Arriving in Barcelona early on Thursday evening (3 May 2012) I was whisked from the airport to Hotel Jazz in the city centre by Ana Pareja and Claudia Cucchiarato from my Spanish publisher Alpha Decay. Having dropped my bag, I was taken on a quick walking tour of the city before we arrived at Bar Ramón where we watered for the rest of the evening. The first thing Ana did was order drinks and tapas, after which we were able to relax and enjoy the groovy sounds…it was blues to start with but switched to sixties soul. The food was incredibly good and I ate more of it than anyone else! When we arrived around eight the bar was empty but it quickly filled with regulars and people connected to the Primera Persona spoken word festival in which I was participating.
I was introduced to a slew of hipsters including Jonathan Ames who was performing at Primera Persona the night after me. We talked about writing and writers, and although Ames is from New York he only knew of – rather than knew – most of my close east coast novelist friends like Lynne Tillman and Darius James…. Primera Persona organiser Kiko Amat and Miqui Otero somehow found time to talk to everyone, including me. With Kiko I got into a passionate discussion about smoking seventies bands who’ve been left out of the rock canon such as The Dictators and The Gorillas. I also caught up with a couple of journalists who’d interviewed me for the Spanish press – Laura Sangrà and Jaime Casas. Ironically the barman who was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words ‘Cannabis Street’ still looked completely straight by the end of the night….
After Bar Ramón most of the crew went on to some other late-night drinking place, whereas I went back to the hotel and was in bed by 2.30pm. The next day I got up in time for breakfast and without even a whiff of a hangover. Spain isn’t really a breakfast country and I’m always shocked by the number of cakes on the buffet in Spanish hotels. I stuck to muesli and even that was way too sweet (I prefer it without sugar added to the mix). I risked the coffee but it proved to be beyond bad and I didn’t even manage to drink half a cup of the horrible shit. It isn’t hard to get good coffee in Spain, just don’t expect it to be good if it comes in a jug… I think they make the bad coffee mostly to please American tourists – who for reasons that beat me seem to like the beverage extra weak!
At noon Claudia from Alpha Decay came to meet me and shortly afterwards Paul Geddis from Vice Magazine arrived to do an interview. I took them both up to the swimming pool and sun bathing area on the roof of Hotel Jazz, and we had these facilities to ourselves as I answered the questions Paul put to me. We rapped about all sorts of shit including my books and political activism in Spain – but as this wasn’t an interview for a Spanish language publication we didn’t talk about Memphis Underground, my most recent book in that territory.
After Paul left, Ana from Alpha Decay arrived and we had a car to take us to a radio station. We had to produce ID, be signed in and pass through a scanner – making it feel like going into the BBC in London. There was a link up to the main studio in Madrid and I talked mostly about Memphis Underground with some very nice tunes played either in the background or inbetween the talk – including the Herbie Mann instrumental I’d used for the title for this book. The final question I was asked is apparently put to all guests on the show: “What’s your cloud?” This seems to be based on a Spanish phrase about daydreaming and I suggested my cloud was a purple bubble floating across the universe as if I was on an acid trip….
From the radio station we went on to the CCCB where I was performing that night so that I could do a soundcheck. The theatre had just been build and the equipment was top-notch – not since I’d participated in an event at The Barbican Theatre in London a year earlier had I had such a perfect environment in which to strut my funky stuff. I did my headstand reading and got applause from the technicians and administrators in the theatre despite the fact it was only a run through. One of the things I really appreciated on this trip to Barcelona was just how well the hospitality was handled. I never get treated as well in London! And so naturally enough my soundcheck was followed by a very late lunch with Ana and Claudia at the CCCB. Then I had an hour-and-a-half of free time before I had a photo session booked, so I went and chilled at the hotel. Returning to the CCCB I found Miqui, Kiko and their friends drinking beers, so I joined them. We had a bit of a crack before Claudia and Ana turned up.
The photographer was running late so we went into the theatre to get on with the event. First up was the young English novelist Ben Brooks who read while getting members of the audience to tattoo random words on his legs. This was apparently painful and at times Brooks pleaded with his tormentors not to push the needles in so far. I liked the idea of a distraction making it harder to read, although not being a self-harmer like Ben (or at least his fictional self) I prefer pleasurable distractions of the type suggested by my old Apeman Performance. The performances were being filmed and so we had close ups of blood oozing from the needle marks on Ben’s legs projected larger than life on a screen at the back of the stage.
Each section of the night was to run for around an hour with a break inbetween – so I didn’t have to go on straight after Brooks. I found Javier Calvo in the backstage area and had a quick chat with this legendary Spanish novelist. Javier was reading my story New Britain in Catalan, and he went on before me, immediately after my video based on the piece he was doing had been screened. Javier is an incredible performer and had a range of voices for the different characters in my story, making his reading style very different to my rhythmic monotone. When Javier finished we had Cranked Up Really High by Slaughter and the Dogs blasting from the PA, and with that as accompaniment I bounced out into the centre of the stage. The first thing I did was a recite a passage from Memphis Underground, then I moved on to 69 Things To Do With A Dead Princess. Next I did a bit of talk partly based on my book about punk rock Cranked Up Really High, but at the same time explaining why I preferred power pop bands like The Hammersmith Gorillas to The Sex Pistols. Finally I stood on my head and recited the final section of Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie. I left the stage basking in the warmth of my reception and a lot of applause.
I chatted to various people in the break after my hour. Juanjo Sáez and various friends appeared next to speak about their comics in Catalan. Since I couldn’t follow this, I nipped into the green room to stuff my face with the food put out for performers, and while I was at it I grabbed a few beers. The cut-off jeans Ben Brooks had been wearing onstage were on the floor in the middle of the green room and someone picked them up and laughed that he was so teenage! After I’d eaten, the photographer who’d taken some shots of me onstage finally got around to snapping the long planned posed pictures of me.
The final act on the bill that night was Tobi Vail who I’d last seen perform as the drummer of Bikini Kill nearly 20 years earlier. She did a mixture of readings and music. When I saw Bikini Kill live I found them thrilling and I was hoping for something similar from this solo set. Vail sang and played electric guitar backed by only a bass player – and without a full rhythm section I found what she did lacked the kick of Bikini Kill. However, I was pleased when her last tune turned out to be a song in support of the imprisoned members of the Moscow grrrl power band Pussy Riot. Politically I thought Vail’s heart was in the right place, although I found her views about indie culture and her self-identification as a punk rocker way too earnest to groove me. That said, I’m obviously not a part of the demographic of teenage girls Vail is aiming to inspire, so I’m sure the fact that what she’s doing these days isn’t my bag won’t bother her at all…
After the first night of Primera Persona was over at the CCCB, I ended up at Bar Manchester where I mostly talked with Ana from Alpha Decay and Txell Torrent from the MB Literary Agency. Txell expressed amusement at the outrageous nature of my fiction, but also chatted about various London writers we know. She told me that she was a huge fan of horror fiction and absolutely loved Kim Newman (who she represents in Spain). Having performed I was able to really relax and enjoy some beers. The results of this are perhaps predictable, so I think I’ll end things here on a high rather than providing any more details of my trip to Barcelona. I left Txell in Bar Manchester and… Well let’s just say that since embarrassing confessions are a Ben Brook’s speciality, I’m happy to leave such things to him…
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!