Sweet mother of God, I am not hungover.
The not-drinking-much thing must have worked.
I rise at the leisurely hour of 09.00, shower, and attend the hotel restaurant for a breakfast of tortilla de patatas, zumo de naranja and plenty of pan y mantequilla. It is adequate. The skies are grey, the streets still slick from overnight downpours. I have time to kill before an appointment to watch Seasick Steve in the late afternoon and choose to kill this time at the home of Bilbao Athletic Football Club; San Mamés, aka La Catedral.
Exiting the hotel, I hear shouts and cheers, loud music and a general hubbub and, being someone who enjoys a hubbub in every respect, I follow these sounds to the banks of the river, where there appears to be a whole lot of people swimming, and another load of people cheering them on. Bobbing around the swimmers are a number of citizens on surfboards, and assorted small craft, and these citizens are keeping an eye on the swimmers, lest one of them bobs their head under for a minute and forgets to bob back up for air.
“Andy!” says a voice.
“Jesus… who the fuck knows me here?” I think, being very, very averse to meeting people I know when travelling. I look up and who is it but Iratxe, who we met on the first night with two friends, one of whom was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the legend ‘Porn Star’. She looks happy to see me, so I can assume that I didn’t make an arse of myself, or if I did then she found it amusing.
I ask Iratxe what comes off here and she explains that what comes off is a swimming race and that her friend is in this swimming race, the idea being to win it, or anyway, to be alive at the end. We walk along, looking for her friend and finally spot him. Iratxe vocally expresses her encouragement. I shout “Allez allez!” then remember that I am not in France, nor am I watching a bicycle race. We part company, arranging to meet later that evening and, now that I have myself together again, I am looking forward to the €2 mojitos.
I attempt to wander down the river bank but my path is blocked by a stage being built next to the Guggenheim upon which The Arcade Fire and The Walkmen will play in a couple of days. Arriving at San Mamés, I pay my €6 and join the tour. Our guide takes us around the dressing rooms, media room and the treatment rooms, and we jostle for position for the best photographs. Finally we walk out onto the stands and get a look at the place. I love football, though not what it has become in recent years, and enjoy visiting crumbling concrete stadiums before they are pulled down (as San Mamés will be next year) and replaced with gleaming glass structures with plastic seating and popcorn at halftime. Modern football is like WWF Wrestling these days; everyone decked out in facepaint and mums with the kids in the family section. Football isn’t a family activity. Going to the beach is a family activity. No-one can stand and sing now and the stewards can throw you out for swearing. Football used to be a man’s game, for men. Working-class men in flatcaps. They would stand on the terraces after a hard week’s work to shout and and swear and sway. The players were hardmen. They did not dive and roll around as the cowards that pass as players do nowadays. Modern football is shit and Sky TV is partly to blame.
The tour is great and the museum is fascinating and I depart having taken more photographs here than I’ve taken at the festival over two days. I walk around a couple of nice parks, secretly photographing old men, old men being the only people left on this earth who know how to dress properly, and return to my hotel, to do a little work. Hungry, I meander into the old town and partake of una caña, bravas y un sandwich verde. The man behind the counter – as friendly as all Bilbao’s people have been to me – asks where I am from and he is pleased to hear what I think of Bilbao, which is a lot.
Hotel again: change into evening-wear, repack bag. Go.
I meet Olatz in reception and we travel to the site in time for Seasick Steve, except when we get there Seasick Steve is finishing his set, and we realise we have misread the schedule. Dammit. Let’s get a beer. We get a beer. And a mojito. And so it begins again. Some of us have early starts in the morning, in order to catch out flights but it is difficult to argue with a €2 mojito.
