top of page

Andalucia - John Cale

Pivotal in the original and classic Velvet Underground line-up was Welshman John Cale, often the the one who was pushing hardest for the more risky, experimental sound which characterises their first two albums. He left the band in 1968, when the tensions between him and Lou Reed, who wanted them to be less experimental and more commercial, became too much. Reed persuaded the rest of the group that they should sack him. Curiously, it's the palpable tension between the two that gives their early music its trademark edginess.

John Cale is something of of an original curiosity or the exception that proves the rule, being a successful sixties rock professional that he studied music rather as opposed to art, although he did go to Goldsmith's College in London, more famous for it's arts than music.

Andalucia derives from the Arabic name the Moors gave to Iberia (Spain and Portugal) in the eighth century. Al-Andulus was also the name of a suburb of Kuwait City where, when I was in my teens, my father used to work as a corrosion engineer. The main feature of Al Andalus was the Al Andalus Cinema, the pride of Kuwait, a building with a massive auditorium which could hold two thousand punters and had the biggest screen I had ever seen. The audience were divided in two. Downstairs the stalls were for men only. Upstairs the massive balcony was for men with their wives and children. No man could go alone, and woe betide any couple that went there if they were unmarried. At the front of the balcony, overlooking what seemed like the edge of a precipice beneath which far were below was a rippling sea of tiny heads like a scene painted by Hieronymous Bosch, were special oblong shaped "family boxes" about six foot wide by twelve foot long where family groups of up to five could sit together, barriered off from the rest of the public.

We used to go there as a family, my mother and father, my 19 year old sister Hilary and my fifteen year old self. For a popular film, we would have to queue for half an hour or so to buy our tickets. One evening, while waiting in line to buy tickets for the film "Where Eagles Dare", we noticed that Kuwaiti women were just jumping in at the front of the line and the Arab men, frightened to cause a scene, were letting them do it. My mother attempted to do the same thing, but got nowhere, until a man at the front of the queue offered to buy them for us. He seemed slightly flustered, having been given instructions and the money by my mother, and, while he bought us the Family Ticket, forgot to buy his own. To save him having to queue up again, my father offered him the spare seat in our box. It seemed the right thing to do - he looked an avuncular forty and was respectably dressed in a light white suit - and he politely accepted. My mother and sister were not keen on heights so I and my father sat at the front, my sister in the next row behind us, and my mum and our new friend, whose name was Hanif, made up the back row, so we were all arranged like the pips on a number five playing card.

The film is still possibly best "trash mag" style war movie, and maintains a great pace right from the start with undoubtedly the best opening war film theme music and lots of shooting of German soldiers by Clint Eastwood to balance the superb acting of Richard Burton. The highlight of the film is the thrilling fight on the roof of a cable car suspended halfway down a snowy mountainside. Perched on the edge of the Al Andalus balcony, the sense of the drop that threatened the actors made me fell as though I too was on the cable car. so that when my sister tapped me on my shoulder and whispered hoarsely "the man's stroking my leg" I pretended not to hear and carried on watching. Hilary got a similar reaction from my father who was half deaf and couldn't make out what she was saying. The matter was resolved by my mother who took off her stiletto high heeled shoe, held it by the toe and dealt Hanif two sharp blows on the offending arm with the heel. The film continued a remaining half hour to its conclusion with my mum keeping guard over my sister, high heel in her hand, while my father and I blithely watched on. When the credits came up my mother and Hilary went off to find a policemen while my father warmly thanked Hanif and asked for his phone number so we could invite him around for a meal. Hanif politely declined and had made good his escape by the time my mother returned with the policeman in tow. Dad was astounded to hear what his newfound friend had been up to and tried to play it down, suggesting that my sister may have misunderstood Hanif's gesture (it was 1969) but he was in my mother's bad books for a long time after. And I still have my own special sense of dread every time I watch Richard Burton's body double make that jump from one cable car roof to another, which has as much to do with my failure to show some real life heroism as opposed to that on the screen.

Andalucia is an unusual name for a girl, and apparently not the long version of the European "Lucia". Cale hints at its Spanish antecedents, with the line

"....Andalucia, Castles and Christians..."

and some sources say it means "the walking light". This is one of those songs that haunts you over the years, its enigmatic lyrics teasing you with their closeness to something which just eludes you, with little personal details that only he and she understand. But one thing is clear: he's hoping she'll come back sometime - tomorrow preferably, but anytime is better than never.

bottom of page