Still Blowing Sweetly After All These Years

in Features

This is a feature on somebody who is still highly regarded in local music circles yet is an ex-pat Gibraltarian who has been living in Canada for twenty years. John Victor is a consummate flutist who, if I remember correctly, was voted the first ‘Young musician of the Year’ many years ago.  He plays flute, saxophone and is also a gifted vocalist.

Championed by the late greats Hector Cortes and William Gomez, over the years he has played in many bands three of which have been Gibby, Jade and Vibrations which saw some success outside of Gibraltar and helped to anchor this gifted musician to our musical landscape of the last forty years. In the great scheme of things he is trying to repatriate back to the Rock to enjoy retirement here and play occasionally of course.

“When I was three I already had musical leanings and picked up the harmonica and graduated to recorder at age seven and was greatly helped by my old music teacher Charlie Adamberry and later Hector Cortes. When I went to the Grammar school Hector had already started the Youth Orchestra and the old Music Centre was where I first played the flute which I picked up quickly, that was around late ’69. I think by 1972 I had won the young Musician of the Year twice.”

In those days the promising musician had the benefits of a summer course at Newbury in the UK where he was exposed to international players and symphony orchestras, one of which he enrolled into for a whole month (he was 14 then). Importantly he had one-on-one tuition from the late great Sebastian Bell of the London Symphonia. “Up to that point I was largely self-taught and only had a few lessons under my belt, but an hour with Bell put my flute fingering and my overall body posture on the right track.”

Back in Gibraltar as a side project from the Youth Orchestra, John and Albert Vallejo together with Derek Diaz and a young Brian Torres (13) formed ‘The Triads’ who later developed into ‘Glass War Creation.’ “The late great Francis Caruana helped me with sax and I became good enough to play Rock with it. I also became a vocalist with GWC and we went pro for about nine months playing Spain and the South of France and after that another Hector Cortes project, a band called ‘Gibby’ who could have done great things in Spain.”

“Hector had the youth choir which he whittled down to sixteen girls which he called ‘Tone Cluster’ and then to four whose band name Gibby was coined in Madrid. We made a demo in the UK and we stopped over in Madrid and got noticed by the record label Polydor and the two producers who were behind ‘Mocedades’ promised to come to Gib to speak to the parents as some of the girls were still under age and they wanted to sign us up.”

Intense negotiations here followed and the band Gibby signed a record contract. They recorded an album (twice – English and Spanish versions) and were anointed to be contenders to sing the Spanish Eurovision song entry. In those heady days boy and girl bands were all the rage. Politics intervened and Gibby came second to Jose Velez who was chosen to represent Spain in 1978 with ‘Bailemos un Vals’ (it placed 9th). The band continued but their fate was sealed.

“The producers were told to keep away from ‘Gibby’ and all that remains of a great album is a bad sounding cassette copy of the English version. I still have the copy. We had done a few dates touring in Spain but it fizzled out because we were unsupported and there was no other way it could end in those early post Franco days.”

By January 1979 John Victor was unemployed and he had lost the chance to take up a teaching scholarship in the UK. He ended up as an over qualified bill collector in the old Algemene Bank Gibraltar Ltd. However, he bounced back. “10 years later I was an internal auditor of the bank then went to join Spanish bank Banesto as assistant manager. That was my strayed career path.”

“I joined ‘Jade’ in 1979 till 1985 and we went from strength to strength till we had our hits in Spain. When the border opened two Spanish talent scouts came over to Gibraltar and although we had already recorded our songs we went to Malaga to re-record them and our Ska inspired arrangement of ‘No me comas el Coco’ eventually broke into the Spanish Charts. I remember signing records outside the door of my bank and it was a magical time. We recorded ‘Dale marcha a tu Cuerpo’ and songs for an album. During all this time ‘Vibrations’ was always a side project.”

Some years later in my other life as a dance band musician with ‘Horizon’ I recall playing at a villa in Sotogrande and the main entertainment after dinner was ‘Vibrations in Concert.’ I was impressed at the neat arrangements of light classics played by three classical guitars and the flute interludes were part of a music formula which was noticed by local musician producer resident in the UK Brian Wade who took them on a UK tour with West End theatre star Michael Ball. 

John continues his story: “What happened was that after six years with ‘Jade’ I was so tired and was looking for a change of direction in life. The Vibrations project was still alive and by early ‘91 Brian Wade heard our home recording and decided that it should be recorded professionally for the easy listening market in the UK.” At the time there was a band called ‘Sky’ who were having UK success with popped up classics. They were led by John Williams the famous Australian classical guitarist and composer. Vibrations decided that they would not copy ‘Sky’ and put their own Mediterranean spin on the classics.

“When we first heard the new recording of our ‘Death of a Whale’ we were all in Willie Gomez’s flat and I distinctly remember that he cried with emotion. It sounded so good and sincere – to our ears anyway. Some time passed before our album was launched and it went out titled ‘Mediterranean Moods’ instead of ‘Vibrations.’ Our take on Rodrigo’s famous ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ had to be pulled out of the album at the last minute because the late composer’s daughter simply opposed it. It was around 1995 when we started to get noticed and did TV spots on UK television, but although the rest of the band were more or less free to play there I had just started a new job in insurance here and could not meet the ‘Vibrations’ UK commitments. I was a nervous wreck.”

As with many music career stories and musicians’ lives, reality and domestic life take a toll on them and it would be quite some time before things smoothed out for John Victor to carry on his musical journey. The second part of this story which is still unfolding in another continent will be told next time.

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