Joe Adambery

Joe Adambery has 60 articles published.

This Mountain

in Features

I stood by the side of this mountain and felt
protected by its might

I was completely humbled, a prisoner to our
measure of time

What’s a lifetime compared to the aeons that this Rock our sentinel has been basking in the light

What ties me to this mountain securely is my birthright, not the mortar and lime

Used to be that we were cave dwellers perched high on the edge of the sea

Who imagined then what would come to be

That joined to this pillar of Hercules our
neighbour would lay claim to our world  

So I stand by the side of this mountain
with my flag ready to unfurl

As the sun rules the day and the moon rules
the night sky

We should be masters of the territory where
the bones of our ancestors lie

Ours is a cry of freedom why will they not let us be

Whosoever has designs on this mountain of
mine will have to contend with me

I stand by the side of this mountain and
try to dispel my fear

As we continue to fight for our freedom 
small fish in such a big sea

Armed only with reason, the fear of treason and words of the arguments that we hold so dear

We continue to ponder on our future plight as we swim against the current of political might

So I stand by the side of this mountain
and struggle to hold back a tear

Rafael Cruz

in Features

 Nothing lost in poetry translation

Rafael Cruz came to Gibraltar for the first time in early July on the occasion of the book launch by local poet Gabriel Moreno, who has just
completed his new collection of poems called ‘Heart mortally wounded by six strings.’

I met him at the launch and was able to see and enjoy his poetic translations. Rafael has also launched his new book ‘Keats Now’ which has already been launched in England and Spain. He did his thesis on TS Elliot and has translated his poems. On the day following Gabriel’s event at the new bookshop by Inces Hall, Rafael launched the Keats translations book called ‘Keats Now ‘at the concert which Gabriel was hosting in the ‘Kas Bar’, where texts in English followed by his new translations were given a premiere and one was able to appreciate various Keats poems in our two familiar languages and also witness the charismatic translator reading them. 

Side by side and in the moment it was a first here, the poems were very well received, leading to a conclusion on my part that this was a good thing that we need more of and so I sat down with Rafael Cruz to learn more about him and his highly skilled work which he seems to enjoy greatly, sharing and comparing ‘live’ in front of an audience.  He has his own publishing house in UK called Goat Star Books and our ensuing chat was the backbone of this text which will fall short in depicting this effervescent and larger than life culture vulture who has fallen in love with our city and its convivial inhabitants. I asked him how and when he first came to translate poetry from English to Spanish and to Catalan also, as Rafael is a proud Catalan who has lived in UK for thirty one years. 

“It started during the pandemic when so many people changed. I used to teach Spanish literature and poetry at the London School of Economics among other places and how poetry relates to political and socio-economic issues and I had to teach Spanish because it was Hispanic studies. I thought it was impossible at first but then during the Pandemic people were doing odd things and I started translating TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. It is the poet that I love most in all literature and it was magic and it was flowing, so I shared it with a poet friend of mine in Mallorca and also on Facebook platforms where I am very active. I did rate my translations but being validated by such a good poet whom I admired, I thought I was on to something and then I started translating his own poems from Mallorcan Catalan into English. He was delighted. He speaks fluent English because as a scientist he studied at the Imperial College in London. He said to me that it seemed as if he had written his poems in English and I took that  as a great compliment because it validated my work. That is how it all began and if you had asked me before the Pandemic, I thought that it was impossible for me to translate poetry.”

How does he deal with rhyme and meter, how does he capture the soul of a poem elicited a surprisingly simple answer. “I deal with it very easily – I do away with it because Spanish and English are very different languages. One is syllable based and the other is stress pattern based. I take the original and think how would I say this in Spanish and this is where the chemistry and the magic happens. I see myself as a medium contacting the spirit of the poem. The rhyme is beautiful in English but I am free to describe how I am touched by it. All I have to do is say in Spanish in a beautiful way what the poem says. That is how I can best explain what I do. I have read a lot of poetry and I’ve developed a kind of instinct to know when it flows naturally. If you were to give me a Shakespear sonnet I would be able to translate it in a way that you would think it had been written in Spanish. It is not disrespecting the poet or rhyme or the words or the pattern. What Shakespeare says in the sonnet will mean the same in Spanish. I am a TS Eliot fan and one of the good things that he did was to do away with rhyme. He created modern poetry and used modern speech. That’s what I do and that’s what most poets do nowadays. We try to bring poetry in tune with the way we speak.”

