Joe Adambery

Joe Adambery has 46 articles published.

Dreams of Nashville

in Features

Layla Rose returns determined as ever

Shes back Folks!

Catalan Bay’s sweetest export, aspiring Country Music singer songwriter Layla Bugeja (now 20), has just finished her first academic year in America’s music capital. She is still living her dream and modifying her music aspirations having finally discovered where she fits in. She wants to be a career songwriter and is studying ‘Music Business and Song Writing’, two separate courses, at the Middle Tennessee State University in Nashville.

 In our feature last August for ‘Insight Magazine’ we were saying goodbye to her and wishing her well and now (end of May as I write) she sits across from me in sunny Casemates smiling and confident that the coffee/chat we are embarking upon will track her progress and tell our readers and her fans here that she belongs over there. I have complete confidence that she will stay the new courses, holding on to her dreams and writing ever more mature songs which she hopes other artists will pick up and sing. Last year she was a big fish in our little pond, now she is our little fish in a huge pond with sharks and it doesn’t unsettle her one bit.

“The first few months were quite hard. It was a culture shock and I was quite homesick. Had it not been for Simon Dumas (King Calaway) and Izzie his girlfriend who greeted me and helped me to settle in with my purchases and move I would have been quite lost and probably spent a fortune on transport. After my roommates at Uni moved in it got better and I stopped feeling sorry for myself. Now after having come through and found my strengths, I feel that I could take on any challenge. Suddenly things that would have really scared me don’t feel so daunting anymore.”

Layla changed her course as soon as she realized that her heart was not in ‘Mass Media Studies’. A wise move as she recalls: “I asked myself what would be the point in spending four years studying for something that I was not passionate about? I was sitting in lectures thinking about my Uni friends who were studying music, so I changed my course to ‘Music Business’ and my foundation course to ‘Song Writing’ and my outlook changed immediately.” The obvious question for me was would that be any use to her if she wanted to do something else over here in later life? 

“Absolutely not – but quite honestly I don’t see myself staying in Gibraltar my whole life. Here there is nothing I could do with a degree in ‘Music Business’. When I finish my degree I will apply for a work visa in the US and as I have studied over there I will have a much better chance of getting it. My ‘Music Business’ degree will allow me to seek work in the music industry so that I can support myself as I continue to write songs. As a student I’m only allowed to work on campus and for any gigs that I do outside Uni through networking etc (she has done nine gigs so far), I do not get paid. That’s good and bad because in a way as you don’t charge to play you can get more gigs but if you don’t make money you can’t even buy guitar strings.”

Reality bites and Layla has realized in the last year that if she is going to make any money from her songs she has to be more commercial in her song writing,  making her music accessible for other people to sing and more importantly ‘Radio friendly.’ “I feel that I have changed my focus and although I don’t really like commercial music that much, I know that if my music is more commercial I will have a better chance of getting it recorded and published. In Country music commercial means the typical Nashville sound and singing about pickup trucks, whiskey and beer instead of reality.  I can now write reality songs for myself and commercial songs for others to sing. That is the direction I’m going in.”

“I went to Florida on a Spring break and I wrote a song about it called ‘Panama City’ which is where I stayed. I also wrote song about my friends and a concert we went to while over there. My songs now can be about the positive experiences I’ve been having, whereas at first they were introverted and reflecting my homesickness and the culture shock. I grew a lot from that experience and I wish I could have gotten over it sooner. That perhaps would be my only regret – I lost a couple of months looking inwards and missing out.”

“Now I’m quite open about my songs and share them with my friends at Uni. I also make a rough recording and send them to my dad for his input. I like to listen to a proper critique of them and can take note. It’s a way of improving. For example this year I’ve written ten songs and only two of them are dark. There are no more dark songs like ‘Johnny’s Lake’ in my current batch. Some songs are very personal and I don’t want to give them to anyone but there are other songs that as I write them, I’m thinking of a particular artist or a particular style that is different to mine.”

At Simon Dumas’ invitation Layla co-wrote a song with him which she is quite proud of, it’s called ‘Heaven help me Heal’ and obviously it’s her favourite because Simon wanted to be the first to collaborate with her in Nashville and she grabbed the chance and run with it. She tells me that Simon is doing really well in his song writing partnerships and that his band ‘King Calaway’ is picking up the slack which almost stopped them on their tracks during the pandemic. Their progress was interrupted but KC is making up for lost time. He is now the band’s front man and they have cut down to four members.

“I still can’t get over the fact that my dreams are still unfolding before my eyes and how lucky am I to be in Nashville studying music and jamming with really talented people while also enjoying learning about the American culture and making lots of new like-minded friends. At every party that I’ve gone to in Uni there’s always a back yard with a fire going and guitars, mandolins and all the joy that is the Country music scene which I have been able to soak up. There are so many talented people trying to make it that you just have to be inspired and feel grateful to have this wonderful opportunity that I have. I will make the most it. I‘m really happy and settled now I know how I can fit into all this.”

Layla the Country songstress will be performing solo every Wednesday at the Village Inn down at Catalan Bay and she will no doubt be booked to perform at the Montagu strip and Ocean Village. She returns to Nashville in August and she intends to cement all the work that she is putting in and build a realistic song writing career by the end of her degree in three years. All it takes is one lucky break and this talented and switched on young lady could be transformed into a household name in cowboy country. Our warmest good wishes go with her and our hope that those Nashville dreams of her’s continue to unfold and eventually pay dividends too. Welcome home Layla Rose we missed you.

