When I first came to Spain as a student, Cliff Richard had just been pipped to the post in the Eurovision Song Contest by a young Spanish singer, Massiel, singing La-la-la-la. We English students suffered a lot of teasing from gloating Spanish students who made up "amusing" versions of Congratulations on the theme of giving them back Gibraltar.
Now, interestingly enough, Massiel should not have been singing about how great life was, la-la-la-la. She only did so because the original choice of performer insisted that he wanted to sing it in Catalan: no chance in Franco's Spain. (There's that language thing again!) And so I was introduced to Joan Manuel Serrat, well, his music, and went home with one of his singles in my suitcase.
Over the years I have bought a good few of his albums - vinyl and CD - or have been given them as Christmas presents by my almost Spanish sister. We have sometimes reflected on how nice it would be if he were to perform in her neck of the woods when I was visiting. It never happened.
Then, lo and behold, I discovered he was coming to Vigo on his Cien por Cien Serrat (100% Serrat) tour. Well, my Phil and I ummed and aahed about booking tickets. I could tell his heart was not really in it and then he got involved in a tournament at the chess club taking place on Tuesday evenings: 100 x 100 Serrat was on a Tuesday evening! So I decided to strike out on my own, only to find when I went to the website that the tickets were sold out. Bother!
Anyway, ever optimistic, on Tuesday evening, the night of the concert, I took myself down to the booking office, just on the offchance. Were there any tickets left? I asked. Muy pocas - very few - was the reply. I only needed one. Result!
Inevitably, at a concert by a singer who has been around since the late 60s, there was a preponderance of greyish heads in the audience but still a good few representatives of younger generations. The singer songwriter remains popular, not just in Spain but in the USA and Latin America.
We were warned to switch off our mobile phones and other electronic devices and reminded that recording or videoing the concert was not allowed. So, of course, as the show got underway, the ushers were kept busy running round reminding people NOT to use their phones as recording devices! No-one took any notice and, of course, photos were taken.
First on stage was Ricardo Miralles, pianist, accompanist and the other half of the act; Joan Manuel Serrat later described their relationship as rather like that of an old married couple but without the arguments. Then Serrat himself appeared: jeans, nondescript Tshirt and shirt, tanned or weathered face, greying, curly hair combed back and just long enough to be on his collar - not bad for 65!
How do you decide what to sing when you have forty odd years of song behind you? It must be difficult. So he gave us a mixture of old and not so old, beginning with an old favourite, Caminante, no hay camino, a poem by Gongora set to music, telling us that we need to find our own path through life: se hace el camino al andar. He went on with a range of songs celebrating being born en el Mediterraneo, telling tales of Spanish village girls, expressing his love, or lack of love, for various women and just declaring his delight in being alive.
In between, he regaled us with comments and anecdotes, usually beginning with, "There is an oriental proverb which says ...." and cleverly using the one about not stepping into the same river twice to say how nice it is sometimes to step once more into the same river and come back to Vigo.
He told us about his mother, a determined lady who decided when pregnant with him that she was having a girl. No-one dared to argue and all the presents of baby outfits were pink. So when Joan was born instead of Joana she rejected the, very Spanish, congratulations of the midwife on having managed to have a boy first time. I wanted to compare it with my own case. It was only when my own son was born (first child, clever me!) that I discovered that I was supposed to be a boy. My parents already had a daughter and so they did not need another. My mother told me how grateful she was to the doctors and midwife when, some years later, my brother was born, as if they were responsible. Joan Manuel Serrat's mother's reaction was similar but opposite; she blamed the midwife for the birth of her son.
At least I did not have to wear boys' clothes, unlike Joan Manuel Serrat, who claimed to have been dressed in pink in his early years, slept in a pink cot and used a pink potty! All this as the introduction to a song: Si hubiera nacido mujer, commenting on the life of women in the Spain of his youth.
The concert finished, after two encores, with what has become an anthem of sorts, one that I have previously heard him sing together with another favourite of mine, Ana Belen (I must keep my eyes open for a concert!) and her husband, Victor Manuel. This was a song reminding us to get the best out of every day because Hoy puede ser un gran dia y manana tambien!