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Some stories: Tomás Pavón, Chocolate, Perro de Paterna…

They all sang, but Tomás agonized because he couldn’t take out all the fire that burned inside his soul of cantaor. Pastora asked Melchor to play por seguiriyas, but before she started singing, Tomás went ahead, unable to contain himself anymore.

Tomás sings again

One day, Tolita (the daughter of Niña de los Peines) told me that after Tomás Pavón had an operation to remove some polyps from his throat, the doctor forbade him to sing for two or three years (and also forbade him to smoke, of course). Tomás did as advised, not singing for two years and only talking when strictly necessary. He relieved his sorrows crafting cages for his own birds, repairing pocket watches and fishing by La Barqueta. Yet, one day, celebrating the feast of Pepe Pinto’s patron saint, at Pepe’s home, some family friends got together, among them Melchor de Marchena, El Niño de Aznalcóllor, La Perla de Triana and her son, El Perlo. They all sang, but Tomás agonized because he couldn’t take out all the fire that burned inside his soul of cantaor. Pastora asked Melchor to play por seguiriyas, but before she started singing, Tomás went ahead, unable to contain himself anymore. It was such a performance by this genius from Leoncillos street that when he finished singing, Pastora opened the house’s balcony door on Calatrava street and started screaming, pulling her hair out. In one sitting, Tomás had taken out all the sorrows that had accumulated in those years, with a seguiriya that, according to Tolita and El Perlo, seemed to have come out of the grave of Manuel Torres, Tomás’ idol. For a cantaor like him, who had the gift of emotion and musical beauty, there was no worse punishment than not being able to sing


Ha muerto Tomás Pavón.
Que nadie abra la boca,
que aquí se acabó el carbón.


Camarón’s jealousy

Camarón once locked himself up in his flat in Seville, trying to sort out his problems. He wouldn’t see anyone except his agent, Jesús Antonio Pulpón, who one day told me that the genius listened every night to my radio show “‘El duende y El tárab‘. I would play a lot of Camarón in that daily, two-hour show. I would also play a lot of Enrique Morente. They have been my idols, the greatest cantaores of our times. I came across José (Camarón) one night in Cádiz, and after he greeted me, he asked “Manuel, I have a question: who likes Morente the most, Duende, or Tárab…?” I was a bit puzzled, but Pulpón was with us and he explained the question Camarón had asked with half a smile, more like Tomás Pavón’s grimace: “It’s just that sometimes José get jealous when you say so many nice things about Morente…”


Chocolate and the Civil Guard

For a time, Antonio el Chocolate used to ride his motorbike to go to perform in festivals. He would pack his suit and shoes in a small cardboard box and hit the road:
Mairena, Morón, La Puebla… Riding one night to one of those festivals, I think it was Mairena’s, the Civil Guard stopped him and asked:

-“Haven’t you noticed that your bike’s headlight isn’t working properly? It’s quite dim…”

– No, I haven’t. I’ll check it out tomorrow, because I’m El Chocolate and I got to perform, they’re waiting for me.

-El Chocolate! No worries, we’ll escort you to Mairena.

Thus, that genius of cante arrived in Mairena escorted by the Civil Guard. At the city limits, he told them:

– Many thanks. You can go now. If people see me arriving at the festival escorted by the Civil Guard, they’ll think I’m the Governor!


With Perro de Paterna

One night I attended a performance by the late Perro de Paterna at the Gran Teatro de Huelva, where he went on a rant on-stage against the also late Paco Vallecillo, a staunch promoter of mairenismo. I heavily criticized those out-of-place comments, and after a few months, on my way back from Málaga, I came across that cantaor from Paterna in a venta by the roadside. We had never met before. Someone had told him I was a flamenco critic, without stating my name. He asked:

-Are you a flamenco critic?

-Yes, that’s my job.

-By any chance, do you know one Manuel Bohórquez? I’ve got to tell him one thing or two.

I was sitting, so I stood up and I told him that it was me, and asked him what was the problem. He looked at me up and down. After he carefully observing all of my six feet and two inches, he asked me quite serious and all shaken:

-So, what are you drinking?

We had a few drinks and he didn’t say anything else. If I were as tall as Manuel Martin Martín I would have been in trouble. El Perro was a good man, but he was quite upset with me.


The things of Mario Maya

Regarding the “premieres” and the “world premieres” at the Bienal, there is a story about Mario Maya. José Luis Ortiz was “premiering” one day a production at the Lope de Vega theater in Seville, “The Four Stations”, and Mario asked me to join him to attend that performance. We watched the show from the theater’s gallery and when it finished he asked me: “Manuel, did you see summer, autumn, winter or spring anywhere?”


The levitating midget

There was a half-blind midget in Seville who was a very good singer of saetas, and one Holy Thursday he was keen on singing to the statue of the Virgin of Macarena, as it passed the Bar Pinto, on Campana street. He was helped to a chair that was by the door of the bar, and as the procession with the statue of the Virgin approached and the midget started singing, Beni de Cádiz and Pepe el Culata lifted up the chair. When the midget finished singing and got down to earth, he told everyone around, moved to tears: “I felt as if I had been lifted up! That means the Virgin loved my singing and wanted to take me to Heaven with her!”


The interrupted taranta

At the contest of La Unión, the pre-selection of the contestants used to be made in the town itself, in one or two days, at most. Since there were so many contestants, the jury secretary, Deogracias, would stop them short just after they started singing, saying “OK, OK, thank you.”. One day, there was a dim-witted contestant from Jaén, whose name I no longer remember. He started to sing a taranta, but was more out of tune than a cricket inside a tin can, so Deagracias stopped him short:

-OK, OK, that’s enough, many thanks.

The good man got pale with rage: “I won’t stop because I don’t feel like it! That’s like cutting dust in half, damn it!”



Arahal, Sevilla, 1958. Crítico de flamenco, periodista y escritor. 40 años de investigación flamenca en El Correo de Andalucía. Autor de biografías de la Niña de los Peines, Carbonerillo, Manuel Escacena, Tomás Pavón, Fernando el de Triana, Manuel Gerena, Canario de Álora...