Well, I have really been meaning to do this for a while.
Seeing as I had been nominating lots of Spanish music over on the mothership and banging on about certain bands that are maybe not that well (or at all) known to my fellow ‘Spillers, I thought it might be interesting to try to do a series of posts on my favourite groups / artists and try to explain:
a) Who they are and what they’ve done.
b) Quite why I like them so much.
First up are Celtas Cortos. This really is one of my favourite bands and the name will ring bells with anyone who has read my posts over on RR. They are from Valladolid in Castilla y León some 100 miles to the north of Madrid. The origins of the band can be traced back to the early/mid-eighties when, shortly before leaving secondary school, several of the founder members formed a sort of folk collective under the guidance of their French teacher. Their first recordings were very folky and are only available as demos.
In 1989 Celtas Cortos released their first CD, Salida de Emergencia. A set of instrumentals, it sticks fairly closely to the Celtic remit. Valladolid is not exactly the most Celtic region of Spain – the band’s name comes obviously from their love of this type of music but also from a cheap brand of ciggies on sale at the time. Any of you British and old enough may remember Woodbines – just about the same but with double the cough quotient! A fine début.
Next up in 1990 was Gente Impresentable, which incorporated Jesús Cifuentes’ vocals on a number of tracks – he had stuck to guitar duties on the first album. Now, a lot of people find his voice tuneless and grating. I find it tuneless and strangely captivating! Celtas Cortos would not be – and indeed were not – the same after he left the group, temporarily, in 2002. Here, they strayed into other territories such as rock and reggae tinged folk. Parallels were inevitably drawn with their peers across the Bay of Biscay, not least The Pogues and The Levellers.
1991 brought what is my favourite of the bunch, Cuéntame Un Cuento. Shameless milking of the, at the time, very popular Celtic and folk influences whilst still fusing other styles, some great songs and perhaps their biggest hit – 20 de abril. Nearly twenty years later, I still listen to this cd a lot.
1993 saw the release of Tranquilo Majete. They went to England to record this and I still can’t help feeling they came back with something a tad over-produced. They continued to mix styles but in my opinion were a little short of ideas at this stage.
In 1996 they came back with a much harder and less polished set. En Estos Días Inciertos saw them step things up a notch. The guitars were louder, the lyrics were (even) more revindicative and their live set at this time was explosive. They were selling out tours like nobody’s business and were quite simply the most successful live act in Spain at this time. Crowds of over 25,000 (in Madrid) and 63,000 (in Barcelona, a free concert admittedly,) attended their gigs that year.
A live set, Nos Vemos en Los Bares, was released the next year. It was a sort of farewell as it turned out.
Then the rot set in. Constant touring and legitimate desires to pursue solo projects led to both Cifuentes and later, Nacho Martín the keyboard player – who along with Goyo Yeves (whistles, flutes, etc) had been the real musical force behind the group – leaving what was always a pretty unstable line-up and a period in which the band lost direction and I lost interest in them. Their label released a number of compilation albums and there was also a new cd (C’est La Vie) with French singer Antuán Muñoz on vocals released in 2003. It was dire.
Cifuentes rejoined in 2008 – Martín alas not – and they released 40 de Abril, clearly milking earlier success. At times it seems that they’re close to capturing the old magic but there’s something missing and I think the wistfulness of some of the tunes on there is a reflection of this fact.
So, why do I like them? Probably ’cause I’m a sucker for anything with the world Celt on the tin! Also because they were damn good live and that, for me, is the measure of a band. Finally, because I love music that sounds as if those making it were having a good time. They certainly sounded and looked (to me) as if that latter condition was well and truly fulfilled in the period from 1989 to 1996.
(In the player I have put album names where the artist name would normally be, as I thought that might be more useful)
Next up: Los Rodríguez