Joe Adambery

Joe Adambery has 56 articles published.

Nake Songs

in Features

from Denis Valerga

The youngest of the ‘Valerga Brothers’singing duo, Denis has just released an album which he has called ‘Naked Songs’. The album comes when he has recently turned seventy. The title might suggest an idea that these are a collection of stripped back basic tunes with little other than a simple melody and guitar or piano backing. How wrong you would be- this very musical collection is bursting at the seams with rich orchestrations and multi-instrumental soundscapes in which Denis as an excellent musician and producer is in his element. He makes no secret that his leanings in song writing are inspired by the late great Leonard Cohen and this album sits squarely in that genre of musical poetry. 

We discover well observed lyrics about loves lost, ladies of the night, the backdrop of war and seedy tavernas with sweat beds, and allthose give life to a collection of songs of passion, regret and beauty, with palpable musical evidence that the writer has poured his heart into each song in his compositions.His captivating fragile vocals are endearing to listen to as he has managed to retain a very youthful voice. These are all  introspective songs so don’t be expecting bouncy disco commercial pap. These tunes and lyrics deserve to be enjoyed with a glass or two of wine in subdued lighting and a reading of the lyrics as the rich music pours out of the speakers or better still, immersive headphones. There are ten songs in the CD and I have noted my observations on half dozen of them for fans,lovers of art and sweet music, to unravel further when they listen.

‘Annabelle’ opens the album … an oldflame from the heady London days of 1969. A mournful cello chases the melody and dispels any notion of songs ‘naked’ of music accompaniment.It suggests other naked forms locked in embrace. The second track on the album is called ‘I will always love you’. It’s a tender love song, fragile and majestic in equal measure. This one is anthemic in its scope and very engaging grandeur. Track 6 ‘The last time I saw You,’ opens with a plucked acoustic guitar in a wash of echo and nostalgia. It suggests an abrupt ending to a love affair where… ‘You win your body and lose your soul’. There is a great sax solo by DJamal Ma Ad in this song which lifts it out of the rich musical tapestry. I had to come back to this one a few times…great stuff.

At the other end of the album there is a song which speaks about a tattooed former prisoner of war who seeks love. This one is called ‘Lovers on the Run’ (Trk 9) and is very much in Leonard Cohen inspired territory. It notably features some exotic eastern string instruments which are prominent in the mixand which Denis as a multi-instrumentalist, has nailed the execution and tone of.‘The Oldest Trade’ (Trk 10) opens with beautiful pianofrom keyboard wizard Brian Torres… its motto‘drink dance and make love’…Set just before WW2, It neatly develops into a slow Jazzy swing  and proclaims that the oldest trade still survives ‘somewhere in a sweat bed.’ ‘The Final Bow’(Trk 3) is thestory of a dance legend who gives upthe stageand the lyric harks at days of decadence in a bombed out Berlin amiddestroyed cabarets and shattered dreams, while a bluesey guitar wailsin reply aftersome of the lines are sung. A beautifully structured andcompelling song.

 ‘La Chanson des Vieux Amants’ (Trk 4)as the French title suggestsis romantic and is alsocompelling in musical format. Beautiful cascading chords, a piano and violin help evoke a love song that is perhaps far too sophisticated for a Parisian tavern and also far from being a ‘naked song’ as it competes very keenly with the othersongs in this album.Denis puts on his best schoolboy French for this vocal.

If you know Denis and his music you know that you want this in your collection.He has told me that he has a backlog of songs which he wants to release soon…enough for five albums, but that is a story for another day. The proceeds of this album will be entirely devoted to the localCat Welfare Society as we all know Denis Valerga is a well-known cat lover.Contact Denis via his Facebook for more details and a copy of this fine album of (not) ‘Naked Songs’. I love the album title though.

R.I.P Jeff Beck

in Features

1944 – 2023

Perhaps not a household name outside of guitar music circles but certainly a master of the instrument and held in awe for his melodious, quirky and unique style of imagining and playing guitar. The legendary Jeff Beck a British virtuoso died last month aged 78. His passing leaves a large hole in the hearts of his family, friends and guitar fans worldwide. Certainly my guitar hero, I saw him in concert various times over half a dozen years ago. I was so impressed by what I saw and heard that I followed his videos and his albums until the most recent one last year ‘18’ in which he collaborated with Johhny Depp..

I have his biography ‘Hot Wired Guitar’ by Martin Power and have watched countless videos of his performances over the years, always trying to relive the magic of seeing him live at the Albert Hall and at the O2 in London but it doesn’t come close. There is nobody that could play beautiful melodies like ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ or an operatic theme like ‘Nessun Dorma’ and take it into the sublime territory of melody heaven. A rare thing that no one thought possible with an electric guitar. Guitar greats from across all music genres were falling over themselves to pay tribute to him. He could as easily play Jazz, Blues Rock, Fusion, Hard Rock and even Opera, which he announced as ‘Italian Rock’ when I saw him.

Jeff Beck was the most sought after guitarist that artists wanted on their albums. He was essentially the guitarists’ guitarist. The late great Pavarotti featured him on one of the best known Italian themes ‘Caruso’ on the album ‘Ti Adoro’. Years later Jeff beck was inspired to take on the Opera master by covering his ‘Nesun Dorma’ and Beck’s outstanding rendition of that was for me a spellbinding moment to see from fifteen metres away at the Albert Hall. In the O2 arena London, in a concert that I had seen prior to the Albert Hall show, he was featured  with Eric Clapton who is also a fan of the unique guitar style of Beck. 

Jeff Beck was inducted into the Rock’n’roll Hall of fame in 1992 with the Yardbirds his first band and again in 2009 as a solo artist. He had eight Grammy awards to his name as well as an extensive catalogue of solo albums and many artist collaborations. From the tributes that came in from all over world after his demise he was it seems, a great human being as well as a very talented one and that is a great legacy to leave behind. I can honestly say that no other musician has touched my soul so deeply as Jeff Beck, may he rest in peace.

