Joe Adambery - page 3

Joe Adambery has 55 articles published.

Times of Closure

in Features

A new film about our recent history

A quite significant historical documentary called ‘Times of Closure’ of our border with Spain has recently been shown at Leisure Cinemas. The two hour film brilliantly put together by former GBC TV producer and freelance cameraman Stephen Cumming over a period of twenty years, first started life as a documentary highlighting 300 years of British rule here. Budgetary constraints throughout the early production schedule resulted in delays and storyboard adjustments so that the intended 2004 screening was never met. Other projected screening dates were missed too but perhaps this has been fortuitous for the film’s relevance as we now sit at the doorstep of a ‘new treaty’ which will supersede the scope of the Treaty of Utrecht. With the United Kingdom and Gibraltar now out of Europe, a new treaty with our neighbours to the north seems the only way forward. 

As Stephen delved deeper into political research for ‘Times of Closure’ he discovered other angles that he explored through interviews with key political players of the era and also at a human level, the La Linea workers who were the hardest hit by General Franco’s draconian policy to close the frontier, in a what turned out to be a failed attempt to bring Gibraltar to its knees. The original storyboard grew exponentially with every new historical thread uncovered and as new material was filmed, the scope of the film’s original remit was widened to accommodate new footage and the ever changing political dimension that is the perennial ‘Gibraltar Problem.’  

We spoke with Stephen Cumming to learn further about his crusade to bring the closed border story to the silver screen. “The final script evolved from one that I had started writing in 2000. I was hoping to produce something for 2004 and the anniversary of the capture of Gibraltar in 1704. It covered the whole story in less detail than this film. It was not to be, so when the frontier closure anniversary arrived, I literally extracted that part of the script and expanded it. I drew on sources like the public archives, historians and academics. People like Dr. Jenifer Ballantine Perera of the Gibraltar Garrison Library and UK based researcher Tommy Norton at University of Nottingham. Both of whom had carried out a great deal of work on this already. In true TV style the script was still being developed right up to the last few weeks as more information was found.” 

“The public response to the film has been generously positive. I’m not sure if it’s because I know most of the audience personally, but seriously, I think people have been suitably impressed and interestingly, for different reasons. Some were impressed by the nostalgia that the archive images bring, others by the beautiful imagery that the cinema screen affords and others by the sheer volume of information that the documentary delivers.”

When I saw the film at its premiere my first thoughts were that such an admirable effort to bring together the story of the closed border years through the eyes of politicians, historians and other key players cannot be limited by reasons of copyright constraints to a cinema viewing public only. This is a historical document that has to be shared with the wider local public and perhaps even included in our school curriculum. That raises the problem of licensing the archive film clips, which bring to life the narrative illustrating and also punctuating the interviews as the film unfolds. We touched on the complex licensing arrangements that still lie ahead for Stephen Cumming as he now tries to find a way to exploit the film outside of our shores, through Blu-ray for home ownership and importantly for local educational purposes.  

 “My growing concern was to get the film finished this year and after I had edited the footage I set about securing the licensing agreements for cinema only. It was a nightmare to get the licensing agreed. The archive and library footage probably takes the biggest bite out of the overall budget. I found them from over thirty sources worldwide. Each source has its own licensing agreement and coverage restrictions. This turns the whole exercise into a veritable nightmare. The result though has been worth it. It’s such a joy to see Gibraltar as it was at the time. It also brings a sense of reality and sadness when you watch the classic ‘closed frontier’ scenes. For this and for all the other costs I think Gibraltar owes a debt of gratitude to our partners in this project, the Government of Gibraltar, Hassans, Imperial Group, MH Bland, Parasol Foundation and Bassadone Motors. Also my business partner, Odette Benatar’s efforts in securing this support has been absolutely crucial.”

Among significant discoveries made by researchers stands out the fact that the 1967 referendum idea for Gibraltar was first promoted by the Americans and not the British as is widely thought. Their wider strategic interests included control of the strait and their base at Rota against the backdrop of the Cold War, so the continued British presence in Gibraltar had to be secured by a mandate from the inhabitants of the Rock who voted overwhelmingly to remain British. At present Stephen is involved trying to edit down the film to an hour for TV consumption in the UK the US and in Spain. This involves redoing the narrative in Spanish. He believes that due to its length perhaps only Canal Sur would be interested in screening the full two hour version of the film.  

“There may also be an option to do a limited run of 1000 Blu-ray copies for local consumption in the run up to Christmas, that would be ideal but again licensing is complicated. What that format would include would be the full interviews and some of those interviews are a joy to watch for history buffs.” I remarked on how well the former Spanish Vice President Alfonso Guerra comes across… “You have no idea just how good that interview was. We discovered as soon as we started it that here was a top level politician who is also a very learned man and a key player in the PSOE policy that eventually unlocked the border and saw improved relations between the Rock and Spain.”

