JJ at Sala Albéniz, Gijon
Well make that 9 hours in a people carrier and we're nearer to the mark!
As much as I enjoy seeing the band in this green and pleasant land, it is the possibility of seeing The Stranglers abroad that appeals to me most. Our near proximity to Stansted Airport and the budget carriers that operate out of the airport mean that the option of Euro gigs are always on the table.
The Stranglers in Spain for us was virgin territory and all the more exiting for that. A second draw to this pair of gigs was that Gunta worked in Gijon over 20 years ago when she was responsible for overseeing the successful and accurate discharging of vessels and their payloads of iron ore. So she was very keen to see the town again. Thinking about this part of her career, I wonder at the sense of her bosses that were happy to see a 25 year old girl on her own boarding ships for days in the company of crews who had not seen land for months on end, let alone a woman!! As I recall, she did receive one offer of marriage accompanied by a dowry of a toy wooden ship! Thankfully for me she declined.
The flight to Bilbao was uneventful (always welcome) and we picked up our transport for the weekend quickly enough. Whilst searching the car park bays for the hire car, our paths crossed a collection of instrument wielding youths doing the same. It turned out that this would be Weller Collective were the band The Spitfires who were also playing in Northern Spain on this weekend.
Once on the road, with the appointed drivers up front of this hire tank (as a non-driver, my responsibility was limited to music provider) we started on the long journey across the top of Spain driving along the coast road sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Cantabrian Mountains to the distant port of Gijon. The spectacular scenery however is interrupted frequently with periods spent passing through tunnels..... they like a tunnel over there!
In Gijon, the hotel was located with ease. The cost was most agreeable and although the proprietor could not speak a word of English (and our combined command of Spanish offered no help whatsoever!) I have rarely felt so welcome in a hotel before. For those reading this in the UK, the hostess was a dead ringer in all respects for Margarita Pracatan who for a time frequently amused viewers on The Clive James On Television Show - she was every bit as animated!
A quick recce of the venue was in order before we headed in the direction of the seafront. The band and crew weren't around at this point, so whilst the eager promoters reconfirmed stage times I took the opportunity to take a peak at the stage and joy of joys it was very small.
The six people in our party established ourselves in a lovely bar over the road from the front and we settled down for an hour or so to watch the sun set over the horizon in the company of our good friend, alcohol.
Food followed, which was remarkably cheap, before we made tracks back to the venue for about 11.30.
Me and Paul Cooklin in a Gijon eatery
4th April 2014
Upon entering the venue, we were faced with the support band, The Tanks. I was impressed with the amount of noise they conjoured up as a three-piece. I was convinced that they were Scandinavian, but with hindsight I think that this was down to the fact that they reminded me of The Hives, they hailed from not too distant Toulouse!
The Tanks at Sala Albéniz
4th April 2014
Later, The Stranglers ambled on and powered into 'Toiler On The Sea' and it was at this point that we exchanged bewildered looks as this was like seeing the band in your own living room. There was no ruck at the front, just us, and when JJ moved to the front of the stage, the neck of his bass was projecting into the crowd over my head. Such was the close proximity of the band that it was necessary to step back a little to get both JJ and Baz into the frame when taking a photo.
The Stranglers at Sala Albéniz
It's far to say that the band looked tired, but that's hardly surprising as there had beeen no break to speak of since winding up the UK tour in Manchester a few days previously. For all that, the band were really on top form. Dave (with his keyboard rack sporting the legend 'No Queso....No Bolo!) was able to interact with the crowd well... and I'd like to think that my attempted harmonies during 'Always The Sun' were appreciated!
Baz at Sala Albéniz
Whilst we were expecting a slightly abbreviated set as a result of the continental stage time, they did in fact run to a full two hours as they had down on the UK dates.
Norfolk Coast and Something Better Change at Sala Albéniz
Thus it was that we piled back into our little hotel at around 2.30, 'whispering' in that subtle way that the half cut do. Paul Cooklin immediately entered into negotiation with the son of Mrs Pracatan in an attempt to procur more alcohol. Two bottles were as much as we managed to get hold of as the somewhat perplexed som tried to usher us swiftly in the direction of our rooms so as to ensure the ongoing slumber of other paying customers behind nearby doors.
Given the lateness of the hour and the paucity of the beer supply, the nights entertainment wound up at about 3.30 am as all decamped to their correct rooms.
The next day promised a marathon drive, back in an easterly direction, past our original starting point of Bilbao and onto San Sebastian. Some five hours of tarmac and tunnels were passed in conversation about music (1979 as always) and other such rubbish. I recall that for some reason, I mentioned that The Everley Brothers are a guilty pleasure of mine. At this point, the early rock 'n' roll, which encapsulated the hopes and aspirations of a newly empowered youth generation and a time (at least in Britain) of dreadful austerity, was succinctly summed up by Owen Carne as 'Ted shit!' We are would be music hacks one and all.
Much bigger and seemingly considerably wealthier San Sebastian finally spread out before us, but unfortunately our hotel was located on the furthest of the hills that frame the famous bay. We ascended to a great height in order to check in to our hotel. The view from our bedroom balcony was, I am sure you'll agree, quite stunning.
The descent back into the town was somewhat quicker, taking advantage as we did of the funicular railway down to the beach. We walked into the old town in search of some traditional Spanish food, but sadly, this was not really forthcoming as the town was packed with people viewing football in every available venue since Real Sociedad were playing host to Real Madrid that night in San Sebastian (4-0 to the away team in case you are wondering). The venue for tonight's gig was about as far as possible from the hotel as possible, again out of town, but this time on the other hill.... and here's where the fun started. It transpired that the venue had been reported wrongly, the stated address transpired to be a small locals bar.
As the stage time approached, I watched on in amusement as Owen became more and more stressed as an outtake from 'This Is Spinal Tap' played out before our eyes. Texts to Baz and Gary, the tour manager offered no answers and it looked as though we could miss at least some of this gig. In the locals bar a couple of the old boys very slowly started to scan each and every page of the local rag for any clue as to who The Stranglers were and where they might be playing. Eventually abandoning this approach two bored policemen in a patrol car were pressed into service. They were only too happy to help (as it relieved the monotony of patrolling the San Sebastian suburbs!). They decided to escort us on foot to the gig and as a result of their initial efforts after 15 minutes of walking we arrived outside of the locals bar. Eventually, the correct location was established from some local girls and the two policemen walked us up to the doors.
The gig was larger, with a livelier crowd that on the previous night. The set was again tight as Jim's drum and the band evidently enjoyed themselves again. Apparently, Baz thought that it was one of the best gigs from the Ruby Tour thus far.
Duchess and 5 Minutes at the Intaxurrondo in San Sebastian
5th April 2014
JJ and Baz at the Intaxurrondo in San Sebastian
Adrian and Gunta at the Intaxurrondo in San Sebastian
'Misión cumplida!' as they say in Spain.
Baz gets ignored.... could be 'Threatened'