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Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of this weekend’s Santa Blues festival in Santa Cruz which, for me, is the highlight of a summer packed with music.

It’s not just the artists who make this festival so special, although I have seen some truly memorable performances at this gig – Robert Cray in 2008, The Deans in 2009 and Kenny Neal in 2010 – it’s the venue too. Standing beneath the flowering branches of the flamboyance trees at the foot of the clock tower of Iglesia de Concepción has to rank as one of the most atmospheric venues in the Blues calendar. Throw a sultry night into the mix and you’ve got the perfect Louisiana setting for artists to exploit.

Well, with midsummer’s Eve almost upon us and calima in full flow keeping the Tenerife thermostat stuck on ‘hot’, the stage is set for another great year of live Blues. The festival opens on Thursday 23rd with local boys Lightnin’ Blues kicking off proceedings and bringing a welcome local flavour to the event. They’ll be followed by the Andy J. Forest Band all the way from New Orleans.

The organizer’s haven’t done this charismatic little festival any favours by holding the opening night on Noche de San Juan when much of the local population will be decamping to their nearest sand for the biggest beach party of the year, so opening night is going to need all the help it can muster to ensure the continuation of this very special annual festival.

On Friday night Emerging Sound take to the stage followed by Red House Blues and Saturday rounds off with the Spanish Three Bones and Mississippi’s Zac Harmen.
Be there – or miss one of the best music events of the year. Your call.

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I like Latino music, I really do, but not at the expense of every other type of music in the Universe and unfortunately, here in the north of Tenerife Latino is aired, played and listened to as if no other order of notes has ever been invented.

Still, it was New Year’s Eve at the annual street party in Puerto de la Cruz and I resigned myself to another night of salsa, salsa and more salsa which certainly improves in direct relation to the quantity of alcohol consumed.

Midnight strikes, grapes are swallowed, fireworks explode into life and the champagne corks are popped – hello 2011.
Jack, Nicole, Sebastian and I wander back to Plaza Charco where the evening’s Latino band are in full swing and the dance floor is packed with salsa dancers. I do my best to shake up an explosion by attempting (badly I suspect) to emulate the moves while carrying a rucksack in which our chilled cava supply is stashed.

Shortly after 1am Nicole and Sebastian bid their farewells and Jack and I  finish off a bottle of cava and head over to the other side of the harbour to see what’s happening.

Lo and behold, what we find is the alternative New Year’s Eve – the one that has loud, throbbing rhythms and multi coloured strobe lights and joy upon joy, the unmistakeable chords of Insomnia!
With unrestrained delirium we launch ourselves into the middle of the pulsating dance floor and let the music wash over us in a tsunami of nostalgia.
I don’t think I have ever been more happy to hear Faithless, and the atmosphere alongside the harbour with the neon Big Wheel of the funfair slowly turning in the distance is nothing short of electric.
Now this is what I call party music.

We video’d snippets of the two sides to our NYE party so that anyone who has never experienced New Year’s Eve in Puerto de la Cruz can see what they’re missing and book now for 2011/2012. Oh, and in the interests of editing, I’ve culled the 5 minute firework display down to 1½ minutes.

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Walking the streets of Puerto de la Cruz around midnight last night, you’d have been forgiven for wondering if some giant, flesh-eating plants had invaded the town leaving the streets bereft of its citizens. But there’d be two vital pieces of information you’d be missing. Firstly, much of the population were nursing the hangover from hell after a full day of partying at the Fiestas Del Carmen on Tuesday and secondly, those who were still capable of dancing were all being held hostage at Plaza Europa by a diminutive African woman named Angélique Kidjo.