So what is your best hope when translating classic poetry into Spanish and potentially introducing a new market for it? “I’m very daring and never feel intimidated, I just go for it and try to capture the emotion in the original. That’s my best hope – that you the reader feel the emotion. I wouldn’t have carried on with my project if I had not succeeded in that. My reception here yesterday was such that many came up and said ‘Wow Rafael that was so refreshing to hear in Spanish’. I feel validated by that and if it were not so I would stop.“

Goat Star Books is the publishing house behind Rafael Cruz and it’s his company that he works for, deep in the heart of Cambridgeshire. His house is called Capella and it’s a star constellation depicted by a Goat and its kid which is called Capella. “I first translated the poems of Angel Terron from Mallorca into English and he suggested to me that I should try to present an anthology to one of the major publishers in UK, but during the pandemic everything was held back till this year, so imbued by the spirit of my generation (70s) rebellious and determined, I had to do it myself. You  cannot wait for somebody for three years. You have to displace the old order and move on. I understood where they were at the time so I have since then already published three books. In Angel Terron, the Mallorcan poet, I published an excellent Spanish poet in English and I had very good reception and sold out the first edition. We have been growing ever since and we have to grow more. I need more infrastructure and that takes time. So far it has been a labour of love.”

Rafael only takes on two translation projects a year and he has a new project that could involve a very famous poet in England. He doesn’t have the rights yet but if it materialises it’s the huge responsibility that excites him, but that is in the back burner at present as there are lawyers involved because he is a famous poet and still alive! He mostly deals with dead poets so there are no lawyers involved with John Keats’ work. His  next book is projected for release in November and it will be a translation of a young Pakistani poet called Danial Danish who comes from Faisalabad, a post-colonial city in Punjab where English is a major language, the lingua Franca there, so his poetry is in English and it’s very strong. He talks about inequalities, poverty and his country mainly. He is 27 and still very young for a poet, but he has something special. Rafael is going to publish him in English and in Spanish as there is a huge Pakistani community in Barcelona. In the centre of the region, the schools are seventy per cent Pakistani children. That is where Rafael Cruz comes from so he has researched the potential market there. The children are born Catalans and there is the potential also for Catalan translations. He feels that he is ‘going into the eye of the storm’ as Catalans still refer to the Pakistani communities as ‘newly arrived’ although there is a whole generation already born there who are native to Catalonia.  With Gabriel having studied in Barcelona I wondered at this point how he got together with Gabriel for this Gibraltar project.

“I hooked up with Gabriel Moreno through a common friend from Barcelona, as Gabriel had lived and studied there, and this poet friend said that I should meet him. I had never thought of Gibraltar at all so I met Gabriel in London and he had the book that we presented yesterday (‘Heart mortally wounded by six stings’) and was at the time looking for a publisher. I told him that my remit was only translations and that I only publish my translated works. His project was too far advanced to go back and wait for a translation so we decided to work together and explore a future collaboration. I asked him to a write book about a ‘Gibraltarian in the world’ which could then be translated into Spanish and launched here and in Barcelona, in London and in Madrid. Spain doesn’t take into account that in over 300 years, Gibraltar has evolved into a community that is not Spanish. How could they be the same when they haven’t had a civil war, and a fascist dictatorship? They have an English culture which has evolved into a multi-cultural community where religions are represented and respected. The Church still has a strong grip in Spain and we are so different. The language unites us but we have grown apart with over 300 years of history dividing us. That fascinates me and now I’m hooked with Gibraltar and its people.”

As I ponder on how to wrap up this enthralling chat with Rafael Cruz which I have just transcribed, I am dipping into a book he gifted me of Surrealist poems that he has just translated from Spanish into English. Its catchy title is ‘Popping Corn’ and the poet Mendigo Diego (alias Manolo Marcos born in Rotterdam 1968) now residing in Cordoba, where he paints, writes poetry and is also an active musician, a sax player who can be seen playing around the Roman Bridge. In this anthology of some eighty short (three stanza) poems, Rafael puts on the poet’s hat and has given the poems a new life in the faithful translations that almost jump out of the pages because you are quickly drawn to the English texts  to see whether they work well and they do, so you get hooked and tend to discard the Spanish language text adjoining, without disrespecting it, almost forcing yourself  to look at it only after you’ve read the English. It says something about ‘duende’ a certain ‘grace’ which describes flair and as the readings repay your curiosity you‘re thinking ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ Too late – you don’t have to. It’s already done and Rafael Cruz has got the t-shirt and the hat which he wears well. This man will be back to visit us and a future project with Gabriel Moreno will twin them up again for our enlightenment and entertainment.

Simply the Best 1939 – 2023

in Features

She was one of the most influential female Rock stars of all time. The legend Tina Turner left us in May of this year but her legacy lives on. She was ‘Simply the Best’- the full embodiment of what the term signifies. Her compelling story of hardship, music and pain before she found worldwide success in her own right, and the best choices from her catalogue of greatest hits, will hopefully linger on for years to come in the stage musical about ‘Tina’. 