“The Pandemic and the subsequent lockdown helped tremendously in that long hours of editing were done at home, where I first had to learn to use my new camera that filmed everything in 4K. I soon discovered that 4K files are massive and I quickly run out of storage space and had to acquire a great deal more. That was a huge learning curve. I am hugely indebted to Beatriz Galeano a Spanish TV reporter friend who helped me set up the Spanish interviews including Alfonso Guerra and with academics and former diplomats in Spain” 

 By a wonderful coincidence, as the film starts with the Treaty of Utrecht, the EU commission, Spain and the British are now at the point of drawing up a new treaty on Gibraltar three hundred and eight years later. This could be a major treaty that will impact on our future and that of the hinterland and it remains to be seen how that will unfold, as the interests of the players are bound to present great difficulties to those tasked with drafting a complex and forward looking agreement which will shape our lives for generations to come.

“People might expect the story of the film to be Gibraltar centred and only about how bad things got here but because La Linea got the worst deal out of the closed border, we had to look at how work suddenly dried up there. Don’t forget that La Linea was born out of Gibraltar’s labour requirements and it survives because of Gibraltar’s work and when the Spanish government creates a choke point at the border they deny their own people in La Linea the right to a peaceful and prosperous relationship with Gibraltar.”

If you have not yet seen ‘Times of Closure’ and have a keen interest in our recent political history, especially in the period of the closed frontier days, you will enjoy learning about the background of the geo-strategic considerations of the Americans and the British in keeping the Rock British in the face of a pressing Spanish claim which remains firm to this date. If the film eventually makes its way to our television screens and our schools it will be a triumph to the tenacity if its creator who has spent the last three years editing a wealth of material which should not be confined to gather dust in the editing room floor. The regular screening will soon move to ‘The Queens Picturehouse and Eatery’ at Casemates Square. 

 I for one look forward to the prospect of owning a Blu-ray version of it and watching the full interviews of some of the players who helped make the film what it is, a well researched historical document for which Stephen Cumming does not want full credit for but fully deserves it. The film succeeds on many levels and deserves to be widely seen and acclaimed as a high water mark in documenting an important part of our fascinating history. 

Violet Schembri

in Features

The story of Violet Buchanan one of the first four policewomen who patrolled our streets in the mid sixties has done the rounds in the local press lately but what if I told you that she has been a lifelong friend from Witham’s Road and that being an ex WPC does not really define her? 

Precisely because she is a friend I had intended to bow out from the media frenzy but my dear colleague Jean King at ‘Insight Magazine’ shunted the proposed article about her on me after a few phone calls thus saving me having to ask Violet for this interview. It fell on my lap-and so we met for an extended coffee and chat which had to start with how she applied to become a police officer. It turns out that she was almost pushed into it by a mutual friend.

“We were strolling past the old Police Station and my friend Janet told me that applications had been invited for Police women (something new for Gibraltar then) and since I had just come back from UK and was job hunting I should apply, so I was nudged into the office and filled in the form. I was nineteen at the time and that very afternoon the phone rang inviting me for a test, a written exam almost like a general knowledge test. Anyway two days later after a quick interview with the Commissioner I was in. There were only four of us but you have to remember that in those days it was an all male force so local girls were very shy coming forward.” 

“After leaving school I had gone to live in England with my sister and after three years there I came back and I had suddenly found myself landing a uniformed job. Just imagine that-but it was no career move though, they just wanted a body and I was it. I don’t think they even did a background check on me as they would do nowadays. I spoke good English as I was fresh back from UK so I fitted in with what they were looking for. They said that after training our duties would be the same as the policemen except that we would not be doing night shifts. It would be a day job but we would have the same status as our male counterparts.”

Four women and two male recruits completed the eight week training course throughout which the girls were still considered a novelty. They got measured for police uniforms which were made by Ellicott the English tailors by the Church of Scotland. The hats and shoes were UK issue and the girls had to learn marching and drill just like the men. “I used to hate marching but I loved the uniform, although at first walking down to town along ‘La Bateria’ (Rosia Road) I felt self-conscious and also proud to be a police woman. At first we girls felt that the men had been told to be on their best behaviour and indeed they were on their toes. We were highly respected and can only praise them for it.”

“We were quite protected and almost handled with kid gloves but we each got assigned to different departments. I went to the Traffic section and I immediately loved it there. Every month we were rotated and probably assessed too, but it was great fun and always a new challenge. I loved Traffic so I was a Traffic girl and remember that in those days there were no traffic lights. You had to be on point duty directing traffic by hand signals. The bigger the intersection the more I liked it as a challenge, so the Trafalgar intersection was my favourite as it was the busiest.” 

“Memories of those days still come back and I remember that the ‘cats eyes’ road reflectors had just come on stream at the time. I also remember the Traffic section chief inspector Mr. Ellis who used to live at the bottom of Witham’s Road at the old Jumper’s Building police quarters. To me he was a man ahead of his time. I don’t think people realized how smart he was. He was well read and on the ball and I remember that I used to get lifts from him going down to the station. I was only in the police force for four years but they were very happy times for me. I was the last woman to leave from our group as the three others had moved on by the time that I had left for the States. On reflection I would probably have made a career of it had I not met my husband who was posted with the US Navy here, working at ‘The Tower’ where the US Naval Liaison office was also situated.”

 “Had I not been in the Police force I might never have met him, because I didn’t mix in his circle, but as we girls regularly got invited to mess functions our paths crossed. He used to drive a big grey Dodge transporter which he said hardly fitted through the old ‘Southport Gates’ (now Referendum Gates) and as I remember it, one day I was on point duty and signalled him to stop but he drove on and ignored me.  I was livid and perhaps I should have arrested him. That incident was always a running joke throughout our married life.”

