I´ve just had my annual trip to Barcelona, and once again I´ve been struck by that dreaded lurgy Barcaflu; a debilitating malaise that strikes me down every time I arrive back from the Catalan capital of cool. It’s a strange virus, there’s no coughing or spluttering, no fever as such, but somehow it makes Seville on my return seem desperately unexciting and utterly isolated from any cultural goings on.
I know it’s not like me to moan about my dearly beloved Sevilla, somewhere that ordinarily I dedicate my time to waxing lyrical about its encanto. And I also know that, to quote an unknown Sufi poet, ‘this too will pass’, and that before long I’ll be gaily skipping through those cobbled streets, filling my lungs with the uplifting aroma of orange blossom. But it’s always so easy for my head to be turned by bar after bar of uber coolness, international cuisine on every corner and that feeling of freedom that comes from a city that sits so effortlessly between majestic mountains and an expansive sea. And yet how easily I forget the loneliness of living in a sprawling metropolis, where the once attractive anonymity can become a bitter curse.
You see in Seville, anonymity is impossible. It is of course a sizeable city, a capital of a province no less, but in its heart it’s a village, a village where you find yourself coming across the same faces going about their daily business, be that the simple act of crossing the traffic lights at the end of my road or exercising their elbows as they consume their daily ration of Cruz Campo beer.
And it was in such a road crossing occasion that I first met Renny Jackon. I mean I’d seen Renny a few times before, playing in various musical permutations around Seville, but then over a few weeks, we just kept on bumping into each other on the same stretch of Cruz Roja, until I thought, I’m just going to say hi and introduce myself. You see Renny is a fellow Brit, and in all honesty, I don’t normally feel inclined to introduce myself to every Brit I come across, quite the reverse in fact, but somehow Renny looked like the kind of person I would like to say hello to. And as it turned out Renny and I are Macarena neighbours, and over a recent tostada and cafe con leche, I decided to find out who the heck he is, and how he’s ended up playing the live music circuit in this little piece of Andalucia we both call home.
Four years ago, fresh from university, with a love of Latin culture and literature and several years playing gigs in the pubs of Birmingham already behind him, Renny found himself in Seville with a serious case of wanderlust. The plan was a short term one, but he fell in love with girlfriend Maria and has ended up staying.
‘Seville’s a great city to learn and gain experience. I arrived very naive and have learnt a lot about being a musician; how to organise a band, songwriting and managing relationships with bandmates’.
Inevitably, Spain influences Renny’s work; he’s a reasonable flamenco guitarist and at times draws on Spanish literary influences such as a current song he’s working on in which he quotes from a poem by Lorca, ‘Mi casa no es mi casa, y yo no soy yo’, which translated into English reads ‘My home isn’t my home, and I’m not me’, something that anyone living away from home can relate to. But Renny’s cut more from a folk cloth and is heavily influenced by his Irish background, growing up listening to singer songwriters across the Birmingham pub circuit, plus artists such as Bob Dylan, Bill Withers, Nick Drake, Joe Strummer and the Smiths.
His current incarnation ‘Renny Jackson and the Unmade Road’, a three piece outfit with violinist Salvador Daza Megher and the aptly named bass player Jose Bass, lilt from one bewitchingly magical number to another. His lyrics are enchanting, and terribly British, which can be lost on the home crowd, but more than warmed the cockles of my Anglo-Irish heart. But despite the ‘lost in translation’ moments, Renny enjoys the reception he gets from audiences here in Seville. ‘One of the cool things about the music here is when you click with the audience, people will react in a more boisterous way, with the whole palmas (flamenco clapping) thing’.
This warmth has also extended to Renny’s experience of other musicians here in Seville, ‘there’s an amazing mutual support here between different artists, musicians doubling up, lending amps at the last minute, a real sense of community’.
But life is tough in Seville as a jobbing musician, compared to larger cities both in Spain and in the UK, there’s no organised infrastructure for live music and there’s a constant battle between unlicensed venues and exasperated neighbours who regularly call the police until the venues finally shut down. But Renny remains philosophical, ‘coming from the UK it’s easy to come with a different mentality and to criticise, but you just have to remember that things are different here and rather than fight things, just embrace them. Andalucia has been historically isolated, so trying to impose cultural expectations just doesn’t work.’
Renny and his Unmade Road have got a busy couple of months ahead of playing a host of the usual suspects of the Seville live music venues, and this Saturday (1st February) can be seen at ‘El Perro Andaluz’ from 10.30pm onwards.
And as to my Barcaflu, I appear to be on the mend, thanks to just such chance encounters with folk like Renny that remind me why yes indeed, I still love Sevilla.
For more information on Renny and details of upcoming dates:
El Perro Andaluz, Calle Bustos Tavera 11, Sevilla, 41003