(Extract taken from Shadows Across the Moon: Outlaws, Freaks, Shamans and the Making of Ibiza Clubland by Helen Donlon, published by Jawbone Press, 2017)
It was mid-July 2013, and the loudest sound on the island was the rasp of the cicadas. We were driving through the baked red earth terraces of Ibiza’s dry countryside in my rental car. Miquel Costa and I had just been to a remote finca to visit a pair of graphic artists who had covered the floors of the house with colourful mocked-up layouts and poster prints, ready for the opening of Sant Antoni’s radical new arts festival, Bloop, then in its first year. In the still of the afternoon, the pair, who had evidently been up all night, were showing Miquel options for a poster design for the opening party; all around them lay papers, spray paints and a lot of artists’ methodical mess. There they were, as busy as hive workers in the heat, while in the gleam of the countryside the Ibicencans had taken to their traditional post-lunch siestas.
Bloop described itself as an ‘international proactive arts festival’ and was an urban stab at transforming the usual expectations of the island—which, largely supported by tabloid newspaper stories, was that of a nocturnal clubbers’ elysium—and was focusing instead on the creation of open air galleries and installations, graffiti, workshops and photography. As it was Bloop’s first year, no one yet knew how it was going to go down, and Miquel was overseeing the project, on behalf of the Ajuntament, the local council. Similar events had been springing up on the island in recent years, with things like Urban in Ibiza, a convoy of internationally famous graffiti artists who’d work on huge canvases and other objects, such as cars, in the wide open countryside of the Atzaró agroturismo complex in Sant Llorenç.
July is the busiest month in Ibiza for many islanders. The clubs are in full force and for most of the tourists arriving on the island during this period Ibiza could seem like one big nightclub. The Walsall-born graffiti artist Chu had even explained one of his giant graffiti canvases to me at one year’s Urban in Ibiza event as ‘a sound system. I’ve basically turned the island into a sound system. I get the feeling the island is just one big sound system anyway, and if it isn’t it should be.’ It certainly could feel that way.
And now, in 2013, and with all else that was going on in Sant Antoni in midsummer—the overseeing of the activities of the super-clubs under its remit, the handling of peak tourist season, traffic wrangling, gorged hotels and crammed hospitals, the continuing threat of droughts and keeping an eye on the ever corroding coastline of some of the more beautiful parts of the region, the Ajuntament staff had their work cut out for them taking on the Bloop arts festival too. And then there was our Nico event.
After dropping Miquel back at the Ajuntament building by the sea in Sant Antoni, where he picked up his motorbike and headed off on to his next meeting, I stopped back in at the hotel round the bay where our guests were staying. The hotel, a quiet Ibicencan-run 1970s style establishment, with a lobby full of potted plants and a traditional dining room offering views of the legendary sunset that could also be seen from Café del Mar around the bay, was almost next door to Sa Punta des Molí, the old mill, now a heritage site, where Walter Benjamin had spent a few months in the 1930s. It was July 17th, 2013, and the next day Miquel and I, along with our colleagues would be holding a very special event at the small farmhouse style building that was used as a cultural centre, beside the old mill. Nico, the doleful singer with The Velvet Underground and friend of Andy Warhol, had died on the island at the age of forty-nine, some twenty-five years earlier, after falling off her bicycle in the afternoon heat, and sustaining eventually fatal head injuries. To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of her premature departure we had put together a multimedia exhibition, and a specially commissioned recital and concert devoted to her memory.
Of all the rock musicians who had an association with an island so bound up in the aura of electronic dance music, Nico was possibly the most well known. She had been coming to Ibiza since she’d been a young girl, and all throughout the years of her spectacular rise and fall. Starting as a model in Paris for the big fashion magazines, she’d come to the attention of Fellini, who cast her as a glamorous socialite in La Dolce Vita, and she was soon to appear on the cover of Bill Evans’s album Moon Beams. In 1962 she gave birth to Ari, her son by leading French actor Alain Delon, and started a career as a pop singer, before being introduced to Andy Warhol and his Factory scene, and becoming the icy blonde icon and lead singer for the band he sponsored, The Velvet Underground. Dubbed ‘Pop girl of 1966’ she then went on to create several staggeringly innovative solo albums, some produced by Welsh singer/songwriter and Velvet Underground exploratory musician John Cale.