A Spiritual Journey Remembered

in Features

Joe Caruana a former government minister in 1969 and brother of our late Roman Catholic Bishop Charles Caruana, is also an established author with six books to his name. Born in 1937 he is now a jovial octogenarian and describes himself as a poly-faceted man. He is that and he’s also a talented artist who has sold many paintings displaying them on the Costa marinas where I have seen him many times. I have previously reviewed three of his books each as different as the next. ‘When the Hangman Came’, ‘The Iron Knight of Malta’ and ‘Eyes Set on Heaven’ which he wrote about his brother the Bishop and I daresay, his late dearly loved mentor.

Being of Maltese origin with strong roots in the Catholic faith, it was always going to be on the cards  that he would also undertake a spiritual journey at some point in his life and in this latest book which I’m about to describe, he traces that long journey as a legacy to his Christian faith. Now in the sunset of his years, his hopes are that the story of the journey he’s undertaken maybe encourages those whose faith may have gone lukewarm and prompt a return to worship and persist in the faith they once had. He is as excited as he is wary about his latest book because as we well know Religion and Politics tend to polarize opinion.

‘The Power of Pentecost-The Power in Hands’ is the double barrelled title of his latest offering and there is nothing to fear about dipping into its 150 pages well illustrated with photographs and profusely supported by bible quotations as you would expect. I can do no less than reprint the author’s synopsis here to help acquaint the prospective reader with the contents of the book before I add my own appraisal of it. 

“My Spiritual Journey

Though still a sinner my spiritual experiences have strengthened my faith.

In the ‘Power of the Pentecost’ I testify to the power of the Holy Spirit.

The book goes through the rich and sad history of the many attempts to destroy Christianity.

Christianity would not have survived had it not been for zealous defenders of the Apostolic faith.

The separation of literature, authenticated from unauthenticated, would have not produced the present correct Bible that is known as the cannon of the Bible.

The chapter on heresies drives home the many disparaging issues confronted by the early Christian church.

No less than two million Christians were cruelly martyred for holding on to their Christian beliefs.

We touch upon other important subjects of today such as the Eucharist and ‘the Real Presence therein’ which is held to this day.

The Last Supper and the mystery of the Holy Eucharist and how it came about are analyzed from the original Greek text.

We explore the power of hands from the ‘imposition of hands’ when praying for cures. The laying- on of hands when empowering someone with authority within the church. The use of hands when praying. All are spiritual gifts from above.

I trust that this book will encourage those who may be lukewarm towards their church to return and persist in the faith they once had.

I have no shame in proclaiming my faith since I have the conviction that God is relevant to all our lives. Therefore I speak up for my Christian faith to remind Christian believers about their roots.

Maybe this book will kindle the glowing embers into a raging flame in the hearts of the faithful.”

The previous synopsis adorns the glossy back cover of the square format semi-hardback edition which is published by ‘authorHouse’. The first thing that comes to light is that this book was written in 1984 when the author lived in Canada. This does not make it an old story. It provides the starting point of a journey at a time when Joe Caruana was a successful businessman who was going through a separation which led to divorce. These life changing events usually lead to a self-appraisal, which in this case saw the author being drawn back to his Christian roots and then finding a desire and discovering a flair for pastoral work that saw him immerse fully into the Charismatic renewal movement. At first in Canada then beyond and eventually leading back to the Rock where he has finally made his home. 

The story is told in an easy and honest manner which is enriched by many photographs and acknowledgments to those who have helped and influenced the efforts and the vision of the author, who at one time even wanted to become a priest and at another time spearheaded the Camp Emmanuel project in nearby Los Barrios, which saw him helping addicts and fostering young people through religious retreats and volunteer work.  Addicts who came to the Camp Emmanuel for treatment underwent a drug or alcohol rehabilitation recovery programme that was based on the 12 step AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) programme and a few hours of hands-on work too.

Through seven chapters the book moves swiftly and effortlessly through Joe’s personal experiences and his journey with Biblical references that extol the ‘Power of Penetcost’ and the ‘laying of hands’. It’s a well known documented fact that in Hinduism this ‘laying of hands’ is called Pranic Healing and in my own experience of being prayed over I can attest to the obvious transfer of energy, which is felt as heat, even though no touching is taking place at any point in the ‘praying over’. Whether the intended reader believes or not, the varied contents of this book, will depend on their disposition to accept or not, the strongly held universal view that there is a higher power. 

We are not alone in our universe and as an Alaskan fishing skipper facing heavy seas once remarked “When you have a fifty foot wave coming at you everybody believes in something!” Indeed we are genetically programmed to believe and even in the deepest jungles throughout history tribal people have been guided in their actions by belief in a higher power that needs to be appeased by offering sacrifices and many forms of prayer.

Joe Caruana’s book ‘The Power of the Pentecost – The Power in Hands’ may be purchased from the following outlets…Heritage Bookshop, Cornerstone Bookshop, Petrol Station shop Queensway, Parody Tours Town Range, Eroski Rotunda airfield.

Hopes for peace in Ukraine have been shattered

in Features

Hopes for peace in Ukraine have been shattered mercilessly. Sadly the world watches with bated breath as a country of 45 million is slowly and systematically reduced to rubble. Nobody wants another war and yet this one is unfolding in front of our eyes and we cannot wish it away. What we might have taken for granted barely a few weeks ago has dissipated in clouds of belching smoke. Some of that smoke dangerously close to a nuclear power station reputedly six times larger than Chernobyl.  Our sense of peace and security has been roughly shaken and no one really knows what the outcome of this military occupation of Ukraine by its powerful neighbour will be.

What we do know and can see is a humanitarian crisis unfolding as thousands of ordinary folk are ousted from their homes by shelling and missile attacks. They are now refugees struggling to find new homes elsewhere. Outside the country in which they were born and at the mercy of humanitarian aid, potentially millions of displaced Ukrainians will face poverty hunger and cold as well as the great sadness of being made homeless by a ruthless war which was not of their making.  