Violet’s late husband was Ritchie Buchanan who later had a basket ball trophy named in his honour and which is still played for annually. Those involved in early local basket ball will remember that he was a top class player in the original ‘Blue Stars,’ he loved Gibraltar but his orders came and he was posted back to the States, taking with him the young Violet Schembri to live in Brownsburg Indiana, a small town in the mid west just ten miles from the state capital Indianapolis. 

“I married Ritchie after courting for nine months and it was during my third year in the police force so by that time more women were joining up and I was already an old hand by then. We never got the opportunity to march on parade but we were always on show at the changing of the guard or the ceremony of the keys. I think that they were quite proud of us and I was still in love with my job but my husband to be was soon to be posted back, so we got married and I was gone. I always stayed in touch with Elyeen Byrne, she was in the immigration section but she died a few years ago.”

 “We had great times and we never had to arrest anyone. On a few occasions we were called to do body searches on women (mostly prostitutes) but only rarely. Apart from traffic point duty my job was mostly clerical and when the home fleet was in port we were kept discreetly out of sight and not ever on foot patrol. There were fewer private vehicles around at the time, mostly military transport and against that background various fellow police officers from Traffic took turns to teach me driving. I really struggled with clutch control on steep hills and when I started dating Richard, the chief inspector thought it would be prudent to discontinue my driving lessons since I had indicated that I would be leaving soon. We married in December of 1968.”

Before he was posted to Gibraltar Ritchie Buchanan had volunteered for Vietnam and when his orders came up he asked Violet whether she wanted to stay in Gibraltar after their wedding or go back and be a naval wife in his hometown of Brownsburg, Indiana. Violet made a brave choice (I think) and opted for the latter, thinking that like in the days of old, sailors always left their girls in port and never came back! As soon as he left for Vietnam on a fifteen month posting she got a clerical job in the state capital Indianapolis and she soon got used to commuting daily.

 A friend had offered her the chance to share petrol costs for the daily commute and she took it, so time passed quicker with no time for moping at home. In those days letter writing was the norm with few ( short) trunk telephone calls (‘conferencias’) to mum  only tempered with the hope of coming back to the Rock for holidays which kept her spirits up. Her mother only went twice to visit her in the States and only after she was widowed, but Violet had to face her father’s passing alone and was unable to come to his funeral. Life was good but it was tough too, so she had vowed always to come back here for holidays as frequently as she could afford to. That’s why she has stayed in touch with her childhood circle of friends to this day.

“We were fortunate to be adopted by Mgr. Carmelo Grech who put St. Joseph’s church crypt at our disposal for a youth club in the late fifties. Because of that facility we learned to live with boys and vice versa because there was no co-education then. We grew our teen years there, a small group of well adjusted teenagers none of whom has yet gone off the rails thankfully and some who still keep in touch to this day. We are thankful for that steadying influence and the platform to life that it provided.”

“In America I went into the child day care business from home and it was my business for forty years. My over riding memories are of a very happy childhood here and it never entered my head to be a police woman in America because in the States they carry guns .”

With her husband away on long overseas postings after the war in Vietnam, Violet threw all her energy into giving the best child day care service that she could, having adapted their large house to cater for up to sixteen children, from 7.30 am to 5.30pm when she had help, otherwise she would only take twelve children but always juggling the business and bringing up her young family. She told me that she never considered herself brave in doing that, giving the example of the many Vietnamese who immigrated to America after the war and settled there without the advantage of speaking English or an education. “They were the brave ones and they did so well to go into education and get to medical school, law school, engineering school and other vocations. I was fortunate and privileged to have been a naval wife with a good education and language skills. I look back on those days now and always come to the conclusion that somehow growing up in Gibraltar prepared me well for the life I had chosen.”

 Violet’s children Monica and Keith are now 50 and 46 and she remembers well that when Keith was born her husband was at sea in the Mediterranean, so it wasn’t always easy juggling family life and  a day care business- however she has no regrets. Her daughter Monica was born after Ritchie came back from Vietnam and at the time they were stationed in Chicago for five years. It was a shore posting for him at the US Navy recruiting office. “My day care business initially started out in Virginia while we were still living in navy quarters actually, but it continued and flourished in our own adapted family home in Brownsburg, Indiana after he had completed his twenty year service and retired at 38.”

   Violet takes holidays here every two years and tries to keep in touch with her old fellow police officers, like Peter Mc Guinness who rose through the ranks. She remembers giving Peter his application form all that time ago. He retired as Chief Superintendent. She also remembers the late Horace Zammitt of the CID and that the old Magistrates courts were housed at the police HQ in Irish town.  “I still keep in touch with my old Sergeant Ernesto Lima who is a wonderful man, the father of former Mayor of Gibraltar Tony Lima. There are others, too many to mention and some no longer here with us unfortunately. My mother was a great letter writer and I also kept in touch that way. I suppose that there’s something to be said for the old days and the old ways of keeping in touch.”

“You know Joe I would do it all again, especially being a policewoman. They were happy times. I was single and living at home with my parents, my mum was doing the cooking and the ironing, what was not to like? I feel very fortunate to have lived in these times. I have a large circle of friends in the States, larger than here but you guys are my childhood friends who will always have a special place in my heart because we grew up together in the 50’s.”

