On the afternoon of Sunday 28th April the 100 Years: Lanzarote and Ceasar began its second week with a change from the rock attitude that had closed the first week. We were introduced, instead, to the stronghold of traditional music of the Canarian folklore, with beautiful sounds crafted by the hands of the timplistas, Toñin Corujo, Alexis Lemes, José Vicente Pérez, Benito Cabrera, Domingo “El Colorao” and Juan Carlos “The Palm”. The Skills and excellence of this exceptional cast promised an evening full of timples and compositions, accompaniments and demonstrations of how that instrument reinvents itself with every generation. This evening, we were promised, would be marked by the variety of tastes, influences and talents of these featured musicians.
The concert ran beyond its promised eighty minute duration by several hours. Nobody minded, though, as a stream of artists, many seemingly unscheduled, took to the stage in various templates to play timple based music. The Manrique Stage at Playa El Reducto in Arrecife had held some fabulous events in the previous week as part of 100 Years: Lanzarote And Ceasar celebrations, but the second week of the series of events began in warm afternoon sunshine on Sunday April 28th and didn´t come to a close until, in the darkness, the chill evening winds must have been numbing the fingers of the musicians.
We were there for the duration, in the middle of the front row, with two friends sharing a picnic. Margaret, I think, was so busy jumping to her feet to applaud and shouting ´bravo´ that I´m not sure she had anything to eat at all and my wife Dee was busy taking photographs.
And there was much to take snaps of, with not only the musicians on stage but also a large screen behind them showing live and close up shots of their playing, and a fantastic light show in a professional set piece that any major festival would have been proud to carry under its banner.
The first act on the stage featured José Vicente Pérez González as a four piece line-up of percussion, electric bass guitar, timple and a woodwind instrument, producing a lovely sound of its own. This all produced a tight, funky jazz arrangement and was a perfect opener for a night that would bring us a whole array of different genres and fusion. Some of their pieces involved intricate picking on the stringed instruments, and one of the most beautiful of these was a piece by Argentinian composer Pia Zola, a work Iain said I should surely be familiar with from Classic FM Radio.
They also gave us a woodwind and timple conversation about a place Somewhere Over The Rainbow that was exquisite, but instead of being blown back to Kansas they landed in the Hotel California. It seemed incredible to hear a line up like this recreate that Eagles track in such a recognisable but unfamiliar way.
As they left the arena to a warm ovation these four players, Jose and his band, who must have a name I am not aware of, were replaced by The Benito Cabrero Quartet with a new delivery from a percussionist providing occasional vocals, the timple of course, and guitar and bass that combined to create a heavier line than we had become used to from the first act. This was a group with a Festival ´attitude,´ quickly sketching light and shade over every number, with sudden and surprising changes of pace and instrumentation from an array of different percussive instruments brought into play. All this was against appropriate back shots depicting the ´message´of the songs.
It is perhaps because of my lack of real knowledge of this kind of music that I hear faint echoes from styles I do know more about, but I certainly found here some delightful reminders of the picked instrumentation of Bombay Bicycle Club.
Furthermore, one beautiful number, featuring a lengthy timple solo, put me in mind of a wonderful song, Beautiful Dreamer, by Stephen Foster.
The instrumentalists played off each other superbly, and although I have heard harmonics played on a guitar, I have never heard them from a timple, but Benito occasionally did so as his guitarist picked the melody.
Over a backdrop of beautiful videos of Lanzarote landscape, flora and fauna the percussionist then took the lead with irresistible beats and an incredible keening vocal, until things changed again and we were suddenly overtaken by rhythms we might associate with music like La Bamba as the audience whooped and hollered and clapped along.
That saw the quartet cede the stage to a trio as Alexis Lemes brought on two partners, one with guitar and the other with an upright bass.
Alexis himself was of course playing a timple, albeit it one that seemed on screen to have a slightly wider neck than the instruments I have become familiar with. He is one of the islands´ favourite players and he picked and strummed not only with great dexterity but also with an obvious passion and ear for his music. Some of that music, especially when bass led, sounded faintly Cuban to my untrained ears, but despite the skills of Alexis and his partner on bass, the guy on Spanish guitar managed to also stand out for reasons other than his flamboyant red shirt.
