Monday, October 28, 2013

Manolo Escobar And "Y Viva España"

For far too long, ever since 1974 in fact, the British holidaymaker, when having partaken of sufficient numbers of cold drinks, has been prone to burst into song - song being relative both in terms of what is actually being sung and how it is being sung (badly usually). The song in question is of course "Y Viva España", a manifestation of musical vandalism and criminality for which, almost forty years later, Spain has been unable to atone.

But "Y Viva España", famously enough, wasn't written by a Spaniard. It was the product of two Belgians, Leo Caerts and Leo Rozenstraten. The English version - and the song was covered in various languages - was sung by the Swedish singer Sylvia Vrethammar. It acquired its anthemic status for the British holidaymaker to Spain thanks to its lyrics having been the work of one Eddie Seago who, having teamed up with an school friend, Mike Leander, was also one of the powers behind Gary Glitter, something which might now be looked back on with less than total satisfaction for reasons unrelated to Gary's question as to whether anyone wanted to be in his gang.

Seago's lyrics were very different to those in the Spanish version. When one compares the two versions, it seems clear that in the early '70s the British holidaymaker was still very much viewed as a product of the saucy postcard, end-of-the-pier seaside holiday in Blackpool, Bognor and Bridlington. The lyrics were of their time in having been "racy": all those señoritas by the score and kisses behind the castanets. They bore no relation to the lyrics of the song that made Manolo Escobar, already famous, even more famous. His single came out in 1973 and it also appeared on an album of the same name. It is one of the biggest-selling Spanish albums of all time.

Escobar's song spoke of Spain "the land of love" (in a totally unsaucy fashion), of a land that only Gods could have made "so beautiful", of the bullfight (so there was a nod in the direction of matadors being chatted, as Eddie Seago revealed), of a great national party and of people singing with passion. Its final line is "España es la mejor" - Spain is the best. It was in fact a song of Spanish sentimentalism and patriotism, one that was fit for the times and fit for the regime of the times. There is a sort of early music video in which Manolo gives the song his full patriotic fervour, one that is peculiar for the fact that Manolo floats across various Spanish scenes and for, among the smiling entourage behind him (who don't float), there being some evidence of multiculturalism. I had not seen the video until the other day and was surprised to see two black faces.

It is possible to now look back at "Y Viva España" and to view it as an exercise in propaganda. The story of the song and its part in Spanish nationalism of the time becomes that much more interesting when one realises that, although Leo Rozenstraten (who was otherwise an actor) wrote the original lyrics, they weren't actually in Spanish. The song never was Spanish. Samantha, who had the first hit with it, sang in Dutch. The Spanish version (there were two slightly differing versions) appears to have had two lyricists, one of whom, Manuel de Gómez, was described as a diplomat. So, "Y Viva España", which from the outset had its familiar tune and Spanish style, was taken and moulded into a patriotic song with a heavy dose of holidaymaker appeal. It was the perfect combination for the tourism-dependent but nationalist Franco regime and it was the perfect combination to be unleashed on the Spanish population by a popular singer and television presenter, Manolo Escobar.

Escobar was, in the later years of the Franco regime, an important entertainment symbol for the dictatorship. He also appeared in musical comedies, thus reinforcing the fact that entertainment in the Spain of those years was never controversial and and only ever lightweight and happy.

Despite his association, if only indirectly with the Franco regime, Escobar remained popular for decades after. He was one of a group of singers and entertainers who acquired national fame from the sixties onwards and, as such, was an older contemporary of Julio Iglesias. He died on 24 October, aged 82. "Y Viva España" had brought him his greatest fame, a song that lives on with holidaymakers even if it isn't the song he sang. He died at home, and there were perhaps few more appropriate places for his home to have been. Benidorm.

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