After the excesses of Tuesday, it took a Herculean feat of will to drag myself away from the prospect of a comfy sofa and a night in front of the box last night, but someone has to do it…
Bitching about the fact that there was no break between fiestas at this time of year and sounding like Victor Meldrew in knickers, I headed down to town at around 9pm for the opening night of the annual Jazz & Mas concerts.
Arriving in Plaza Europa, some hundred or so chairs were laid out theatre-style, most of them already occupied. The stage was set outside the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) building, lined by bright green kiosks enticing us to piensa en verde (think green) and beyond the stage large Heineken banners fluttered in the sea breeze like prayer flags calling the faithful to imbibe.

Yul Ballesteros

Jack and I positioned ourselves standing a metre or so behind the chairs, so that we could easily access side of stage for photos, and berated the use of staid seating for a concert as we watched a more mature crowd jostle for spare chairs.

First up was celebrated local(ish) lad, Yul Ballesteros, fresh from the New York modern Jazz scene. Born in Gran Canaria, this young man has been wowing New York with his guitar prowess and last night, it was easy to hear why. His improvised style may not be everyone’s first choice of easy listening but he certainly pleased the jazz aficionado audience last night. His set lasted for over an hour and had Jack and I doing a U-turn on our earlier diss’ of the seating arrangements as our backs, still exhausted from Tuesday, began to register painful indignation at this abuse.
Feeling slightly guilty, I didn’t join in with the random cries of Otra when Yul and his quartet left the stage.

Angélique Kidjo

Muttering to each other about only staying to watch a bit of the next performance, we watched a small African woman with close-cropped grey hair; flared loons split from the knee down and ankle boots, take to the stage. Unaccompanied, she split the night with a voice so powerful and sweet that it brought tears to the eyes. She sang her song in Swahili, keeping time with a soft rhythmic tapping on her thigh; this tiny figure on a huge stage which she filled with her presence. In an instant, she had captured the 500 strong audience and held them in her thrall.

She ended her song to tumultuous applause and immediately went into a fast tempo African number, a fusion of funk and soul to the beat of African drums, her body gyrating and stomping in a dance display of pure vitality and joy. That was it. The onlookers from the back surged forward to surround the seating area, dancing like they’d just discovered how good it was. Soon the ranks broke again and a tide of dancing bodies swept to front of stage as Angélique lifted every single individual up and sent their spirits soaring through the night.

The fact that she spoke entirely in English, most of which would have been lost on them, did nothing to diminish Angélique’s hold on her audience as she told us about how her father had introduced his children to the world by bringing them music from all the places he could never afford to send them to; Europe, America, India – musical influences that she now melted and fused with her native African beats to produce her high energy, compelling songs.

Our broken backs now forgotten, we watched, sang, danced and laughed as Angélique held us hostage late into the night. By the time we left, a good percentage of the audience were up on stage with this incredible woman, helping her to celebrate her fiftieth birthday by dancing to the drums of her childhood which echoed through the empty streets and followed us all the way back to the car.

If you ever get a chance to go and see Angélique Kidjo – do it.  It’s not just a concert, it’s a life-affirming experience.

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Aaron Thomas

It’s a well known fact that the nightlife centre of Tenerife is Playa de Las Américas…or is it?

Well, as far as many of the people who holiday on Tenerife year after year are concerned it certainly is. The area known locally as ‘The Patch’ is choc-a-bloc with live venues staging tribute bands, comedy acts, drag shows and karaoke. Now reduced to a small area but just as popular as ever with the young contingent, the area of Veronicas and Starcos is where a heady, hedonistic cocktail of top sounds, cheap drinks and exposed ‘white bits’ plays out nightly.
And for those with a more sophisticated entertainment palette, Costa Adeje provides chic venues such as El Faro Chill Art where your wallet might feel like it’s been mugged, but it’ll enjoy the experience.

Interestingly, what many of Tenerife’s millions of visitors rarely discover is that there’s another world of nightlife in the north of the island, one whose nightclubs are packed to the rafters every summer weekend with locals and holidaying mainlanders.