Did NATO military strategists factor in these dire consequences when they were helping Ukraine, taking into account the country’s aspirations of joining the Alliance and how that might affect future relations with their Soviet neighbour?  I doubt that anyone foresaw Putin mounting an invasion of Ukraine. As the world wide sanctions start to bite, the ordinary people of Russia who have had no say and carry no blame for the invasion of their neighbour, will suffer needlessly but much less than the Ukrainians who have been invaded, and it remains to be seen whether the plight of the lower Russian classes will move the Kremlin elite anywhere near a negotiated settlement for a peaceful future in the region. The war seems to have stalled as peace talks continue but no one really knows when and how a settlement might end the conflict.

There is a maxim which says ‘the first victim of war is truth’ and there is little chance of discovering what that might be in the midst of the propaganda and political grandstanding emanating from all sides East and West. No war before this one has ever been conducted ‘online’ with the instant communication now available at our fingertips and the probability of countless keyboard warriors waging their own misinformation wars is quite high. Where will this lead when we already know that in war nobody wins? Throwing questions up in the air throws up more questions and the as news changes by the hour so does our perception of it too. As I revise this text (I write on 18th March) I have a feeling that only a negotiated settlement between Russia and Ukraine will bring lasting peace. Continued fighting will only bring more death and destruction to a beautiful country and I am sure that no one wants that. 

Looking back at history now might help us understand the past but it doesn’t prepare us for the present or the future because since the dawn of man we have been fighting each other for dominance. In the natural world this territorial streak in animals somehow manages to keep the animal kingdom in balance because no species is strategising to wipe out all opposition and control all the food supplies. When man learned to trade he unlocked the door to greed and as ‘progress’ dictates that as we must move forward, the speed at which we move is relative to how our trading partners are dependent on what we have to sell and how much of it they can afford.

 It’s a precarious balance at best and historically conflicts play out in a way out that invariably sees the poor working for the rich and the rich getting richer until there is a revolution and the balance of power changes. As the people start a new journey which always promises freedom and progress at first, there follows a period relative peace and prosperity, however that too will be tainted by greed and the hunger for power. The circle of life is not a happy one and as stewards of this planet we have not yet learnt how to look after it in a cohesive and structured way that might benefit all of us and not just some of the privileged nations. 

This is where we are today and we don’t like it but we have to steady ourselves and bear it. The question is what is Russia’s end game in this war and can the West help to find a way to broker a peace agreement that will stabilise the region? Will sanctions alone stop this conflict – as the Russian invaders will have also factored sanctions into their plan? Sanctions and counter sanctions will bite back and unsettle progress at a time when we might have just started to understand ourselves a little bit better. Global cooperation has been possible recently as seen in the last three years through the efforts to fight and overcome the Covid pandemic. Let us hope that the same spirit of cooperation still pervades and brings with it a renewed chance for world peace which we sorely need in order to survive in a free world.

Adele

in Features

To coin an old Bond title (1977)-‘Nobody Does It Better’ than Adele, quite simply put although her own Bond connection through a song was in ‘Skyfall’ (2012) – who could forget that belting signature ballad in the opening sequence? Now she is the darling of the ‘Brit Awards’ -she has twelve to her name – the last three recently scooped up in this year’s ceremony which saw her consecrated as the artist who won …Song of the Year, Artist of the Year and Album of the year. She always has something to celebrate when she does what she does best. Winning the hearts and minds of millions across the world through her singing and song writing comes naturally but doesn’t always come easy to the queen of song.

Adele’s success lifts her as the number one artist and most decorated British female solo singer of our generation. In case you didn’t know she has had twenty Grammy nominations and won fifteen of them, she is followed on twitter by over twenty million and has known worldwide success since she sang ‘Someone like You’ in 2011. Her last album was called ‘30’ (2021) and features her latest hit ‘Easy on Me’ which has seen her popularity grow even further. The secret as I said earlier is that nobody does it better. No one can sing a heartbreak song across three octaves of vocal range and steal hearts like Adele can.   Since her early days she has always been on my radar because she is so good that she can’t be ignored. Like Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand she occupies the top echelons of the worshipped singers of our times. 

Adele Laurie Blue Adkins was born May 5th 1988 in Tottenham, London and has previous hit albums marked by her birthdays, namely ‘19’ (2008) and ‘21’ (2011) the latter becoming the top selling album in the UK and USA eventually selling over 20 million copies by mid 2012. In 2015 she released another album ‘25’ which spawned one of her biggest hits ‘Hello’. Last year she released ‘30’ which is her fourth studio album and it seems that the esteem in which she is held by the record buying public is still growing. Some of her best songs have come out of her relationship disasters and she held audiences spellbound in a recent TV special called ‘An Audience with Adele’ which was filmed live at the London Palladium in November last year. The TV show marked her first UK performance in four years and if you saw it as I did you knew you were in the presence of music royalty.

Her struggles have not been easy ones.  In 2012 she had to have throat surgery for polyps in her vocal chords and she made a remarkable recovery. Although all her demons have been exorcised she has struggled with alcohol abuse and weight gain problems although she famously says that her ambition is never to be slim- she is a plus size beauty who has been yoyo dieting for years and she counters the plus size detractors with ‘I would rather be an overweight good singer than an underweight failure’ and we have to concur with her because she always makes good on the promise of singing very well indeed. If you see her performing she is a beautiful lady always in control of a divine voice, with a particular and original way of rolling her pronunciation of words that many imitate but none can match.

