Ibiza’s rock ‘n’ roll history

October 16th, 2008 - 11:59 pm Posted in bob marley, formentera, frank zappa, ibiza, live music, mike oldfield, nico, pink floyd | Comments (3)

The year is 1970. A bare-footed Joni Mitchell is ‘looking for the key to set her free’. Fleeing her lover, she packs up her guitar case and tip-toes the beaten path down through the French grape-vines, battling across the border to Spain and onwards to Barcelona before finally carving a path across the sea and coming home to Atlantis. Dipping her toes in the azure-water, she breathes in the Ibicenco air and breathes out her soul-defining record ‘Blue’. Her lover, Graham Nash, will hear her farewell letter when the album is released a year later in 1971. Postcards from the edge will never be the same again.

nico
Nico (Christa Päffgen)

Eighteen years later and The Velvet Underground’s poet and muse is holidaying on the same shoreline. Having successfully achieved the impossible by curbing her 15-year heroin addiction, the strikingly strong-boned woman, once a blonde nymph, heads out on her bicycle to take in the scenery.

As she breathes in the citrus aromas from the orange-groves she suffers a minor heart-attack and hits her head as she falls, dying instantly. Her name was Nico (an incarnation orchestrated by the island itself when photographer Herbert Tobias re-named her on a modelling assignment in Ibiza when she was just 15 years of age).

The island ripples are still felt today, remembered recently in London where producer John Cale curated a tribute to her life and work at the South Bank Centre on 11 October, 2008: twenty years since her untimely death.

Two fables. One island. What transpires in between these two dates is nothing short of a magical musical epiphany.

syd barret in formentera
Syd Barret from Pink Floyd at a Formentera bar

It may well be 30 years since the hippie-confetti petals settled on Ibiza’s shore, but swathes of mythic stories, spread like so many Chinese-whispers (like the two above) still shape-shift across the Balearic isle like a salt-spiked fog. The rhythms of the Mediterranean sea are reluctant to reveal their dormant secrets, but Ibiza still has a twinkle in its eye… and well it might.

Before Manumission’s Ibiza Rocks plectrum was but a sparkle in the music industry’s indie-eye, the first rock ‘n’ roll settlers were hopping off the boat from Barcelona in 1960, called to arms by American painter Bernard. Many were escaping the McCarthy regime – exiles from the land of the free to the island of the running-free. For the throngs of Vietnam-draft-dodging hippies, this gypsy island was an essential stop on The Big Trip (the final destination being the eastern mysticism of India.) Stopping briefly in Ibiza, many failed to leave.

In the years that followed, leading myth-makers from the darkest depths of primal rock ‘n’ roll sailed into Ibiza’s port to soak in the makeshift-Mecca for themselves: Pink Floyd recorded an album, Mike Oldfield propped up the bar at Es Canar alongside Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell wrote at least one track from seminal record ‘Blue’, Bob Dylan hid in a windmill, King Crimson dedicated a song to sister-island Formentera, Eric Clapton and Bob Marley played to their adoring fans. These shape-shifters weren’t just escaping the onslaught of a Cold War reality – they were embracing the arrival of a free-spirited ideal. In 1960s Ibiza the fantasy became reality.

syd barrett hank wangford roger waters
l-r: Syd Barrett, Hank Wangford, Roger Waters at Hanks house on Formentera (courtesy of www.hankwangford.com)

Aptly, Ibicencos themselves divide their history into two epoch-defining periods: ‘antes’ (meaning before hippy invasion) and ‘ahora’ (meaning now). Sure enough, in the 1950s after their genuine isolation since the Spanish Civil War, travellers were positively welcomed onto this ancient, polyglot pirate island. Staying true to these island roots, the rock ‘n’ roll pirates were more than happy to oblige…

Though many of the facts surrounding this time fall into the category of widespread myth and hearsay, it is widely documented that the first open air bonfire parties on the island were organised by French hippy-entrepreneur, Anant. With merely a single sound system and a humble tent from Morocco, the objective was modest: communal partying that forty years later revolutionary defines Ibiza, here and now. In so far as the legend of Anant goes, however, the trails stops dead there.

Perhaps he left when the island’s cult 1960s bar Anita’s was shifted off the island… perhaps he remained. Perhaps he still resides in his Moroccan tent off the coast of Es Canar, burning incense and watching the tides turn. You see, Anant is just one in a sea of many curious mysteries that surround the hippie invasion on the island, ebbing and flowing.

frank zappa and grace jones at cafe del mar
Frank Zappa and Grace Jones at Cafe del Mar

Speaking of her time spent in Ibiza during this time, New Zealand author Janet Frame summed up the ethos of a generation when she wrote she, ‘felt at peace within my own mind, as if I were on an unearthly shore.’
Her musical peers swiftly came round to her way of thinking, seeking refuge on the island in their droves, whether it be for the all-consuming appetite to make music, or at its most basic: to lap up the simple pleasures in life.