The Taxi man who beat the odds

in Features

The best stories are always the ones that test individuals to their limits and as we embark on telling Dylan Ferro’s story, it seems remarkable that he had to overcome huge odds to speak and sing again. Twenty years ago at the height of his singing career, he was diagnosed with three polyps on his vocal chords, which led to surgery and loss of his voice for eight months. Today at a concert venue we chat as he sips tea, ahead of his sold out ‘Taxi Homecoming‘ concerts at the Sunborn Hotel. They say that fortune favours the brave and Dylan Ferro is excited at the prospect of raising money for charity by donating the entire proceeds of their fourth and final concert on 11 February. He never once stopped  believing and worked very hard to recover his voice so now he is in a happy place, with music still at the centre of his life.  

“When I was young I liked to dance and I realised that rhythm is what makes people want to dance and that drew me to play drums, but earlier on I had learnt keyboards on my sister’s instrument and then basic chords on a guitar until eventually I found myself writing songs and started as a drummer in my first band ‘Sympathy for the Blonde’. From there we became Treehouse, then Melon Diesel and then Taxi.” Ideally Dylan would have played another instrument in the band but my guess is that it suited everyone to have a singer who could sing his own songs, so he was first pushed and then drawn into the spotlight. ‘Melon Diesel’ had enough belief and  band skills to venture beyond our shores and they became a huge band in Spain where they were signed by Sony and had chart success. When they were touring their album ‘El Hombre en el Espejo’ Dylan reckons that he was already damaged goods through overworking his voice.

“We had played over a hundred gigs for the first tour and during our second tour I was forcing myself, even if I couldn’t sing properly I would shout even more, which made it worse, until we came back here for a gig (2002) and I made the decision to get seen by a voice specialist in Madrid. There I was diagnosed with early cancer in two polyps which had grown in my vocal chords. Within two weeks I was under the knife and after the operation the news was not good, they had found a third polyp and had to sacrifice about a half of my vocal chords in the surgery. The surgeon said that if I was going to recover my voice it would take about eight months but I would never be able to sing again. I was devastated and went into a massive depression. All the hard work to carve for myself a career in music and suddenly the dream had gobbled me up. After a few difficult months here in Gib I had to leave and I decided to live in Madrid for a while to seek professional help.”

His vocal coach was not very hopeful of a complete recovery because Dylan was a ‘Rock’n’roll casualty’ with all its implications, but Dylan is headstrong (‘Cabezon’ he says…) “I was determined to sing again as soon as I could talk. During recovery I was only allowed to use my voice for ten seconds a day. It was hell and I don’t wish that on anybody but somehow I managed to start singing again after the eight months. I now had technique for the first time and my healing had been very good. The surgeon who operated me was impressed and I squared up to the challenges ahead but always aware that as I am still damaged goods, I have to work much harder than anybody else to deliver the hundred and one percent that I always give in concerts.”

Dylan writes songs constantly and in various ways. His ideas can be melody-led when he comes up with a melody that he hones into the shape of a song, or he plays a bunch of chords into a pattern that suggests a melody then at the end of that process he writes a lyric to suit the style.  “The last thing I ever do is add the lyric. I don’t do that ever. My style is when I have developed a piece of music which moves me or that I find cool, I ask myself what does that piece of music suggest to me or makes me want to tell in a story through a song? ”

 “Nowadays the big advantage is that most musicians can create music at home in their little desk top studio computers. In the old days you would have to book a studio and turn up in the hope that songs would come together during recording. It made the process very expensive and hit and miss because maybe on the day the band was not too inspired or the song just didn’t work out. Now you can try things out beforehand and if they don’t work you change them, or drop them completely and move on with another idea. The down side of that is that everyone has the same tools for music recording so that is why home produced music tends to be very predictable and ‘samey’ with very few exceptions.”

I steered our chat along to talk about a recent collaboration with Albert Hammond and Christian Hook which was conceived for a charity project but also serves to highlight the three most important contemporary Gibraltarian artists who have successfully exported their talents to the wider world. “I am grateful for the opportunity to help create a piece of art which brings us together for charity, the merging  of our handprints on canvas as devised by Christian Hook, means that our DNA as artists is captured in our handprints and that is something of historical significance for the future generations. Of course there is also the possibility of making music together and the three of us are open to that collaboration if it can happen in the future. Each of us have distinctly different styles in music but that makes the idea of coming together even more exciting.”

Our conversation centred for a bit on the huge achievements of Albert Hammond and Christian Hook. Dylan remains in awe of the former and had this to say “He is probably in the list of the top ten composers in the world and has sold over 360 million albums through his songs and many artists. I believe that he should be recognised in Gibraltar at the highest level because there is no bigger export of local talent than Albert Hammond. I mean what is there more to say… the guy is one of my idols and I love him because I am old school, I love Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Albert once told me that Roy Orbison had been one of his favourite guys to work with. We clicked on a lot of things and I still have a framed autograph by Albert Hammond from many years ago and I told him that.”

Talking about Christian Hook, Dylan and I both agreed that there is no one quite like him. He is supremely talented and his quest to be original is by deconstructing everything and pushing the creative envelopes all the time. “When I went to see Christian for the first time he said to me that he didn’t need to work with me and that was quite a shock – but then he also said that my band ‘Melon Diesel’ were his idols growing up and that we inspired him to make music. When you think you’ve done everything and seen everything you meet Christian Hook and he floors you with his original way of working and his genius concepts. It took me a while to tune in to him as he kept me on my toes and made me work in ways that I wasn’t used to. He made me rap and that is not my style, but he pushed me to try that and many new concepts. He opened my mind and told me not to ever become stale and complacent, always pushing for new horizons”.