If you must know (of course you do) she has reportedly earned in excess of $400 million through her record sales and concerts and it’s estimated that she is worth a cool $200 million and counting after the enormous success of her latest hit single ‘Easy on Me’. I know that some in Gibraltar have seen Celine Dion perform live and there must also be a few that have seen Adele live in concert too. I would have liked to be in the latter bunch and wonder whether in a post pandemic world she might tour again, so I think I will add her to my growing bucket list. ‘Spotify’ has an ‘Adele Greatest Hits’ collection which is a joy to listen in one sitting, or to dip in and out of if you don’t want to overdose on the finest vocals and some of the best songs of the last ten years. If you aren’t a ‘plus’ size already after the recent seasonal festivities you may wish to indulge in leftover Valentine chocolates and enhance your listening experience- that is entirely up to you.

Gabriel Moreno – The year of the rat

in Features

A new album by our Cultural Ambassador

Readers of my articles for ‘Insight Magazine’ will be no strangers to the name Gabriel Moreno, a local London based poet musician who last November was given the Cultural Ambassador Award in a plush ceremony at the Sunborn Hotel for his body of work and his untiring efforts to promote our identity and culture in the UK and further afield through his music, poetry and published literature. Nobody was more surprised than Gabriel, who at the time of receiving news of the nomination was busy finishing his fourth studio album ‘The Year of the Rat,’ which was due for release on 7th this month in London at the Tower Theatre and it can now be confirmed, there will also be a local launch and concert here on April 1st at the Inces Hall.

I last caught up with him on the morning after he had received the award to find out what it meant to him and also to check on the progress of this new album. “It came as a complete surprise to me. I knew that our acclaimed writer MG Sanchez had received the same award in 2020 but I had no idea that my name had been put up for it. When Culural Services told me I was very humbled and also very joyful. To have been recognised in your town is really lovely. In my acceptance speech I clearly remember saying how important it is to define our identity as a collective of Gibraltarians and how poetry, theatre, literature, music and art will help us to define this personality that we have.”

As a thriving community it’s hard to keep us down as we always aim to punch above our weight and mostly we succeed, so it comes as no surprise that cash strapped artists such as Gabriel Moreno, who is well versed as a curator of the London poetry scene, would embark on crowd funding to make possible the production and release of his latest CD and vinyl offering. This trend of self publishing has enabled many authors and musicians to survive and free themselves from dealing with publishers and record companies whose cut of the cake, should there be any success, usually left them just the crumbs on which to survive. It is a bold move to embark on a project which relies entirely on crowd funding but by pushing the creative envelope further, artists and authors consolidate their fan base by inviting them to be a part of their creations. It’s the only way that secures artistic freedom and a meaningful return instead of the usual twenty percent royalties offered in contracts.

“As we speak (November last year) we are past the sixty percent of target and we still have three weeks to go so I am hopeful that the funds will keep coming in. Mostly it’s the vinyl copies of the album which are incredibly expensive to produce but the trend seems to be that vinyl albums with their cover photographs and sleeve notes etc, are a more tangible memento of the record release and as they can be pre ordered as signed copies, that makes them even more desirable to own. The money from the pre orders goes into offsetting production costs as well as towards promoting the album. It’s fantastic that people are part of the journey as well. They invest in the journey with you and for that to happen they first need to be aware and have subscribed to what you have done before, so that they travel with you in expectation of a product that will fulfil their longing as well as yours.”

“The incredible thing about working in the ‘underground’ (Alternative music scene) is that in the beginning everything seems impossible as you are doing everything yourself, but as you progress and you get exposure on radio, TV and live concerts, the royalties and come in and they are one hundred percent yours. If we were tied to an underground label we would only get twenty percent of all that, so it makes complete sense to remain independent and own your material. At the beginning we thought that the risk was too high but after ten years we now know that we made the right decision to embark on this journey by ourselves and not tied to anybody.”

Fast forward to present day and the new album ‘The Year of the Rat’ which I was privileged to listen to as soon as it was mastered, is now available and will be launched here on the April 1st with a concert by Gabriel Moreno and The Quivering Poets. Look out for further details in the coming weeks, but in the meantime I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you my first impressions of this exciting new work which was conceived during lockdown at a time when things seemed to be a lot more uncertain than what they are today.

The opening track called ‘Solitude’ is full of promise and great musical touches. It’s familiar Gabriel territory but sounds fresh and grabs your attention. ‘Painter’ is a duet with London based upcoming Folk sensation Pearl Fish. There’s plenty of musical space in between and the chorus with the duo draws you into the intimacy of the portrait. The third track is a great song with electric guitars which compliment the strum of the poet’s acoustic nylon guitar and then Ned Cartwright adds some deft Latin touches with his keyboards. Your interest is still on the ascendancy as track four, the most commercial offering of the album, titled ‘Sellotape my Heart’ bounces into the room and lifts your spirits higher- you find yourself smiling in approval and there is no interest lost as the song builds up.

Gabriel the poet singer songwriter draws you into his world as the next three songs indicate a change in direction. ‘Everyday News’ is sparse but beautiful and has a wistful piano break which makes it sublime. No bells and whistles here, just good words lovingly crafted into song. ‘Dreams of the Poor’ stays in the same groove and there is (for me) great guitar phrasing that sets this one apart. ‘Dance in an empty Field’ brings down the curtain on the introspective segment of the album and it signs off with a Spanish ending, a nod to our roots as we then greet ‘All that we have’ which warms you with a slow bluesy feel throughout, later reprised in a trumpet solo by Chilean Jazz master Sergio Contreras Acosta and accented by Hammond organ-like stabs which pick up the vibe and makes this track a musical highlight of the album. The vocals too are given a very interesting treatment in the chorus and so to ‘When the City Wakes up’ which is surely about London, it spins its story of the lockdown as you are drawn into the lyric’s imagery. This one is indeed a classy song.

