Preview: Paco Pena, Peacock Theatre, London

The stamp of flamenco greatness
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The Independent Culture

"I was the second-youngest of nine children," he recalls at his Hampstead home in London. "My family rented two rooms of an old house in Cordoba, sharing a toilet and tub with nine other families, several of them gypsies, which meant we were like one very big family. Every birth, marriage or bereavement involved everyone. And we were surrounded by music - sung and played, not out of a radio."

His elder brother had a guitar, and when he was six Peña picked it up and began to try to play it. "Nobody was taught to play, people taught themselves. I loved inventing tunes on it - it just seemed a nice thing to do.

"And, as I was naturally shy, I was glad to find I could do something that people found attractive; it was a great help socially. I just used to sit in the street, late into the hot nights, playing by the hour."

At school there was a band looking for an accompanist. "I became that, on a terrible old guitar I found there, and I found a teacher who could show me chords. That was the point when I really got going."

He found his way to London, played in a restaurant, got noticed and was invited to play at the Wigmore Hall, and after that to share the stage with Jimi Hendrix at the Royal Festival Hall. He was launched.

"My mission," he says, "was to help raise flamenco guitar to solo eminence - in the Sixties, it was only considered an accompaniment. It was rough, as were the instruments themselves - the strings rattled, the sound died too soon.

"There was so much more that could be done with it, and it's still being discovered now. What I aim to do this time is draw the audience into the mysteries of the flamenco rhythm."

'A Compas! To the Rhythm', 21 April to 13 May (0870 737 7737; www.sadlerswells.com)

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