Les Savy Fav are next but I do not have much time for Les Savy Fav. M Clan follow them. M Clan are Spanish and, from up on the high rocks where Olatz and I have positioned ourselves, we can see that the audience like M Clan very much. I just hear a Spanish Van Morrison. We are told to get off the rocks by security, who have decided, on the third day, that the rocks are very dangerous and that someone could slip and fall at any moment. This is true of course and we can’t understand why it has taken them this long to work it out. It’s a shame though because we’d planned to watch Jack Johnson from up here, figuring it to be a nice spot to drink some beer and watch the sun go down while Jack does his amiable, ex-surfer, wholesome-pop thing.
We go to get something to eat in the artists’ area. The artists’ areas are funny places at festivals. Everyone is looking at everyone else to see if they are who they think they are, or if they worked with them sometime, or if that’s the drummer from… whoever. By the time we walk back to the VIP we can hear M Clan play the first few notes of Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May‘. Holy shit I say, they’re playing ‘Maggie May’. In Spanish, as 10,000 people sing along to ‘Maggie May’ in Spanish. “They’re playing ‘Maggie May’ in Spanish I say to one of the security guards. He looks at me, his eyes filling up with tears. “Yes” he says. “So beautiful…” and clutches his hand to his heart.
I need another drink.
Iratxe appears with her friends, one of whom tries to convince me that a kalimotxo (red wine and Coke) is a good idea. I try it. It is not a good idea. Another bad idea is the decision to book 30 Seconds to Mars, who appear on the main stage. I know the name but their music has somehow passed me by over the years. I note that the frontman Jared Leto resembles a nightmare amalgamation of Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias, and appears to have inhabited the ghost of War/Unforgettable Fire-era Bono, in a black leather waistcoat. He might be wearing a bandana, but I cannot bear to look. The music is so bombastic that it knocks the ability to actually describe it right out of Tim and me. The lightshow could power a small city, and the amount of shit pouring from the speakers could fertilise a thousand acres of farmland. Leto leaps from the stage and runs down the middle of the crowd (it’s split in two by a walkway) and performs at least two songs from there, on some kind of podium, leaving the band playing on their own with the entire audience now turned toward this greased-up flimflammer who then decides that nothing will do but he must sing from the sounddesk, which is about a hundred yards south of the stage. The band continue to play alone, looking more and more like they’re playing at a wedding after a massive fight has broken out, everyone completely ignoring them. The set continues for what feels like my entire fucking lifetime, but finally ends with Leto inviting about two hundred people up on stage for a sing-song. The lights go off, the show is over, and and as Leto departs he waves his hand and thirty virgins assemble backstage to peel him out of his leather trousers. It is easier to understand why Celine Dion exists than it is to understand why 30 Seconds to Mars exist. Perhaps they only exist to incur my wrath. I do not suppose they care.
Jack Johnson begins on stage two. He almost puts us to sleep. He doesn’t play ‘I’m Yours’. I later realise that ‘I’m Yours’ is a Jason Mraz song. Jack Johnson… Jason Mraz… ah, what the hell’s the difference. We’re sitting on the grass now, enjoying the last hours of the festival. The Chemical Brothers are playing later, but not until 03.00 so we’ll not be here to see two men stand motionless in front of a fifty-foot screen.
Tim is excited about Black Crowes. Black Crowes’ name makes them sound like they’re a bunch of goddamn bad-asses. They start. It’s blues-rock for stoners and while I appreciate their beards, I’m not so keen on it. Tim loves it. It is right up his street. I can see the attraction, the same way I can see the attraction of… I don’t know… Kasabian. But it’s just not for me.
It’s getting late for those of us from the UK, but these continental types… hell, they don’t go out until midnight. The others go back to the hotel while Iratxe and her pals head to the Vodafone tent to dance until 07.00.
I slip out during Black Crowes’ encore, while they take the applause that is rightfully theirs. I slip out, down the hill to town, along clean, orderly streets, tired, happy, past the San Mamés stadium, along La Gran Vía, watching the city coming to life, thinking of the weekend now behind me and the sleep ahead of me, as Saturday night begins in Bilbao.