Sunday, 1 June 2008

Having a bash in Barcelona

Barcelona is a handsome city and remembering the 24 exciting hours we spent there just over a year ago, Theo and I both felt a thrill as we arrived on Wednesday evening. But we didn't have the luxury of indulging our nostalgia, we needed to find somewhere to safely park Sheena and find the Apolo 2 venue in time to catch our friend Sam "SJ Esau" Wisternoff in action for his Primavera Sound warm-up gig. It was great to see his familiar face and hear the songs we've come to love. It was also good to see some other people from home in the crowd - Steve "Rabid Pounder", Chris-formerly-from-the-Thekla and Ian, Sam-and-Joe's-flatmate.

After Sam's set, Theo and I had a meal at a nearby Indian restaurant (intriguing to compare the Spanish menu it offered with the standard fare at home. Lots more paneer dishes especially, which pleased me - and the waiter spoke an impressive six languages, it put us to shame) then joined the others at the irresistibly named Bar Cuntis. The Apolo 2 venue was pretty decent in many ways, but beer cost an eye-watering four euros for a quarter litre and none of us approved of that.

Around midnight, Theo and I left and parked Sheena in a backstreet near the Barcelona dockyard. It was about the least glamorous place we've camped in yet, but at least it was free.

Next day, we decided to find the Primavera Festival site then suss out a place to sleep that wasn't too far away. Bearing in mind that Barcelona doesn't have any campsites as such, we'd booked ourselves into a hostel on the other side of town for the Friday and Saturday nights, reasoning that we should be able to find somewhere to park Sheena if it wasn't too central. We'd gone for one of the cheapest, no-frills options we could find, but it was still going to set us back by almost double the tariffs we were getting used to - a maximum of about 25 euros a night.

We picked up signs for motorhome parking and followed them out of interest. The 24-hour secure parking area we discovered was not only right next door to the Primavera site (we could hear Portishead soundchecking soon after our arrival), but had water, loos, showers, electricity hook-ups and free wifi - and it cost 18 euros a day before tax. We couldn't believe our luck and promptly cancelled our hostel booking - even if we lost our deposit, we would still save money and have all our stuff within a five minute walk of the music.

The festival itself began to disappoint us almost the moment we arrived. Despite the programme saying it was okay to bring your own water onto the site we had to first decant our litre or so of water into small bottles minus lids at the first checkpoint then discard it altogether at the second, despite arguments in pidgeon Spanish with the security and police. Other people were having to bin food they'd brought with them - we smuggled our bocadillos through the press entrance, where they didn't check your bags.

The next jaw-dropping example of control (to us, anyway) was the insistence that you first had to buy one-euro tickets before you could purchase anything from the site bars. The sponsors were the beer company, Estrella Damm, Jagermeister and Coca-cola. Funny, that.

Our moods improved a bit when we realised the VIP area - which our press wristbands allowed us to enter - had a free bar. But only a bit. We felt the ordinary punters were getting a raw deal. And besides, we could only take advantage of our free drinks inside the VIP area - the organisers weren't going to risk us taking any booze for our mates on the outside.

The site itself overlooked the sea and one of the city's marinas - very impressive. And there was no denying how well the six stages were laid out and the generally high quality of the sound. Most of the catering outlets were also offering decent, freshly made food. And overall, the festival felt very well organised and our muso friends told us they were royally looked after.

But we couldn't quite get away from the slightly forbidding concrete nature of the site, the lack of colour and the overwhelmingly corporate feel of the whole thing. There was some superb artists in the line-up, though and proper music fans had their expectations well and truly fulfilled by what was on offer. In fact, it was the very antithesis of the Rocket Festival and everything it stood for - but it soon became clear where Theo's and my preference lay.

Having said that, Primavera had a lively and cheerful atmosphere with a genuine mixture of nationalities among the attendees (although very white). We heard loads of British, Irish and North American accents, as well as the numerous Spaniards and there was also a decent turn-out from across the French border. We didn't make any new friends like we did at Rocket, but we did bump into various acquaintances including Eleanor from the Cedar, Katie who used to book for the Thekla and David Thomas Broughton, who was playing one of the fringe gigs.

Over the three main days we saw:
Edan (looked like good stuff, what we saw of the gig); Public Enemy (very enjoyable, big nostalgia trip for Kate); Portishead (competent, solid show, Theo in particular enjoyed it); Caribou (excellent, we both thought they were great); De La Soul (fun for a few songs, quickly got too samey); Prinzhorn Dance School (pretty awful); Vampire Weekend (couldn't really see what all the fuss is about); Holly Golightly (entertaining in a warm, low-key sort of way); the Bob Mould Band (awesome! more nostalgia for Kate, Theo was also reasonably knocked out); Sebadoh (not bad, but didn't massively engage us); Why? (excellent, very compelling band); Devo (great fun, top stuff); Cat Power (bewitching voice, was on good form, but we only stayed for the first few songs); Fuck Buttons (A Big Noise...we got thoroughly caught up by it); Scout Niblett (both unimpressed, Kate deeply so); The Silver Jews (okay rootsy rock, but failed to hold our attention for long); Buffalo Tom (dullsville); Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks (some quirky alt-pop, quite enjoyable); Dinosaur Jnr (great band, our experience slightly marred by an overreaction by security staff to a crowd-surfer and our unfortunate proximity to the mosh pit) and Les Savvy Fav (the front man had more costume changes than Kylie and kept launching himself into the crowd. Who cares what the music was like, it was a hugely entertaining show).

All in all, an excellent pop/rock festival. For us, not a patch on Rocket, Shambala, WOMAD and Glastonbury...we've come to look for the whole festival package with all its mad characters and random weirdness. Primavera Sound was too straight - but you couldn't really argue with the music.

We took a stroll around Parc Guell this afternoon, before picking up Sam so we could deposit him at Girona airport on our way north towards the French border. In the end, we stopped short and are now staying at a campsite on the Golf de Roses. It's extremely well-ordered and has some of the best toilet and shower facilities we've yet seen. The grass is neatly cut, there isn't a scrap of litter, recycling bins are scrupulously provided and there's a list of politely laid out rules and conditions as long as your arm.

Not surprisingly, it is run by Netherlanders. They are very courteous and speak excellent English. I haven't tried out the laundry room, but I bet all the washing machines work perfectly.

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