In 1969, Nico met Philippe Garrel, the French underground filmmaker and lived with him for a few years in Paris, the two of them by then having fallen under the spell of heroin addiction, playing out their days in a darkened apartment with scant candle lighting and hours of ‘artistic silences’, as several of their friends reported. By now her blonde hair was dark auburn and she seemed to work hard to shrug off her image as a golden pop goddess, preferring to see herself as a dedicated writer, a true European artist. She continued to tour with her own band, playing to crowds of former Velvets fans and prurient young ex-celeb spotters, her creaking harmonium her constant friend. But Ibiza had been a refuge through all these various stages of her career, the place she kept on returning to. The place she felt free.
In the refreshing shade of the hotel lobby I checked my emails using their free wifi service and ran into Rafa Cervera, the resourceful Valencian rock journalist who was one of our team, and who’d interviewed us for a huge beautifully illustrated feature celebrating Nico’s life and career for that month’s Spanish edition of Rolling Stone. Rafa had just flown in to the island not only himself, but his priceless collection of recherché mint Nico and Velvet Underground vinyl and memorabilia, which were to take their place in the square glass exhibition cases that we were setting up in the Sa Molí cultural centre. The next evening at our event, he’d be giving a talk about Nico in Spanish, a history of her prismatic existence and the long-standing connections to the island that she had so loved.
Around the hotel’s lobby tourists of all ages were coming and going at the leisurely pace of those exhausted from their daily lives back home and looking to disengage from what they perceived as their realities. This wasn’t a clubbing crowd, but it was eclectic. Lots of Spanish and Italian faces blended in with the pale Brits and bronzed Germans, and on the whole it was a quieter and more charming set than the tourist crowds at the so called higher end establishments that were opening up in Platja d’en Bossa, the east coast resort which Miquel said was beginning to turn Sant Antoni into a dormitory town. But here at the hotel, at least on this side of Sant Antoni’s crescent moon shaped bay, you could almost be back in the late 1970s or early 80s, shortly after Franco’s tourism initiative had first transformed the island into a popular destination for European package tour operators.
The afternoon siesta-friendly heat had now all but cleared the tiled blue, relaxed swimming pool that glimmered at the outside of the hotel lobby, and only a few people were still braving its warm bath. I played with the idea of taking a dip—in July I always wore a bikini under my dress, but it was nearly time to get to the airport and pick up James Young. Back in the hire car I switched the air conditioning on to full. As I drove out of Sant Antoni and on to the carretera, one of the few dual carriageways on the island, this one connecting the town of Sant Antoni with Ibiza Town, I rummaged through my CDs and found Bitches Brew, which I let blast all the way to the ramparts of the medieval old town, subliminally casting aside Paul van Dyk, Sven Väth and Erick Morillo’s faces as they gazed down from the giant billboards that flanked the sides of the motorway, inflated heads promoting their own super-club parties.
There was just a bit of time for me to stop for a café americano and a game of chess with a friend at Café Madagascar on Plaça del Parc in Ibiza Town, after I’d bought a bag of syrupy Ibiza oranges from the cheap mini supermarket on the corner. Plaça del Parc was relaxed, despite it being the height of the tourist season. It was mid-afternoon, and the lazy café terraces were populated by locals or seasonal regulars, people in their forties, fifties and sixties with that durable look of travel and adventure about them. They constituted the more interesting edge of the visitors who flock to the island every summer.
