In 1974 I worked on a European tour of the band Traffic during which we did a gig in Barcelona. This was shortly after the death of Franco, and in many ways Spain was still trying to get over that long period of fascism, and one relic of those bad old days was still very much in evidence, and still very much feared by all and sundry – for good reason. The good old Guardia Civil was still there in that curious uniform, wandering around the place with their rifles.
We arrived at the place for the concert (I have no memory of its name, but it was some sort of old theatre that I do remember), and set up in the normal way. Which means a lot of very hairy and tired men carting vast quantities of huge road boxes out of the trucks and up about three flights of stairs, along long twisty corridors and finally out onto the stage.
Having more or less filled the stage with all those boxes, we set about putting in place all the speakers, lights, cables, sound mixers, amplifiers, lighting controls, drum risers and all the other arcane junk needed for a Rock and Roll concert that these boxes had contained.
All this was completely normal and SOP for us… what was slightly less normal for us was that this entire operation – which takes hours to complete – was all carried out under the extremely cold and disapproving eyes of an entire platoon of those Guardia creatures, who stared at us like hungry wolves as we worked and swore our way to getting it all ready.
Obviously in their eyes were were nothing more than a bunch of dirty, drug taking layabout Hippies – a not unreasonable idea as we were all long-haired and bearded, and wore dirty cloths too… Though in fact nothing further from Hippies could exist, we were a bunch of hard headed and very hard working men,,, Nothing fey about us at all.
And then, for me, it all became totally unnerving, as when I went up to the small room at the back of the theatre with its long narrow slot, (like a gun slot in a bunker) to set up the follow spot I would be operating in the concert, one of those creatures followed me up there, and as I worked away, he simply stood against the wall and gazed at me with loathing, with his finger on the trigger of his sub-machine gun, which was casually pointing at my back..
I know this will sound as if I have made it up to make the story better, but this guy actually had a sort of Death’s Head, all gaunt and grim. I still see his dreadful face in my dreams.
Thus, when I returned to my work position shortly before the concert began, he was still there, apparently not having moved since I left him there about an hour earlier, and throughout the entire concert I could feel his eyes on me, and whenever I looked over my shoulder at him, there he was with that damned sub-machine gun aimed squarely at the middle of my back, and a look of loathing in his face.
It made concentrating on my work rather hard, as you can perhaps imagine, and with Traffic I had to concentrate, as they were never the same night after night, but being seriously good musicians, every gig was different, with the band moving around the stage as the mood took them, playing solos equally as it seemed the right moment for them to do so. Some nights their set lasted 30 minutes, other nights it lasted 2 hours….
So we all had to really concentrate on what was happening on the stage, so having that horrible man behind me made that really hard.. And this happened to be one of the concerts that went well, so it lasted a long time.
In passing I would mention also, that this was the first time I saw the thing of the audience holding lighted cigarette lighters up and waving them gently back and forth… Looked amazing in the dark auditorium from where I was up above them…. Stars in the night sky rather…. Magical and a great surprise to us all.
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