By the time you are reading this Taxi will have played their four concerts at the Sunborn Hotel, the last one added to the sold-out first three after they decided that they wanted to give the entire proceeds from the last concert to charity. Trying to sell out concerts and succeeding are two different things, I wondered whether the fourth concert might have been a bridge too far. “ Not at all, we thought that this is a way to say thank you because the old Spanish proverb ‘Nadie es Profeta en su Tierra’ (no one is a prophet in his own land) has never applied to us, on the contrary, we always manage to sell out our comeback gigs here and we are grateful for that”. 

“This year is twenty four years since as ‘Melon Diesel’ we launched our first album and somehow we sold out our first concert on 26 January within minutes, which is pretty amazing”… I quickly interrupt him to point out that there is a generation here for which ‘La Cuesta de Mr Bond’ is a part of the soundtrack of their lives…”We have kept it up also, always bringing in fresh material which some students tell me are in the albums that make them feel like home when they are away from home. That is a sobering thought, as also when someone who has been close to suicide comes up to you and says ‘this song saved my life’…I can never fathom the power of music or the impact that a song can have. Disabled people have told me that our music has helped them cope with their daily challenges, so that is why the proceeds of our fourth concert will go to those who are in need.”

It’s nine years since Taxi released their last album (the pandemic accounts for two lost years) and I wondered whether they have new material to share with us now. “Well musically we are in a very good place at the moment. Some of our new material may see the light of day within three months or so. There is also a very good chance that we might play one of the new songs in the concerts. In ‘Taxi’ we each have our forte, I mainly write most of the time. Dani Fa is very strong in the studio and records and mixes all the time and Danny Bugeja is the guitarist who is closest to playing live and involved in music and together we have this strong bullet proof friendship and we can take each other’s criticisms. I mean I get my ideas shot down by them many times as each one is a solid musician but it always works out well in the end.” 

In 2010 Taxi were nominated for a Latin Grammy for their album ‘Aqui y Ahora’. That is a huge achievement, up there with them selling over 350,000 albums (250,000 as Melon Diesel and 100,000 as Taxi). ‘Perdido en la Calle’ was the single from that album which sparked it off. The story of how that song was born came up in my chat with Dylan. “I simply woke up one night with an idea and quickly put down a melody and chords over which I sung a rough vocal and I can tell you it was the driver for the finished song. The following morning when I played it back to my wife I remember saying that it was the song that I had been waiting for all these years. Anyway months later when the Grammy office rang me to tell us of the nomination, I was in such disbelief that I thought it was a prank call and hung up. They called back and confirmed and I remember that I had been forceful in the studio with ‘Taxi’ and I fought for that song not to be shot down. Which goes to show that sometimes you just know when your mind is not playing tricks and you rightly feel that you have a winner.

A refined version of that song came from a midnight inspiration which blossomed into the single  from the album that was up for the Latin Grammy. Over 6000 Latin records had been edited in 2010 and Dylan’s song ‘Perdido en la Calle’ from the Taxi album ‘Aqui y Ahora’ was up there in the top five album nominations.  The stuff of legends – the sort of thing that makes one proud to be Gibraltarian and share in the glory. 

Here’s to more success from Taxi and a strong parting message from Dylan Ferro to all who struggle to seek recognition and fame in music, Jermy Perez, Guy Valarino, Jesse Maclaren, Simon Dumas and many more…”You can do it if you believe and work hard to make your dream come true.” Albert Hammond, Christian Hook and Dylan Ferro are all living proof of that.     

Valerga Brothers release ‘Soundtrack of My Teens an album for Calpe House

in Features

Three years ago I found myself announcing an album from the Valerga Brothers when they were inducted to the Hall Of Fame Class of 2019. Covid delayed that album and forced into isolation, the brothers put to good use the extra time available and started to add songs to it with a view to making it a double album. Recordings went on until they had thirty three songs for the final project – that’s nearly a triple album’s worth of memorable classic songs!  

The Valergas reached out across our musical community and secured stellar collaborations from musicians of all genres and the expanded project is now presented as a beautiful CD/USB package finally on sale at Khubchand’s, who have sponsored the album so that the entire proceeds from the album sales will go entirely to Calpe House. The launch of the album took place recently at the City Hall hosted by Mayor Christian Santos, with Sir Joe Bossano and Minister John Cortes also present. Pre sales of the album had already clocked up over thirteen hundred pounds which were presented to Calpe House representative Albert Poggio during the launch. 

“The ‘Soundtrack of My Teens’ by The Valerga Bothers is our ‘opus magnum’ ” says Henry Valerga.  It’s a snapshot of our early years in music, 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 many legendary artists and we have also brought in local artists to the album in the hope that Calpe House, a charity really close to all our hearts, will benefit greatly from the entire proceeds of this thirty three track album.”

In his opening address Mayor Christian Santos welcomed the many collaborators present and praised the great collection of ‘songs from another time.’ He encouraged those present to spread the word and help to bolster the sales of the album so that Calpe House would benefit greatly from this noble project. Henry Valerga spoke of the brothers’ involvement in music from a tender age and the social history of their growing up in Red sands Road. He alluded to the content of the album as a ‘time capsule of years passing’ and being marked by great songs which made up the soundtrack of their lives and our lives too. “These footprints of nostalgia have been raised to another level with the collaborations giving the music a new lease of life with a special local significance always respecting the original versions.” Henry gave detailed thanks and mentioned by name many who were involved in the project from the start and then invited a close friend to say a few words.

Barrister Levy Attias, a published poet and great friend of the Valerga Brothers entreated those gathered for the launch to ‘consider for a moment a life without music’. Where the ‘soundtrack’ of these songs recorded here have served us as a backdrop for romances or even break ups, as most of us remember specific times in our lives when music of bygone days jogs our memories and tugs at our heart strings. He paraphrased the great Abba hit ‘Thank you for the music’ and raised the chorus of agreement to a warm applause.