 Nothing can change that special bond of friendship. We are all in our mid seventies now but the years melt away when every couple of years Violet Schembri comes here for a holiday with every intention of reminding whoever one of us she meets up with, that we were the ‘kids from St. Joseph’s’ and we still have a special place in her heart as indeed does she in our hearts too. In that aspect I’m sure that I speak for all of us.

Dreams of Nashville coming true for Lay la Rose

in Features

They got hooked on her dream too and the last five years have seen Layla fronting her own Country band, writing and recording her songs and through hard work at school, recently getting accepted to study for a degree in media at a university in Nashville. In a few weeks time she will be living her long held dream and hopefully putting her music ‘out there’ as well as learning how to be a media person. She sits across the table from me poised and confident that she has done all she can to make her dream happen thus far and is determined to stay the course that she has charted for herself for the next four years of her life.   

“From around the age of eleven I discovered out that I could live in Nashville if I went to study there, although at the time I wanted to make it over there as a singer I soon started looking into universities to see what I could study over there and follow my music dream too. The government funds my degree to the same amount as a UK degree and we have to pay the difference.” I wasn’t about to ask how much that difference is but she told me that it is a big difference. We can imagine that most musically inclined students in America would want to study in Nashville so getting accepted on her grades and after an interview at the American Embassy in London was not going to be easy. Good fortune smiled on her and after spending three weeks in London, isolated at the height of the pandemic, she passed her interview (in ten minutes!) at the US Embassy and got her student visa. 

“I had to take a gap year last year because in the American Universities they  don’t take you on with predicated grades as in the UK, so I took a gamble knowing that If they didn’t take me on I would have to apply to a UK university. Because of Covid I couldn’t travel to see the university In Nashville, I couldn’t get a student visa before passing the interview so a lot of time was lost, but for me it came in handy as I concentrated on my music and wrote and recorded new songs.”

“I’m majoring in media studies and minoring in music studies, hopefully that means I will get a Bachelor’s degree in media and also a qualification in music.  Nashville is a close knit town and the people you meet there will connect you to its music industry so I hope to start playing my music in ‘open mike’ evenings and try to get noticed that way. At first I will probably be playing in small town bars to five people watching and as I’m only nineteen I will have to be out of those bars by midnight. Ideally I want to get ahead as a solo artist mainly because I’m very touchy about how I want my music to be heard and Nashville is the song writing capital of the world.” 

“Once I’m there I want to find a promoter within my university who can represent me and get me known. I have already made some enquiries via Zoom calls but for playing I will take anything that’s offered in order to get my music out there.” Layla doesn’t write corny ‘moon in June’ rhyming songs, in fact ever since I first heard her songs five years ago I noted that they are adult and sometimes dark themes. She is very mature and experienced in concert situations and has a very supportive dad Jonathan in the band. The Layla Rose Band consists of Chris Cavilla on lead guitar, Jonathan Bugeya on guitar, banjo, and assorted instruments, Chris Calderon on keyboards, Victor Calderon on bass guitar and Tristan Tonna on drums. Layla is the main vocalist and strums the acoustic guitar on which she fashions her songs. The Layla Rose Band made a seven song CD album called ‘Postcards’ which has been the backbone of their live repertoire. They have a current single called ‘Soul on Fire.’

 Layla has more songs ‘in the can’ (recorded) and in her back pocket too and not many young aspiring singers have that. “I’ve already sent some of my songs via a Zoom platform in order to get professional feedback but really it will be better to do that once I’m there. Over here I have loved playing with my band because if I were to mess up I know they have my back. My confidence has been boosted by playing in this band where energy bounces off each other and ideas are pooled to develop songs further. When I first write a song, whether on my own or with my dad, we tidy it up and then take it to the band room and there each one adds their own input and that is a lot of fun.”

In early August Layla leaves to pursue her dream but there is already another Gibraltarian following his music dream and living in Nashville, Simon Dumas of ‘King Callaway’. “I’m in contact with him and we have agreed to meet up once I’m there. It feels so nice being able to count on a fellow Gibraltarian for moral support. Since I was eleven I’ve been saying that I wanted to live in Nashville and now I have this big chance. Right now I have eleven songs recorded and another fifteen which are nearly there. I have been in contact with some students from my university through Zoom calls so at least I’m not going over completely blind. One of them is studying music production so that may come in handy too.”

The next time we see Layla performing here may be next summer and by then she will have new stories to tell and hopefully she will have taken the first steps to get noticed in Nashville. I can see that she has the drive and confidence to give her dream the best shot. Her media studies will keep her away from our shores on and off for four years but for a young and talented songstress who knows what the future holds?

When Poetry, Whiskey and Angels summon the muse

in Features

One of the great joys of poetry is its imagery. Pictures conjured up by weaving words together in an inspirational manner are one thing but when music is added to the equation and the formula is enriched by its live performance, poetry becomes three dimensional and more inclusive. This shared experience between poet, musicians and audience works best in intimate settings where words are not lost in translation.