The title track ‘Year of the Rat’ closes the album. It would have been easy to fall into pseudo Chinese touches here, but we are treated to a complex and uplifting beat with fine musical touches supporting it all the way. Surprise is everything in music and this song works surprisingly well. A lot of production skills and love has gone into crafting this album and talented Christian Gadd who lives in London has put his producer’s stamp on this in a musical and masterful way. The album has a shine on it which compliments all the songs. Nothing is overcooked. Instead all the musical pieces fit perfectly and allow the lyrical prowess of Gabriel Moreno and his compelling guitar-led troubadour style, to breathe comfortably and please our senses. That is the mark of a great album which will invite replaying again and again because there are always little gems to be discovered in every spin. 

The Album can be purchased at:
www.gabrielmoreno.co.za

Guy Valarino and the Festival Hall

in Features

I sit in the beautifully decorated Festival Hall at the Caleta Hotel in anticipation to the start of a live concert by Guy Valarino. To all intents and purposes it’s New Year’s Eve (except that it isn’t) and GBC TV is filming a special – ‘An Evening with Guy Valarino’ which aired on the last night of 2021. I have mixed emotions because a chapter of my earlier life as a musician saw me play this iconic venue many times during the festive seasons of the seventies and eighties. Guy Valarino is from a new age of musicians who with technology at their feet can construct and deconstruct live music in front of our very eyes.

Guy is the only true exponent of ‘Looper music’ on the Rock. He will build up phrases by recording, playing back and adding parts to construct a full backing track with harmonies and percussion, a track with which he sings along to. All ‘live,’ all instant and all magical like ‘Shazam’. An acute sense of timing and a solid knowledge of song production techniques as well as a high standard of musicianship are essential. He has all those qualities in spades and is fascinating to watch and listen to. He writes his own material and on this occasion he played two of his best known creations along with a selection of popular covers to an intimate audience.

The Festival Hall is soon to be no more as the Caleta Hotel is being demolished to give way to a Hilton Hotel. I can’t bring myself to embrace the idea that this beautiful and ‘properly vintage’ events venue is to be lost forever. There are so many memories here belonging to many across our community that will only be preserved in photographs, wedding videos, GBC archives and newspaper cuttings. In its heyday this venue could host well over a hundred diners to sumptuous seasonal multicourse menus with live music at the bottom of the elegant stairs in the nook where the gorgeous Christmas tree sits tonight. A lovely backdrop to Guy’s concert setting evoking my memories of the great traditional Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners which went on until early English breakfast at 430 am – for which everyone stayed on and more came from other venues in search of.

We are briefed by GBC’s Paula Latin before the concert kicks off to react and enjoy ourselves and also to turn off our mobiles. Could I ever have imagined that we would all be carrying telephones in our pockets that have more technology in them now than the first mission to land a man on the moon way back in the 60’s? Guy eases himself into a ten song set which he introduces in his quiet charismatic way and which may seem affable in manner but his skills at this game have been honed while travelling around the UK and continent hosting intimate shows like this in front rooms and small venues.

This is anything but a small venue but he fills it up with a polished performance which has our eyes riveted on his guitar playing, his singing microphone and an additional one to which he adds percussion, and his own harmonies. We are all in awe watching a ‘one man band’ recreating complex music and making very faithful renditions of hits that we all know and love. Hats off to this ‘Guy’! He has the pulse on the melodic songs which touch our hearts. He also has skills and the courage to take them on while surgically reconstructing them before our eyes.  This ‘Looper art’ is better seen and heard in a ‘live’ situation, up close where the magic unfolds as the songs come to life.  

During a break in recording I chat to the show’s producer Paula Latin who is also in love with the Festival Hall and like me will no doubt pine for a similar iconic setting to steal our hearts in the future. Latterly the hall has been hosting the famous Chess dinners with top players who have over twenty years made Gibraltar the home of world chess competitions. Paula reminds me of the Miss Gibraltar shows which have also been televised from here and I nod but my head is miles away still playing those cherished wedding songs, hits in their day, when a young couple would step out onto the marble floor of the Festival Hall and display their love to their family and friends. I’m sure that the romance of a Caleta Palace wedding has produced a young generation which would be hard put to relate to the nostalgia which now fires those memories in me that also told me that “When the father of the bride is much younger than you it’s time to retire from playing at weddings.”   

 If you watched the run up to the GBC TV countdown on New Year’s Eve you saw Guy Valarino and hopefully enjoyed his concert, but if you get the chance to see him live in a small setting or a wedding cocktail event, pay him a visit and admire how he puts his music together. His always polished performances command a lot of respect from the cognoscenti and also from dinosaurs like me who turn up to scrutinize and appreciate his music in ‘iconic vintage halls’ that will be sadly missed by many folk who can (and will) tell you how the festive season used to be. Here’s hoping that the New Year will bring good health and prosperity to all communities that have been touched by the pandemic which we still can’t seem to shake off.

The Valerga Brothers release their ‘lifetime best’ album for Calpe House

in Features

Two years ago I found myself announcing an imminent album release from the Valerga Brothers when they were inducted to the Hall Of Fame Class of 2019. I had been privy to an advance copy so I was confident that the CD would have been well received. Covid delayed that album and forced into isolation, the brothers made good use of the extra time available and started to add songs to it with a view to making it a double album. Recordings went on until finally they had over thirty songs in the bag. That’s nearly a triple album’s worth! This is where we are two years later as Henry Valerga meets with me offering a bunch of new CD information handouts and the beaming smile of a man who has just done his musical best.

“The ‘Soundtrack of my teenS’ by The Valerga Bothers is our ‘opus magnum.’ A snapshot of our early years in pictures and biography, packaged with the soundtrack of the 60’s and 70’s music which shaped our teens. This bumper musical offering includes great covers of big hits from legendary artists and we have also brought in local artists to the party in the hope that Calpe House, a charity really close to my heart, will benefit greatly from the entire proceeds of this thirty two track album.”