At that point Sir Joe Bossano was invited to the microphone and he spoke warmly about Calpe House and how it belongs to all of us and how it’s now considered a home from home to many recovering patients before returning home after UK treatments. The presentation of a cheque to  Albert Poggio of Calpe House followed on and Albert highlighted by way of a statistic that as many as a quarter of our population has benefitted from shelter at Calpe House during times of treatments. A sobering thought that underpins the many charitable endeavours that our community undertakes to raise money for the charity.

The guests were then invited to purchase their copies of ‘Soundtrack of my Teens’ and the gathering then mingled to the backdrop of some songs from the new album in a video presentation by Eddie Adambery. My own thoughts after hearing the album are that as Christmas is just around the corner, there is no better way to give music this Christmas and help a really worthy cause, but more than that, this great collection of songs of our youth will take pride of place in many musical collections across Gibraltar. 

What do you get for £20? A great album which is guaranteed to raise many smiles and evoke musical memories as we remember those bygone days when many great songs from great artists marked our youth. Big value with plenty of photographs and well researched historical comments on the tracks, why they were chosen, who collaborates on them from our local artists and compelling pointers as to why the music of the 60’s and 70’s was so successful  and has remained etched in the memory of so many from that generation. There are many interesting stories behind many of the featured songs which were new to me and these little gems of information are always entertaining to read and to know. It’s a big listening experience and very well produced indeed.

The photography and design throughout are excellent and bring to life the story in pictures of this established sibling duo that have been with us for 57 years and counting. In a two CD pack you would normally get 24 tracks but in this one the USB increases the capacity so you get a CD with 19 songs and the USB has 33 songs (which I’m told is the format most convenient to use in your car stereo). When you add all the aforementioned pictures and information to this great musical package you will agree that it’s an excellent gift to give music this Christmas. Especially for the Calpe House  

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. 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. 

A more recent contribution was made by Eddie Adambery who is a long time friend of the brothers and now lives locally after he retired from a UK career in song writing producing and recording. The Gibraltar National Youth Choir conducted by Christian Santos also took part in the project, with spoken words by Krisna Gulraj and Michael Cortes, which 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 selfless contributions. There are more contributors not mentioned here for brevity.

“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 local 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.”

I have selected a few songs  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 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 album from the Valerga Brothers selling really well in support of Calpe House. 

On sale at Khubchands, 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. 

Christmases Remembered

in Features

They say that enduring memories are those that we see through our rose tinted spectacles. The older one gets the more we like to hang on to memories, although I guess that holds true for everybody, as Christmas is a special time when we are treated by and likewise we like to treat those whom we love. My best remembered Christmases were those of my childhood and what made them special were the times spent visiting relatives and the times that they came round visiting us. Like most Gibraltarian households, the twelve days of Christmas were mostly spent huddled around the Christmas table eating or trying not to eat. There were a few other traditions to uphold as we shall see later. 

In those days of yore no one thought of expanding waistlines and if you were trying not to eat it was because you had literally stuffed yourself silly and your digestive system was on semi permanent overload. Our mentor was Santa and he had a very generous waistline, no doubt acquired by overindulging in mince pies and ‘polvorones’ (almond and cinnamon cakes). I remember not wanting to give up believing in Santa although, truth be said, in those days of the mid fifties here on the Rock, the presents were brought by ‘Los Reyes’ (the Three kings) on January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany. 

You were indeed privileged if you got presents on Christmas day and on ‘el dia de Los Reyes’ (the day of the Three Kings). There was that beloved uncle who shall be nameless in my story, who would tease us children that Santa didn’t exist. “Of course he does- who gave me my scooter last Christmas” etc … It was all done in jest and probably fuelled by the Christmas ‘spirit’ that pours from bottles.

The traditions, some of which are still held by a few to this day and some now long disappeared, were that we used to go to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, (‘Misa de Gallo) notwithstanding the ordeal of trying to remain well behaved while feeling over stuffed and over eager for the delivery of some Christmas presents – at least to tide us over until the Three Kings ‘arrived’ in January. The other tradition now all but lost, was that relatives brought around ‘panderos y zambombas’ (percussive Christmas noisemakers) that would accompany rousing traditional carols (sung?) in Spanish. The musicality of these tunes was always questionable but the spirit behind them was to make merry and celebrate and we usually succeeded on both counts. Soon the adult contingent of family members would be sporting flushed faces, laughing too much and getting louder as the night wore on. There were some nostalgic tears as well as those who had passed on were remembered and toasted.

Another tradition here was that on Christmas Eve you had to eat salmon salad (a la ‘John West’ I remember well) and no ‘Noche Buena’ table was complete unless the ‘Ajuelas’  (rolls of puff pastry in syrup decorated with colourful hundreds and thousands) made an appearance  followed by the cinnamon and raisin cakes (tortillas de pasas – also in syrup -yummy). The antidote for those excessive family poisonings in the name of celebrations was the trusty white tin of Andrews liver salt (Sal de frutas) and many a journey to the ‘throne’ was compromised by eager bowels now best not remembered!

On the tender side of those memories are still the beautiful Spanish ‘Villancicos,’ carols with their lyrics centred on the wonder of a God-child born in a stable. Even to this day new carols are added to the popular repertoire and a recent addition to the St Paul’s Choir is a tune called (Piensa la Mula). The concept of this lyric is that the donkey/mule that was carrying Mary while theywere looking for accommodation was a sentient being which felt privileged to be a part of the impending birth of the God-Child and it wanted to ‘hurry’ to the stable to get its precious cargo comfortable. ‘La Mula’ is blessed with a beautiful melody that truly captures the spirit of Christmas like the great ‘Silent Night,’ both of them steeped in religious tradition. That is not to say that the popular English and American Christmas carols do not capture the same spirit of love. You would have to be made of very hard stuff not to get a lump in your throat seeing school children singing carols at their Christmas assembly.