The show is a still a huge hit and if you have seen it you know that already, but if you haven’t and are a music lover or a Tina Turner fan, you owe it to yourself to see it.  I have seen ‘Tina el musical’ twice in Madrid (21 and 22) and it sits up there for me as one of the most accomplished Rock musicals that I have seen. It’s that good and the Broadway and the London West End shows are the pinnacle of theatrical entertainment that along with other major cities across the world, will continue to exploit the universal success of the story of the greatest and most humble of musical divas that the world has known. Soon no doubt we shall see the release of her back catalogue hits which may well produce a posthumous hit album for her estate and record company.

Tina Turner (born in Brownsville, Tennessee, Anna Mae Bullock 26. 11. 39) was an American-born singer who was the lead singer of the ‘Ike and Tina Turner Revue band. Ike trapped her into an abusive marriage and it was only after many years of struggling to break free that she rose to prominence as an iconic singer in her own right and became a role model for women across the world. Her comeback in the mid-eighties put her at the top of her game as one of the most powerful and explosive touring female singers and successful recording artists of the day. She sold in excess of 200 million records. Tina had a long career and toured her 50th anniversary show around the world in 2009. She died in Switzerland aged 83 on May 24.

 At the height of her world dominance in the early nineties she filled the Maracana stadium in Brazil with 180,000 – a world record attendance to this day. That crowning moment of her career is also the highlight of Tina the musical when she sang ‘Simply the Best’ however, there is a strong local connection with Albert Hammond our celebrated singer songwriter who wrote eight songs for her which she recorded. Three of which were big hits for her and two of which feature prominently in the ‘Tina the musical’. ‘Don’t Turn Around’ (1986) features twice. I thought that this connection had to be explored further and I chatted with Albert, who at the moment is on a touring hiatus and has just recorded seventeen new songs for release in Spring next year to mark his 80th  birthday  and he is also currently embarked on a Christmas album also for release next year. 

“These eight songs are the songs that Tina recorded of mine. I didn’t realize how many I had written for her: 1. Don’t turn around  2. I don’t wanna lose You 3. Way of the world 4. Be tender with me Baby 5. Ask me how I feel 6. Love Thing 7. Something Special 8. You can’t stop me loving you. Of those eight songs ‘Don’t turn around’ was a hit three times over, British Reggae band ‘Aswad’, Neil Diamond and Swedish band ‘Ace of Bass’ had a massive hit with it too. It’s a long time ago now but I remember that Tina especially liked ‘Be tender with me Baby’ because the lyric resonated with her. I also remember that a prominent Canadian singer songwriter produced the track for her.” 

Lovely memories to have indeed and now his connection with Tina is set to continue in the musical which no doubt will be given a new impetus by the demise of the legendary diva. As I said earlier in this column, if you haven’t yet seen the musical and get an opportunity to do so, don’t miss it because I’s a great story of rags to riches with great music throughout, some of which is written by our own legendary singer songwriter Albert Hammond who has written hits that go back half a century. 

“Last year we celebrated 50 years since ‘It never rains in Southern California’ and this year we celebrate 50 years since ‘Free Electric Band’ the song that inspired so many people around the world to seek truth and happiness. And so the line ‘I gave it up for music and a free electric band’.”

We had a long catch-up chat and I now have a standing invitation to meet him very soon and he is going to play me some of the new album’. There is so much that we don’t know about Albert Hammond here in Gibraltar so until he writes a book, which is on the cards, the anecdotes about his success, like having written eight songs for the late great Tina Turner, will serve to whet our appetite for what is still to come from the man who in 1962 started a Rock’ n’ Roll band called ‘The Diamond Boys’.

Dean will be diving deeper this summer

in Features

“There is no fear – quite the opposite. There is an element of letting go and you can become euphoric. The first thing you do is totally relax on the surface and slow down your metabolism and as you dive, you empty your mind so that you are no longer in the moment, then as you go deeper, air in your lungs contracts including the nitrogen, which can induce narcosis-a false feeling of wellness. This happens at around 40 or 50 metres and again stronger at around 80 metres. You feel very relaxed and let go and it can feel like you are being hugged.”

Since we last chatted to local free diver Dean Chipolina on ‘Insight Magazine’ he has upped his world ranking to fourth and increased his depth in the two disciplines that he trains for. It’s fair to say that he has been carrying the UK diving team to glory and this summer he is confident that he can improve his ranking again and intends to surpass his deepest recorded depth of 101 metres. There are only three months of training left before July and despite the colds and flu doing their best to slow him down, he remains unphased and quietly confident that he can pull it off again this summer. 