The album which has been financed by Kamlesh Krishna Khubchand, consists of a beautiful front cover painting of brothers Henry and Denis by artist Leslie Gaduzo. Stephen Perera has done the graphic design and produced the twelve page libretto which includes many photos from the era in montage using vintage cameras and layout. Henry has thoroughly researched the songs and added written quotes as sleeve liners. The local artists collaborating are Chris Montegriffo on harmonica, guitarist Paul Patrick Cano, Trevor Guilliano of ‘After Hours’ (recording assistance), singers Corrine Cooper and Seila Pavon, tenor Nathan Payas and soprano Claire Hawkins, veteran Rocker Giles Ramirez and veteran Rock guitarist Harry Chichon. The Gibraltar National Youth Choir conducted by Christian Santos, with spoken words by Krisna Gulraj and Michael Cortes, were recorded with Brian Torres and Nicky Gonzalez assisting. That represents a wide cross section of local talent who have rallied round to embellish the project with their contributions.

“As we speak (early November) it’s not yet guaranteed that the release will be in time for Christmas but we are still hopeful. All the music is done and mastered and it’s just the packaging and printing which still have to be tweaked. The songs we have chosen are legendary classics, evergreens from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Kinks, Simon and Garfunkel, Procol Harum, The Righteous Brothers, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Donovan, The Everly Brothers and  many more.”

“Our versions of their songs are backed by rich instrumentation and versatile vocal arrangements which we and the other contributing artists have poured their hearts into. I think that we have achieved a recording milestone in the way that our covers of these classics have turned out. It’s the biggest project that we have ever attempted and we are immensely proud of everyone with the results that we have achieved.”

Henry gave me a sample CD of twenty songs from which I have selected a few to mention as a trailer and ‘The Boxer’ immediately stands out as does ‘You’ve lost that loving feeling’ both great productions. ‘Grocer Jack’ features the GNY Choir on it and has all the tenderness of the original.  Henry’s vocal in Donovan’s ‘Catch the wind’ gives you goose pimples and ‘Universal Soldier’ is a truly epic production. Denis Valerga sings ‘Blackberry Way’ and he has orchestrated a ‘Penny Lane’ type of trumpet solo at the end which is a masterpiece. ‘Ruby Tuesday’ is given a sensitive treatment which evokes all the magic of the early Rolling Stones at their acoustic best and Don Maclean’s ‘Vincent’ is also a truly standout track which captures the beauty and fragility of the original. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the songs.

Having heard the sample CD I can vouch that you will be in for a feast of classics which will make you feel proud of the local talent on display in these collaborations. They really do stand out as special musical treats and I can see many copies of this bumper album package from the Valerga Brothers, which includes a 19 track CD, a 32 track USB and a 12 page comprehensive libretto, selling really well in support of Calpe House. The ‘Soundtrack of my teenS’ will gladden many hearts with the nostalgia and the musical journey of two brothers who have captured our hearts and still endure with their music.

Christmas – How it used to be

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Christmas how it used to is how we all best like to remember our childhood Christmases. I have been invited to recall mine and duly wearing my rose tinted memory glasses I will set about stirring the nostalgia cake mix and we shall see what turns up. I have rewound back seventy years to 1951 and we are at number one Alameda House (Humphries) as the estate was named after the building contractors. That year had seen the tragedy of the ‘Bedenham’ explosion in April and Christmas couldn’t have come any sooner. Our old ‘block’ still neighbours the fire station and the sound of a happy gathering reaches my seven year old ears. The legendary seasonal ‘Comparsa’ (quite unmusical and random bunch of wandering carol singers) from the fire brigade off-duty watches were already in fine form and well ‘lubricated.’ They were ready to set out on their annual boozy sing song on Christmas Eve around the fires station perimeters.

Their loud ‘Zambombas’, a small barrel with a skin stretched on top and a cane stalk tied to its centre (‘Carriso’ or noise activator!) which when wetted and rubbed up and down the stalk would provoke a grunting noise which helps mark time, acting as a rough bass and bass drum combined. The ‘Panderetas’ (skin topped tambourines) were rattling away and the hearty singing (could it really be called that?) sent the celebratory echoes of ‘Noche Buena’ (Christmas Eve) around Humphries estate. 

Empty corrugated glass bottles of ‘anis del mono’ would also provide a squeaking noise when a wine cork was rubbed along their sides. A lone guitar or a mandolin really stood no chance of being heard above all that cacophony and the traditional Spanish carols (Villancicos) announced the imminent birth of Baby Jesus, who probably wouldn’t have chosen to be born to that din when he had choirs of angels at his disposal.

We lived on the ground floor of Alameda House and word had it that if they were tipped off, the firemen ‘Comparsa’ would sing at your door until invited in to feed and drink from the modest table laid out in readiness for the family supper. Just imagine the panic setting in for mum and dad thinking that our modest family spread would hardly last thirty seconds and all the beers and the sweet rough wine from Malaga (muscatel) would also be drank in half that time! Well I seem to remember that we survived the ‘raid’ from the good folk of the fire brigade, however I don’t remember how we re- formatted the house later and re-stocked the table for supper that night. My thoughts were only on Father Christmas as I uncovered my ears after convincing myself that there had not been an earthquake in my home.

