spanish guitar. Have a listen and see what you think.

  21. I was thinking about how each of your postings has a new theme or genre, as well as a new city or country (places that are unreachable, places that symbolise change or changelessness, liminal places, mythologised places). Maybe another kind of song is about places that are better than other places. I was listening to The New Pornographers, "Myriad Harbor", which lists the reasons why New York City is better than their hometown of Vancouver. It made me wonder if this is a pattern in music, even a small one.

  22. Maybe you enjoy my guitar playing, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eulr53DwYsI, here a Spanish folk song. I enjoy column.
    Tae Hwan Kim, South Korea

  23. Don't forget Madonna's 'brilliant' song La Isla Bonita:)

  24. Thanks for the poems and Myriad Harbor song, which I havent heard. Also the Christy Moore reference, Laura.
    Have just listened to the Tom Robinson song, which I had never heard-seems to come from a 1987 album. He came out with these little gems sometimes, Thanks Trish

  25. English breakfast, pubs and so became a figure in Spain since the summer tourism with irritation singalongs like Ketchup Song coming to annual leave at the booth.