( As we drove away from my flat to the airport, the Lion Kat suddenly appeared on the kerb opposite and gave me a seriously sad look. I wound the window down and told her I loved her and said I’d be back, eventually. But I digress……)
Benidorm, hmm, well one could morph it’s etymology and say it means sleep well ( duerma bien in Spanish ) and I’m sure that many of the Brits that go there do sleep exceedingly well……after consuming 73 pints of lager, 13 pies and a wheel barrow full of chips, standard Benidorm fare. No immediate danger of pie famine here, remarkably! I actually saw several big fellows wearing Union Jack shorts ( along with the obligatory football shirt, of course ), which immediately brought to mind, mine and MP’s friend and ex employer Alex Jefferies, God rest his soul. He once said to me: “a friend of mine was holidaying in Spain when he saw a chap wearing Union Jack shorts. Incensed, he shouted at the fellow “take your filthy arse off that noble flag!”. Alex never mentioned the flag wearer’s reaction……
Obviously I didn’t go to Benidorm for the culture or the nightlife. Micky had told me I had a reasonable chance of a gig there, and if I hadn’t have looked at it myself, I’d have forever wondered if that was the case. So venture forth I did, and I have to say, the old part of the city was very similar to Villajoyosa: a maze of winding cobbled streets, with lots of quaint shops and bars. So far so good. However as I got closer to Avenida del Mediterraneo ( the English side of the city that Micky suggested I visit ) things changed dramatically. The first bar I came across was the Robin Hood ( gad, first it was Saint George turning Greek, and now this! ) but wait a minute, the next bar was called the Red Lion…….and the next one, the Rose and Crown, where the hell was I? Fortunately the skies ( well, what you can see of the skies amongst the many high rise hotels, all concrete and turd coloured ) went dark and it started lashing down with rain, so I figured I was having an awful dream that I was back in Blighty, on a hot and wet day in Tower Hamlets……
The other thing that immediately hit me was the amount of mobility scooters there are in this city. Christ, if they ever have a mobility chair grand prix, then surely Benidorm would be the number one choice for the location?
I really can’t critique the Brits for coming here. I sincerely didn’t realise it would be so exceptionally hot in October, and with July/August temperatures hitting 30 degrees plus, it sure beats the hell out of our usual English summer. The beach in Benidorm is rather lovely and it’s surrounded by some imposing mountains and large craggy rocks that jut out of the ocean randomly. I should imagine the beach and bay were a wonderful sight before they built the 60 or so sky scrapers, but I guess it still looks pretty impressive in a Hong Kong stylee. But really, the English part of Benidorm is like Clacton on steroids, and virtually every bar has a sign saying ” ask about our 10 euro buckets of beer” or “3 litres of Sangria 10 euros”, so the English fondness for alcoholic excess is well pandered to. I didn’t see a lot of Brits drunk and misbehaving, but then I only went twice in the evening, ( a Wednesday and a Thursday ) and of course high season had ended before my arrival. The booze is cheap and plentiful everywhere in this part of Spain: local bars in Villajoyosa were selling chilled vino tinto for 1.20 euro a glass, not £5 as it is in my part of England. I drank only red wine whilst I was there and it was delicious, and oddly, it was delightful cold. I also enjoyed a few pints of Estrella, a superb Spanish beer, at the bar by the pool at the hotel.
There’s tons of tacky shops downtown, run mostly by pretty Chinese women, selling the kind of cheap shite that proliferates in British seaside resorts, no doubt also made in China. But sadly no “kiss me quick” hats, and no straw donkeys, just inflatable ones, go figure……
As the rain continued to lash down, I figured a quick vino tinto to lift the spirits wouldn’t go amiss, so I made my way back to the Spanish part of the city, and sheltered in a small local bar ( fairly close to the tram station ) that had great vino and some interesting music, which I guess was traditional Spanish folk music, with really pretty acoustic guitars and gentle female voices, soothing and serene.
I sat and drank and watched the torrential rain from inside the bar and reflected on the day: I’d met a gal called Lara, a Yorkshire lass I guess, who ran a rock bar. I asked her how a man could get a gig in this town, and she said she didn’t rightly know, but she could give me the number of a man who did, a chap called Brian. I figured as soon as I got back to the hotel I’d call Brian and see what was what. I’d noticed a poster for a Bowie tribute at a bar called The Talk of the Town, just down the road from the White Star bar where I’d met Lara. I decided to return the following evening and check out the Bowie tribute…….
