Saturday 20 June and the last night of the Festes de San Joan in Deia sees the long awaited and most welcome return of the most famous unknown rock and roll band in the world.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Pa Amb Oli and I’ve never failed to be charmed by their splendidly raw, joyous and ramshackle rock and roll.
As many of you will know, Juan Graves, founder of Pa Amb Oli, sadly passed away earlier this month. He will be sorely missed to say the least but there was no question of Pa Amb Oli not continuing, although their return to the stage will be bittersweet.
“At the moment, it doesn’t make sense to play without Juan,” says Dave Templeton, singer with Pa Amb Oli, “but he did want us to carry on. Towards the end of Juan’s life, Tomás said to him that we were going to continue as a ‘driving force’ for Juan. Juan was very weak but he nodded his head to say ‘yes’. There’s, of course, a huge amount of regret and sadness that he’s not around anymore but we’re going to make Saturday night as exciting as possible.”
A brief history of Pa Amb Oli
Pa Amb Oli – Mallorquin for “bread and oil”– began in summer 1978.
At first, the band was just Juan playing guitar and Dave singing. Tomás Graves, Juan’s brother, joined on bass a year later. The drummer’s stool was, as they say, vacant but occasional percussion was provided by Joan Bibiloni on tablas, Juan and Tomás’s brother in law jazz musician Ramón Farrán Sánchez on timbales and gravel-voiced painter Deia painter Phil Shepherd on congas. It wasn’t long before Deia fisherman Jordi Ramone (a fanatical devotee of Da Bruddas Ramone) joined on drums.
“We played for free in the beginning,” explains Dave. “But, one smoky, crazy night at the bar which is now Es Punt, I happened to notice our friend Dito, who occasionally played harmonica with us but was behind the bar that night, raking in handfuls of pesetas. It dawned on me that we could make money.”
Over the years, musicians who’ve guested with Pa Amb Oli have included Kevin Ayers, legendary guitarist Ollie Halsall, Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Mike Oldfield. And these are only the people Dave can remember.
(Incidentally, Pa Amb Oli is one of the very few bands in the world who can claim to have literally brought the roof down. But that’s another story).
The Pa Amb Oli effect
I asked Dave why he thought people loved Pa Amb Oli so much.
“Good question. It’s like a snowball effect. A big crowd turns up. They all know the band. Everyone gets off on the friendly family vibe. They’re so relaxed, they go apeshit. It’s an excuse for what the Spanish call ‘locura’ or madness. And, of course, we’re fairly close to the original sound of rock and roll. That basic tribal rhythm. Jordi’s drumming is wild.”
And why do you love doing it?
“I don’t,” Dave says. “I get very nervous and I’d give anything to get out of it. But as soon as I walk on stage, get hold of the mic, I think ‘Wow, I’ve missed this. Why has it been so long?’ Then I have a great time and I’m riding that high until the next concert. And so the circle continues. It’s like my painting. It’s what I was born for.”
So how did “the most famous unknown rock and roll band in the world” tag come about, Dave?
“I either got that from Mati Klarwein, the highly gifted painter who lived in Deia, or he got it from me. Who knows? Who cares? Mati did the covers for Abraxas by Santana, Bitches Brew by Miles Davis and many more, by the way.”
The heart of Saturday night
So, back to Saturday and the Festes de San Juan. According to Dave, there will be plenty of new numbers but the band will still be playing The Beatles songs Juan loved so much. “Give and Tomeu, who will be playing with Tomás, Jordi and myself, were huge fans of Juan,” Dave says. “Juan was their teacher and they loved him. They’re really honoured to be playing with us and carrying on his legacy. I hope there will also be at least one surprise.”
If you’re in Deia on Saturday night, head down to the Escuela de Robert Graves, join the extended Pa Amb Oli family and lose yourself in old time rock and roll played the way it always has been and hopefully always will be.
Tomás Graves is the author of the excellent Tuning Up at Dawn: A Memoir of Music and Majorca and Bread & Oil: Majorcan Culture’s Last Stand, both of which are essential reading for anyone who’d like to know more about the island. Both are, naturally, available from Amazon.
David Holzer is a freelance writer who has been coming to Deia for almost 20 years. Apart from loving the village, he is fascinated by the – without being too pretentious – cultural history and significance of Deia.