Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Los Brincos - Glorious 60s Garage Beat Psych Pop In Excelsis

I’ve always had a love for mid 60s summertime pop / rock: The Beach Boys, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Mama and Papas, The Turtles…. The harmonies and the Rickenbacker guitars seem to evoke the warmth, sunshine and good vibes which, if you were brought up in the rainswept UK, could  occasionally be somewhat lacking.

When I first came across Spanish band Los Brincos (The Jumps or The Skips) I heard the same bright harmonies and perfect pop craftsmanship that can be heard in any of the bands mentioned above. For me Los Brincos deserve a place in the great 60s pop pantheon and should be more widely known outside Spain.

Los Brincos - "Nobody wants you now". (1968).

In the 1960s Spain was a corrupt fascist dictatorship morally propped up by a Catholic church with an obvious antipathy towards the new "liberal" rock / pop culture emerging from the US and the UK. Spain was cut off and the climate was conservative and claustrophobic. Many Spaniards emigrated for reasons that were not just economic (anyone who has seen Spanish director Antonio Mercero's short metaphorical horror film "La Cabina" (The Telephone Box) will have an idea of what the atmosphere in Spain must have been like at the time). Such was this moral rigidity that even the Beatles were not  warmly welcomed by the Spanish authorities when they played Madrid in the summer of 1965. Ringo Starr's abiding memory of playing in Spain (in the Beatles Anthology documentary) was of policemen beating up their young fans. However, despite all this, and rather amazingly, Spain actually had a thriving beat group scene in the 60s.

Outside of Spain the best-known Spanish band was probably Los Bravos who had a one-off international hit with Black is Black in 1966. However, Los Brincos, who were known in Spain as the “Spanish Beatles” (they even had their own version of Beatlemania called Brincosis) were probably the most successful Spanish band of the decade. Over the 6 years they recorded (1964 – 1970) they had string of hits and  left behind a body of work which, although varied, and, on occasion, a little too saccharine coated for me, is very much worthy of investigation and does contain some rather glorious 60s powerpop highlights.

The group, formed in 1964, were Fernando Arbex (drums), Manuel González (bass), Juan Pardo (guitar) and Antonio ‘Junior’ Morales (guitar). Their first album (and their best), Los Brincos  comes over as a kind of 60s garage rock classic. It mixes influences as varied as R’n’B, Doo-wop, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Surf and even proto punk and around half the songs are sung in English. One or two sound like they would even fit well in a Tarantino movie.

Flamenco (1964) was their first hit in Spain. Like the great 60s UK bands they took something essentially American and merged it with their local culture to create something fresh.

The band continued to have a whole series of self-penned hits which lasted all the way through until the end of the decade - "Flamenco" (1965), "Sola" (1965), "Tú me dijiste adiós" (You said goodbye - 1965). "Mejor" (Better - 1966) and “Nadie te quiere ya” (Nobody wants you now - 1968) are some of the best known and still get a lot of airplay in Spain.

The band's second LP Brincos II came out in 1966. However it displayed a band that seemed to have developed a kind of split personality with jangling Beatlesque rockers alongside rather syrupy string-laden ballads.

Sola (1965).


Mejor ("Better" - 1966). From Brincos II

In late 1966 Juan Pardo and Junior Morales left the group and went off to have a career as middle of the road ballad-singing duo Juan and Junior. This seemed to resolve the musical division in the band and Fernando Arbex and Manuel González recruited Vicente Ramírez and Miguel Morales and went in search of a wider rock audience. In 1968 they even went to London to record their third album “Contrabando” at Abbey Road with engineer Geoff Emerick and Larry Page of Troggs fame as producer. The results were varied but it does contain the psych punk classic Nadie Te Quiere Ya ("Nobody wants you now" - see above) and the very Who influenced The Train which overtly pinched the riff from Substitute. Apparently Pete Townshend was not best pleased when he heard their appropriation of his riff and sued. Nowadays though Pete seems to have become a little more easy-going about these things

The Train (1968).

The last album, “Mundo, Demonio y Carne” (1970)  was recorded in both English and Spanish and saw them heading off into prog-rock territory. It was a strange mix of latin inspired rock and straight pop. A kind of cross between Santana and the Moody Blues. With the exception of "Carmen" most of it didn't sound like the old Brincos at all and the 7 minute raga rock guitar instrumental Kama Sutra was a strange way to round off an album and career (see below). The band evidently had great designs for the album but it failed to make much headway in a Spain whose government and media were now openly hostile to hippies and the new rock culture. The band broke up shortly after. The other members all had successful solo careers in Spain and Fernando Arbex went on to form the funk rock band Barrabás and also produced albums by José Feliciano, Harry Belafonte, Nana Mouskouri amongst others.

If I were you (1969)

In 2000 Fernando Arbex and Manuel González reformed and even put out an album, Eterna juventud (Eternal Youth), but Fernando Arbex, pretty much the leader, composer and “soul” of the band died in 2003 which ruled out any further reunions.

With their catchy good day sunshine feel + evident sense of humour (eg Borracho - a song about a clumsy drunk) they come over more like a kind of Spanish Lovin' Spoonful than the Beatles.  However, like the fabs, their music manages to conjure up a more innocent and optimistic era. Which is not bad when you consider that for many Spaniards "the swinging 60s" completely passed them by. Many rock records, films and books were censored or banned and there was no freedom of speech or official opposition to the government. Any form of protest could get you locked up, beaten up or even killed. Spain would have to wait until the late 70s and the death of Franco to regain democracy. So, the Spanish tend not to look back nostalgically on the 60s as a golden era of change and musical / artistic development because, for them, it wasn't.

This seems to make Los Brincos' achievement all the greater. Despite having to work in a very conservative culture that had deliberately been isolated from the rest of Europe, the band were able to maintain some degree of independence and artistic control and produce some classic 60s pop.. Moreover the band showed a willingness to dispense with musical formulas and keep moving forward. They had an enormous influence on Spanish rock and pop and are responsible for some great catchy 3 minute singles, the best of which, in my opinion anyway, deserve a place alongside anything the UK beat / RnB scene came up with. A classic band.

    Los Brincos (1964)
    Brincos II (1966)
    Contrabando (1968)
    Mundo, Demonio y Carne (1970).
    World, Evil & Body (1970) — English version of Mundo, Demonio y Carne
    Eterna juventud (2000) — Reunion album.

Side 2 (Bonus tracks)

Shag it (1964). Tongue in cheek?  I hope so. Anyway, how on earth did they get this past the censor? This is 1964. Can you even imagine this on the BBC in 1964? Great punchy performance on this track from their 1st album complete with Lennonesque lead vocal and Beatle style "Ooohs" on the backing vocals. Are they singing "Shag on by"? Is this Punk Rock? All very odd...

Tú me dijiste adiós. (1966 - You told me goodbye). The "Spanish Beatles". Comparisons with the fab four are not altogether wide of the mark here but in 1966 who wasn't influenced by the Beatles?

Tu en mi. (1966 - You in me). They've heard the Kinks and the Who and they like what they hear. They take the Can't Explain riff off into another direction and that's OK.

Kama-Sutra (1970). The last track on their last album Mundo, Demonio y Carne. The band ride off into a raga-rock psychedelic sunset...

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