Gabriel Moreno launched his latest album ‘Whiskey with Angels’ at the Kasbar recently. He was accompanied by three ‘Quivering Poets’ (the name of his band whose members are all poets in their own right). Fiona Bevan is a violinist, Ned Cartwright a pianist and Adam Beatie is a bassist and they regularly perform in London, Gabriel fronting the band with his poems in songs which bask in the light of the eternal Leonard Cohen. The fibre of this music poetry offering is best digested in taverns where the conviviality of the genre is worshipped by revelers who are usually only metres away from the artists.

When Gabriel summons the poetry muse here, we all win because the heady mix of whiskey, angels, poetry and music transforms the occasion into a memorable experience shared by his fans who feel privileged to have participated in the feast. He accomplished this recently on three occasions during his lightning tour which saw the ‘Quivering Poets’ perform twice at the Kasbar and once at Latinos, all sold out. Adam Beatie and Gabriel have played here before but Fiona Bevan and Ned Cartwright are both Gibraltar virgins. I spoke to them after the gig and they loved it so we may be fortunate to see them again soon, perhaps in October.

There were two special guests who sat in with the ‘Quivering Poets’ at the Kasbar gig on Wednesday June 16 which I attended. Jensen Callejon the enterprising local percussionist who always pulls many strings to bring Gabriel Moreno to perform here and Joni Belaruski who is an Irish artist and drummer with a Punk Folk band called ‘The Great Malarkey’. The contributions from both brought colour and rhythm to songs which they were invited to perform in. The magic totally came from the man who has a gift for poetic imagery. Gabriel curates and hosts many Poetry nights across London and is currently making inroads into promoting new talent and rekindling the embers after the pandemic all but wiped out the poetry scene over there.  

From the first strums of ‘An Angel sleeps in your Mirror’ (track 2) to the last strains of the spirited chorus of ‘We can write England all over again’ (track 1) at the encore, we were held spellbound by captivating hooky songs and profound insightful ballads like the promised new single ‘Angel of Joy’ which is out on July 9. When you can hear a pin drop and a tinkling piano or a guitar arpeggio directs your senses to tell you that you are in special company, you too have been touched by the spirit of the muse evoked in words that have come from his innermost thoughts that give birth to poems that later become the bewitching music that embraces and transports you to a word heaven that beckons. I often wish I could write phrases like ‘Nose diving into the Night’ (track 6).

This ‘taverna’ music poetry which Gabriel Moreno dispenses, transcends time so that after two hours with only a short break for refreshment, the show has ended and you are back into the night air, albeit with an afterglow as you remember all those quirky tunes and spirited choruses sprinkled with good words which you promise to check out again and again when you listen to the CD (or vinyl LP in my case). I promised the man that I would catch up with him properly, meaning a coffee fueled long chat where the world gets righted and we renew our friendship across a table and not a tablet.

There were a number of artists and close friends attending the soiree and the message will spread as indeed it is spreading in the London poetry brothels. His new single out this month ’Angel of Joy’ is a timely departure from the style to which we are accustomed. It’s a beautifully crafted song which draws you in from the first listen. We were indeed privileged to have heard it live here on its first outing. As my title suggests when Poetry, Whiskey and Angels summon the muse, something magical happens and it’s a kind of magic that we need to have more of because poetry and music are food for the soul.

“An offshoot of Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. I love it.”

Cerys Mathews, BBC6 Music

Angel Of Joy is a song written during lockdown about the lockdown itself and how the lack of randomness, absent human connections and general frustration has summoned a longing for the nights we shared pre-plague times. During the most difficult moments of the Covid 19 Pandemic there was an inclination to believe that performance and art would not come back. It was during these times of uncertainty that this song appeared after a long dream about a drunken night in London. The Angel of Joy represents the moments of plenitude and human bonds which are so key to our psychological well-being and hopefulness. This is not a religious angel but rather an urban apparition who reminds us of the good times we hope will be back soon. The single is a taster for the upcoming 2022 album, THE YEAR OF THE RAT.

Angel Of Joy was written and performed by Gabriel and recorded in Florence Terrace isolation home studio, South East London and mixed at Cowshed Studios, North London.

Gabriel Moreno is a Gibraltarian poet and singer songwriter who has been performing for the past twenty years in Gibraltar, Peru, Italy, Spain, USA and the UK. In December 2019 he won the Introducing Stage at the Great British Folk Festival. He has ten poetry books published by Omicron and Orion in both Spanish and English. His folk songs are both poetic and political, mining the same rich seams as Leonard Cohen, Fabrizio Dandre and Georges Brassens. Gabriel is also the curator of three important music and poetry nights in the London scene, nurturing new and established talent – ‘The Lantern Society’, ‘Poetry Mondays’ and ‘Notes from Underground’, with stellar regular performers including Romeo and Michele Stodart (Magic Numbers), Ren Harvieu, BJ Cole and Piers Faccini.

He has released three albums, ‘Love and Decadence’ and ‘Farewell Belief’, “Whiskey With Angels” on Amber Records, and his EP ‘Poetical Resistance’ with which he toured the UK and Europe.

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World-class Local Free diver

in Features

Now training here to go deeper

Dean Chipolina who turns forty this month is a breath holding free diver who has under his belt the title of current UK champion and is still ranked fourth in the world since the pandemic messed up annual competitions. This September however he aims to defend his title again and as he feels he has a good five years still left in competitive diving, he reckons that he could improve his depth again and get into the world top echelons by reaching 100 metres plus. He has an ambition to break the UK record too. 