Happily that tradition is very much alive here and soon we shall be seeing them on our TV screens dressed up as shepherds and angels, reminding us that especially at Christmas we all want to be young and still believe in Christmas and Santa. This Christmas take a moment to remember how fortunate we are here in this community that still upholds some traditions which make the season what it is, a religious festival that, although it has been taken over by commercialism, still brings us together as families. Let us make it our toast this year- to families here and everywhere. Happy Christmas everyone!

The Traditional Christmas Cribs

in Features

The Christian tradition of creating a nativity scene (also called a crib or manger) representing the birth of Jesus has been alive for many years and exists in many cultures as an art form.

This artistic licence gives free rein to imagination and so nowadays there is a thriving industry around the religious figurines and crib decorations in many Christmas markets. I have been to crib shops in Madrid that sell three quarter life-size statues of the Holy family and farm animals like cows, sheep and donkeys to decorate church nativity scenes. The open air Christmas market in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor which I also visit every year has a great range of cribs and decorations in all sizes and price ranges to suit all budgets. At the upper end of the price range one can come across truly beautiful figurines and all the paraphernalia needed to make a spectacular crib surrounded by crushed paper mountains and peopled villages. 

In Gibraltar today churches display both a nativity scene and a Christmas tree that keeps both traditions alive and some homes follow that tradition too, although the large scale cribs of seventy years ago when I was a child are a dying art. There is still a local crib competition held annually and in my parish of St Paul’s at Varyl Begg estate, the semi-large scale nativity scene is put up by Ernest Mesilio who also puts up the huge Christmas tree and a bigger format manger in front of the main altar. A few years back we heard how the church was not too happy about the long held artistic representation in manger settings where a bull and a donkey closed ranks to breathe warm air onto the shivering baby Jesus. A clear case of where the age-old artistic embellishments have become even more colourful than the real story of Christ’s birth. The jury is still out on that one and no nativity scene worth its salt would pass on having a bull and donkey inches away from the infant’s head.

My late mother was a dab hand at putting up cribs at our home, which the neighbours and their children would come to see. She had been brought up here by nuns at Gavino’s orphanage and the tradition and methods had been drilled into her. In November she would ask my father to start bringing home brown paper (I also remember charcoal grey paper) so that she would crush them in her hands and fashion them into mountains which would later be capped with sprinklings of flour for realistic snow capped peaks. In the sawdust covered valley floor below the mountains (the plateau sat on a sideboard 1.5 metres long) a little mirror would become the water over which a cork bridge would span across. Little figurines collected and added to over the years would populate the valley.

A few shepherds and their flocks would converge on the manger and their daily progress would be timed (as children we were allowed to handle the figurines) so that by Christmas Eve the manger area was crowded. It would have an overhead angel and a star of Bethlehem and importantly, the crib was the main focus for our singing old Spanish villancicos (traditional religious Christmas carols). There are a number of ‘abstract’ cribs made by such firms as LLadro, Swarovski and others and although their artistic elegance is not disputed, the popular choice of Nativity tableaux remains the humble manger setting with the infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph and two farm animals. An overhead star of Bethlehem usually crowns these tableaux and they will always be displayed indoors in the main lounge on a sideboard. Gone are the days that carols are sung in front of cribs. 

Today’s more commercialised Christmas celebrations are centred on colourful wrapped presents displayed under Christmas trees and lots of food, enough to feed a regiment, also displayed and heartily consumed in our family settings. The religious sentiment of the season has been modified into a sort of food festival where you get a present for turning up and you also give presents for the privilege of being invited. Christmas on the Rock is still happily very family-centred and we wouldn’t have it any other way now. That is not to say that the Christmases of old still tick all the boxes for the grandparents of today’s younger generations. Have a great holiday and I hope that father Christmas is generous with you all and we will see you on the other side of the New Year.

Christian Hook Playing for Real

in Features

As an artist when you have achieved the considerable commercial success and wide acclaim that allows you to stay under the public radar while ever busy working on new projects and pushing artistic boundaries ,it must seem surreal, challenging and perhaps frightening to look down from your ivory tower and stay focussed on the work in hand. Christian Hook handles fame easily because he is too busy ignoring it, fiercely guarding his privacy whilst he ploughs ahead looking for the impossible. 

“If it can be done I am not interested. What challenges me and excites me is to find ways of doing things that are impossible. I think that in the last year I have done less work than what I used to do because I have been focussing on threads and opportunities where I can better reflect who I am. I’ve only been taking on projects when I can immerse myself completely without having to think galleries, money, clients and any of that. Really it’s to make my art more pure. I haven’t moved away from painting but I have been drawn to music because of its cross culture with fashion and jewellery like in video clips. In painting that doesn’t happen so I took inspiration from Japanese kimono culture and used gold leaf and gold chains to give that collection a more musical feel”.

Christian Hook is not looking for the next big thing because he feels that approach is flawed and enslaves artists, compromising their inspiration and weighing them down.

“It’s like looking for happiness. It’s a fleeting moment. You can try but the attempt will make you miserable. It’s the result of something else, it’s not up to you and it’s not the point anyway. You just do your best and the better you get at doing something, the better the feedback you get from the results. That excitement then makes you want to do more and that is the maximum prize. Really I’m very private compared to other artists and I’ve done a lot in the last two years but nothing of it is published yet because these things take a long time to come to fruition.”

“The real artists in history were always super sensitive and private people. I researched this because I was super sensitive as a child. Only one in ten people are super sensitive and that is how nature works. We live inside creative art. Everything around us has been conceived and created by another person before us and we all live in their creative minds. That is art all around us and nature provides those people who conceive and create new things so that we can evolve. Those people find everything in life very difficult and painful. They cannot be unfaithful to themselves because their first love is their art. They don’t understand each other and even when they are with other people they are always alone in their heads.”