Kenny Neal

In the capital city of Santa Cruz and the charismatic harbour town of Puerto de la Cruz, the nightlife is only just beginning as many of the south coast holiday makers are wending their way back to their hotel beds. Discos pump out Latino, Reggaeton and Salsa intermingled with top UK and US dance, Indie and chart sounds until the first churros of the day emerge crisp and fragrant from the fryer at 6am, ready to be doused in sugar and dipped in hot chocolate by the tired clubbers on their way home to bed.

And as the days grow longer and the evenings grow warmer, both Puerto de la Cruz and Santa Cruz stage street festivals of top notch live music to modest audiences who enjoy the entertainment for free.
Last month alone audiences were treated to a European Music day in Puerto which included the extremely talented singer/songwriter from Tasmania via Madrid – Aaron Thomas. And in Santa Cruz the fabulous Annual Blues Festival of Santa Blues saw audiences enthralled by the likes of Larry McCray and Kenny Neal.

This month the extremely popular Heineken Jazz y Mas festival hosts concerts across venues in Santa Cruz and Puerto de la Cruz between the 8th and the 18th July and features ten concerts from traditional, through modern and improvised Jazz to a Billie Holiday tribute night and the amazing African singer Angélique Kidjo.

So, the nightlife centre of Tenerife is Playa de Las Américas…? Well, let’s just say it’s one of the places where you can enjoy good music this summer.

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Larry McCray

It’s got to be one of the coolest venues on Tenerife.
Standing beneath the crimson boughs of flamboyance trees at the foot of the tower of Iglesia de la Concepción in Santa Cruz while cool Blues fill the night air and rock the hips of the assembled audience.

Rojas Blues Band ft Esther Ovejero

Saturday was the culmination of three nights of sultry sounds, electrifying guitar riffs and soulful lyrics bringing the Deep South to the island’s north, and like every year the standard of musicians and their performances has been outstanding.
Beginning with the European day of music, weaving it’s Midsummer Way through the San Juan beach parties and culminating last night in the capital, Santa Blues 2010 tops a week in which excellent live music has featured heavily.

On Thursday night Barcelona band The Rojas Blues Band ft Esther Ovejero split the night air with their wailing guitar and funky bass lines backing Esther’s polished vocals.
Next up was the big man, Larry McCray from Michigan who gave us a set infused with echoes from the Delta Blues originals of BB King to the Allman Brothers, McCray’s easy style belying the excellence of his playing.

Tina Riobo Quintet

Friday was declared a much-needed R and R night in the Real Tenerife household and the Gospel Blues of Sandra Hall were sacrificed for a night in front of the telly.
Then on Saturday night we were back beneath the flamboyance trees to see the high energy Jazz/Blues output of The Tina Rioro Quartet hype the crowd up to dancing mode in readiness for the incredible swamp-blues talent of New Orleans’ Kenny Neal ‘family’. Featuring brothers Darnell and Frederick on bass and keyboards respectively; and nephew Tyree on second keyboards with a side order of a ripping two number hard-core blues mini-set on guitar and vocals, this family has talent like other families have arguments.

Kenny Neal

Together with the pulsating beat and dancing snares of  drummer par excellence Bryan Morris, the Neals produced a set that had the crowds rocking, whooping and sweating into the early hours, emulating Kenny’s prophetic lyrics of bop ‘til I drop.

With my back feeling like its transition from aching to broken was hanging in the balance and my ears still ringing with Kenny’s doleful slide guitar and haunting harmonica riffs, I lamented the fact that I had a whole 51 weeks to wait for Santa Blues to come round again.
Oh well, just the rest of the World Cup, the July Fiestas and, oh yeh, the whole summer to look forward to…I guess I’ll manage.

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It was always going to be a tight squeeze.
You know when summer’s arrived in Tenerife – there are more events, fiestas and concerts than you can possibly hope to attend. Then throw FIFA World Cup 2010 and a nephew who’s just found out his degree results into the mix and you’ve got a Saturday night you’d be hard pressed to squeeze a Barclaycard into.

