La Carboneria (the Coalshed), according to the bar staff at Los Colonales, is a place to go to get authentic ‘spontaneous’ flamenco (as opposed to tourist performance) – but it all depends on who turns up and how they feel on the night. And don’t go before 10.30pm because the doors don’t open until then – maybe.
Followed the line the bar staff drew on the Sevilla map – and ended up behind a church facing a set of garage doors where a louche young man was smoking outside the smaller door in one of the garage doors. “Perdon, perdon,” squeeze past smoker and enter a heavily timbered bar area out of the 1800s with a roaring open fire (yes!! warm the cold bits whilst taking stock of the surroundings). A small group of people are sitting around a guitarist playing something inscrutable very intensely, while on the other side of the room a man is playing Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ badly on an upright piano. No-one’s at the bar.
Move further into the space and around a corner and you discover you’re at the top of a rough set of concrete steps leading down to another bar and a crowded space full of slab timber tables and benches. Rough concrete floor, fluorescent light fittings hanging from steel frame girders supporting a fibreglass roof, rough brick walls (the place really was originally a coal yard). A glass of paint-stripper red (and don’t look too closely at the smudges on the glass) cost 2 euros.
A general burble of noise filled the area. Glassware littered the tables and people were squeezing up on the benches. Eventually a woman in a blue spotted flamenco dress (sporting a terrible cough) and two men, one with a guitar, put some chairs onto the low makeshift stage area. No microphones or sound system. Then they walked off. Next, the tuning of the guitar. Then the performers came back and sat down. The cantaor started a slow clap, shortly after joined by the bailaora, and the tocaor finally got the tuning right. The audience figured that something was happening and started to quieten down (in Espana constant loud conversation is the way things are), so there was much shushing and hissing at the talkers who hadn’t caught on something was about to begin.
There was much agonised singing (I think I understood the words for ‘heart’, ‘car’ and ‘crying’ – so maybe he was upset about his car being stolen?) to the sound of staccato clapping and seated foot stomping, accompanied by frenzied guitar. Then it stopped. The audience showed effusive excitement in their appreciation.
Next the bailaora stepped up and there was much clapping and stomping and skirt flicking and attitude, accompanied by rhythmic clapping by the cantaor and more frenzied guitar work by the tocaor. Occasional outbreaks of rhythmic clapping and ole’s from the audience would bring a smug expression onto the bailaora‘s face. Like – of course I’m good! Suddenly it was all over and the crowd surged out into the chill night. The pianist in the other room has moved onto another tune – unrecognisable, but being played badly. The guitarist is alone and playing softly and intently to himself.