“Real artists are very shy of fame because they can lose themselves in it. I’ve seen it a million times-those artists lose track of themselves. You have to be completely selfish. If you consider others in your work then it becomes collaboration. You cannot water yourself down. You have to surrender totally to your inspiration. You can’t consider the public’s approval because then the work is not real.”

Hook has just been invited to be included in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection. He was still reeling from the shock of the news that a prestigious British museum has honoured him. It seems that English and Scottish art lovers have embraced him in a big way as his paintings hang in many of their institutions, galleries and homes across the UK. It gets better nearer home too – the people behind the successful TV series Money Heist (La Casa de Papel) have engaged him as the artist for their next project and also commissioned him to write the music for it. All negotiations have been now been completed and Christian has been to Madrid to see them. He is very excited about this and that drives his current music.

 I’ve known Hook for a very long time and have never been able to separate Christian from his music. He is a musical and poetic force and although he has found considerable success in painting he still pines for success in music creation and uses his thorough work formula and contacts to push the envelope in that direction. His eyes light up as I give him feedback on some of the new music which he shares with me during our interview. My eyes also light up as my ears immerse in the haunting music which will grace the silver screen. I feel privileged.

“I still like to be involved with scientists and I love the science of the mind as there are other dimensions that we don’t yet understand. I have new concepts for digital art which have never been done before. I love new exploring new ideas and although my volume of work seems to be less, for me the results are more spiritual in a sense. I like to play around this area because the marriage of art and science excites me. It is what I am passionate about. I’m working with a scientist at the moment and we are exploring water as in the sea.”

“Although it’s said that water hasn’t got a memory the ice ages tell us that every time life reappears after an ice age there has been evolution.  Water can live in many stages and it’s an essential part of our make-up. I can see myself working in projects about the sea as an element and our emotions’ impact on the sea. We are the sea and we have to work together to understand how we can continue to evolve together.” 

“Sound also fascinates me. Everything around us is sound and every sound has a vibration and a frequency. I am not trying to force music and art together. I question what is music for, what do we do with it and how does it continue to make sense now. I know that music informs our emotions and that we can manipulate music in many ways. It’s not about a new instrument or genre. It’s about layering it and then stripping it back to find what still resonates with us that we want to keep.” This is the process that Christian uses in his painting. He will try and capture movement by a process of stripping back layers and adding dimension and colour to create movement. He creates a language with the canvas that will inform him when the subject has been fully explored to his inspiration’s criteria.

His eyes light up again and this time he tells me about a dog that he recently painted as a commission. Hook does not take commissions any more. He doesn’t need to. He will however fully immerse himself in one if the idea excites him. In a gallery encounter with a married couple, the conversation came up about the metaphysical and the science and auras, which fascinates Christian of course and this couple have an old dog which they love to bits and they asked after a while if Christian would attempt to paint a portrait their dog’s aura. Impossible right? Impossible is nothing as Nike say in their logo. 

This impossibility is exactly what sprung Hook into action. He contacted an expert (synergist) he knew and had previously worked with. He sent her videos of the dog to work with and she also suggested another source. So there were three people involved in the discussion. He then researched the colours in the aura spectrum and finally came up with a painting of the dog in two dimensions at once! I saw the painting on his Ipad and it floored me – so captivating and multidimensional that I could almost acquaint myself with it – being a dog lover myself. It’s a large format painting he tells me.

“It has to be something impossible like that because I don’t know how to do it. That excites me because I have to find a way to incorporate everything I know about the dog. Its age, name, video and the pictures that I took of it and also what my sources said about the aura. When I started to paint, it was no longer the portrait of a dog. To me it was much more. To me the challenge was to add everything that I had uncovered and got excited about into the painting. It was difficult and challenging but that is what always produces the best results. I don’t think about it while I’m doing, it I just have to do it. Thinking comes only after I finish a work. It’s then that I might add a line or something else. The thinking comes later if not you spoil the work. The playfulness in the work is important.” 

Christian Hook has no pompous ideas about who he is or what he has achieved. Instead he worries that his name becomes a brand. It brings with it an expectation from over seventy galleries in London who are eagerly waiting for his next offering. That translates into pressure and the fame which he retreats from. He says that he has to stop thinking about everything and play with his art for real. He must play without thinking about anyone and he must stay away from other artists although he loves to see other artists’ work.  He says that he has to be away from everything and working. Always working, as purely as possible and without deferring to the pressures and demands that being ‘HoooK’ (his artistic signature) brings.

“Let people think what they want. It doesn’t really matter. This is not theatre. I‘m always working really hard on different stuff but it doesn’t appear that way. Even if my projects didn’t get anywhere, the people that I work with know the value of the conceptual thinking that I bring to the table so even if the projects don’t materialise and they move on to something else, nothing has gone to waste.” I submit to him that he has ‘fertilized’ them, so to speak. “Exactly! That is what I do all the time anyway. My concepts can exist by themselves, they don’t need validation from others but it’s always great to be recognized of course.” 

At this point I wanted to steer the conversation towards a final thought that might reveal another clue as to what drives this restless genius that is Christian Hook to push boundaries that seek to marry art and science. Does this quest for the impossible ever make him make him unhappy?  

“Happiness is a fleeting emotion. It is the result of something else and cannot be chased because it cannot be found in things.  Although pain is not pleasant, when it comes it’s full of realizations, wisdom, changes etc. Just like one cannot chase happiness, one cannot be concerned with the end result of a creation. It is the process itself that one needs to fall in love with in order to progress.  In that process there is a measure of suffering and ultimately suffering is what makes us great and what we learn from it is what makes us stronger. When I involve myself with scientists I forget who I am. I just want to create and I need to get on with it. That might even sound childish but I need to play for real in order to be real.”

