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Rock around the coast

When local politicians stump up funds to subsidize high-profile concerts, they expect a photo with the visiting band in return

July 16, 1998. In Málaga the Rolling Stones are starting the Spanish leg of their Bridges to Babylon tour. Paco Pérez Bryan, director of Radio 3, wants to give maximum coverage to the Stones' first concert in his home town. Several of us from Radio 3 are on the scene. The main dish of our particular feast, Paco explains, is going to be an interview with Celia Villalobos, then mayor of Málaga.

Fantastic, I think. Lots of interview mileage and juicy stuff in Celia. She is like a rank distillation of the spirit of the Popular Party - a heady potion of the deep Spanish right. Perhaps, with luck, she will say something adrenalin-rousing. She shows up in the studio for Pilar Arzak's talk show. We start out by talking about the Stones' relation with the Costa del Sol back in the 1960s. They stopped here on the way to Tangier, and particularly visited Marbella and Torremolinos. Here there occurred an infidelity which upset the balance of power within the group: Anita Pallenberg left Brian Jones for Keith Richards.

These rock tales don't cut any ice with Villalobos - quite possibly she doesn't even know the names just mentioned. To our amazement, she proclaims her utter contempt for "los Rolling." She's in high gear. She starts slagging all the Brits on the Costa del Sol - a pack of drunk hooligans who should go home. To change the subject a little, someone says the London papers have been on about the Coast of Crime due to all the Russian gangsters living here. But Celia is not to be distracted from her rant about drunken Brits. We try a few jokes. No good either. There can't be many British people listening, but it's odd to hear a political authority go on and on this way, spewing this virulent, gratuitous xenophobia.

When the mayoress departs, we exchange glances. One of her entourage comes to apologize. Celia had just been at a lunch with the fishermen's guild - a copious lunch, washed down with liberal amounts of wine. Besides, she went to have her photograph taken with the Stones, and they refused to see her.

This is an old story. Every time the former outlaws visit a city, local politicos crowd round for a photo. It happens in Spain, but in Australia too. The politicos are not satisfied with a backstage meet-and-greet. No, they demand an exclusive photo. They believe they deserve it when, as in Málaga, the local concert promoter has been aided with public money to mount the costly event. The figures are awesome. Even with expensive tickets - 6,500 to 18,500 pesetas - it is hard to cover expenses. In Málaga a crowd of 55,000 is expected, though with only a couple of days to go there are lots of unsold tickets. The Stones couldn't care less, with their ironclad contracts prepaid.

I ask the rock promoter Gay Mercader about this incident. He remembers nothing, but supposes the mayoress' request would have gone through the local organizer, a soccer team owner. Perhaps the Stones didn't even hear about it. Their entourage keeps importunate politicos at a distance, unless Mick Jagger expresses a personal interest in meeting, say, Bill Clinton, Václav Havel or Felipe González. There were few exceptions, Mercader tells me, on that tour. And those were the days of the economic bubble, when every little town on the Coast (even El Ejido!) brought in shows like the Stones, Dylan or Springsteen. The local political boss coughed up (the taxpayer's money) and in return expected The Photo.

Flashing back to 1998, and the Stones' debut in Málaga: a big enclosure had been built next to the port, to be dismantled the day after. Fire department launches patrolled, in case anyone fell into the water from atop the stands. Not unlikely, in view of the excesses I saw going on up there, such as I could not remember at previous Stones concerts. Adorned with the usual special-effects gimmicks, it was another triumph for the Stones. Celia Villalobos was nowhere to be seen.

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