But we get little enough opportunity to hear good live music and we weren’t going to miss out on the feast on offer when the European Day of Music came to town, particularly as it was all free.
So, in between watching Denmark put Cameroon out of the World Cup and a Skype call from The Graduate, we popped down to the harbour to see what was happening.

We arrived just in time for the final number by the funky, fan-wielding Fuel Fandango which gave me enough time to get a lightning bit of practice in on our new toy – a flip video camera.
No sooner had Nita folded up her fan when the stage was set and Aaron Thomas struck up his first number. A sort of Tasmanian Bob Dylan with overtones of early Loudon Wainwright III, a healthy shot of folk rock and a foot-stomping venture into rockabilly, Aaron Thomas proceeded to fill the night air with his amazing voice and compelling lyrics.

Accompanied by the sweet harmonies of Rebecca Lander and the funky double bass of 50s throw-back Javi Diez Ena, Aaron Thomas proved to be a real tonic for the ears and the eyes. I recommend that you check him out on his MySpace page and invest in a copy of ‘Dead Wood’.

And to prove just how good he was, I shot almost 6 minutes of video footage which I then spent most of yesterday uploading to YouTube and editing and annotating so that I could show it to you today. But when I looked at the finished product an hour ago, it was fit only for the ‘delete’ button.

Luckily, Jack’s professionalism didn’t let him down and he got some outstanding shots of the night.

So I’ll leave you with this more professional clip of the man himself and I’ll temper my music video production ambitions a little by practicing on the goats on Thursday.

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The largest British ex-pat population on Tenerife lives in and around the south of the island, predominantly around the Los Cristianos, Playa de Las Américas and Costa Adeje areas. So being involved in English language business, regular trips south are an occupational necessity.
Last Thursday was one of our ‘down south’ days when we leave our home in Puerto de la Cruz and spend the day in the south trying to fit all the things we have to do into one day.

Lunch consisted of a sandwich while sitting on a bench overlooking the beach in Los Cristianos in between getting photos of restaurants for a customer and a lengthy meeting of Tenerife Magazine in the afternoon.
Then it was more restaurant photos, a quickly bolted down pizza and up to El Faro Chill Art in Fañabe for a 7.30 pm launch of Tenerife’s new radio station, Pirate FM.

The stylish roof terrace of El Faro Chill Art

Climbing the stairs to the chic roof terrace of El Faro, complimentary champagne flute in hand, I looked around at the gathering. I had heard that the event was operating a black and white dress code to complement the pirate theme and so I had chosen to wear white pants and a black T shirt, but there any similarity to the way the assorted female guests looked ended.
Hair was perfectly in place, lips were painted, eyes were freshly and liberally made up, outfits were glamorous and heels were sexy and high.
I, on the other hand, had left home over 8 hours before, during which time my hair hadn’t seen a comb; any pretence of mascara had long since melted into submission; my T shirt had lost its freshly clinging appeal to be replaced by a sadly hanging one and I was wearing flip flops.

At one point Jack took a photo of me sandwiched on one side by the über-attractive Head of Sales and Marketing for Pirate FM – Clare Harper – and on the other by the freshly showered and changed, dapper-looking John Beckley. Even as the lens pointed towards us I could feel my body shrinking in anguish, a clear premonition of the contrast between Clare and I asserting itself firmly into my brain.

Spot the "Oh no! I'm not even wearing lipstick!" expression.

Sipping a first class red wine with Eric Clapton’s Some day After A While spilling its Blues magic over the stylish surroundings of the roof terrace, I gazed out over the lights of Puerto Colón and Fañabe and then back at the perfumed, glamorous gathering. I remembered vividly how I used to look when I attended similar functions in Britain. My job dictated that I regularly attended gala dinners and glamorous functions and I always looked fabulous; full make up, perfect hair, high heels and sexy clothes. I thought about what vast sums of money I would now be earning had I stayed in Britain and what beautiful outfit I’d be wearing and how I’d look, and for a little while, I wondered if I regretted giving all of that up.