An Evening with The Ambassador

in Features

Our Cultural Ambassador Gabriel Moreno flew into town from London recently, combining a family holiday and a solo gig at the ‘Kasbar’, now the spiritual home of poetry evenings, vegan food and an equally intimate setting for both. We have seen him perform there with his ‘Quivering Poets’ on a few previous occasions but this time the challenge for him was to weave the magic on his own-which he did admirably-and to warm acclaim from the roomful of die-hard fans who were bolstered by a mixed bag of younger new fans and some older folk too.  His first set started via dedicating the evening and the first song ‘Lena Kalinka’, to an absent friend David Reyes and some of his family who were there. It was as if Gabriel had never left, the venue fits the poet and his songs like a glove.

Unlike previous gigs there, where the band tends to distract you from the lyrics, I found myself listening and better enjoying his words and music.  For his second offering he premiered a new song about the Ukraine called ‘Pass me the Bottle.’ There is a new album in the pipeline for which he already has eight new songs. This is to be one of them and it has a chorus which sings to ‘Kiev’ so it presses a lot of buttons which endears you to it from the get go.  “For me as a performer I focused on delivering the words and creating dynamics only with my guitar, it was challenging but equally satisfying. For me the night was more poetic because I was on my own with just my words and one instrument alone.”

My curiosity peaked, I interrupted him to ask whether he does many solo gigs …”I’ve done quite a few lately in small venues because it’ easier to get work, and solo work allows audiences to be drawn into the lyrics (the Poetry) and that is doubly satisfying for me as a writer and a performer” A second new song was next introduced, this one had been commissioned, so whether it might get into the new album or not is still up in the air, but its title ‘Marylou and My Cell,’ is a strong indicator that the song is a well observed tongue in cheek put down at our addiction and total dependence on mobile phones.

One observation which I made and put to him was that on this solo concert there were more people joining  in with singing-but they knew the words … “Yes and sometimes even better than me, that tells me that I’m getting through and it’s gratifying to see young people and much older people singing the words, not just the choruses. That was an eye opener for me too. Perhaps it has all to do with being local.” I concur with part of that and add that after three albums and his annual visits to our poetry starved rocky shores his music and words have found a home, perhaps fulfilling their mission and etching themselves in the mind of the younger fans especially. I could not believe the singing from an enthusiastic table of six behind me–and they were in tune as well. An evening with our Cultural Ambassador was turning out to be quite special.

Later in the evening when he invited requests there was a shout for ‘Joselin’ an old song about a colourful Spanish minstrel who Gabriel met and befriended in neighbouring La Linea…”I hadn’t sung that one in a while and forgot a line, but they were there to remind me that some songs reach a part of our psyche and embed themselves there, ready to be recalled at any time. For them this was one such. Maybe because I was too relaxed on this occasion that I forgot the line. Who knows, usually when you are fronting a band the adrenaline keeps you on your toes and at the same time you can fall back on them. When you are performing solo there is no plan B there is only you.”

And so the cream of the catalogue of Gabriel’s songs unfolded in front of us and we were all struck by the honesty and conviction that his interpretations conjured up into a heady atmosphere, where in the quieter passages you could have heard a pin drop – always the sign of a good performer – who at the stamp of his foot and a Flamenco-tinged guitar frill would whip up the small but discerning audience into a loud chorus.  This was our ‘Taverna Troubadour’ at his best and the noisy acclaim with which the ambassador was rewarded after each song is our Mediterranean and ‘LLanito’ calling card. We are loud and demonstrative. We may not Greeks but if we were, a pile of broken plates would be evidence that we had heartily enjoyed ourselves that hot night in mid August. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and can’t wait for more of the same from the poet. Make it soon Maestro.  

Exporting our Culture Through a Poet

in Features

Gabriel Moreno our Cultural Ambassador is very active in the London Poetry scene and he also organizes events to showcase our brand of ‘Llanito culture abroad. Joe Adambery caught up with him as he preparesd to fly to the Rock for a rare solo concert here.

We have never had an ambassador in London taking the pulse of our culture scene while living away from the Rock. You have now been in chair for some months and made that work and even used the bridge as an advantage… please tell us if it gave you any headaches and how did you develop that link.

There are always headaches and stomach aches when it comes to exploring and sharing Gibraltarian culture as we are still in the process of discovering and explaining the diversity of styles and influences which shape our art. Then, as you well point out, there is the added difficulty of living abroad. However, they say a challenge can be flipped, just like a Spanish omelette, to reveal the ready-to-be-cooked possibility of success. 

My intent was to use this physical distance to both explore the intricacies of Gibraltarian art forms as seen from an outside perspective and also, most importantly, to represent our identity in the UK through autochthonous forms of creation. I wanted to show our dear English comrades who we are, part of our culture, through examples of our painting, poetry, music, dance, plays, novels, essays, etc. I also used my contacts in the poetry and music world to showcase what we ‘llanitos’ do and try to plant a seed in the mind of the British audiences so that they might consider our identity as something particular to Gibraltar rather than a mere extension of the remnants of an empire.

The results have been compelling. I have been amazed at how many stereotypes can be questioned through art. I also realized England and its people don’t really know us. They see us through the lens of politics and history but have no idea about how we feel, eat, live or dream. Art can help us explain ourselves to the world and being in the world has helped me add my miniscule grain of sand in this respect.

I have also liaised with other Gibraltarian artists who live in the UK, especially novelist MG Sanchez. Together we explore themes concerning the intrinsic shape of Gibraltarian identity through writing and I am excited to showcase Gibraltar through art in an event we are celebrating at The Tower Theatre, Stoke Newington London on the 5th September. 

Q: Looking back on nearly a year of cultural events how would you explain your stewardship and contributions to a future incumbent.