“My achievement last year was to break the 100 metre barrier. That had been my aim for the last three years. I didn’t want to scrape through that, I did a controlled dive and when I got to the surface I still had something left so I know that I can still improve on last year. It was an enjoyable dive, stress free and I was totally in control. With that dive I managed to come fourth in the world for the mono fin category. The other achievement was that I increased my bi fin record to 90 metres so both my disciplines have increased by ten metres over the last three years.” 

Ideally this summer, Dean wants to break the UK national record for bi fins by reaching 100 metres and he also wants to dive to 112 metres on his mono fin dive. To that end he has just ordered a pair of custom made fins which is going to leave him little change out of a thousand Euros. Free diving is expensive when you want to swim down a rope holding your breath like a dolphin. “If all goes well this year I could end up with two UK national records so we shall see. There is a small competition in Corsica in July which I am going to use to go for my record attempts. This summer I want to concentrate on breaking UK records first and then see what happens for the world championship which will be in September.”

Does he still feel that there are a lot of dives left in him to compete at that level? “Oh absolutely! Last year I always had more left in the tank whilst I was doing my pre-competition dives and this year I want to push those boundaries further. The thing is I am conservative and I don’t want to over extend to limits which I haven’t reached yet. One thing that can throw any plans askew are the underwater currents. Like in Cyprus last year there were strong underwater currents so we ended up revising our target depths because you have to work much harder. In July I won’t even attempt to break any records unless there are top conditions for diving. In the world championships you have to dive regardless of conditions on the day, obviously within the safety parameters. My training is modified now and I am confident that I can push my boundaries further.” 

Dean Chipolina now belongs in a small group of elite divers who are constantly their pushing boundaries. His online coach is 46 year old Algerian born French diver Abdelatif Allouach who has won several world championships and holds a 2021 world record of 115 metres on bi fins. “These guys are always pushing their limits and they are on the cutting edge of the sport, however I can take a lot from them and am still learning all the time. I have an equipment sponsor from Latvia but this year the war has impacted on their budget. I still don’t have a travel sponsor and it would be nice to travel to pre-competition dives and competitions without having to dip into my own pocket. Travel sponsorship is now one of my priorities. The sport nowadays gets a lot of TV and other media coverage including YouTube which is always good for the sponsors.”

As a regular user of the GASA pool I often see Dean training with his mono fin gracefully skimming the bottom of the swim lane for various lengths of the pool (in one breath!) and I wondered whether that is his favourite discipline. “It is indeed but I am dropping my frequency on that to concentrate on bi fins now so you will see me using them exclusively for a while. The mono fin lends itself more to coordination of two legs moving as one, whereas the bi fins for me seem more uncoordinated as the two legs use up energy in movement which is more difficult to streamline. It also seems less efficient in getting the job done. I have just ordered a pair of bi fins where the blades are separate from the shoe. I now have to measure my foot carefully and order the shoe that will be glued to the blades. My main concern is that last year at depth I could feel that the shoe was a bit loose as the feet are compressed. So now I will be ordering very tight fitting shoes and that will be one thing less to worry about on future dives.”

I remembered that from my diving days of the 70’s using aqualung, when you go over your usual depth of around twenty metres you become more aware that you are in a hostile environment. You feel different in your headspace as the pressure increases and you have a sensible fear that there is a lot of water above your head if you have to climb in an emergency. I wondered how fear might impact on free divers, who go for three or four minutes and over, without breathing, to complete their deep dives.

“There is no fear- quite the opposite! There is an element of letting go and you can become euphoric. The first thing you do is totally relax on the surface and slow down your metabolism and as you dive, you empty your mind so that you are no longer in the moment, then as you go deeper, air in your lungs contracts including the nitrogen, which can induce narcosis-a false feeling of wellness. This happens at around 40 or 50 metres and again stronger at around 80 metres. You feel very relaxed and let go and it can feel like you are being hugged.”

 “At those depths you are no longer an air breathing mammal. All the air in your body has been squeezed and plasma fills your lungs so that they do not crush. Your body has a mammalian dive reflex which comes into play and allows that to happen. From your guide line you have to pick up a tag which verifies the depth that you have achieved. Then you start your ascent slowly and in control. You will be met by safety divers at 3O metres and as the daylight penetrates the black, there will be more safety divers around you in case you black out. Suddenly you break surface and you have to keep it together and give a clear OK sign within 15 seconds as protocol demands. The dive marshal raises a white card and your dive is declared valid. That is what we live for.”                 