He delivered, despite being in almost constant conversation with his sound engineer, some heartbreakingly beautiful solo spots. His instrument had a microphone clipped over its top string, and despite whatever fears of his sound system the player might have had, the audience could hear every note clearly and precisely. This was the quietest, gentlest group of the event so far, but was certainly no less passionate than the others.
Alexis seemed to have a sheet of what looked to be rice paper tucked into the shoulder of his instrument that might have played a part in creating the sound of an occasional jazz shuffle and this, with the bass player sometimes hitting the back of his instrument as if it were a drum, lent a slight avant garde sense to the music. I was hearing Somewhere Down The Crazy River by Robbie Robertson of The Band and even those slinky voodoo sounds of Dr. John until the bass player returned to more traditional playing and we were all lifted again by the strength of strings, before the Alexis Lemes Trio exited the stage.
In front of an audience still five or six hundred strong, the area at the foot of the stage was suddenly peopled by three or four of what American singer writer, the late John Stewart, would have called the ´loyal friends and front row dancers´ of The Quarter Band, featuring Tonin Corujo.
This amazing line up was a tight ensemble concocted from the massive individual talents of each of its members. The saxophone wailed in the sultry, sexual tones it is supposed to and there was an incredibly soulful player on a full bodied guitar. Neither, by the way, did the timple appear to have a ´sound hole´ in its body.
This was rock by any other name and superbly hard, pounding rock at that. The rhythm and energy was provided by a young man playing the beat box, although ´playing´ it is far too simplistic terminology. He stroked, he chocked and he strummed it and drummed it as he caressed it and kicked it and each action, whether gentle or violent, created a distinctive sound of its own. His hands flew at amazing pace, his fingers more rapid than those of a shorthand typist or a loom-shuttler in the old Lancashire cotton mills of the UK, and we knew he was good. He knew he was good, too, but such was the empathy between all the musicians we had seen so far, he never let his skill or his instrument get in the way of, or overshadow, his colleagues, who each had unique skills of their own,
Their female following down below obviously loved them and kept up an almost constant between song chat with them. It all added to the wonderful atmosphere created by The Quarter Band and as they left the stage, we thought surely the evening´s entertainment had come to an end.
Not only was the time approaching nine thirty, some two hours and a bit after the concert´s scheduled conclusion, but also it would surely prove foolhardy to try to follow what we had seen. No music could ever be more melodious, or more tender, and nor could anything be more powerful or any faster, than that we had already heard.
Those fears increased as I saw two men walk on stage who were, let´s politely say, of an older generation than those we had seen. One trod gently with a timple, the other slipped on quietly with a tiny Spanish guitar. The timple player, a bit of a Leonard Cohen lookalike in his fedora, and his relaxed guitarist began picking some of those fantastic tunes we hear played so regularly in Canarian folk lore, with their irresistible enticements to finger click, foot tap and dance.
It was easy to see why the fastest beat box player in the west spoke to me in hushed tones when I later asked him their names. He told me how much young musicians look up to these two guys he called ¨the fathers of it all.´ Their names, he told me after the show, were Domingo El Colorao and Juan Carlos, and he added how much he had enjoyed watching them from the wings. His emotions must have been in overdrive then as he, and just about all the musicians who had taken part in tonight´s concert, returned in the fantastic lighting on the darkened stage, to join Domingo and Juan Carlos in a jam session in which every member challenged and then resigned to a colleague. There was obviously as much appreciation between these players as there was admiration for all of them from this huge audience.
As it all finished in a huge crescendo we could just about make out Cabildo President Pedro Gines scrambling on stage through the shadows to hug and congratulate each player. He didn´t take to the microphone to make any great claims but I hope he looked around him with pride.
The show was full of marvellous players but the audience had been full, too, of some marvellous spectators, Engaged and involved, but always respectful, they put their litter in bins, packed up their rugs and their picnics and left the place as spotless as they had found it, even as workers were stacking away chairs and guiding people off the beach.
By the time we drove out of the underground car park the roads were all re-opened and we were home in Playa Blanca in time for Match of the Day. The concert had been incredible and I knew already my sporting day had been pretty successful too. Yaiza had won earlier to perhaps stave off relegation and Lanzarote had won to move towards the promotion play offs. All I needed now was to learn that Manchester United had beaten Chelsea. Ah well,…..you can´t have everything !