Back in July 1988, Nico was last seen, by Peter Hook of New Order, crossing this very square on her bicycle. Less than a minute later, she had fallen off the bike and was lying by the road, until a kindly taxi driver picked her up and took her to hospital, where she died because she wasn’t treated quickly enough, having probably already suffered a heat-induced brain haemorrhage. It is said that she had popped into town to score some hash, leaving her son Ari behind at the house of Russian George, a friend they were staying with close to the nearby Sant Josep road. Ironically, having successfully quit the heroin habit that had plagued her for years, she had been surviving on methadone and marijuana on the island and gradually getting her health back, and the future had been beginning to look rosy again for her, after a few years of dark shadows.
As I left Plaça del Parc and drove on to the airport in the increasing afternoon heat, I tried to imagine what Nico would have made of the island of today. It was certainly a far cry from the freewheeling jazz age of her youth; the days when, as a young woman, she had discovered the island’s sybaritic and untainted spirit.
When the Council of Sant Antoni had invited me to be a curator for the tribute event, I’d sought out, along with Miquel Costa in his capacity as a cultural director at the council, the evanescent phantoms of Nico’s Ibiza past. These included the charismatic Irishman Clive Crocker, a famous bar owner and one-time Ibiza playboy who had been a dear friend of the singer’s, and who was a great help, providing us with carefully selected memories and anecdotes one spring afternoon at the Hotel Montesol. And we’d contacted two of Nico’s most important collaborators, interviewed them and asked them if they’d fly in at our expense and prepare and perform a specially commissioned evening of song, recitals and music. The German musician Lutz Ulbrich (aka Lüül, guitarist with Ash Ra Tempel and 17 Hippies) had been Nico’s lover in the 1970s, and had produced her live album Fata Morgana, a recording of her final gig. Then there was the pianist James Young, who had gone on the road with Nico during her later solo years and been involved in her later recordings, including Fata Morgana, as well as writing about those years on the road together in a wonderfully funny and bittersweet memoir of great repute called Songs They Never Play On The Radio.
At the airport the flights coming in were mainly delivering regular visitors to the island, many travelling solo, in from European cities. It was that time of day. From the evening onwards the package flights would be coming in, and by midnight the place would be a circus. But there was still a veil of siesta over the island at this moment and the airport was cool and hushed inside. It was James Young’s first time here. After so many years, here he was visiting the place that had meant so much to his collaborator Nico, from way back in the days when he was just a young college graduate with a flair for the keyboard, and she was an unconventional artist struggling to maintain her singularly insubmissive modus vivendi against the levee of music industry preconceptions that characterised the 1980s. Songs They Never Play On The Radio is still held up as the paragon of books that tell the unusually realistic story of the crucible of life on the road for the vast majority of non-stadium level bands. Equally hilarious and tragic, it portrays a lifestyle far removed from Nico’s halcyon Velvet Underground days or her years as a young model in Europe.
‘She talked a little of Ibiza when we were in Manchester in the early 80s,’ James had told me, ‘and how she had rented a nice cottage there in the late 50s, and her mother came, but that it was too much the two of them together as they had opposing ideas … about the entire universe. So she ended up renting a separate place for her mother, which meant she had to return to Paris to model to earn the rent. In the end she found a bigger place for them both where they could be quasi independent but I’m not sure how successful that was. Nico liked the marijuana and jazz people of Ibiza … the beatniks. Her mother didn’t get along with all that and wanted her to find a rich jet-set type and get married.’
Clive Crocker almost certainly fit that bill. In the 60s the urbane yet enigmatic young adventurer had established a name for himself as co-owner of the popular Domino bar, a beatnik and jazz lovers HQ set in the transient ambience of the port of Ibiza Town. The Domino had, amongst many other claims to fame, been the first place in the Balearics to preview John Coltrane’s era-defining A Love Supreme, after a copy of the album was brought back from London by Irish writer Damien Enright, himself a resident of Formentera during the period. The owners of the Domino had a prodigious collection of vinyl that was said to include the works of Miles Davis, Billie Holliday, Chet Baker and all the other jazz greats, and many of the island’s more colourful characters would populate its interiors every night until it closed at 2am, drawn by the lure of the trumpet or the tempo. Fired by amphetamines, some of the regular patrons would then wander round town and wait to greet the sunrise, or meet the arriving morning boats in the port. Nico met Clive at the Domino one night, and they began an intense relationship which lasted for many years, and which included trips abroad together and a long-lasting mutual trust and fondness that far outlived so many of Nico’s famously transitory friendships.
