Celtic Vuelta

During the summer we travelled south along the lay-lines of Atlantic folk music (courtesy of a budget airline). It was late August and flying into Bilbao at the heart of the Basque Country in northern Spain we had nearly three weeks of concentrated gigging, busking, tune-writing, soul-searching and brotherly idiocy ahead of us. The thinking was that, despite being only a few months old, what better way for our new ensemble to conjure up new material and find a common voice than with endless hours on a bus together in a foreign land.

Sunset over Donostia

Our first stop was San Sebastian, referred to by the Basque locals as Donostia. We'd arrived several days early for a gig, and with good reason. Donostia is possibly the most beautifully situated city this side of the Atlantic, sandwiched between a golden crescent of sand, a fast-flowing fish-filled river, the foothills of the Pyrenees and a wooded headland overlooking the ocean. Think Newquay crossed with St. Tropez and Manhattan, but better.

Our fingers, voices and egos sufficiently massaged after a few days performing on the street, we were welcomed at Be-Bop Bar for our premier of mainland Europe. What a venue! Down at the seafront opposite the futuristic Donostia Opera House, Be-Bop Bar has been putting on jazz, funk, soul and everything else in between since 1984. Past performers include Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie and now… us. Organiser Gorka and the rest of the team at the venue did a super job putting on the gig. A big thank you goes out to the sound-man, the fine crowd and an especially large nod to the woman dancing like she was possessed right in front of us.

TEYR @ Be-Bop Bar, Donostia

From there we headed west, back to the capital of Pais Vasco. The city's annual knees-up, Semana Grande de Bilbao, had just concluded and the streets were still tangibly reverberating from the recent influx of people, music, colours and fireworks. Legendary man of much moustache, Manu, had kindly invited us to perform at the Evidence Cafe Teatro, a gin palace par excellence down near the river and old city quarter. Here we served up more celtic folk to a cool Basque crowd, sipping juniper juice between sets.

Just to add a cherry to the cake, Manu also ran another venue around the corner, Residence Cafe. Forget the name, this place is a pub through and through, and in folkonomics - pub equals session. Yet we quickly realised this wasn't just any old session. With signed photos from past visitors Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain lining the walls, it became obvious to us why this pub was so familiar. It had featured in a recent BBC documentary. But no time for reminiscence. Alongside a handful of local session-goers, including the dynamic John Bolduan, we had tunes to play; the Bilboan night was still young.

In a radical change of scenery, the following day we passed up from the Atlantic coast, through the forested valleys and onto the high plateau of Spain. This was La Rioja, and in case you've been living in a liquid-less cave for the past few millennia, that means wine and lots of it. We arrived in the small trade post town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada for a few days of song-writing and rest. In the beautiful surroundings of the medieval old town, replete with crumbling summer palaces and gothic towers we entered our productive phase, penning several new songs and tunes. One (as yet unrecorded) even bears the title Trip To Spain and is suitably labyrinthine in structure.

TEYR @ Studio 54, Santo Domingo

Studio 54 put on a fine show for our final concert. A stage, barely large enough for the three of us was placed outside on the street before the gig; think Three Men in a Boat (for the record, we are currently accepting nominations to be the 4th plinth on Trafalgar Square). The gorgeous late summer heat that persists that far south was a welcome change from playing on the streets of London. Inside we were welcomed by a glitter ball, projections and a super crowd, the latter thanks in no small part to the beautiful posters designed by María.

Poster by María Bawadikgi Loza

Tracing our footsteps back home we had discovered a thing or two and stumbled across a few more. Tommie is funnier in Spanish (at least to the Spanish speakers), Dom enjoys watching strangers eat ice-cream and James can sleep on anything. But most of all, we found that we could compose together, listen and play as one, and even stand the sight of each other after several weeks touring. I'll drink (patxaran) to that.


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