In the good old days you were primed about what to expect for Christmas. My uncle Tony who was also my godfather had hinted that I ‘might’ get a scooter, which prompted happy dreams and adjusted my tendency to bad behaviour lest Santa would turn up and just gift me a few ‘coal nuggets’ instead of the coveted scooter of my dreams. In the run up to Christmas my mum who was very good at crib making, would have put up a display of little figurines representing the nativity scene surrounded by brown and grey mountains made out of heavy paper with flour dusted on top to make their snow caps. Everything in the crib (Nascimiento) would be ready except for the arrival of the infant Jesus who would magically make an appearance on Christmas morning as we unwrapped our presents of modest toys and confectionary. No plastics in those days. Painted cardboard, wood and tin toys or lead soldiers (we never heard of a child with lead poisoning). 

Never in my wildest childhood dreams could I have imagined that my uncle would build me a scooter in the Her Majesty’s dockyard where he worked at the iron works foundry. It was modelled on the old ‘Mobo’ or Triang brand of scooters that not everyone could afford at the time. Mine was built to last and it weighed a ton! Had I run into a wall I would have demolished the wall for sure. Not to digress, that night Father Christmas came to 1 Alameda House in the aftermath of the fire brigade ‘Comparsa’ visit and without a word helped my parents clear up before depositing a very large brown paper bag which looked suspiciously like a scooter. I was beside myself with expectation but my parents said that the bag was full of old pipes to be used for repairs to the plumbing.

Did I believe them? Of course I did – against my better judgement. The next morning I was allowed out to practice on my big brown scooter which had yellow trim lines, no brakes to tame its savage momentum and military – like heavy duty black wheels which might have come from wheelie bins, had they existed in those days.  When I look back and compare with the present day I feel sorry for the times that surprises don’t happen too often at Christmas. Nowadays the young ones mostly get what they have expressly asked for (demanded?) and budget is hardly ever a problem.

 At the same time I feel thankful and blessed that those early days in my life gave me a sense of community which is the greatest gift after family and good health. Our rough band of street carol singers – the ‘Comparsas’ of yesteryear, exuded real Christmas cheer without making polite excuses or renaming Christmas as simply a ‘holiday season’. Easy on the sherry and mince pies now and have a wonderful family Christmas full of blessings, just like the pandemic had never happened and we were still safely in the EU!     

Local Free diver Retains world ranking

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In July before the World Free Diving Championships which were held in Limassol (Cyprus) in mid September, high ranked local free diver Dean Chipolina was asked by his UK teammates if he would step up and take on extra diving disciplines as one of the UK’s four man diving team had pulled out. With time against him and at the risk of messing up his own training regime he agreed. The UK free diving team is currently ranked number one in the world due in no small way to Dean’s extra performances against all odds. The weather played havoc with the championship, which requires ideal surface conditions and little or no underwater currents to make for safe deep diving. Dean Chipolina is currently ranked number six in the world and that is a remarkable achievement.

During the competition on September 23rd, Dean messaged me to say that despite horrible conditions (all diving was cancelled shortly after his successful 85 metre attempt), “Despite the weather I managed a beautiful dive to my announced depth.” I immediately went on line and watched his graceful dive on Youtube and I recommend anyone who is interested in water sports to do so too. It is beautifully filmed and a testament to the meticulous preparation and execution by this gifted local athlete who we have featured on ‘Insight Magazine’ before.

Fresh back from the championships (having lost eight kilos of body weight through exertion) but looking relaxed and quietly proud, Dean sits across from me sipping coffee. He has just shown me a glowing letter from the Chief Minister and messages from the City Hall. Everyone wants to toast him and yet if everything had gone his way he would now be World No 4 because he still feels he has more to give. In a sport notorious for divers suffering surface blackouts due to exertion, Dean knows his safe capabilities and has never blacked out. He always leaves something in the tank and although now forty he is still at the top of his game.

“In Limassol during competition the weather was always a big factor, one day you had terrible surface conditions and good underwater conditions and the next day it would be perfect on the surface but with strong underwater currents which is worse.  A dive is a carefully planned sequence of events and all your training is geared to making those events perfect in timing and in technique. You have to be in the right place at the right time for the dive to work. It’s like clockwork and a few seconds lost here and there is always leading you to a blackout if you are pushing to your limits. I don’t push to those limits. I leave a safe margin and train to always have something left in the tank. I take a step back and the ego is something that I keep in check. I am not reckless I want to enjoy the sport for a long time so I don’t want to do things which make the sport look bad or unsafe.”

To put things into perspective here – a breath holding dive to 70 metres and beyond in any discipline, raises the free diver into an elite class of athletes who are constantly challenging the boundaries of inner space, the domain of fish and not one for faint hearted humans. The deep blue is the most unforgiving world and the only mammals which thrive in it are whales and dolphins – supreme breath holding divers.

“To compete in four disciplines like I just did you have to train for a year. You need to get your body used to each discipline one day on and one day off. You cycle that so that you don’t get tired and you can adapt and switch from one style to another. At the high level that I dive now each discipline is a whole different world. Your freefall speeds, your ascent speeds, the muscles you engage and the lactic build up in them are all different. Only the most experienced divers can cross over each discipline with any degree of success. That was one mistake I made this year, when my UK team mate diver pulled out there was a bit of pressure on me so I took on extra work which tired me out more.” 

“I used two earlier competitions in the Triton cup held in Kalamata, Greece to asses myself in the extra disciplines. I announced a dive to 61mteres with no fins and as it was only 10 metres above my personal best it was easy so I went up in the rankings. In the European cup which followed I did another 66 metre dive with no fins and the ranking came up again. Any dive near the 70 metre mark and you are up there with the top divers in the world for that discipline.”

 At around competition time Dean received a new pair of bi-fins in the post so during training he undertook a couple of successful practice dives with them which ultimately led to the beautiful 85 metre dive that he did on September 23rd. The stress factor in the world championship is very high with over a hundred and thirty divers competing and twenty safety divers and TV crews it gets very crowded. Add to that bad weather or underwater currents which cause divers to overstretch and have surface blackouts, the pre-dive relaxation routines are very difficult to focus on. It has to be said that surface blackouts are not fatal and even underwater blackouts are managed safely. In spite of the hostile environment free diving is considered quite a safe sport. Statistically there are no deaths and it’s safer than cycling!