After dropping James at the hotel in Sant Antoni, I headed back to my own temporary home. My friend Anja’s old finca, Can Felix, is perched up in the hills set back above the golden strand of Platja d’en Bossa. No one was home when I got there. There was a method of booting the back door of the finca in with one swift kick that did it no damage, and which, at the height of summer, was a lot more effective than trying to negotiate the old rusty lock. Once inside, I stepped through the long cool hallway and into the generous living room, which was designed on two levels and had walls plastered with art that had been collected across the years.
Now in her eighties, Anja had moved to the island several decades earlier from her native Finland, and had married Harold Liebow, the American writer, photographer and author. When I’d first moved to the island in 2003, I had by chance come across Harold’s enchanting columns, ‘I Remember Ibiza’, online, and they had completely mesmerised me. I still find them my favourite day to day tales of Ibiza ever written, albeit that they tell of an idealistic and somewhat utopian former version of the island as it was in the 1960s, and, sprinkled with characters called ‘Dundee Doreen’, ‘Chinese Rita’ and ‘Big Mimi’, they told of a simple life of tranquil and basic amenities, sewn together by anecdotes revolving around charmingly picaresque human interactions with locals and internationals all going about their daily existence whilst looking for a way to hospitably accommodate each other.
There was a time when dinner parties at the Liebows’ finca were part of the legend of Ibiza, and I’d certainly witnessed a few myself in the later years of Harold’s life, including his unforgettable ninetieth birthday party. He’d given a long and unprepared speech, standing bolt upright in the vast living room which was filled on both levels with friends of all ages, and during which, quite unaided by human or microphone, his voice had carried as clear as a bell throughout the finca.
Harold passed away a few years ago, leaving Anja to her wonderful memories, a collection of friends that included Ursula Schroeder (mother of the filmmaker Barbet Schroeder) and the peace of Can Felix, up there in the hills. Anja still swam frequently in the sea, and loved to socialise. She couldn’t wait for our concert. Now, with an empty house, I got changed and headed off towards Sant Llorenç, further north on the island, and had dinner with my friend Kerry, a wedding planner from South Africa with more energy than a hill of ants, and a heart whose beauty is reflected in her gorgeous face.
We sat outside Juanito’s old farmhouse restaurant eating classic Ibiza food; pollo pagès—a local dish made with organic chicken steeped in herbs and served with rice—and drank hierbas, the Ibicenco digestif made with anise, rosemary, thyme and fennel—all typical Ibicenco plants. Although it was midseason, and we were seated alone outside on the terrace in the warm late evening breeze at the side of the one road that connects Ibiza Town with the small but popular town of Sant Joan to the north, the night was dark and almost completely silent but for the sound of cicadas and farm dogs in the distance, and the smell of rosemary and sage growing around us, which made us feel like we were far from civilisation. Wherever you go in Ibiza, you are never more than a short drive away from this kind of peace.
Halfway back to Can Felix in the car after dinner, I realised I’d somehow managed to break one of the straps on my new sandals. I’d bought them especially for the following evening’s event, but I immediately decided, based on vast experience, to place my faith in Ibiza. For some reason, when you do that there, things often have a habit of just working out. Everything would be ok. I parked my car outside Can Felix and quickly discovered that Anja was asleep when I tried the front door, so walking barefoot around to the back of the house, past the cosy outdoor pool under the stars and above the Mediterranean, I gave the back terrace door a swift kick and snuck off to bed in a quiet room at the back of the finca.