Free divers have to hold their breath for upwards of three minutes in order to descend to depths greater than ninety metres and beyond. The sport calls on the body to submit to great pressures going down a guide line to the target bottom depth and retrieve a tag as proof of the dive, then return to the surface, not in distress, but in a surface window of only fifteen seconds, recover their breathing and declare to an official “I am OK” in order for the dive to be validated. 

In preparation for this interview I googled ‘free diving’ and various ‘Ted Talks’ given by champion free divers and soon discovered that you have to be more than a little bit special to take on the ocean depths in just one breath. This is where Dean Chipolina comes in. “For the last three months I have been doing depth work locally in the sea and now I have adapted my training to pool work for the next three months until August. In pool work you do not have to risk lung squeeze. It’s still breath holding but without the extreme pressure of depth. You fill your lungs with air and whilst you hold your breath your body converts oxygen to CO2, you train your body to work carrying large amounts of CO2. In another type of pool training called hypoxic training, we train to hold breath for longer periods. In pool training you have someone just a few metres away in a more controlled environment, as opposed to sea training where the next person could be up to a hundred metres above you or more.” 

Not a sport for the faint hearted or the unfit, it’s only for the elite divers who can will their minds to be completely relaxed in a harsh, dark and cold environment with pressures of up to twelve times the surface pressure acting on their bodies trying to squeeze their chest cavity. “Relaxation is the key to a successful dive and I will train to relax totally for up to ten minutes on the surface before I take a deep breath and submerge. In pool training I only need to relax for two or three minutes as it’s repetition and high volume training. When I want to go deep I need to find as much relaxation as possible and will only do one deep dive a day or even two days.” 

“We all have to train hard to ‘not worry’ and detach ourselves from the reality of needing to breath. If you are tense your body quickly uses up oxygen. We have to alter our perception of time so that we come back to the surface after three minutes and on a good day you can feel like you’ve only been down there for thirty seconds.” A simple breath hold challenge of thirty seconds in water at the surface is enough to make anyone realize how difficult it is to not breathe underwater. Multiply that exercise by twice the time and a normal person is really struggling and panicking. No time for that in free diving where panicking can cause a blackout and carries with it the potential to drown. 

“Some free divers practice Yoga and meditation to improve their relaxation technique as you need to learn to ‘bend time’ because your perception of time changes and that’s a skill that we use constantly. During a long dive you have to be mentally detached so that you don’t panic and use up oxygen with the tension and mental anxiety. A lot of repetition training allows the diver to do it without thinking, like riding a bicycle without thinking of falling off it”. 

Dean Chipolina was always keen on spear fishing since the age of nine and scuba diving since the age of fifteen. Octopus hunting and feeling comfortable under water came naturally to him so as a diving enthusiast it was inevitable to take a trip to the Galapagos and snorkel there in what many describe as a huge aquarium teeming with life. “I very soon found myself diving to thirty metres without prior training and realized that I still had it. It was a natural ability for me I found and add to that a great love for the sea which fascinates me to this day. So it became a passion for free diving in spite of a family tragedy which might have stopped any other person in their tracks”. 

“Some years ago my cousin Kyle Bagu drowned in a spear fishing accident which made me decide not to go spear fishing again but helped to push me to go to Tenerife on a free diving course and learn all about techniques and safety. That qualification made me more confident and later in free diving circles I met many top competitors including the current Russian world champion Alexey Molchanov (34) and we became friends. This man has reached 130 metres in one breath and holds the current world record.” 

Dean’s girlfriend is Nicole Endesbo the current Swedish free diving champion (personal best 85 metres) so in training they support themselves by looking out for each other and improving their skills in order to continue competing at top level. It struck me that as a local sportsman competing abroad Dean is unsupported by any Government sports grant and he tells me that as he is not associated here he doesn’t qualify. I thought that perhaps a gaming company might wish to sign him up to a sponsorship deal which would help him with training expenses and travel costs to competitions etc. 

Dean has had professional coaches and continues to use one online but he now designs his own training programme and religiously logs his progress every time he trains. Each time he ticks more of the target boxes and is confident that he knows his strengths and weaknesses too. His main aim is to continue to improve but still enjoying himself and always leaving something in the tank. He doesn’t see the need to beat yourself up if you do your best and then fall short of the glory on competition day. 

His philosophy is to be always humble and above all enjoy diving ‘because that is what is going to make you better at it’. He has beaten some of the top names that I checked out on my Google trawl, even though some are not too helpful he insists that the majority of free divers at top level are quite open and happy to pass on tips and encouragement. He did say that the British UK free diving team were happy to have him on board even though he’s not from mainland UK but would prefer to compete as a Gibraltarian carrying his Gibraltar flag. Hopefully under a different organisation (CMAS) Dean will be able to compete as Gibraltar instead. 

With his impressive attributes he has been used by scientists for dive studies in Croatia and as he is well known in the Tenerife diving fraternity he will be commuting once a week from here regularly in a couple of months, when he has finished all his pool training to concentrate only on deep sea dives in the ideal conditions that Tenerife presents. A far cry from Atlantic diving, his local diving is more problematic to plan. “Here we have surface and underwater currents, poorer visibility, very large patches of tall algae in the bay (at around 60 metres) and also changing water temperatures during a dive (thermocline), where colder water meets warm water and the shock to the body can ruin concentration and considerably lower the chances of a good dive.  

