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Solar, sea and rock’n’roll: how Torremolinos acquired its groove again | Spain holidays

I’m in Torremolinos. Sure, I do know what you’re considering – and also you’d have a degree. However I’m not right here for the solar, low-cost booze and a full English, though there are plentiful provides of all of the above. I’m right here to relive my well-spent youth (albeit in a decidedly middle-aged trend) on the thirtieth Rockin’ Race Jamboree, a world rockabilly pageant that takes over Spain’s much-maligned resort for one wild weekend every February – and has been instrumental in boosting the city’s fortunes.

The Rockin’ Race is the creation of husband and spouse, Guillermo Jiménez and Vivi Milla, from close by Málaga, the place in addition they run a document store and label, each dedicated to American music of the 50s and 60s. Like all one of the best festivals, it began out, again in 1994, as a gathering of mates sharing their love of the music. Three years later they’d outgrown their venue in Málaga; the hunt for a brand new location took them the ten miles alongside the coast to Torremolinos.

A classic automobile provides to the Nineteen Fifties rockabilly vibe. {Photograph}: Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Pictures

It wasn’t the apparent alternative. Within the 90s, London was the white-hot centre of Europe’s rockabilly scene, together with famously hedonistic weekenders at British coastal vacation camps. Spain barely featured on the rock’n’roll map, and a few of its Costa del Sol seaside resorts have been fading into decrepitude. However 30 years later, the rockabilly and classic scene has exploded throughout the continent, and the Rockin’ Race Jamboree is one in all its greatest festivals, attracting over 5,000 guests and greater than 40 bands and DJs from internationally.

It’s not only a spotlight within the calendar of rock’n’roll followers, but additionally for the area’s tourism business. The city’s mayor claims it brings a 40% enhance to the native economic system, and the occasion is now supported financially by the Andalusian and Torremolinos authorities, EU funds, Iberia Airline and the Costa del Sol vacationer board. This isn’t an anomaly; different Spanish areas have additionally realised the worth of supporting specialist music festivals as a technique to enhance low season journey, together with the mod/60s underground pageant, The Euro Groovy Weekend in Gijón in January, Excessive Rockabilly in Calafell in September, and the Funtastic Drácula Carnival in Benidorm in October/November – described as “three nights of demented storage punk”. As a British musician and former pageant director, this degree of help for widespread music is staggering – and envy-inducing.

The pageant is subsidised by regional authorities and attracts a world crowd. {Photograph}: Jon Nazca/Reuters

The injection of municipal funding hasn’t affected the vibe although – on the Rockin’ Race the grassroots stay sturdy, and it nonetheless appears like a large occasion created by music lovers for his or her mates. In the course of the day the principle motion takes place at a pool occasion and rooftop bar of the mid-century beachside Resort La Barracuda, and the pageant’s night-time venues have expanded to incorporate the city’s Asturias Auditorium, and since final 12 months, the “Paradiso”, a Nineteen Twenties travelling picket circus dancehall, full with stained glass and unique handpainted graphics. Lodging is booked strong all through the city months prematurely. On Monday after the pageant this 12 months folks have been already reserving for 2025 as they checked out of their lodges.

They’re the friendliest folks we’ve all 12 months, they usually convey a lot of cash into the city. What extra might you need?

Ana, residence supervisor

Competition-goers come from throughout: Mexico, Japan, the US and throughout Europe. Identical for the bands. Over time, the Rockin’ Race has expanded past its rock’n’roll roots to absorb swing, blues, R&B, honky tonk, 60s beat and storage. My highlights this 12 months have been the Surfrajettes, a feminine surf group from Toronto, and bluegrass band the Po’ Ramblin Boys, from Tennessee, who stole the present with a blistering, high-energy efficiency. The occasion’s official videographer, Chris Magee of Bopflix Movies, has been documenting the Rockin’ Race annually, and says he’s watched it morph from a distinct segment occasion right into a phenomenon supported by the entire city.

In the course of the weekend you may stroll into the smallest backstreet cafe or grocery store they usually’ll be blasting out an obscure Solar Data B-side, whereas each taxi driver on the town has curated his personal rockin’ soundtrack. Ana, supervisor of the Buensol Flats, positioned on the coronary heart of the pageant, is a type of who seems to be ahead to the weekend. “Once I first heard a few rock’n’roll pageant coming to Torremolinos, I used to be a bit anxious,” she mentioned, “however they’re essentially the most well mannered, pleasant folks we’ve all 12 months, they usually convey a lot of cash into the city. What extra might you need?”

Resort La Barracuda’s pool is a daytime focus for festival-goers. {Photograph}: Lois Pryce

It’s by some means becoming that mid-century glamour has returned to Torremolinos. The city’s tourism story is a chequered one. Within the 50s it turned a hotspot for stars in search of a substitute for the Côte d’Azur. Visits from Rita Hayworth, Graham Greene and Ava Gardner helped put a then rustic Andalusian fishing village on the map. Within the 50s, a hanging modernist lodge, El Pez Espada, was constructed on the seaside, bringing extra celebrities, together with Frank Sinatra and Brigitte Bardot, whereas French guests introduced bikinis and topless sunbathing. The phrase was out. Torremolinos turned referred to as a haven of louche bohemia, and in 1962, when two Londoners opened Tony’s, Spain’s first homosexual bar, it earned an extra popularity as a protected vacation spot for the queer group, regardless of homosexuality being unlawful below Franco’s dictatorship.

Frank Sinatra mural in Torremolinos. {Photograph}: Wilf Doyle/Alamy

The cash was pouring in from the Costa del Sol, and for some time the authorities have been keen to show a blind eye, however because the 60s raged on, and Torremolinos added hippies and medicines to its points of interest, Franco might now not tolerate the “degenerate” behaviour happening below his nostril. In 1971 Tony’s was raided by gun-toting police. The bar was shut down, and the city’s overseas “undesirables” rounded up and deported to their dwelling international locations. The occasion was over.

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Spanish seaside resorts are masters of reinvention, and Torremolinos has grand plans to observe within the footsteps of Málaga

The next increase and bust of Torremolinos is properly documented in British tourism, and possibly greatest summed up by Monty Python’s 1972 Journey Agent sketch which singled out the city as a byword for tawdry package deal tour locations.

US saxophonist Huge Jay McNeely’s band performs on the Rockin’ Race Jamboree. {Photograph}: Jon Nazca/Reuters

There are nonetheless loads of sun-bleached laminated menus that includes photographs of egg and chips however Spanish seaside resorts are masters of reinvention, and Torremolinos has grand plans to observe within the footsteps of Málaga, Lanzarote and Magaluf, with a multimillion-euro regeneration scheme, a lot of it centred on celebrating the city’s decadent previous and its rising recognition amongst LGBTQ+ vacationers, who think about it the birthplace of Spain’s homosexual rights motion.

After a long time within the wilderness, it appears the “degenerates” are again in favour in Torremolinos, and thanks partly to the Rockin’ Race, the nice occasions are rolling once more.

Rockin’ Race Jamboree is on 6-9 February 2025; weekend tickets price €99 (day tickets additionally accessible), rockinrace.com

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