So farewell then, Paco de Lucía. I may be the only person in the world to have walked out of one of your concerts. Over some damned silly argument with a woman in the row in front.
I bitterly regret missing the maestro described by Eric Clapton as “a titanic figure in the world of flamenco guitar”, and by others as ‘a Mozart of his time’.
More so, since his home town of Algeciras became mine too, by adoption. Now he’s gone, I’ll never have another chance to watch his fingers flying over the strings like quicksilver.
Where purists ranted he wasn’t true to the flamenco form is where I liked his music best – fused and enriched with other unexpected instruments (percussion), influences (classical and jazz ) and artists (Carlos Santana, John McLaughlin), widening the appeal of a genre that sometimes seems a little too alternative and out-of-reach.
Because I still don’t quite get flamenco. The guitar-work, yes! The dancing, yes! But the canté … all that morbid wailing. I wouldn’t want it for a dirge at my own funeral in case it made the vicar suicidal.
I can’t get impassioned about flamenco like the Spanish do, with their exhuberant olé-ing. I’m not radiantly transfigured by what the Spanish call duende, although I wish! If they sold it in bottles I’d be first in the queue.
In the intimate salons and crowded bars where you can hear the best flamenco, I remain an outsider – the only person in the room with dry eyes and a stiff upper lip while everyone else around me is emoting. If that makes me sound like an uptight Brit, I’m not. Irish blood runs through my veins. Irish music moves me to Riverdance (home alone on the carpet)!
But it can’t just be a nationality thing. My fellow expats join in with gusto while I stand cynically on the sidelines, like the little boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes. Paco himself said his music had greater respect abroad than in Spain. He refused to play at a concert in Seville with Plácido Domingo and Julio Iglesias because his name was at the bottom of the poster, in smaller letters below theirs, next to the ticket prices.
Algeciras will make amends with a Ruta de Paco de Lucía, a Paco de Lucía music prize, and a permanent homage to his memory – a flamenco school, perhaps, or a museum. I hope it will help ordinary folk to gain a better understanding of his genre.
The industrial port city could do with a major tourist attraction and Paco still has posthumous pulling power. Through his music, visitors can share in its finer points; haunts of his youth that would have remained unsung … but for the music of Paco:
In death (too soon, at 66) he will be honoured like a conquering hero. In life, all Algeciras had to show for its favourite son was a statue facing the docks on the wrong side of town and a rusting plaque outside the house where he was born.
To enjoy Paco’s music and discover other attractions in his home town, see The Sizzle in Algeciras