“Sometimes I go 4/5 miles out on the Eastside to avoid all that and the police patrol launch comes out to investigate, which is also a nice reminder I have someone looking after my safety locally. I would like to say thanks to local maritime authorities. It’s a delicate balance as always but safety is always paramount. The Watch Clinic looks after my equipment maintenance and Oxy Ltd supply me with emergency oxygen for my needs.” 

“In competition diving there is a team of safety divers beside the guide line to the target depth and safety boats, so that takes care of the pre-dive stress and enables better relaxation build-up for us competitors. After 50 metres of descent you are on your own and freefalling. You have set an audio alarm to alert you a couple of metres before you reach the target depth so you can get ready to retrieve your proof tag and then start your ascent.” 

“You can’t afford to burn yourself out while coming back and only your repetition training allows you to remain relaxed until you surface. Your heartbeat has slowed down to 15/20 BPM at the bottom and now shoots up to 180 BPM and you only have fifteen seconds to get it all under control and declare to the dive marshal “I am OK.” 

I wind up our chat in the noisy Casemates ‘al fresco’ bar and proudly wish Dean Chipolina all the best of Gibraltarian luck for his next competition in September, when he hopes to attain a new PB depth and retain his ranking in the world’s top breath holding divers. These athletes are the champions of inner space and have superior skills. They actually enjoy the dangers of diving like porpoises and challenging the great pressure of a column of water taller than 100 metres above their heads. 

I hope that this time round Dean can obtain a sponsorship deal for his troubles and can continue to compete at top level for the next five years that he hopes for. Watch this space in the October Insight Magazine and we shall let you know the results of his efforts at top level free diving.

Christian Hook interview

in Features

The last time we spoke to Christian Hook for Insight Magazine he had already taken the art world by storm and he was ready to move on to something else – such was his need to take on new challenges and break down barriers all the time. Life is not fast and challenging enough in his eyes and it gets in his way but he always seeks to break the mould and think outside the box. That makes him the great artist that he is today.

“There are two things that I hate a lot – routine and repetition. I am dyslexic and when I took the test for it, done by a professional earlier this year, I found that I was dyslexic. I don’t have it for reading and writing but for the rest yes. One of the things that I have a strong reaction to is repetition. I can’t stand repetition, so if I have a highly organised list of things that I must do in a day, like fifty things, I can’t stand that. Having to be somewhere or having to do something at a specific time gets to me in a negative way. Nowadays even my meetings are not regimented like that so that flexibility in timings keeps everything new for me.” 

That is an exclusive insight into the man who has shaken the art world and is also the mark of evolution of the artist who is extremely talented and extremely restless in equal measure. He has an inquiring mind and gets bored quickly once he has executed his ideas, which are always the most challenging ways to do things, to discover new ways to marry art and science, his favourite subjects and consuming passions.   

“I have already been included in most national galleries although I think there was one still missing. I have already done all the arts festivals in New York. I did an around the world trip with presidents kings and queens. I also travelled in India and many other places and in truth once you have your work in national galleries, apart from the Turner Prize and being included in contemporary history books, which I am, there is little left to conquer.”

 I sense immediately that Christian Hook has moved on and we are going to see less of his art on canvas as he strives to conquer other mediums. His goals are always set quite high and he will not shy away from the impossible. Now influential enough to be heard and followed, he is determined to discover new ways of understanding reality through science and art. 

“In terms of achievement you can only expand financially. For example if the number of art galleries increases so does your exposure. I have always wanted to try other things, like I wanted to extract my art from painting and include it in other mediums. The same process that I would use in my painting I wanted to use for other mediums. Since I started to focus on new things I now have seven businesses apart from art and I always try to get from A to B in every way that doesn’t yet exist. I have to invent a creative way to get there.” 

At this point I remind Christian that this is what he did when he studied Calligraphy – he was trying to measure the energy in his brushstrokes so that he could discover what made them unique and spontaneous. Although my hopeful interruption was in English he continued in Spanish (Yanito) and I followed on too, not wanting to slow down his thought process by having him think and translate. His restlessness and inquiring mind only allows him to share his ideas quickly and I remind myself that he hates repetition so I listen.

“Up to now I had done nothing with Gibraltarians involved so when I came back here before the lockdown the first thing I thought of as a project was music involving local talent. Before I tell you about that I have to take you back to what made me decide on music in the first place. It goes back to Jay Z (Beyonce’s husband) and to a long flight where I wrote down ideas for a film. I told my team in London to get me in touch with him and he liked the idea. I went with his people to see a high profile and sold out Rap concert by ‘Drake’ in the NY City’s biggest stadium.”

 “Although I’m a great fan of ‘Drake’ I was amazed at the high standard of music which I had not thought possible in Rap music until then. When I heard what was happening musically in that concert, I thought that it was really good and totally something else, another dimension which I had not been exposed to and which I had yet to explore.” 