Bringing a talented array of UK musicians to experience Gibraltarian culture and collaborating with them in a show at the Inces Hall in April 2022 has been one of the highlights of this year of stewardship. Throughout the year I have enjoyed a tight collaboration with Gibraltar Cultural Services and this has been fundamental. The bond has proven to me that a close working relationship between artists and cultural institutions is vital when it comes to investigating and celebrating culture. I hope I can inspire future incumbents to keep on exploring our identity through art and to showcase what Gibraltarian culture is really about. Not only on the Rock but also in the UK, Spain and beyond. 

Have you enjoyed the stewardship and has it enriched your links with your expatriate community any more than what you thought when you were chosen.

I have enjoyed this stewardship immensely and I have found it has made me grow as an artist and made me realise that all my poetic and musical output is closely linked to my identity as a Gibraltarian. I have also got closer to expat artists and have discovered a new way of collaborating with my hometown which I have not even envisaged. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to investigate my ties with my own roots and what they mean to other writers, singers, painters, dancers and artists. 

Q: You live in a major cultural hub capital and work in culture professionally …has that in any way helped you with your initiatives or does the direction come from GCS over here and you implement them over there.

I have been lucky to work with Gibraltar Cultural Services in devising a one-off Cultural Soiree. My experience running events in London has been useful to both conceive and produce this event but Davina Barbara and the whole GCS team have been pivotal in providing the infrastructure for the event to work. I want to thank Seamus Byrne, Tasmin Griffith, Edward Dove and the whole team for that.

Q: Is it too soon to evaluate your artistic contribution yourself or would you rather read about what someone thought about your contribution after your year as ambassador has ended.

I would rather that others speak benevolently or condemn my actions and words as Cultural Ambassador or as a human being in general. One must take praise and criticism with an equal pinch of salt or smoked paprika if you prefer. To my mind you should question your effort more than your results and be at peace with the idea that when it comes to culture and art, we are all novices and apprentices. Culture and art are intrinsically complex things and they bring about more questions than answers. The beauty is in the voyage of discovery and I am definitely proud to have sailed in those winds. I hope that we all sail together in a similar direction to continue the search.

Q: You have been an educator (and in a way still are one)… has your work with local children inspired you and enabled you to make a judgement call about how we rank and how we are developing as a cultured community.

Working with children in Gibraltar was inspiring. I led some workshops both as a poet and as a musician and the results were uplifting. The experience confirmed what I already suspected: Gibraltar is a perfect place for artistic expression. If we lead our children to the vast pool of diverse influences and cultural roots available on the Rock, we could create incredibly unique artists.

We have the Mediterranean, the English Language, Africa, Spain and our specific identity which can be the engine for true, unique and genuine art. Children teach us what the future will look like and it seems to me it looks fine in terms of art. My only worry is that we lose our bond to the Mediterranean world and the Spanish language which seems to be a treasure trove when it comes to possibilities and techniques for artistic expression. I hope the youth investigate art beyond performative Britishness and find their own ways of singing, writing, painting, skating, dancing and performing – the ‘Llanito way. 

The Greatest Show

in Features

A few weeks back I recharged my emotional and musical batteries at the excellent show put on by the GAMPA kids at the John Mac Hall, our youth is always a joy to watch and listen to. They sung and they danced their hearts out to songs from the musical ‘The Greatest Showman’ but the extra treat was that the first half of the show was led by Christian Santos and Andrea Simpson doing what they do best, belting out great tunes from other great musicals of their choice.  

Sometimes they sang solo and other times in duets with each other or with GAMPA star pupils Ella Vinet and Sean Jeffries. A substantial chorus line from the school sang behind them when it fitted the songs and a reduced chorus line was there for the more intimate ballads. Even a better treat for me and a significant step up, was that the musical accompaniment throughout the first half, was performed ‘live’ by an ensemble of GAMPA musicians who excelled in their roles and always complemented the singers under the baton of their musical director pianist Mr. Monjes. He led an ensemble which featured two strings, a flute and a sax, drums and bass. They were really good and provided the ‘light and shade’ that great songs need to breathe and weave their magic spell on us. 

What an absolute joy to be able to witness and enjoy such a rich programme of stage music which barely a few years ago would have been unthinkable, not to say unachievable. I was so proud to have been there to soak up the magic that was conjured up in a music spectacle that raises the bar even higher for GAMPA academy. I do not exaggerate when I say that it was indeed ‘the greatest show’ ever put on by the academy and a fitting finale to this year’s summer term where they have finally been released from the woes of the Covid restrictions after two years.  

The sell out audience, upstairs swelled sometimes by the non-performing juniors and infants, were loud and generous in their applause and there is no greater reward for a performing artist than their home public’s acclaim. Christian Santos, never usually lost for words was right to have felt rightly proud of what our children and youth are constantly achieving in music and performing. However we must not overlook the fact that he is an artist himself and he delivered great vocals in spades last Friday, flanked by the talented and charming Andrea Simpson. 

In part two the seniors were in their element singing and performing with great conviction. The programme also saw the upcoming acting and performing ‘little ones’ go through their paces and shine in the spotlight, later giving way to the seniors in their resplendent ‘Show’ costumes which added flair to the busy dance routines and with the clever triangular formation choreography that we have now come to expect from this group, they always kept up the momentum and helped to highlight the soloists’ efforts at stage front.  

Let’s not take this significant achievement lightly or God forbid, for granted. We can become blasé about too much of a good thing, but in one of his always warm and admiring comments about Andrea Simpson, Christian said it ‘was easy to take her for granted because she made it look easy’. That’s where the nub is, these GAMPA kids are such seasoned performers that we have come to expect very high standards. It’s not easy to impress an audience- you have to be good and deliver on all fronts. 

These are very high standard young performers and long may the GAMPA academy rule the boards of our theatres. Our music culture is dripping wet with young talent and it enriches our community. Well done all for putting your hearts and soul into this great evening of entertainment. I salute you.

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