I crept out again early the next morning, before Anja was up. I had of course warned her that for the week of the Nico event, during which she had kindly let me stay at Can Felix, coming and going as I pleased at all hours of day and night, we’d only be able to spend some quality time together once the inaugural concert and exhibition opening was over. She was accommodating to a fault and would prepare coffee for us on the terrace on the mornings when she was up before me. I’d had to get up before her this particular morning, as it was going to be a long day. Slipping out through the front door, and past the giant aloe vera plants that grew wild in the driveway, I climbed into the car and put on my shoes. Damn. I’d forgotten I’d broken that strap the night before. I’d have to manage somehow for now, at least until it was time for some miracle to occur, as I still believed it would.
I drove down the hill, with the smell of the morning mists on jasmine drifting in through the open windows, and the bright early morning sunshine dazzling me through the windscreen, vibrating enticingly from the glistening surface of the Mediterranean below. I’d heard the bass pulse sounds of a party rushing upwards towards Can Felix from the iconic nightclub Space at 2am before going to bed as I’d crept in past the pool the night before. Now d’en Bossa was quiet, but it still sizzled in the heat like the last cinders of a good time at the end of a bonfire. At the bottom of the hill down I hit the main road into Ibiza Town and headed for the port to get a coffee and an almond croissant, and to watch the early ferries depart for Formentera and Barcelona—something a lot of people still like to do in the mornings in town.
After breakfast I called Miquel at the Ajuntament and told him I’d be picking up James and taking him round the old town, to give him a taste of the Ibiza that Nico had known and loved. Miquel was already busy and just heading off to the cultural centre at Sa Molí, to finish up the arrangement in the display cases which were now bursting with Rafa Cervera’s Nico and Velvet Underground memorabilia, and he had to try to get the video displays he’d installed earlier to work. I promised to join him and help out once I’d despatched James back to the hotel for his pre-concert siesta. Picking up a couple of copies of that day’s Diario de Ibiza, the island’s daily paper, I stopped en route by the Multicine cinema complex, where on so many a Thursday over the years I’d gone with friends to see a film in their art house/foreign-with-subtitles programme, Anem al cine. I parked the car in the giant car park so that I could take a minute to scan the Diario to see what kind of coverage we had for the event.
Our TV press conference of two days earlier had made it in there with a picture of us all. The press conference had been held at the Ajuntament building in Sant Antoni, and the multilingual group of us representing the event had stumbled along in Spanish (or in my case a kind of Catalan/ Italian confection). To my relief, they’d quoted some of the things I’d said about Nico, so I got a chance to see what I had actually managed to get across, since I couldn’t really recall anything except how odd my version of Spanish was, even after all these years. Throwing the newspapers onto the passenger seat of the car, I made a quick stop at the nearby petrol station. I knew there was plenty more driving to do in the coming days and wanted to get that task out of the way.
James was awake and waiting for me in the hotel lobby, eager to explore a bit. So far, his only impression of Nico’s island had been the road from the airport and the Sant Antoni hotel. We set off in the by now blazing static heat back towards Ibiza Town, specifically to the medieval walls of the old town, Dalt Vila, to walk where she had walked so many times over the years. Finding a parking spot right by the main wall at the back of Plaça del Parc, James thought I was joking when I said we were in luck having to only pay for a couple of hours parking as the meters would hit siesta time after that, but it’s true, the parking meters in Ibiza take siestas too.
Entering Dalt Vila, we soon had to hide from the heat in one of the dark and damp ancient tunnels, and in which we found some kind of medieval prison/torture chamber, but eventually we drifted down towards the port where back in the carefree days of her youth Nico had first found what she described as the freedom to be herself. Now that James was experiencing firsthand the island that had so mesmerised her, he claimed he could feel her presence along the old town walls and told me that he finally recognised how the kaleidoscope of atmospheres and architecture, colours and character combined would have made her so happy there.
