"Flamenco is the blues of Spain" - Breed 77 Interview
“We’re still the same people that wrote and recorded Cultura. It’s the times that have changed," remarks Paul Isola. "Cultura was released in a time before Facebook, Myspace, Spotify and so on, but we’re still the same people. It was a record that helped us achieve some great success for a while and we’re grateful for that.”
The 10th anniversary of your biggest and most commercially successful album provides a unique time for reflection, for a self-analysis of yourself and the band you have traversed the world with. But when asked how he would compare both the musicians and the people that wrote and recorded Cultura in 2004, a record which launched them into the limelight as one of rock’s most promising upstarts, the singer's answer is an intriguing one.
While the success brought on by the record – World’s On Fire topped the UK Rock Charts – was reasonably short lived, with the band hardly a gigantean in the rock scene but a respected and much adored mainstay at that, the fame and popularity seems to have had no effect on the then-young Gibraltans.
The tour to commemorate and celebrate their seminal album, which started in Manchester and culminated with a performance on the main stage of Hammerfest VI, after which our conversation took place in the now emptying media room on the Saturday evening, has been a success.
“The tour’s been going great,” confirms Isola, “and it’s been nice to revisit some songs that we haven’t played in a few years.” It’s an answer that backs up his previous remarks of unchanged personalities and characters. There is not one hint of ego, of a self-inflated belief that they are something special.
So our conversation takes us back to their humble beginnings. “Growing up, we were surrounded by flamenco music and there were always guitars lying around so when we got into metal it was very natural for us to mix the two styles together. There are so many incredible young flamenco guitarists playing on the streets of Spain and Gibraltar, they will never become famous. I don’t think many of them want to. It’s the music of our culture.”
A month before the festival, their biggest muse, and flamenco’s greatest worldwide representative, Paco De Lucia sadly passed away in Mexico aged 66. The fact that our chat is dictated by their gushings of this man’s otherworldly ability again speaks volumes about the humility of this band.
“Paco De Lucia was ahead of is time, no one else had the same ear, what he did was unlike anyone else, he’s the kind of musician that only comes around once in a while, you can’t copy him or replace him,” says Paul.
“He was a very controversial guitarist. He mixed jazz, blues and classical styles into his playing and the purists hated him. The albums he did with John McLaughlin were just amazing. He was very influential to so many people. What he did for flamenco music is something the country is very proud of,” adds guitarist Danny Felice.
Paul: “He died in the best way possible, he died a happy man in paradise with his family in Mexico. By the end, he never practiced. He just played, he didn’t need to practice, he was that good, all he did was perform.
“Paco was born 20 miles from Gibraltar and I was actually with a close friend of his when we heard the news. Everyone loved him and he and his music he made was very important to all of us. He was hugely important to flamenco music and putting Spain on the map.”
“Flamenco,” Felice states, with a glint in his eye, if it’s one of pain or pride I cannot decipher, “is the blues of Spain. It was born from oppression, it was and still is a way for people to express themselves, just like the blues is in America and elsewhere. Like Paul said, there are so many amazing kids who busk and play on the streets of Spain, most of them will never get any publicity. They’re just playing what is true to them.”
“With Flamenco music it’s all based around Phrygian and minor scales,” he continues. “But there is more to it than that. The timing and feel is integral, you can’t just play flamenco.”
Tomatito is another flamenco guitarist that they hold in the highest regard. A fusion player much like Paco De Lucia, incorporating jazz into his playing, he peppered the flavour of the country’s traditional music with sounds of other lands and cultures. A man who says his music "emerged as a response to discrimination, a cry of suffering, or the joy of liberation,” he is an archetypal guitarist in both the original purpose and deliverance of the music as well as typifying the music’s modern advancement and progress away from its inner-looking realms and into a more open-minded territory that encompassed a myriad of cultures and tastes. Like we have seen with the likes of Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, who, in effect, took the blues music of black America and made it their own, what they were doing was not traditional but it was no mere bastardisation either; its poignant, emotive aesthetics were never lost, they just took on a slightly different guise. A modern identity.
For Breed 77, their cover of The Cranberries anti-war hit Zombies is a fitting example of the growth of the genre, of how it has since taken on different forms and fusions. The original, released in 1994, was in no way shape or form a flamenco song. The Cranberries, an Irish band, saw their song given a dose of both Spanish stylings and donned in heavy metal armour. As with Paco De Lucia’s jazz fusion however, the true emotion, power and integrity – and there’s that word again – remained intact and sharper than ever.
With the likes of Alice Cooper (Poison) and Iron Maiden (Number Of The Beast) also getting the Breed 77 treatment, my inquisition as to how these imaginations are brought to fruition needed an answer.
“They just come from messing around in rehearsal,” reveals Paul, whose unique voice lends a Mediterranean flavour to the songs. “Some work and other’s don’t, I mean, the Zombie cover took on a life of its own, but we’re just having fun. It’s great to play someone else’s song because you play it in a different when you do one you wrote yourself, because it’s someone else’s.”
The success of Zombie was utilized in their festival-friendly set, as they provided a crash course in the band’s history, both modern and classic material getting an airing, with the cover acting as the centrepiece alongside a hair-raising rendition of The River, passion crackling in Paul’s voice. They could have been excused for leaving the song out of the set, something they’ve been more than happy to do in the past. But as Paul says, they’re just having fun. They may not have reached the climactic, arena engulfing heights that they were once touted for but they are, nevertheless, a band you can rely on. Releasing albums every few years and touring like road hogs, Breed 77 are a people’s band and they’re going to stay that way. No amount of money or fame could steer them off their path which leads only to the hearts of their fans.
Words: Phil Weller www.breed77.com
This article was originally published April 2, 2014.