Given how deeply today's rock and pop is in love with latin music, this
article could start with a paraphrase of that classic Monty
Python-sketch, where Graham Chapman is the presenter for "It's the
"Good evening. - Santana. Gypsy Kings. Jennifer Lopez.
Shakira. Even Enrique Iglesias... Latin music that will live forever.
Why is it the world never remembered the name... "
But then, the name to follow should not be Johan
Gambolputty-de-von-whatever, but Carmen - a rock band that in the early
seventies created the perfect blend of serious rock and traditional
Spanish and flamenco music.
You'll only occasionally find any information on Carmen in
encyclopedias or books of rock history (in print and on the net). But
everywhere, the band and its music are mentioned very favorably - here
are a few samples:
- "A very unique and very excellent band"
- "Still sounds fresh today"
- "Their sound is difficult to draw any comparisons to, because it is so unique."
In All Music Guides, François Couture writes
"...the musical elements are so well integrated into the
progressive rock vocabulary (including hand claps, castanets, and
flamenco footwork) that one wonders why nobody followed the band's
Initially, Carmen was a success. They played with
Bowie, toured with Jethro Tull, worked with one of the hottest
producers, debuted with an album that critics instantly loved...
So why are these pioneers not more widely known?
Just plain old bad luck, it seems. The band was only two years
old, and were considered as support for a Rolling Stones tour, when a
series of coincidences struck - the drummer's accident, loss of
management, general befuddlement, perhaps touring fatigue. The band
lost heart, and the great promises were not fulfilled.
A year or so later, punk rock was steam-rolling the world, and
there was no place whatsoever for a band that used more than three
chords and had professional dancers on stage. The window of opportunity
Luckily, Carmen's music is preserved; in recordings, but
foremost in the hearts and minds of the people who got the chance to
listen to them.
Front man in Carmen was guitarist David Allen (not to
be confused with Daevid Allen of Gong). Allen played flamenco styled
rock guitar, with the same power and intensity as an acoustic flamenco
The other distinct part of the band's sound was the
castanet-taps and heel-clicks of Allen's sister Angela and of lead
singer Roberto Amaral, doing flamenco dancing. Live, the band had a
special soundboard stage with microphones, on which Roberto and Angela
would dance as part of their show. Angela Allen occasionally played
keyboards. Drummer Paul Fenton also added to the rhythm.
Bassplayer in Carmen was John Glascock, formerly of Chicken
Shack, who had joined the band in 1972 in Los Angeles. John Glascock
was later to become bass player with Jethro Tull. He played with them
from 1975 to 1979, when he died, tragically, at the age of just
twenty-eight, from complications stemming from a congenital heart
Carmen released three albums:
- Fandangos in space (1973)
- Dancing on a cold wind (1974)
- The gypsies (1975)
The first album was the product of three years honing material - played
lived and rehearsed endlessly - influenced by Genesis, Yes and Led Zeppelin.
Tony Visconti produced the record but wasn't that much involved with the band's creative ideas.
He mostly helped Carmen realise them technically and created an enthusiastic, comfortable
environment in the studio.
"Dancing on a cold wind" is more intellectual, with the second
side being a complete mini-opera: the nine-part suite "Rememberances".
All band members are cast, with Roberto Amaral as narrator. The plot
concerns a gypsy ex-prostitute who finds and loses the love of her
life: Angela Allen sings "I'm a gypsy girl, and the streets are my
home". Almost all the material was written and arranged in the studio,
without having been played live. Again, the same influences.
The third album, "The gypsies" was the product of one and a
half years touring the states, and heavily influenced by Jethro Tull
who we opened for for three and a half months. Tony Visconti was no
longer involved with Carmen by this point.
Line records released a CD with both Fandangos in space and
Dancing on a cold wind, but that CD is no longer available.
Why does Carmen's music still sound so fresh today?
One reason is that their special fusion of Latin music and rock
was not some kind of cheap trick or gimmick. Neither was it a formula,
thought out by record company executives. David Allen had literally
tried for years to find the right mix, the combination that could work.
Another reason: experience shows. When Carmen started playing
together, the members were all seasoned performers and musicians with
several years of hard work in other bands and acts. David Allen had
played flamenco guitar since very early childhood.
In the last ten years, we have seen a continually growing interest in
rock and popular music with a Latin flavor: from The Gypsy Kings and
"Macarena" to artists like Enrique Iglesias, Shakira, to the recent
surprise mega-comeback of Carlos Santana.
And today, a big audience finally has a chance to find out what they have missed.
Carmen's first two albums - "Fandangos in space" and "Dancing on a cold wind" will be re-released in October 2006
as a 2 CD set by Angel Air records
is the first legitimate re-release of Carmen's records, with songs
remastered from the original tapes. The package will also contain two rediscovered Carmen tracks
, never before heard on record, and a 20 page booklet with new pictures of Carmen
from the bands personal collections.
The CD set is scheduled to be released in early October, but you can pre-order it already
from Angel Air records
or from amazon.com