But then I realised that it wasn’t really the lifestyle I missed, it was my youth, and no matter how much make-up I wore or if I traded my flip flops for some killer heels, my youth would still be behind me.
But how much better for it to have been lost in our house beside the banana plantation, in a culture where ageism doesn’t exist and an occupation where I’m judged not by my looks, but by my words.

On the other hand, I wish I’d put some lipstick on…

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Wandering down to the harbour at Puerto de la Cruz any Saturday night during the summer you’re likely to hear the strains of music drifting across the fishing boats. Whether it’s cool jazz vibes from the Heineken Jazz Festival, Indie Rock and Punk from the FMAC festival or, more often than not, common or garden weekend Latino. But this Saturday night as we strolled through the warm and still night air, it was the pulsating rhythms of Brazil that greeted our ears.

Batucada

The infectious enthusiasm of the batucada was causing mass, involuntary foot tapping as the white-robed, red masked drummers swept everyone along in their tribal tide.
This particular batucada group play most of the carnivals and festivals in the north. They’re led by a handsome, dreadlocked guy who conducts his group of happy, smiley drummers using a whistle and a seductive smile which is so contagious that everyone seems to have caught it, whether they’re carrying a drum or not.

As the raw, primitive barrage of the drums fade, Brazilian DJ PuReZa takes to the stage and the rhythms slip into a silky Samba smoking jacket that wraps itself around everyone’s hips so we’re all swaying in time.

Then the crowds push forward as the capoeira boys (and girl) arrive. One by one they take to front of stage to perform their amazing blend of gymnastics and martial arts, bodies twisting and legs wind-milling as they somersault, back flip and handstand, spurred on by the rhythmic beat and the hand claps and whistles of the crowd. Then they begin their displays of dance fighting, legs kicking and swinging at each other, always a hair’s breadth from touching.

Capoeira - an amazing blend of gymnastics, martial arts & dance

It’s a breathtaking display that leaves me feeling so old and un-supple that I have to go and have a sit down. In Plaza Charco the Samba beat is joined by cheering from the hordes watching Real Madrid sink 5 goals against Athletic Bilbao; the entertainment is all fast and furious tonight.

Suitable rested and refreshed, it’s back to Sao Paulo aka the harbour where DJ Tahira has taken to the stage and the crowds have begun to morph from Neo-hippies to Puerto’s Saturday night-ers.

It’s been a great prelude to summer when the town changes personality and dances to the beat of a more Spanish/South American drum – ash clouds, world economic crises and World Cup mania permitting.

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We’re sitting on the terrace of the Hotel Madrid in Gran Canaria’s amazing old quarter of Vegueta waiting to interview the founder member and lead guitarist of rising stars of the Spanish Indie rock scene, The Good Company; Víctor Ordóñez.
“Do you think this could be him?” asks Jack.
I turn around and see a slim thirty-something guy with a close cropped beard and designer shades strolling across the plaza, hands plunged deep into pockets. He’s practically got ‘Rock Star’ tattooed on his forehead.
“Hi! Great to meet you!” says Víctor in a near perfect English accent, raising his shades and embracing me warmly.

Enjoying a beer outside The Hotel Madrid

We’ve come to Gran Canaria for the day to interview Víctor and to explore the pulsating rhythm of Las Palmas, the city he was born and grew up in. Pounding the pavements of this bustling, lively capital, we discover a unique amalgamation of the old, the urban, the cool and the chic; it’s a city that blends tradition with innovation and fittingly, that’s exactly what The Good Company do with their music.
“The Good Company are half UK and half US influenced,” says Víctor. “The Beatles and those classic sixties sounds and conceptually Pink Floyd. But also Hip Hop and particularly a Canadian Indie rock band called Arcade Fire, one of David Bowie’s favourite bands.”

