An earlier column wrote of Andalucia in Southern Spain. It is an evocative name in many ways, of Moorish architecture and olive groves and white villages or of Lorca and the Spanish Civil War. Think of some other areas not so far away, however – the ‘Costas’. Costa Brava, Costa Blanca, Costa del Sol, Costa Dorada. At face value they are simply descriptive terms: the Wild Coast, the White Coast, the Coast of the Sun, the Golden Coast. To British ears, at least, however, they have become over the last 40 years as shorthand for a particular type of holiday, involving sun and getting sunburned on crowded beaches, sangria, cheap hotels, union jack shorts, British bars and cafes serving chips galore and British food. The ‘Costa’ notion extends further than the Spanish coast actually, to Ibiza and Tenerife, for example –and even to bungalows overlooking Torbay with twee ‘Costa Packet’ signs on their gate.
The best known pop song about the ‘Costas’, Y Viva Espana by Sylvia - gracing karaoke machines for evermore - is a fitting accompaniment for the stereotype of the British holidaymaker in Spain: “I’m off to sunny Spain….I’m taking the Costa Brava plane”. It was a hit in 1974 at a time when cheap flights and mass tourism to Spain were well underway, enabling the song to be sung by plane passengers en route to Alicante . A time too when Franco, the fascist dictator of the 1930’s, was still in power and Jack Jones, the British trade union leader and veteran of the International Brigades, urged British tourists to ignore the song and boycott Spain.
There are other songs in the same vein. There was the 1980 hit by Fantastique, Costa Blanca: “La, la, la, lalala lalala, Enjoy the sun, you forget your sorrow, La, la, la, lalala lalala, hear me say, hear me say, hear me sayayay, La, la, la, lalala lalala”. And there was a 1976 track, Costa Brava, by Peggy March. Her name is best known for the 1963 million seller, I Will Follow Him (itself a remake of Petula Clark’s Chariot) but here she is doing an oompah song in German! Now this is what I call a Costa song. It sounds not dissimilar to Chas 'n Dave’s Margate, which also has a reference to the Costa Brava- “You can keep the Costa Brava and all that palaver”. Maybe oompah rhythms make everything sound similar though.
However, considering the popularity of the Spanish Costas for the British there are surprisingly few pop songs about them. Perhaps the Costa Brava et al seem too ordinary and parochial for the reasons given above. The Kinks might have managed a non-mocking song about a holiday there and the Chas 'n Dave song above sees even the Costa Brava as too posh to entertain as a holiday jaunt. However, pop stars on the whole migrated like Tony Blair, as moths to a flame, to the rich and glamorous: it was to the Cote d’Azur that the Stones decamped during their tax exile . Mediterranean resorts meant, not the Costas but the sorts of resorts artfully scattered in the Peter Sarstedt hit, Where Do You Go To My Lovely, with its references to Juan-les-Pines and to the Aga Khan. (Like the film actor Kenneth More, Sarstedt signifies laughter in this song by actually saying ‘Ha Ha Ha.’ I also have a theory that some of his popularity at the time, 1969, came from looking rather like Tariq Ali, the political activist then on the front page of newspapers leading anti-Vietnam War marches: it gave Sarstedt a bit of street credibility. It went wrong when both parties got confused themselves: Tariq Ali astounded a committee meeting of the International Marxist Group by a burst of Frozen Orange Juice and Peter Sarstedt perplexed audiences by encoring with The Internationale)
Instead of writing songs about the place, however, pop acts were more likely to retire there when the hits stopped. Over the years you could find , for example, Mike Smith - voice of the Dave Clark 5 - living in southern Spain or Beaky (of Dave Dee, Dozy etc) running a bar in Marbella or Roy Crewdson (of Freddie and the Dreamers) running a bar in Los Cristianos. You can also find those who impersonate the names of yesteryear – outfits called The Drifters or Four Tops abound in the bars and clubs. A few years ago there was an act in one of the Tenerife resorts pretending to be Crispian St Peters ( 2 UK hits in 1966): there seems a certain lack of ambition here when the person in question was deciding who to impersonate.
The song here from 2007, however, La Costa Brava by American indie outfit Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, gives a whole new perspective and suggests that the ‘Costa Brava’ described above is a specifically British notion. Maybe the USA and other European countries- except Germany - hear the words ‘Costa Brava’ as something different, perhaps as the glamorous stretch of coast of Salvador Dali and Ava Gardner still. It sounds an inviting and interesting place here, a place to find yourself and rejuvenate: “And down by the beach there's a small cafe, where we'll meet Lolo and Pablo and drink Moritz all day. So come on over to St Feliu 'cause it's somewhere I've been and I want to take you there.”
It doesn’t take too long, of course, to get away from the neon lights and English breakfasts, for you can hire a car or take a bus or even just walk a few streets and travel to what seems another place and time. Or you can decide that the Costa Brava you see is a state of mind and find the right eyes to view it