Spain’s rockers rally to help boy wonder guitarist pay music school

Fundraising started after impromptu concert in Madrid guitar store by Pedro González

Video courtesy of Ángel Carmona.Ángel Carmona

Aged just 15, Pedro González opened the door to one of Madrid’s best music stores. Around 80 guitars, electric and acoustic, were hanging on the walls. He walked straight over to a 1955 Gibson valued at $18,000 and reputedly once owned by jazz legend Kenny Burrell, sat down on a stool and began playing a few chords. The owner of the shop, Israel Domínguez, turned round and said: “The kid can play, right?”

“I was very surprised,” says González, two years later. “He was playing jazz at a very high level. I freaked out, literally freaked out. The guy walks in and takes the most expensive guitar, without even knowing it. Fifteen years old.” Since then, as though it were part of his routine, Pedro is a regular visitor at Headbanger, located at number 73 Palma street, in Madrid’s hipster Malasaña neighborhood. He goes in, sits down, and starts to play, at least once a week. Jazz, and more jazz. That’s his life, his dream. “My father read in the paper that you could play in this store without having to buy. He told me that the owners were nice people and that I had to come, I just had to come,” he says.

Two months ago, his father and he visited the store with some news. “Israel, Pedro wants to dedicate his life to this, and he is going to apply to the Creative Music School. As you know, we are very short of money, and he needs a grant.” The reply came back immediately. “Take whichever guitar you want. You can borrow it for the exam.”

Madrid’s Creative Music School is privately run, and the annual tuition fees are €4,000. The jazz course lasts four years, and there are 20 grants covering half the cost of the fees. But getting one means passing two exams. The first requires applicants to send a video of themselves playing. This year, more than 200 people applied. Pedro was shortlisted, and became one of the 125 students who had to pass the next test.

This involved playing before a panel at the school itself. After three minutes, Pedro had wowed the judges. All that was left was an interview with the directors of the school, which he also passed. He got the grant.

“He is a very talented kid. He left us all slack-jawed. Not just for his ability, but also for his self-confidence,” says Nereida Fonseca, the school’s director. “For us, Pedro is a gift. Knowing what you want is part of the journey. I want to highlight the support he has been given by his family: it isn’t easy accepting that your child wants to study music.”

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Pedro now needs €2,000 to pay half his first year’s tuition fees. His father, Paco, 49, is a freelance photographer who hasn’t worked in months. Neither has his mother. Paco is very proud of his son. “The only thing he is interested in is music and movies,” he says, adding that he has no idea where the boy’s musical talent comes from. “It’s his,” he says. He started playing guitar four years ago after he was given an instrument by the music school where he studied piano. “And from there to where we are now,” says his father.

Knowing about the economic problems facing Pedro’s family, Israel called Lidia Martín, the co-owner of Headbanger. Two days later the pair had contacted some of Spain’s best-known rock musicians, among them Xoel López, Leiva, Amaral, Twangero, Dinero and Franela, who are prepared to help. “If we organize a couple of concerts in the store, get around 40 people in and charge them €25 each, we’ve got the €2,000.”

Meanwhile, Pedro and his family knew nothing about the planned concert. Israel and Lidia called the Creative Music School to ask what date the grants would be officially announced. It fitted in with the musicians’ calendar. Next they printed up some posters and started to publicize the concerts. They told Pedro’s father but insisted he kept the plan from his son.

Ángel Carmona, who hosts a show on state broadcaster RTVE’s Radio 3 rock station, tweeted news of the planned concert. “A chance to see Leiva, Xoel, Amaral, and Twangero. And for a good cause.” Tickets sold out in a few hours.

Xoel hugs Pedro at one of the gigs in Headbanger. To the right, Leiva and the singer from the band Dinero.
Xoel hugs Pedro at one of the gigs in Headbanger. To the right, Leiva and the singer from the band Dinero.Manuel Viejo

“I remember I went into the store one day and saw this kid dressed like a rapper playing jazz. I was knocked out,” says Carmona. “We started a concert in the store and we gave him a guitar when we started playing Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World. He played like a demon. I gave a recording of it to Ariel Rot and he said to me, ‘What is this kid supposed to learn if he already knows all there is?’ Pedro is a minor and he still can’t play gigs. If we want to see him it has to be in the Retiro park with his buddies, is that right? If we played this gig in a major venue in Madrid, he wouldn’t be able to come in. This is what Spain is like, and it’s not right,” says Carmona.

Two weeks ago, Pedro finished high school. He still has an English exam to sit in September. He doesn’t have much to do, so he heads over to Headbanger pretty much every day. “My father told me he was going to come up with something, but didn’t say what. One day, talking to the guy who repairs guitars in the shop, he said to me, ‘Hey, Pedro, haven’t you seen the poster in the window?’ I couldn’t believe it. I owe them all so much, Israel, Lidia, the musicians and the people who have bought a ticket.”

The second concert was on Thursday July 2. Leaning against one of the walls of the store were Óscar Merino and Cristina Blanco, both aged 25. They had left work at 4pm, and driven the 200 kilometers from Guijuelo, in Salamanca province to the capital. “I heard about via Carmona’s tweet and I sent a WhatsApp to Criss. She had no doubts: “I love Leiva and I just had to come,” she says. Neither knew anything about Pedro.

Silence. Xoel comes out. He plays an acoustic guitar. He starts off with two songs from Paramales, his latest record. Applause and a nod to Pedro, who is talking in hushed tones to Carmona. Silence. Leiva comes out. “The first question I asked myself was, why him and not somebody else? Then I heard him play and it was incredible. He’s the next Django Reinhardt,” he says from the improvised stage. He plays a few songs from Pereza, his most recent release, along with a version of Calamaro’s Crímenes Perfectos:

“Now I’d like to ask Xoel to come out, and also Pedro.”

Xoel, who was dancing and singing to his protege, returns to the stage, which consists of a rug. There are two amplifiers. Two guitars hanging from the wall look down as Pedro comes forward. He adjusts his baseball cap and shirt, takes a guitar, and places it on his lap. His mother and father watch from the other side of the shop. They look at each other and smile. Israel takes photographs from the entrance.

As the three finish their performance, Leiva is heard saying, “Christ, what a player!” The audience applauds. “For Pedro.”

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