The day that I was born – what planet guided me?

One of the downsides of this whole global pandemic spectacle (apart from the tens of thousands of deaths, obvs) is that the next leg of our tour of Spain has had to be deferred until next year. We’d been planning to do some loafing about and travelling around Asturias, Castilla & Leon and the Basque Country and had been looking forward to it enormously. All very first-world-problems and of barely any consequence in the grand, horrible scheme of things, I know, but…

Still, we’ve been lucky, everyone’s been very decent, all the places we’d been planning to stay have been more than accommodating and we should be able to do it all next year, without losing much money. Small mercies…

One of the upsides of this whole mess has been that with music venues, rugby grounds and the city’s pubs all closed, I’ve had a bit more time to practice my Spanish and get myself extra-ready. I’m still pretty poor for all the Skype inter-cambios and heavily-subtitled episodes of Money Heist I’ve watched. But, I find myself increasingly drawn into this whole language malarkey.

I think I’ve written about Radio Gladys Palmeira before, and it continues to be one of the radio stations I’m tuning into. And here’s a recent discovery that I’m currently …er… grooving to.

Rodrigo Cuevas

Rodrigo’s a pretty distinctive-looking feller, as I’m sure you’ve noticed from the photo. The hat and clogs are apparently traditional native garb of his native Asturias. The stockings and suspenders, less so, I suspect.

I was particularly looking forward to visiting Asturias – it’s supposed to be wild and lovely, good for food, drink and music and they do that pouring -cider-from-a-great-height thing – but I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting anything quite as exotic as this:

All a bit rich and buttery for my taste – I don’t think I could eat a whole one, thank you – but kinda fun, nevertheless. Cuevas’ thing, as far as I can tell, is that as a proud son of Asturian soil he tries to take a genuinely rich local musical culture (all pipes and Celtic roots) and put a modern, nutty twist to it. We’ve heard all this before, I know, but with the release of Manual de Cortejo last year, I think he’s done something with a little more reach. Produced by Raul Refree (himself another interesting character who’s worked with Lee Ranaldo and Mala Rodrigues), Cuevas has taken a range of traditional songs and, with the help of Refree’s battered portmanteau of gizmos, dipped them in all manner of cavernous bass beats and deep, foreboding ambience. Cuevas’ voice is at times heavily tweaked and auto-tuned (the Spanish seem to love all that stuff) but remains this side of artifice.

Listen to this:

This is gorgeous, no?

It’s a rare, pre-war gem, originally performed by Argentinian diva Imperio Argentina of which you can find a few versions on YouTube. Should you feel the urge, you’ll be rewarded with a strange but beautiful melody, stirring defiance, haunting sadness and you’ll be able to appreciate the extent to which Cuevas and Refree love and respect Doña Imperio and all their sources.

Cuevas likes to refer to himself as an “agitador folklórico” and I rather like this – it conjures up an image of a band of be-stockinged, moustachioed vaqueros coming down from the mountains to comprehensively (but always respectfully) mess with the locals’ pipe and clog festivals.

The whole record is this mixture of lovingly fucked-up originals, muddied and eddied by dark trickery and driven by spaghetti western theme tunes. All wonderfully rich stuff.