Made in Gibraltar on Radio

in Features

Very recently Radio Gibraltar has turned 65, a pensionable age, but its youthful profile keeps it relevant and young in outlook and output. A much younger James Neish now the current CEO of GBC has also hosted the series of hour long weekly programmes ‘Made In Gibraltar’ whose remit was to seek and put out on air the musical labours of upcoming and established local musicians. To keep listeners abreast of the local music scene. Ben Lynch and Jonathan Sacramento have also presented the series in the past.  Just six years ago James Culatto took the reins for MIG and has continued the legacy of the popular Radio series and improved its local library by asking artists to submit all their recorded work for consideration, instead of just their latest singles, CD or latest press release.

I sit across James one early morning for coffee while raiding his Churros (Papitas in this case) hoping to gain more insight into how this well-established local talent programme continues to prosper and what its aims might be for continuing into the future. “When I first knew that the presenter slot for MIG was to become available, I sold myself to Ian Daniels (Head of Radio) as I was already working there as an audio visual assistant. I had already worked on music Journalism and I love the interview side of that. Anyway I got the programme and at the beginning it was very difficult getting a pool of songs together, as previously artists were only submitting limited content into the programme. I wanted to expand that and gradually they began to send me more material that I could use in different shows and at the same time build up a local library. Nowadays bands send me everything and I try to mix and match as many different genres of music and artists as I can in order to create more diverse shows.”

One thing that MIG has that other shows haven’t got, is that there is no special consideration given to ‘Radio-friendly’ material. James Culatto insists that this Radio criteria should not apply to local music and local artists. The musical palette is multi coloured and independent of commercialism or trends. “You might tune in to hear MIG and it can feature very commercial sounding music at the beginning but later hear some ‘off the wall’ tracks that you would not hear anywhere else. The show is 55 minutes long and if there is an interview in it maybe 20 minutes is given to it. The balance is musical content and links (intros and outros) so the format varies all the time according to content.”

I wanted to know whether James could highlight some memories of his six year stint in MIG. “Really I haven’t had many surprises and that is good because it shows that I have been deeply immersed in the local music scene and keep myself abreast of trends.”  Indeed James has been in various bands as a guitarist and front man vocalist during the last 25 years and there is no one better placed to take the local musical temperature than him. He is seriously curating the radio series and earning it new plaudits at the same time.

“There have been people like Jazz guitarist Eli Massias whom I would not have come across as he lives in New York, but other mainstays of local music like Paul Isola, Giles Ramirez, Gavin Garcia, Jeremy Gomez, The 500, Gabriel Moreno and others are regularly featured in my shows. I would like to think that because I play their music and have featured their interviews in MIG, many people are now more aware of local and expat artists. So in that sense the programme nowadays is more varied, well informed and up to date.”

“I would say that nowadays there are more singer songwriters than bands who want to promote their work. It’s less hassle I suppose if you are on your own. Every so often we get requests that I play a ‘Dead City Radio’ song (James Culatto’s band). I don’t have so much time now with family commitments and work. I still write songs and try to put the odd gig on in the summer and I think that Radio Gibraltar will always have a commitment to local music and I would like to carry on MIG as long as people are still listening to it. As long as we have the demand for it I am happy to do it. Based on interaction and feedback I know that there are people who listen. Every week I know that there are people listening and nowadays expat artists like Alexeij Vallejo and Chloe Martinez regularly feature, as does Jesse Maclaren, and Jeremy Perez too although he has now settled here.

“I expect a lot of new material from students this summer and I think that Gibraltar is producing very good lyricists nowadays. I have to mention Denis Valerga, Leo Sanguinetti and Gabriel Moreno and that I mix their talents with all the other genres of music that local artists are making. That is what the show must represent. We need more people to listen to local music otherwise it’s never going to blossom. It’s a privileged position to be in, to expose these talents to the community. Put another way it gives the upcoming musician a bit of a leg up the ladder.”

Since James Culatto started to host the show six years ago, home recording technology has ‘improved dramatically’ and his careful and informed curating of the material that gets played on the show has set higher standards of quality. Any old kitchen table recording will not do. Artists know that they have to aim to produce a properly recorded and mastered song that will stand up to scrutiny and plays well over radio. I have a good feeling that in the hands of James, MIG will continue to grace the airwaves for a few years more, at least as long as our local musical talent pool doesn’t dry up. There are no signs of that happening yet and that makes me very happy.

Tune in to ‘Made in Gibraltar’ with James Culatto on Thursdays at 7pm on Radio Gibraltar Plus and help to keep local music alive by being aware of who’s who and what’s what in our world of Yanito music. 

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

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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!

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