For Frank Zappa, Mike Oldfield and Jon Andersson (lead singer of prog-rock band Yes), it was unanimously the latter, as they leisurely propped up the bar at Cafe Del Mar in 1978.

For others, the island was a perfect stage. Mirroring the series of gigs that take place every summer now at Manumission’s Ibiza Rocks Hotel, the first rock pilgrims who strummed out their masterful melodies were none other than freedom fighter Bob Marley and guitar god Eric Clapton, both gracing the Bull Ring in 1977-78.

bob marley

Scratchy footage can still be gleamed today: a sleepy Marley can be seen lazing on the weathered steps of the ancient arena, taking time out during sound check to answer the Spanish media’s queries on Rastafari God-incarnate Haile Selassie, the king of kings.

Asked if he could ever deem Selassie a dictator, the spiritual troubadour is quick to fire back: “What does he dictate?” Later that day he will break down into classic hit ‘Is This Love’ to throngs of his pogo-ing white-European fans, many of them blissfully unaware of Marley’s Ethiopian regent and the power he exerted on the reggae star’s music.

A year before the same venue played host to South London blues rocker Eric Clapton, sparking an NME review which – at the time – elevated the island of Ibiza to mythical status. In his summation (which could just as easily have been written in 2008 as in 1978), Mick Farren wrote ‘Ibiza is a very long way from the high-pressure world of first division rock ‘n’ roll. From the ancient Spanish women shrouded in all-concealing black dresses to the jet-set girls in minimal bikinis and hand-tooled cowboy boots, everyone moves at a leisurely Mediterranean pace.’

Ibiza’s sister island Formentera wasn’t known as the ‘stepping stone of the gods’ for nothing, and it soon attracted the sparkling attentions of a sprinkling of notable artists. If Formentera is an allegory for the wild, unkempt and untamed rhythms of mother earth, then Bob Dylan was its most soul fitting resident-in-waiting. And so it came to be that rock ‘n’ roll’s most infamous myth-maker made his pirate island of Formentera the greatest myth of them all.

Legend still whispers that Dylan took over a 200-year-old windmill in the small town of El Pilar in the 1960s and inhabited it for some time. Or so the story goes. You won’t find any photographs but, what you will find (if you look hard enough), is a depiction of the very same windmill on Pink Floyd’s 1969 ‘Soundtrack From The Film More’.

pink floyd - more
The cover art of “More”

The haunting structure imposes itself against a burnt orange Ibicenco sunset, the backdrop to their first work sans psychedelic sorcerer Syd Barrett, who was ousted in ’68. Rumour has it the band even built a studio in Formentera with the sole purpose of recording the accompanying album (and name-sake track ‘Ibiza Bar’) to Barbet Schroeder’s 1969 film about strung-out hippies that was partly filmed on the island.

Prog rockers King Crimson swiftly followed suit in 1969 when they released the track ‘Formentera Lady’ on their 1971 concept album ‘Islands’. In it, the verse bursts to life with the lyrics: ‘Houses iced in whitewash guard a pale shoreline/cornered by the cactus and the pine/here I wander where sweet sage and strange herbs grow/down a sun-baked crumpled stony road.’

mike oldfield - voyagerAlthough the song has dimmed into obscurity over the years, a small memento of Formentera’s past-life remains in the form of world-renowned guitar repair workshop ‘Formentera Guitars’, which can still be found in the town of Sant Ferran De Ses Roques. The records of Pink Floyd and King Crimson (whose guitars were regularly serviced here) are all that remain.

Yet in Ibiza, the past is never lost. Just last summer I walked down those self-same ‘sun-baked crumpled stony roads’, breathing the scent of the pine trees. If King Crimson themselves had emerged from the shimmering summer air to strike a few chords, I wouldn’t have been surprised. This is part of the secret lure of Ibiza; that despite the overwhelming influence of electronic music and club culture there lies in its magical heart something for every music lover.

From Mike Oldfield, whose Voyager album cover features Es Vedra, to Joni Mitchell to David Bowie – who’s Life On Mars name-checks the island – Ibiza is a rich source of inspiration to musicians of every persuasion. Long may it remain so.

By Kat Lister

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3 Responses to “Ibiza’s rock ‘n’ roll history”

  1. Ibiza rock ‘n’ roll « Queenjaneapproximately’s Weblog Says:

    […] ibiza-rocknroll « Men are from Marr, women are from… […]

  2. sejour maroc Says:

    Hello, I like this post a lot, it echoes my own thoughts quite keenly. I’m at work now, so I should get back to my projects, but I’ve saved the url and I’ll come back to read more of your posts.