“When I arrived in Limassol, Cyprus for the Worlds, I was already quite tired from the two previous competitions in Greece. I had competed in the Triton Cup and the European Cup in Greece so I took four days off to recharge my body.  In competition at the Worlds there was one dive which got me a yellow card (penalty) for returning to surface earlier than announced. That discipline was the free immersion which is where you pull yourself down the line and then up again. There are no fins to help you and there is a lot of exertion involved. There was an underwater current on my dive and as I was using up extra energy this slowed me down changing the sequence of my dive. I decided to abort early rather than risk a blackout. I am glad that I opted for that as free immersion is not my strongest discipline. I could have protested that dive as after I came up they suspended competition because of the poor conditions.” 

You win some and you lose some as they say because there are too many factors involved in free diving and if you are a well trained disciplined athlete like Dean Chipolina you can take it on the chin and hope that next time conditions will be better. I am convinced that this man will still be making his presence felt in the free diving world for some time to come.  This year he learned that his body needs more time to recover between dives and that he should not have taken on the extra disciplines for his team. He now has a new mono-fin and new bi-fins which he’s very happy with and has just retained his coach to help him achieve his full potential for next year. 

King Calaway on the rise again with a new EP released

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There is a Country Rock band in Nashville who had been nudging big time success when the world got wrapped up in a pandemic and they went off the public radar. Not completely though as fans will point you in the direction of a number of celebrity duets which they were a part of on Zoom during the dark days of lockdown… when playing in a band meant that you were playing in your front room and other band members in theirs. Local singer and composer, keyboardist and rhythm guitarist Simon Dumas was tracked down for a chat.

It’s great to hear that King Calaway are touring again after the lockdown. How did it feel to be playing to live audiences again?

“It’s been really incredible to be performing again. Dates have been slightly scattered in terms of where and when. A few of the gigs have been rescheduled shows from 2020 but all in all it’s been so rewarding to get back on stage. As we release our new EP we still have local shows booked in Nashville including at the Grand Ole Opry.”

The pandemic rudely interrupted your well charted course which was on track to make your band bigger and more widely known… what changes have been made by your management to bring King Calaway back into the public eye again?

“Collectively we agreed it would be best if the band used the time off to write new songs, rework our sound and to get ready for when the world reopened. We are so grateful for the support from our record label and management team who have put together some great opportunities for us in the hope that our music will reach as many people as possible.”

How did you manage to spend your time between Gibraltar and the US during lockdown and when did it finally become possible to be a band again and play in the same room together?

“In Gibraltar I spent time with my family. After a whirlwind two years with KC it was really nice to hit the pause button and just spend time at home. It was also a good chance to reflect on all that had happened and that alone inspired a lot of song writing in the evenings via Zoom with Nashville writers. I did more song writing once I got back to Nashville in August of 2020. It was great to be reunited with the band. In the New Year we went to Asheville, North Carolina in February for three weeks in order to record our new material.”

I’m assuming that the band’s song writing would have come along nicely with all that time on your hands during isolation …will these new songs make it into your next album or will there be additional material from other writers involved?

“Yes indeed. We’ve all been writing a lot of material. I’d say between us we were narrowing down choices from a pool of eighty songs that each of us had co-written. This new four songs EP will feature 3 songs with at least one KC original, and one ‘outside cut’ as they are called over here. I co-wrote two of the songs on the EP, ‘More People’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ and I’m really excited about all the other songs which will be released at a later date.”

Previously you have played for ‘Rascal Flatts’ when they were on their last tour before the pandemic and it was on the cards to happen again…is this opportunity still being actively pursued if or when they tour next year perhaps?

“Our first and only time we played opening for ‘Rascal Flatts’ was phenomenal! It was at the Ascend Amphitheatre in Nashville to a couple thousand fans. Unfortunately the pandemic seems to have cancelled that farewell tour which we were going to join, however I do hope it will be rescheduled!”

From a personal perspective since you have tasted some success and high-profile gigs on TV and concerts do you feel any nearer to making it big time or is your musical dream realized already?

“I’ve spent my whole life imagining what it would feel like to ‘make it’ in music. 2019 was for me truly a bucket list year, performing in US Bank Stadium to 70,000 people, also playing live on the ‘Late Late Show’ with James Corden and other TV shows. At this point I’m taking every day as it comes with a tremendous amount of gratitude. I still have my aspirations as a songwriter (both for King Calaway and for other artists). I’m also hoping that our band can get out and play on a headline tour once it’s safe to do so.”

Can you give us an insight into which songs might get into the final cut of the projected KC album which are already recorded?

“This new body of work is inspired by our stories and our journey. Musically we really channelled a sort of ‘California country’ sound with Rock influences in some other songs.We are really proud of what we’ve created and feel it’s the most authentic version of King Calaway to date.”

If there has been a negative it has to be the band’s time apart during lockdown, which I know you are catching up on…has this separation dulled your collective drive as a band and is everyone still 100 percent on board to Rock the rest of 2021 and beyond?

“We are all 100% on board! We are hungry, motivated and ready to pick up from where we left off in 2020. However with new momentum, live shows and excitement!”

There is little that we can add to that sentiment other than our best wishes that dreams may continue to come true and that this talented band that are ‘King Calaway’ take their place in the US music charts and who knows, if they tour Europe in the future they could be booked to perform here once again on Simon Dumas’ home turf. Take a listen to their new music on Spotify or any of the other music platforms it’s good music on the rise.

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