It finally arrived, the ten year anniversary of our music institution song festival. I have said before that we should preserve and continue to nurture this festival because it serves as an important date in our social calendar and it gives our songwriters a chance to compete on home ground against international competition. I can’t quantify what it achieves in international publicity for ‘brand Gibraltar’ but it does come in at a very small fraction of the cost of ‘Gibraltar Calling’ and we are getting a better song festival each passing year. This year it was postponed in the spring and moved to this autumn date which unfortunately comes after so many recent music shows that it may have caused attendance to fall.
This year’s show was technically superb and it was sad to see that many punters stayed away from the show because the Tercentenary Hall needs to be full to pack a punch and create the vibe that helps make these occasions memorable. Twelve songs competed for a cash prize of £6000 and a handsome trophy and among the twelve were two local songs. The show opened with last year’s winning song reprised by Morea from Italy who was denied her reprise moment last year due to a technical stand off by the Rosario Flores management. She gave a rousing performance this time and then as further reward went to join the panel of judges. The panel this year was chaired by musician, producer and past winner Denis Valerga and also included Jetstream guitarist and past winner Stuart Whitwell, Enna from Spain and her fellow countryman Juan Carlos Arauzo, and the Italian Maria Penino (stage name Morea).
Andy Coumbe gamely did the presenting honours without a female co-host, which would have made the prize giving ceremony a little bit easier for him as he had to park his script and handle opening envelopes and keep a cool head while smiling too. He came through as he always does, but next year’s show should benefit from two presenters, that’s my suggestion. There were song entries from Spain, UK, Mexico, Venezuela and Gibraltar. There was well designed electronic information text on the backdrop to make the stage presentation smart, current and a joy to behold with the excellent lighting and themed electronic backdrops for each song. Sound was impressive and maybe just a tad loud at first but of course a less than half full sports hall which is not a concert venue has to be taken into account.
The twelve songs were performed without a break and my notes remind me that the winning song ‘Si no estas aqui’ by Ruben Cardenas Castillo and Sara Familiar Ruiz (Spain) sung by Sara Varela crept up on me from nowhere. As many in the hall also thought, a UK entry called ‘Life’ sung by its composer Tony O’ Malley came in second place when it might have come in a clear first. Third placed song was by Monica Gomila and Latvian co composer Kaspars Ansons. ‘I wouldn’t change a thing’ was given a very good reaction when it was announced as third placed. The best interpreter trophy went to Argel Campos from Spain who sang ‘Es por Ti’ which I had placed in my notes as a candidate. The dark horse song for me was ‘El Ritual’ (Mexico) sung by Paulina Pargas. I also have to say that the Venezuelan entry ‘Devuelveme mi libertad’ sung by Jennifer Leon, who delivered a powerhouse vocal, was for me also a contender for a placing.
After the prize giving ceremony and interval we were entertained by TVE ‘Operecion Triunfo’ star ‘Chenoa’ who had an excellent band but was not really the big draw ‘universal’ kind of artist who might have sold more tickets. She gave it all without holding back, accounting for her various hits and engaged in chat with the audience, among which were various contingents of her Spanish fans, who clearly enjoyed her more than we did as they were more familiar with her catalogue. She gave us a short acoustic set with her guitarist Alfonso Sanz and showed a ‘Rockier’ side to her otherwise poppy pedigree. A pretty stunning performer who might benefit from being less ‘Rocky’ and more powerhouse vocalist to which she is eminently suited.
Wrapping it up – it was a good show overall and definately a notch up technically from last year. There were some continuity issues outside the control of Director Joe Cortes and his team who work hard to bring this iconic show home every year. Chairman of GISF Joe Carseni promised exciting changes for 2020 and as a music writer I welcome the drive and optimism that his team brings to the song festival each year. We can’t win them all but we have to keep trying to please and improve all the time. Those two boxes were happily ticked in my book this time.