We walked on through the old market place and bought a small bag of fresh and locally grown figs, which we took with us to the port to have with a cold drink. In front of us two enormous boats were moored. They belonged to the now annual caravan of Mediterranean and Arab playboys who frequented the island at the height of club season, and whose owners would float like social butterflies from one VIP table to the next in the clubs and more expensive beach restaurants. They brought in a lot of money for the clubs and restaurants, but their presence was typically greeted with bemused indifference by locals.
As we headed along the port we passed the site of the former Domino bar, and the pre-clubbing bar the Rock, which had once been Clive Crocker’s bar too (it still says ‘Clive’s’ on the door today) and I asked James if Nico had ever mentioned Clive to him. He had no memory of that, but he was beginning to understand that there was so much of her he never knew about. Her Mediterranean alter ego had been there underneath the grime of touring all along.
The last time James saw Nico was on the night of the final gig they played together, at the Berlin Planetarium in 1988 (the one that became Fata Morgana). Although she had by then dealt with her heroin habit, she was still struggling with daily existence in other ways and had even told a few friends that she was thinking of coming to Ibiza to die. ‘I think Ibiza meant for Nico a refuge, a place of re-evaluation where she could live a less chaotic existence for a while,’ James had told me. ‘But it might also be that she was re-imagining and wishing to re-enter the ethos of an era that was now gone. For European intelligentsia as well as bohemia, the Mediterranean, during the immediate post War period, represented something life-affirming after all that horror and destruction: the sun, the sea, fertility, Picasso, Matisse, Robert Graves, Lawrence Durrell, Bardot, Loren …’
Of course, it was now thirty years later: 1988, and the beginning of Ibiza as European party capital. ‘Nico was definitely not a party animal, ‘ James continued. ‘I don’t think she would have liked the Ibiza of today, the industrial sized clubs, the package holidays, the Ecstasy, the sexual exhibitionism, the hedonism. Nico was a bohemian, yes; a junkie, sure … but also a puritan.’
It was an interesting perspective on a woman whose peripatetic existence had meant that she was parted from her one child, her son Ari, for very long periods of time, and frequently, as she moved from one New York abode to another, or California, or Paris where she lived in near obscurity for years with her lover, the filmmaker Philippe Garrel. Ari had grown up partly on the island too, staying for long periods with his grandmother in her house there.
‘Last year I was talking to Ari,’ Young continued, ‘and he thinks she knew she was dying. So now, ultimately, I guess there was another agenda. She went to Ibiza to die. She didn’t want to die in Manchester, or Berlin or Paris or New York. She wanted to die in a cradle of life. As a girl she saw Berlin on fire, watched the death trains to the camps roll by, lived her dream life literally in a graveyard. The Mediterranean would bathe her body clean, bleach her bones, return her to the source. I am touched by this idea of an Ibiza tribute to Nico. I think, for Nico, Ibiza represented freedom: freedom from the world and, ultimately, freedom from herself. It was a place she chose to live, to re-invent herself … and to die, a free woman.’
We stopped for a quick sandwich near the Hotel Montesol, the old yellow and white 1933 building on Vara de Rey—the charming avenue that runs from the top of the port into the main drag of Ibiza Town. The Montesol had been a meeting place for travellers since Walter Benjamin and his ilk first came through in the 1930s, and by the 60s it was beatnik central. These days it was still a favourite meeting place for locals, and served, alongside its regular lunch and dinner menus, the most incredible hot chocolate and churros on winter nights.
As we walked on past the giant elevated clock that also serves as a barometer at the top of Vara de Rey, we turned uphill into Via Punica and stopped at the exact spot where Nico had fallen off her bicycle. We took photos in the shadows; in the urine-scented alleyway just off the main drag of Avenida Espanya, where the blazing summer sun had by now turned the afternoon into an eternal siesta. The alleyway contained a dowdy and old-looking flower shop and no other signs of life. James pointed out the sad irony of the florists being probably the last thing she saw before she fell off her bike: apparently she had been considering retiring from the world of touring and opening a flower shop herself.
