Left to my own devices in Spain

the roof of Hostal Gat Xino, El Raval, Barcelona
Monkey Dust, series 2Ah, yes – holiday. I spent the weekend before last in Madrid, and most of last week in Barcelona, having a rollickingly good time and lounging on the black bean bags to the right of that photo above. (If you peer over the edge and look right, you can see Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium on the side of the hill.) Plus a night either side in Montpellier. I woke up in blue skies in the south of France on Tuesday morning, and returned home to rail delays and drizzle in the afternoon.

I was always going to Barcelona for Primavera Sound anyway, but Madrid was jammed into the agenda after I found out my pals The Understudies were playing a show there, along with local band Zipper and a bit of DJing from How Does It Feel To Be Loved? head man Ian Watson. All in a Beatles-themed bar in Getafe, a southern suburb best known for its football team. It ended up being a weekend of much boozing, much dancing, much laughing, and winding up in a karaoke club in an underground car park at about 5am.

Which led me to one strange observation. Smoking isn’t banned in Spain’s clubs and bars, and in Madrid, it’s nigh-on compulsory. After nearly three years of the English smoking ban, myself and my fellow pale Brits were struggling keep our voices in smoky bars we would have once thrived in. Luckily for everyone’s dignity, it meant I sloped away from the karaoke without assaulting people’s ears; but I still have a bit of the “Madrid cough” now, nine nights on… it was fabulous fun, though, and staying out in Getafe meant I got to see some of the local fiesta too.

By super-sexy high-speed train (I really mean it – 299 km/h on a beautiful and luxurious train which made a Pendelino look like a child’s plaything) to Barcelona and a few days of lying around and a few nights of music. It was my fifth Primavera Sound but my first in company, which made it all rather sweet. The festival’s grown and grown since I first took a solo trip there in 2006, and some of the strains are starting to show; the Pixies’ Friday night headline set was uncomfortably crowded, and the organisers managed to cock-up shuttle buses back to the city centre after Pavement’s Thursday headline show.

I didn’t come away blown away by so many bands this year, but discovering Beach House by accident – they were playing a side stage, but attracted an enormous crowd which just grew and grew during their set – was very nice indeed. I enjoyed Pavement, found the Pixies a let-down, was baffled by Florence and The Machine, adored The XX, loved Wilco and was awestruck by the Pet Shop Boys. I used to be a big fan of theirs as a teenager, and their typically showy set vindicated the 15-year-old me by mining their back catalogue for pure gold and their wardrobes for pure pottiness. Neil Tennant performing Heart with a box on his head? Marvellous. They’ll be a treat if you’re watching them at Glastonbury this month, I promise. I shouldn’t forget the pre- and post-festival shows at the city centre Apolo venue either – loved the humour of Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard and hearing Los Campesinos‘s singer declaring: “We always have a good time in Barcelona. So this song’s for all the locals, and not the rest of you fucking pricks.” Quite.

A phenomenal number of British and Irish fans now come to Primavera Sound – a couple of times, my happy sense of escapism was shattered by suddenly spotting bags carrying slogans like “Recycle for Hackney” and “Muswell Hill Bookshop – London N10”. I’m not quite sure what the locals think of it all. It remains a brilliant few days though – even with a weak line-up it’s great just to wander the site, look out to sea or visit the t-shirt and record stalls. Plus there’s free shows in the city in the days before and after the festival. The pals who joined me there were already making plans to go back in 2011. They’ve caught the bug too. I might just make it six festivals in a row after all.

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