I can see what he means. Listening to The Good Company’s first album ’28’, I’ve been playing ‘spot the influences’; overtones of U2 on A City Shines; echoes of Kaiser Chiefs in Busy Town; the Pink Floyd strains of Víctor’s guitar and Radiohead vocals of Sergio Pueyo in the haunting Endless, which ironically, I’ve found myself playing endlessly. But no individual sound emerges as the blueprint; all those flavours have been absorbed and fused into something fresh and original.

In the heat of the late afternoon we move from the Hotel Madrid to the charismatic bar El Cuasquías where it feels like I should be carrying a guitar, or at very least someone’s amp before I can get in. Perched at the bar we order cold Tropical beers and Víctor tells us about the bands that play here and hints at some of the stories the walls could tell, no doubt set to their own Grammy Award winning soundtrack.

Victor looking cool in Vegueta

We’re listening to the coolest sounds I’ve heard outside of my own living room since we moved to Tenerife 6 years ago; Indie rock, Jazz, R&B, Soul and Blues weave their rhythms around us making it increasingly difficult to consider the possibility of missing the last flight back to Tenerife as anything other than a minor inconvenience.

Along with Víctor, fellow Gran Canarians Sergio Miró (drums) and Marco Valero (bass); and Barcelona born Sergio Pueyo (vocals) make up The Good Company.  With reviews in the music press and on La Sexta TV consistently hailing them as a band to watch, these guys are rapidly making a name for themselves on the Spanish Indie Rock scene.
They’re playing Dublin and Bristol right about now and they’ll be at The Forum in Barcelona on the 28th May 2010.
Check them out on MySpace and Facebook.

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As usual, time was way ahead of schedule leaving us breathless in its wake.
Trying to herd visitors through the streets of Puerto de la Cruz on a Saturday night when there’s so much to see, was proving a difficult task. We’d been told that if we didn’t get to the Majestic before about 9.15pm we’d be hard pressed to get a seat and now a puppet show outside the church was threatening to keep us late.

We finally climbed down the steps into The Majestic at 9.35pm and made a bee line for an empty table slightly behind the mixing desk.
First thoughts on perusing the room were that we’d wandered into a Saga outing. Most of the tables were occupied by a mix of British ex-Pats and holidaymakers, most if not all of retirement age and beyond. I was beginning to wander if this might have been a mistake but I couldn’t see bingo cards anywhere and anyway, we’d already given our order to the ‘personality’ waiter who was mincing about the place like Alan Cumming on speed.

Nicely set up with our drinks in our comfy seats and an only slightly impaired view of the stage for me, the evening began with a short quiz to identify world airline logos and then it was time for the house lights to go down and the footlights to come on.
For the first half of the show Bitter and Twisted (John Sharples and Barry Pugh) took us on a simulated flight around the comedy world of airline attendants which included free peanuts for all (none of that no-frills nonsense on Majestic Airlines), several stunning costume changes and multi-lingual, word-perfect miming.

After the interval the regular Bitter and Twisted Show got into its routine with a level of professionalism and hilarity that has us all howling with laughter and wiping the tears from our eyes. Particularly memorable were the Miss America and Amy Winehouse sketches but the icing on the cake was the uproarious rendition of It Should Have Been Me which is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

In between shows there was banter with the audience, a raffle and a live rehearsal by John of a new song entitled Saturday Cowboys, a beautiful reminisce about a boy’s obsession with the movies before the age of video and the Internet. I was very tempted to go back the following night to see its inclusion in the show.

There’s no charge to get into the Majestic; drinks are amazingly good value; the atmosphere is friendly and fun, and Bitter & Twisted are quite simply fabulous.
We couldn’t believe it when we looked at the time and it was 1.30am. The entire evening had passed in a whirl of laughter, false eyelashes, sequins and wondering if the waiter would make it through the night without a visit to the Coronary Unit.
I can’t recommend it highly enough. Go!

The Majestic is on Calle Cardogan (off Calle Valoise) in Puerto de la Cruz and the Bitter and Twisted Show is on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights from 8pm.

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