We headed back to Sant Antoni and decided to take a quick swim in the hotel pool. As tempting as it was to fall asleep afterwards in the shade, I had to head over to Sa Molí and find Miquel. Leaving James to his pre-concert siesta, I swung the car round to the old mill next door and soon spotted the busy figure of Miquel who was still bringing things together in the heat of the late afternoon. The graphic artists from Bloop, who I’d met the day before, had just arrived to help out. They’d made us some Warhol pictures and were busy hanging things. I helped Ubi, a local artist who was part of our team, to put together fifty fabric roses with welcome messages that she had made specially to commemorate the occasion, and that we’d be giving out to the exhibition visitors later on.
Slowly the last elements of the show were all coming together. Until, a couple of hours of putting out chairs and testing electronics later, we realised at almost the very last minute that we didn’t have a suitably sized chair for James to use when he sat at his keyboard, so various frantic phone calls were made, during which time microphones and stands were arriving and being tested, a chilled out Chilean artist friend of Anja’s bashed some staples into my broken sandal to make it work again (a makeshift fix that would last me another three summers), people started slowly arriving in clouds of perfume and long gowns, and the mayor was pulling up in her car. She’d come to open the event, and pretty soon we were all lined up beside her in front of the seated outdoor audience.
The moment had arrived, and on that evening of the concert at Sa Punta des Molí on July 18th, 2013, the warm evening winds blew around Sant Antoni bay as ghosts of Nico’s past (Clive Crocker and others who dutifully turned up and shared stories) mingled with fans and, according to James Young, with her spirit: Chelsea Girl, muse, poet (Jim Morrison had given her the necessary encouragement to start writing songs in earnest), the enigma, the lost soul. Anja told me later she’d found the whole evening incredibly moving. People like island historian and publisher Martin Davies had turned up, too, as well as other faces, such as the Swiss novelist and painter Jean Willi. During the course of the evening, Lutz Ulbrich told us more about the circumstances of what had happened after learning that Nico had died, with a talk he gave in German (following Rafa’s in Spanish) in which he described the days following her untimely death.
After Lutz’s talk, which covered ground similar to the interview he had given me, James Young performed some songs that he’d written especially for the event, and you could have heard a pin drop, despite the fact we were in the middle of Sant Antoni at the peak of the summer season. The event had been packed, and Anja was right: it was very moving. Afterwards, at midnight, and after a quick photo session and a cooling off beer, we all headed down to the beach for an outdoor dinner at a nearby chiringuito, where we sat at a wooden table with paper tablecloths and our feet in the sand as we drank celebratory toasts in Nico’s honour, and dined on the plates of fresh fish that the owner prepared specially for us from his catch of the day.
Lutz and James are almost eternally young men, in the sense that they were both very young when they knew Nico, and being part of this event had brought them back face to face with the innocence they knew back when she was such a major part of their lives. They’d both been such willing and devoted participants in the event from the moment we’d first asked them if they were interested in joining us, and this was despite the fact Lutz had another concert the following night in Germany, and was going to be leaving the island at daybreak.
After saying our thanks and goodbyes to Lutz back at the hotel, we all scattered to our various parts for the night, which for me meant going back to Can Felix, where I found Anja already deeply engrossed in my copy of James’s book. She was very animated after the evening’s doings, and we sat up talking for a long time. I’d first met Anja through a mutual friend, Martin Davies. Martin is probably the most authoritative figure on matters of Ibiza history—be it art, politics, the various periods of settlement from the Phoenicians and Moors to the Catalans and Castilians. He also publishes, as Barbary Press, some beautiful books about the island, including two renowned black-and-white coffee table books that feature many historical photographs of Ibiza and its people.
