At the auditorium in Palma, homage is being paid to great names of the rock world. A show rather than a bunch of tribute acts, History of Rock 2 will rock the auditorium with the sounds of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and others. The auditorium is a solid edifice, a structure designed to absorb and withstand bombardment by even the heaviest of acoustics. This is a theatre that opened in 1969, the year after a structure in Palma not wholly adapted to decibels at great volume didn’t so much rock as shake. And no, it certainly wasn’t Shakin’ Stevens who caused Sgt. Pepper’s disco to move. It was Jimi Hendrix with his Experience who cracked the club’s walls.
An ad for the gig read: “Performance in person. Tonight. The first time in Spain. In the most ‘IN’ club. Supported by the favourites of the young people - Los Z-66.” The young people of Mallorca, largely fed a diet of pop froth approved by the regime but increasingly exposed to what the regime feared (the likes of Jimi Hendrix), would have emerged from the club with their ears ringing. The sheer volume that emanated from the Marshall and Sound City speakers was to become as much of a legend as the tale of the cracked walls and of course the appearance of Hendrix. It wasn’t that foreign rock had arrived for the first time; it was just that it had never been so loud. July 1968, with all due respect to the favourites of the young people - Los Z-66 - probably marked the real birth of rock in Mallorca.
I say that July 1968 was a sort of starting point, but Mallorca in the mid-sixties, almost entirely because of tourism, was known as having been something of a mecca for rock music in Spain - a mecca for imported rock, that is, albeit there was a question as to definition. The clubs were attracting big name acts from the UK, but Sandie Shaw and Tom Jones weren’t exactly rock.
Even so, there were the likes of The Kinks and perhaps most importantly The Animals. Chas Chandler was to be Hendrix’s manager for a time, and he had a feel for the sixties’ music scene that went beyond an ability to play the bass. Before he left The Animals, he was instrumental in the PR that made them a favourite of the media and “the young people”. At a lavish bash in Palma, the group heaped praise on the island. Eric Burdon was to eventually join the hippies of Deya when he bought a house there in the 1980s.
The Mallorca music scene of the sixties can only be understood within the context of what was deemed acceptable. There were plenty of acts, some of whom were quite good - Los Bravos were founded in Mallorca - but they existed in an environment that could produce an event such as The Mallorca International Festival of Song. But even for this, lightweight and undemanding as it was, local artists didn’t get much of look-in. An exception was a group called Els Mallorquins, whose 1966 EP ‘Holidays in Majorca’ (with a ‘j’) included songs penned by a young Tomeu Nicolau - the legendary Mallorcan singer-songwriter better known as Tomeu Penya.
As with many aspects of cultural life, the death of Franco and the tentative steps towards democracy brought about a change. And for the island’s rock music, the location for this was somewhat unusual. It wasn’t Palma, it wasn’t a resort like Magalluf, it was a village in the foothills of the Tramuntana.
In 1976, the first ever Selva Rock took place. Its lineup over the eight years that it was to take place included artists and bands from the UK. Kevin Ayers, one of the some-time Deya hippies, turned up, as did Dr. Feelgood. The newspaper ‘El País’, reporting the 1980 festival, said that more than 15,000 people had gone along one Saturday night into Sunday morning in early August and paid 800 pesetas (around five euros) to reserve their “hysteria” for the Irish group which had pioneered punk music. Well, Dr. Feelgood were regarded as having been influential on punk, but as for having pioneered it or having been Irish ... .
But what about Mallorca’s rock acts? Selva Rock represented a breakthrough, certainly for heavier rock. There had been one or two groups from the 1960s, such as Iceberg, who had modelled themselves on Steppenwolf, but rock was never that popular until it was properly Catalanised and led to Catalan Rock.
The auditorium’s history of rock doesn’t feature any Mallorcan rock groups. Why would it? No mega international group has ever sprung from the island, although this isn’t to say that there haven’t been some quite significant bands over the years - significant primarily in Mallorca and on the mainland. This confined significance does owe a good deal to the language, but mega-stardom isn’t important within a framework of the general cultural interest. In this regard, and although they are more pop than rock, one of the very biggest bands to ever emerge from Mallorca will headline the acts for Acampallengua 2023 in Sa Pobla this weekend. The band is Antònia Font; Acampallengua is a promotion of Catalan to the young generations.
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