For most foreigners, Spanish music exists in a hinterland bordered by the baroque beauty of flamenco and novelty dance hits first heard on holiday.
That may be unfair but as a result Spanish rock and pop music – which exists somewhere vaguely in between the two poles – gets rather overlooked. This is exacerbated by the fact there is no gateway drug to Spanish rock, no Beatles, Serge Gainsbourg or Kraftwerk to lure people in to the wonders of Iberian sounds.
As such, I found a recent conversation with Vicente Fabuel, a renowned Spanish record collector, author and album compiler, particularly enlightening. I first came across Vicente courtesy of ¡Chicas! Spanish Female Singers 1962 – 74, an album he compiled for the Vampisoul record label. It is the kind of record that dares the music fan not to buy it: here, it promises, is a world of music that you know nothing about and it may well be brilliant.
And it was. Across 24 tracks here was a wealth of soul belters, Iberian Motown, Argentinian funk, flamenco pop and Spanish psychedelia that opened my mind to an entirely new world of music. Throughout, Vicente’s excellent notes were there to guide me, introducing me to the “fascinating, mysterious and immense” Barcelona label Discos Belter and female duo Vainica Doble, who Vicente believes represent “the peak of Spanish musical culture”.
I had the good fortune to interview Vicente a couple of weeks later. He explained to me that foreigners - and even many Spanish music lovers - are often surprised by the Spanish musical history he has helped to unearth and subsequently highlight.
“Basically, in the UK people think of our music as flamenco in all its forms. The only big artists from Spain who went to Europe, Japan and the US were flamenco artists,” he said.
The Franco dictatorship, he explained, “didn’t help” in the diffusion of Spanish pop during the pop teen boom of the 60s. But he believes there is more to the story than that. “England was the capital of music (in the 1960s),” he said. “Music made in Europe always looked towards England. My impression was that culturally Britain was very hard to enter.”
Rather wonderfully, Chicas (essentially a collection of brilliant B sides from Spanish female singers that went overlooked at the time) represents just the tip of the iceberg of Vicente’s digging.
He has already compiled four volumes of Spanish soul music collection El Soul es una Droga and three volumes of rock / funk / soul compilation Sensacional Soul. He’s currently working on Volume 2 of Chicas and the first volume of a male equivalent (which he refers to as “Chicos”).
Even more intriguing for lover of 60s garage, is a compilation that Vicente is currently putting together, which he describes as a “Spanish Nuggets” (a reference to the legendary - and hugely influential - Nuggets compilation released in 1972, which compiled singles from largely unknown US garage rock bands from the mid-60s).
“I think that will be a surprise,” Vicente explained. “I think it was the peak of 60s creativity in Spain.”
What’s more – and sensitive English music fans may want to cover their ears now – he believes that Spanish bands of the 60s were actually better suited to the noisy, proto punk format that Nuggets championed than the more refined R&B acts in England of the time.
Whether this is true, only the release of the album will tell. In any case, it doesn’t really matter. What Vicente has done – and done brilliantly – is to open up a treasure trove of Spanish music for the world at large to enjoy. His compilations may not top the charts but they can shape the impression that music fans around the world have of a Spanish music scene that has been overlooked (unjustly, it turns out).
And if his work helps just one more person to hear the wonder of Vainica Doble, then you feel Vicente will be satisfied.
“For anyone interested in the Spanish pop world, they have to see how the group (Vainica Doble) brings different types of music together,” he said. “They rival any of the great European pop music groups from the last 50 years.”