A Musical Journey in the 1960s

in Features

After watching the Diamond Boys rehearse at Ross House ‘lavadero’ a group of friends from the south district (Europa) decided to try to form what was then known as a skiffle group. So in theory we had a band but we had no instruments, just five friends with big ideas about how to follow in the footsteps of Albert Hammond and the ‘Diamond Boys’ who were later the first band to leave Gibraltar in search of fame and fortune as Rock’n’Roll musicians. Four of us had an ear for music, all of us had a fascination with it, but none of us had a clue how to make it. We could pose gamely with a ‘Teddy’ boy quiff though! It was 1961 and with basic instruments and an eye on the girls we gradually learnt to imitate the sounds we heard on radio and gramophone records.

We thought we were great because the innocence of youth made us invincible and we believed that we could be a dance band and play at tea dances. As soon as we had learnt enough songs off by heart we got a contract at the Catholic United Services Club, a dance hall on the site of Ocean Heights today, where we were playing top twenty chart covers for the RAF, soldiers and sailors who would dance or collapse on the dance floor, sometimes both at once. When the fleet was in port guest bands from visiting ships would play there too and we would support them and soak up their performance skills.

‘The Silhouettes’ were originally Joe and Eddie Adambery, Richard Yeats, Ernie Picardo and the late Denis Bossino. Later on Ernie came to the front as main vocalist and the late Richard Porro became the drummer. With a two guitar line up, an accordion and a double bass, dance music provided the gigs and the finance for improving our basic instruments. We invested wisely in equipment and smart uniforms too. In those days musicians were suited and booted but you had to be good and thick skinned to take on an audience of servicemen on shore leave, mixing with services personnel who were stationed here and not easily impressed by the visitors, let alone a new band of local boys who got the eye from the girls that they fancied to dance. There were a few awkward standoffs but we had our fans and friends in the services who defused those situations.

Hard work in our rehearsals and residency work in night clubs like ‘El Polvorin’ (underneath the City Walls opposite Midtown today) gave us confidence and polish and eventually we won the first ever ‘Silver Disc Competition’ at the Alameda Open Air Theatre in 1963. A year later while playing at the Whiskey A-Go-Go we were ‘discovered’ by a car dealer from Portsmouth, a lovely man called Eddie Elliot, who saw a spark in ‘The Silhouettes’ and had the faith to take us to the UK at his expense and launch us as professional musicians. He had to do a lot of haggling with our parents but he convinced them that we could make it over there. At last we were on our way (early November 1964 – we sailed on the SS Canberra – Southampton bound) and we were getting better at playing pop music with a Latin flair which the English audiences would love and which made us different too.

Our musical journey had now started in earnest and life was good when we lived in Portsmouth/ Southsea and played at the Pavilion every night.  While there we also played with Shirley Bassey at the 3000 seater Portsmouth Guild Hall. We were becoming well known and the following year moved to the Isle of Wight to take on a summer residency touring the Warner Holiday camps dotted across the island. During that year (1965) we were entered by Eddie Elliott for the ‘Southern Counties Beat Group Competition’ hosted by Radio Luxembourg, which we won on the strength of our Latin roots making us original and different. We also had a very polished act while the competition were all playing the same rhythm and blues. Our prize was to be signed to the Phillips record label in London and we made three singles for them. We got a London management contract with Sidney Lipton and Cyril Stapleton, both of them famous band leaders, who offered us work as cabaret supporting their band gigs in the lucrative London society balls circuit. We were going places and earning good enough money to be able to afford to live in a mews flat off Baker Street, sharing the 25 guineas weekly rent between five. We were now known as Los Cincos and had variously changed our band’s name to ‘The G Boys’ in Portsmouth, Los Cinco Ricardos in early London days and then we cut that to ‘Los Cincos.’

In early 1966 we landed a residency at the famous Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane and moved to London to play there for nearly two years every night. It was our shop window and we had been persuaded by our management to wear frilly ‘Bolero’ shirts and capitalize on our bilingual Latin roots. The English audiences lapped it up and we became the toast of the town, always featured at the top hotel functions. For those gigs we hired some extra equipment and in our breaks from our two nightly cabaret spots at Grosvenor House, a taxi would whizz us around London to play as cabaret in most of the top hotels. The Hilton, The Dorchester, The Savoy, The Royal Garden and others were our musical stomping grounds and finally we managed to pay off our substantial loan to Eddie Elliot and parted friends with him.

All during that time we wanted to be famous like ‘The Beatles’ but our management wanted us to be a ‘new Latin fashionable band’. Of course ‘Carlos Santana’ came along in ‘66 and put paid to that dream but we continued to make headway in recording and were always in good cabaret work until 1969/70 when the band members gradually drifted back to the Rock. There was one notable exception however. 

Albert Hammond, who for a while had been our main vocalist at the Grosvenor House residency, had written a hit song for an Irish singer known as Leapy Lee. He had a big hit with ‘Little Arrows’. The rest as they say is history. The rise and rise of Albert Hammond, whose talent for songwriting we failed to recognise in our band ‘Los Cincos,’ who gamely peddled his catchy songs across UK and later the US, is a well known story. Ultimately he became one of the world’s best recognized and successful song writers. In retrospect I suppose that heralded the end of ‘Los Cincos.’ We still recorded with him and made an album for him (later shelved) but there was no stopping Albert Hammond, he made it big and we still remain very good friends to this day.

What did we miss? We had failed to notice his self-belief and his uncanny knack of writing the simple beautiful melodies which have become the soundtrack of our lives for over fifty years now. We didn’t spot his gift and star quality but all in all, our short journey with him in London were good times, which Richard Yeats, Richard Cartwright, my brother Eddie and me will cherish forever. Our late drummer Richard Porro and our first main vocalist Ernie Picardo were also important travellers in our musical journey. 

A couple of years ago, Eddie Elliott’s daughter Dee got together with me and gifted her scrap book and photos of our days in Portsmouth. It was so good to see all those photos validating a part of ‘our musical journey in the sixties’ and to also hear an early audio tape of a homemade recording on a reel-to-reel tape recorder which we made in her house in 1964. They are priceless memories indeed, as the song says ‘those were the days my friend’…..

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