Back at the hotel I called Brian, but sadly I got no response, so I showered and got myself ready to go out for dinner. A half an hour later, Brian called me back: he said Lara had told him about me, would I like to meet him for a chat? I told him I was returning to Benidorm the following evening to see the Bowie tribute. He said he’d be at the White Star bar after 8.00 p.m. and then we could talk if I liked? I told him I’d meet him post Bowie tribute, described on the poster as “the ultimate creative delirium”. Yeah, whatever…..
I got to the Talk of the Town just before 8.00 p.m. the following evening. Incredibly, just as I got to the English side of the city, it absolutely lashed down with rain again, so by the time I got to TTOTT I was soaked to the skin and not a little pissed off. But a large vino tinto soon smoothed out life’s wrinkles, and I sat at the bar waiting for the show to kick off.
When it did eventually start, some 10 minutes late, a large video screen came to life at the back of the stage, showing various images of David Bowie, with a suitably monotonous voice telling us just how important an influence DB had been on pop culture. Then Space Oddity started playing, and out came this chap, in a fake NASA spacesuit, with a ginger wig and the kind of generic face mask Tom Cruise wore in “Eyes wide shut”, trying his best to pretend he was experiencing zero gravity. So far so shite.
As Space Oddity finished, Velcro was ripped and suddenly there before our very eyes was Ziggy, well not really Ziggy, more like some ugly twit in a ginger wig miming to “Ziggy Stardust”. Yes, you read me correct, MIMING. I simply couldn’t believe it, not only did this sausage look like your ugly aunt on sulphate, but he didn’t actually SING!!! I tolerated maybe 4 songs, then I got so disgusted I had to leave. It turns out that Martin Kent can’t sing, he simply mimes to songs by the greats, Queen and Bowie to name but two.
And I guess that little Ziggy sums up a big chunk of the entertainment in Benidorm: cabaret for the masses, with comedy pathos and grease paint, almost Buster Keaton-esque. I didn’t get to see the “Rodfather”, but judging by his wig, I may well have been disappointed…..
Later Brian told me that if I wanted a gig there, I’d have to be resident, and hassle him and several others every couple of days to see whether any of the acts had cancelled, were sick, or had simply moved on to another resort. Eventually, he said I’d get a gig early evening, and that would be my foot on the ladder. I asked him what sort of dosh I could expect and he wouldn’t specify. I told him I’d heard that a 45 minute slot would earn me around 70 euros, but he told me to expect less as a starter tribute act. I told him I’d give him a free gig the following evening, just to show him what I could do, but he said he couldn’t get me a walk in gig, that all the bars were pre booked until an act pulled out for whatever reason. I must have spoken to Brian for the better part of an hour: my bullshit detector didn’t bleep once during our conversation, so I guess I got lucky and found someone who gave me the bottom line on Benidorm. I finished my drink and told Brian I’d check out the Elvis tribute at the White Star. Throughout our conversation, he was giving spiel to the passing punters – “Elvis at 9.00, Motown at 10.00”. The barker for the bar, a tough gig in its self.
I watched the Elvis tribute: the guy wasn’t bad, visually a reasonable approximation of mid period Vegas Elvis. But then I had a revelation: imagine how many Elvis tributes there are on the planet, probably hundreds of thousands? A veritable army. Yeah that’s it, an Elvis army! And with his advanced knowledge of weaponry, your telly ain’t the only thing he’s gonna destroy! GI blues? you ain’t seen nothing yet!
“Having socio/economic problems in your country? Are you being ruled by a tyrannical despot who’s making your life hell? No worries dude, let the ELVIS ARMY take care of business for you!”
Well, we can dream…..
Looking back, some four weeks after my return, I feel a certain fondness for Benidorm. Not the English part, but the Spanish side of the city. It’s almost got a downtown Miami feel to it, which is very Spanish/Hispanic. It seems like everyone’s outside, young and old alike, enjoying the weather and the vino. The streets are full of people. Obviously the houses and shops are much older than Miami, but there were times when the heat, the wonderful food smells and the ocean flashed me back there, a few tiny glimpses……
I caught the last tram back to Paradis. When I got to the station, the mountains looked dark and foreboding and beautiful. I had 4 complete days left of my holiday. I decided, for now, I’d let go of Benidorm and any thought of work. I figured I’d spend my remaining time there enjoying the fine wine and dining, the beach and the pool, and whatever else that came my way. I felt inspired and alive……
When I got back to the hotel, I sat on the balcony, looking out across the ocean, ( the hotel Montiboli next door kindly lights the beach til the wee hours ) cracked open a bottle of vino tinto, fired up my Jesus candle and lit some of the Spanish incense I’d bought earlier ( “Relax” flavour ) and tuned into some nameless Spanish radio station on my phone.
Looking out from my balcony, I felt an affinity with the ocean and as I began to get more relaxed a song came on the radio that just blew me away……