It’s a muggy Saturday night in Barcelona. There are 64,000 Catalonians crammed into Camp Nou. On the stage is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, belting their way through the first song of the night: Badlands. And next to me? My dad. Grinning. BEAMING. Jumping like a kid high on sweets.
He wasn’t supposed to be here.
So how did it happen? Me, on a city break with my dad? Well, let me explain. This is the start of it’s the start of a major summer of travel; not just any old travel mind, but a pilgrimage around Europe to see Bruce.
The current plan (although it always changes, you know how it is with neurotic Springsteen fans) is to head to Gothenburg, Sweden (where I hear the crowds break the stadiums), Coventry (glam place that), and Roma, where I’ll be pairing a concert in the ancient Cirucs Maximus with plates of pasta (and pizza for dessert). I’m only one concert in, but already I sit at my desk thinking about the crowds that’ll fill the San Siro stadium in Milan, and the final gig of the European tour in Zurich… a July weekend swimming in Swiss rivers and watching Bruce.
These cities are all great reasons for travel, but the main point of my odyssey? Bruce, and the best live concerts pound for pound – or euro for euro – on earth.And what better way to start the journey than with the man who ignited my interest this music: my dad.
Dad has taught me lots of great things. How to ride a bike; how to fall off a bike; how to win at Monopoly (buy everything). Music. Bruce Springsteen.
But then there’s the one thing he hasn’t taught me: how to travel. Sure, we’ve been on holidays – my childhood dotted with camping trips to Flamingo Park in Yorkshire, lilo wars in Spain and that banana boat in Malta.
But it’s not what he loves. He doesn’t obsess over the next place he wants to visit, he doesn’t spend hours online searching for cheap flights to Europe, and he definitely doesn’t do Springsteen abroad. Or standing.
So when I asked him to come on a last-minute trip to Barca to see Bruce he said no. Absolutely not. There was no time to arrange it. And what would the crowds be like? Too crazy, he said. I deleted the email, huffed a bit, sighed a bit, stropped a bit and decided to go on my own anyway.
And then a few hours later he emailed again. “I’ve made a plan,” he said. (He likes plans.) We’d get the first flight on the Saturday morning, back on the Monday before work. “We’ll see Bruce, drink beer and eat tapas.” It would be our first trip abroad together since I was 12 years old.
You’ve seen the setlist, read the reviews. Plenty of The River album dotted through a semi-random selection of tracks. Was it the best run of Springsteen songs in the world? Maybe not. But getting to see my dad hear them for the first time, in a Catalonian crowd that was soooo happy, friendly and welcoming? I felt so lucky to be there with him, seeing those 36 songs in that order in that city.
I’ve realised there are several stages to holidaying with your parents, and I’m now on the third. The first is childlike enthusiasm, because you are in fact a child. Days are filled with lilo wars, collapsing tents, crazy golf and “Are we there yet?”.
The second is the stroppy teenager phase. I did that one well – “Dad! You’re sooo embarrassing,” (cue eye rolling and trying to look cool in front of other teens going through the same on-holiday-with-parent angst).
Then there’s the stage I’m at now, when I get to call the holiday shots.
So for this weekend away with my dad, the trip was arranged entirely by me. For two days in Barcelona I was in charge. In a role reversal I’m not familiar with, I booked the flights, the accommodation and made all the logistical arrangements. I carried the passports, the boarding cards and made sure we actually caught the flight. (We did, just.)
I didn’t want to scare dad with impromptu plans (I’m pretty last-minute), but felt he needed to experience the way I now travel.
That starts with the accommodation. “Airbnb? We’re staying in someone’s home? Oh.”
Turns out he quite liked the traditional high-ceilinged apartment, the local feeling and riding the rickety lift up and down ten flights of stairs.
Then there’s the food. I took him into dank little coffee shops, tiny, grubby joints and bars he wouldn’t have even noticed, let alone considered, if he’d been travelling without me. In Cerveceria Catalana we went to town on tapas – salty, greasy padron peppers, slithers of ham, mini burgers (hey, it’s oblig) and, er, more mini burgers. Arrive early and put your name down, it’s worth the wait.
And finally, the sightseeing. I’m trying to ease him into this travel thing, so instead of walking for miles getting lost in dodgy parts of town, like I normally would, I thought I’d keep it simple with an open-top bus tour – something my dad loved so much that he made us go on both routes around the city. That’s five hours of my dad trying to take selfies of us (but mostly of the balding bloke sitting behind us).
Back in the bars, Dad tried to order a beer. In French. (Reminder: we are in Barcelona.) “Dad, you’re soooooo embarrassing,” I told him. Some things, apparently, never change.
But I think this trip has triggered something – not a crazy desire to fuck it and book flights at the last minute, but enough intrigue that dad would travel again. And I think, or at least I hope, I’ve established a tried and tested template for father and daughter bonding. Throw a high-decibel serenade in, and it’s pretty much the best city break I could hope for.
This year I’ve had loads of people tell me they are taking their sons/daughters to their first Springsteen concert, or that they are being taken by their now grown-up child. But then I have people telling me that their children won’t go with them to concerts.
This. is. Madness.
And I hear it far too much.
So parents, please let me have a word. I hope I can help.
Because they need to see you at that Bruce Springsteen gig.