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

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I’m in Torremolinos. Sure, I do know what you’re considering – and also you’d have some extent. 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 vogue) on the thirtieth Rockin’ Race Jamboree, a global 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 file store and label, each dedicated to American music of the 50s and 60s. Like all the perfect festivals, it began out, again in 1994, as a gathering of buddies 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.

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

It wasn’t the plain selection. 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 had been fading into decrepitude. However 30 years later, the rockabilly and classic scene has exploded throughout the continent, and the Rockin’ Race Jamboree is considered one of its greatest festivals, attracting over 5,000 guests and greater than 40 bands and DJs from the world over.

It’s not only a spotlight within the calendar of rock’n’roll followers, but additionally for the area’s tourism trade. The city’s mayor claims it brings a 40% enhance to the native financial 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 strategy 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 stage of assist for standard music is staggering – and envy-inducing.

The pageant is subsidised by regional authorities and attracts a global 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 seems like a large celebration created by music lovers for his or her buddies. Throughout the day the primary motion takes place at a pool celebration 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 yr, the “Paradiso”, a Twenties travelling picket circus dancehall, full with stained glass and authentic handpainted graphics. Lodging is booked stable all through the city months upfront. On Monday after the pageant this yr individuals had been already reserving for 2025 as they checked out of their motels.

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Pageant-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 yr had 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.

Throughout the weekend you’ll be able to stroll into the smallest backstreet cafe or grocery store and so they’ll be blasting out an obscure Solar Information B-side, whereas each taxi driver on the town has curated his personal rockin’ soundtrack. Ana, supervisor of the Buensol Residences, situated on the coronary heart of the pageant, is a type of who seems ahead to the weekend. “Once I first heard a few rock’n’roll pageant coming to Torremolinos, I used to be a bit frightened,” she mentioned, “however they’re probably the most well mannered, pleasant individuals now we have all yr, and so they deliver numerous cash into the city. What extra may you need?”

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

It’s in some way becoming that mid-century glamour has returned to Torremolinos. The city’s tourism story is a chequered one. Within the 50s it grew to become a hotspot for stars searching for an alternative choice to 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 placing modernist lodge, El Pez Espada, was constructed on the seashore, bringing extra celebrities, together with Frank Sinatra and Brigitte Bardot, whereas French guests introduced bikinis and topless sunbathing. The phrase was out. Torremolinos grew to become 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 additional repute as a secure vacation spot for the queer neighborhood, 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 had been prepared to show a blind eye, however because the 60s raged on, and Torremolinos added hippies and medicines to its sights, Franco may not tolerate the “degenerate” behaviour occurring 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 celebration was over.

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The next growth and bust of Torremolinos is properly documented in British tourism, and possibly finest summed up by Monty Python’s 1972 Journey Agent sketch which singled out the city as a byword for tawdry bundle 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 pictures of egg and chips however Spanish seaside resorts are masters of reinvention, and Torremolinos has grand plans to comply with 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 reputation 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 great occasions are rolling once more.

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

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