Friday, July 14, 2017

Barbarela And Men On The Moon

Tomorrow marks the 48th anniversary of the opening of what for a time was arguably the most famous disco-nightclub in Europe. On 15 July 1969, Club Barbarela in Palma's El Terreno opened its doors, revealing the most up-to-date lighting system and sound equipment. The room was an octagonal shape with the feel of a Roman theatre, the idea of a Catalan interior designer, Xavier Regàs i Pagés. The club, which was the brainchild of Pepe Roses, took its name from the 1968 science fiction film Barbarella in which Jane Fonda starred as the heroine from the French comic series of the same name and involved her pursuing the mad scientist Durand Durand, who was to later bequeath his name (minus the d's at the end) to the group Duran Duran.

You might notice that the name of the club wasn't exactly the same. It shed one of the two l's for copyright reasons. Its logo was distinctive - a female figure in black silhouette with arms raised behind her neck in a type of dance gyrating posture. It is an image which suggests that it was inspired by the American singer and actress Marsha Hunt, who had shot to prominence the previous autumn when the musical Hair opened in the West End. The suggestion is there, though she wasn't the inspiration. It was a local girl.

The logo was designed by an Argentine, Carlos Rolando. There were 311 proposals. His winning design earned him 2,000 dollars, which was a significant amount of money then and indicative of the scale of the business that was anticipated for the club. Rolando said of his image that it was the first time that an erotic image of the human body (female) was permitted by the censors. Barbarela had immediately stamped its mark. It broke rules, and the club itself was groundbreaking.

It has been said of Barbarela that it was very much more than just a disco. It was pioneering, it was special. It was the first "macro-disco" in Mallorca. Its size - 2,000 square metres - was highly ambitious. Go-go girls and boys danced on five platforms. The bar was 34 metres in length. The timing of the opening may not have been wholly incidental. On 16 July, Apollo 11 with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins was launched. Barbarela, the club with a sci-fi name and the best that technology could provide, coincided with real science and the first men on the moon. Such was the club's status that the opening was broadcast on national radio. The public couldn't see it and nor could they see the logo, which probably satisfied the censors, but they could hear it. Barbarela was definitely special.

A month after it opened, on 15 August, the club was host to its first great British pop act - The Hollies, by then without Graham Nash - who were that revered in Spain that they appeared on the front cover of Fans, the country's leading music magazine. A report of their concerts, two of them, said that they sounded just like their records: they were "consummate showmen".

Other acts which appeared included Wilson Pickett. He put on two shows, as had The Hollies, with the start times having been mid-evening and in the wee small hours. He attracted some 3,500 people to the two concerts. The punters were overjoyed, though it would seem that local musical professionals were - for some reason - less than taken with him.

Barbarela was to also stage a music contest, which I'm supposing was not long after it opened. This was one of the more extraordinary events that it put on. No fewer than 142 acts took part. They were given fifteen minutes maximum to perform just two songs, one of which was the competition song and the other an example of their repertoire. The winning group was Los Bravos, a name by then already associated with Mallorca for some years. Of the numerous other acts, there are two which even now stand out. One was the Dutch prog rock band Focus, who were to attain international recognition for the yodel sound of Hocus Pocus. The other was Gong, the band formed by Daevid Allen after he left Soft Machine: Allen had been one of Soft Machine to have visited Robert Graves in Deià.

Pepe Roses had wanted to make Barbarela a temple for pop music and a place where young people of all nationalities could come together in Mallorca. When it opened, he said that it was a "young woman of the present day and for the year 2000". But by the time that the twenty-first century arrived, the young woman had passed into middle age and then retirement. Barbarella of the film was of the 41st century. Barbarela the club never made it to the 21st century.

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