Martin knows most of the writers on the island, and he had known Harold and Anja for quite some time when he first took me to meet them about ten years ago. I hadn’t realised until I was at their front door that the man I was about to meet was the Harold who had written those columns at liveibiza.com that had so enchanted me. Like Harold, Martin also wrote columns about life and traditions. We all shared a great love of literature, from the Mediterranean, from anywhere.
Anja was already back to reading Songs They Never Play On The Radio when I woke up the next morning. By lunchtime, though, we’d hooked up with Martin and were sitting at a table in the sand at the Bar Flotante in Talamanca, just outside of Ibiza Town, past Pacha and the luxury yachts in Marina Botafoch, and we had a lunch of fresh fish and ice-cold local rosé.
It was the last day with James and Rafa, so along with the German artist Ubi, who lived on the island, Miquel and I took them off that evening to experience Pike’s, the quiet hacienda style rural hotel set up in the 1980s by the famous Anthony Pike, friend to Freddie Mercury and Julio Iglesias, ex-boyfriend of Grace Jones, and all-round Ibiza celebrity. He had recently passed on the hotel to the ex-Manumission couple Dawn Hindle and Andy Mackay, who had turned it into an extension of their Ibiza Rocks empire—an empire which revolved around the promotion of live rock music as a counterpoint to the ubiquity of electronic music on the island.
Liam Gallagher’s group Beady Eye were due to play a gig at Ibiza Rocks that night, and now, in the early evening, Liam had taken refuge at Pike’s, at a table next to ours. He looked worried, which was almost certainly down to his making headlines that week back in the UK for having been caught out cheating on his long-term partner, Nicole Appleton. But apart from the subdued Beady Eye group, Pike’s was empty, and we were given a table above the famous ‘Club Tropicana’ bar and pool where Wham! had filmed the video for their single of the same name, and in which Pike himself features, sporting pyjamas and an exaggerated moustache.
After a few drinks I took James and Rafa by car to Santa Gertrudis, a small but lively village in the centre of the island, for dinner. Santa Gertrudis has one main plaza, which for a very long time only featured an antiques auction and clearing house, a couple of humble but lovely cafés, an Ibicenco-run tobacconists and general store and, perhaps most famously, Bar Costa. Miquel Costa was actually born above Bar Costa, and the establishment has been in his family for years. When I first moved to the island, in 2003, I used to drive up there every other morning from my house in nearby Sant Llorenc for breakfast, and I loved how they played blues music, or David Bowie’s Station To Station, there in the calm middle of a Mediterranean island. Locals came there for Bar Costa’s famous boccadillo sandwiches—toasted and tomato-spread baguettes filled with manchego cheese or serrano ham, and above the bar whole legs of ham were hung up to mature before being taken down and sliced up. Inside, the white walls of Bar Costa are covered in a selection of highly eclectic paintings, relics from the days when the village was a centre for poor artists who’d pay off their ever-rising bar credit in art. Santa Gertrudis had changed a bit in recent years, and the village had expanded to include several new rows of houses, the island’s favourite bookshop, Libro Azul, the local vets and a few chichi restaurants. I took James and Rafa to one of those. If we’d had more time together, I’d have loved them to experience one of Bar Costa’s traditional breakfasts.
After a hearty outdoor dinner surrounded by locals who had a bit of money, I decided to drive James and Rafa back to their hotel in Sant Antoni not by the main road, via Ibiza Town, but through the quiet and magical country roads that took in the valley of Santa Agnès—where in early February the vast corona of almond trees in full bloom is arguably the most sensational sight (and scent) in the Mediterranean. Even now, in mid-July, the lingering scent of mead coming in through the car windows was a rare but comforting pleasure.
Despite any changes to the size of Santa Gertrudis, and despite the fact that James and Rafa would be flying off to their real lives in the morning, the charm of driving through that beautiful timeless valley of Santa Agnes, with not a soul in sight anywhere, reminded us that our short lives were so insignificant compared to this virtually unchanging, centuries-old landscape.