Simon Harris hails from Nottingham in the Midlands region of England, and like many people, he pitched up in Spain by accident and ended up staying. Back in 1988, Simon was hanging around in London, feeling as if his life had closed down when his grant to study music in America at Berklee College of Music, Boston was withdrawn on the grounds that music ‘wasn’t important.’ His brother suggested Simon joined him in Barcelona to shake down and decide what he wanted to do next.
Simon took his guitar to Barcelona for a couple of weeks and never came back or looked back. The original plan was to give up music and teach English, but like most plans, it changed, and Simon joined a band until he met his Catalan wife and said goodbye to the rock and roll lifestyle. He settled down to teach English and have the occasional jam session with the jazz crowd in Barcelona.
However, 26 years on, Simon is still very much a performer, and I would love to have been in his English class, with him ‘Giving it shit in an arrogant way, giving it everything I’ve got.’ Simon is passionate about everything he does, and supporting Catalonia’s dual quest for more political autonomy and independence from Spain has become something of a crusade for him.
How does a lad from Nottingham with music in his soul become so enthusiastically pro-Catalan? Initially by deciding to support Barcelona rather than Real Madrid, which got him involved with Catalan society pretty quickly. He also learned the language, and if you can speak Catalan and absorb and understand the culture, you will be accepted as a Catalan, wherever you originate from. In fact, around 40% of Barcelona’s Catalan population come from other areas of Spain, and in addition, there are a number of what Simon terms ‘foreign-born Catalans.’ That’s people like him who have become absorbed into the culture and welcomed by the native Catalans as one of their own.
Simon’s introduction to Catalan culture and history was as personal as you can get. His Catalan wife’s Aunt Magdalena told stories of life during the Spanish Civil War, and talked about her school teacher, who used to teach the children to read and right in Catalan, taking a big risk in defying orders from Madrid.
The Barcelona dream became a nightmare in 2008, when Simon became seriously ill and his marriage broke up. It made him rethink his life, and change direction once more. Not being what he calls a ‘Bread Head,’ he realised there was more to life than just living to work. From now on, he intended to work to live, and do what he really wanted with the rest of his time. So the historian, musician and English teacher became a blogger and writer of books – oh, and a property finder too. His acclaimed book Going Native In Catalonia was published in 2011, after being blogged into existence, and he set up Barcelonas.com to find property for people wanting to move to Catalonia.
Simon has just published his latest book, Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective. It’s a book Simon’s been wanting to write for many years, and like the previous book, it’s been blogged into existence. In July 2014, Simon wrote the blog post On Becoming A Catalanist to explain how and why the musician from Nottingham arrived at the conclusion that the only way forward for Catalonia was independence from Spain. He wrote every day, until he finished the first draft of the book on September 11.
That’s a symbolic day, for Simon and the Catalan people, because it’s La Diada Nacional De Catalunya, or the Catalan National Day. 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the end of the Siege Of Barcelona. The book details the history of Spain and Catalonia, relating a story that has been airbrushed out of Spanish history since 1714, before making a sound case for Catalan independence.
Simon raised €2,500 for professional proofreading and editing of the book, as well as other pre-publishing expenses, via a crowd funding project . These are very exciting times for Simon. There’s a lot of interest both nationally and internationally in his book, and the early indications are it could well become a best seller.
To round off this piece, I asked Simon for a quote that sums him up.
‘People often assume that because I’m a Catalanist I’m anti Spain, but that’s not true. What really gets to me are the Francoists and people like Esperanza Aguirre of the Partido Popular, who stir up anti-Catalan feeling by demonising the people and their ideals. I’m actually pro Catalan and pro Spain, but I firmly believe Catalonia’s future lies in independence from Spain. ‘