Rap is quirky, angry and challenging musical convention and lyrical content all the time and Hook has been touched by a spark which turned into a fire as he searched for a way to harness what he saw and felt and tried to translate it into music which, he insists, should be done in a different way – by deconstructing it and doing it wrong just to challenge the medium. It’s exactly what he does in his painting all the time. 

“I always wanted to work with top scientists to see whether a new door could be opened through art and science working together. Many breakthroughs in artistic development throughout history prove that artistic enlightenment came after scientific concepts were broken down for artists to understand and interpret in their unique way. I already had this script which I had written for a film where the plot is that I wanted to paint ‘something impossible’ and top scientists would help me achieve it. In reality top scientists like Nobel Prize winners would not want to help me and jeopardise their status and reputation collaborating in my experiment, that is, unless one influential figure among them came fully on board with my idea”.

A year earlier Christian had met one such high profile scientist an Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli whose book ‘The order of time’ and other books are huge best sellers. He is being hailed as the new Stephen Hawkins. Hook was impressed by the latest book too and he had told Rovelli in a meeting that he wanted to work with him on a project. A year passed and they didn’t get together until a Sky Arts team was asked to contact him and revive the collaboration initiative. To Christian’s amazement Carlo Rovelli said yes immediately and unconditionally…and there was not even a project on the table yet!

 For the last few years Christian Hook leads a committed group of high profile ‘enablers’ (my description) whose diverse skills are channelled in order to facilitate the plethora of ideas and projects that flow from the artist. “At the very least they prepare a first draft which captures the idea and spirit of discussions before ‘they are lost in translation’ so to speak.”  Hook’s current fascination with Carlo Rovelli stems from a theory that the physicist holds which is that ‘we only live in a five percent of reality because we cannot see the other ninety five percent’. “I wanted top scientists including NASA scientists to try and measure what the balance of our reality might look like. I wanted to ‘open a new door’ which could be followed in a film documentary which I was embarked on.”

“As I developed a common theme which might unite science, art and hopefully a ‘greater reality’ I hit upon the idea that ‘the sentiment between two people’ could perhaps be measured scientifically. Is love measurable between two people?  Is love a tangible unit of connectivity? When two people are separated by physical distance is their connection severed or does it stay intact? When two people are heartbroken what is happening to their connection? Can these emotions be measured scientifically?”

All those questions and more provided the flesh and bones for his film so Hook selected a long time couple who had split and each formed new relationships, then reunited again later on in life and now they both run spiritual centres because they believe that they have a spiritual connection. Christian remembered that he would need input from Carlo Rovelli who could explain in a scientific way how a connection is made in space- space being here and all around us – so while he was still trying to ‘paint the invisible’ Rovelli’s theories could perhaps be measured and they could break new scientific ground in art.

Christian took a whole year off to make that documentary film which features Nobel Prize scientists. It’s still untitled and yet to be scheduled for TV. They went to the Imperial College with the world’s top neurologist, they used NASA’s equipment and in the course of making the programme they discovered new material which can be called groundbreaking in science and all the while Hook was painting these ‘invisible’ concepts trying to create a new way of seeing hidden reality artistically. In short this film could possibly start a new ‘ism’ in art (as in Cubism etc).

I gradually steered Christian’s attention back to what I wanted to know, which is what he was doing now while still in (February) lockdown in Gibraltar and I was pleasantly surprised that it had nothing to do with painting at all…so he has moved on…his consuming passion is now his new music but composed under his strict parameters of trying to make it work in new ways. The same as in his art, approaching song writing and song producing as paint on his canvass. “Create something beautiful- try to destroy it and then salvage the best parts without losing the essence of the idea (or tune in music) and always trying to find a new way of telling the story.”

“Of course you can’t destroy everything to create new music. You need to hang on to parts that make it familiar to understand and in a sense likeable to its creator. Once I started writing the new music I built a recording studio here at home with great help from Danni Fa and then I wrote some more songs. The first one we worked on was called ‘Safari’ and when we recorded it Dylan Ferro begged me not to destroy it because it was too good to spoil. I went ahead and did the complete opposite and rebuilt the song from scratch without losing the best bits and using my new focus and latest technology.

“I like ‘Cold play’ but I  remember that when I first heard ‘Cold Play’ I didn’t like them as a band but on subsequent listening they grew on me and that is what you need to achieve in music in order to break new ground.  Something that holds your attention beyond first listening until you relate to the new substance and style of it. 

 “In painting you can choose what to like – for some it’s texture, for others the content, or others even the story behind the image. In my new music I rewrite the songs after all the production experimenting has been refined and I then concentrate on my lyrics which provide the story to carry the music. Then I add the textures which are the local talent in my team here… Dylan Ferro, Danni Fa, James P Ablitt, Aouatif Ghabraoui and Tiffany Ferrary and then the songs take on new life.  They have trusted my unconventional ways of making music and we have worked hard to produce something fresh and real. This is a 100 per cent local project and there is a lot of talent here.  It’s been challenging to get here but we are all very proud and excited with the results.

“I have influential UK friends in the music industry who have heard what we are doing and they are excited because it’s new and compelling. I set parameters that this music must be local and all produced here. So far we have a bunch of finished songs with lyric videos” (which I have seen and listened to and can vouch for their impact on me and their likeability factor. Impressive! JA).

“The way I see things progressing is that once we have twelve songs ready (we already have nine), we will release them via a record company for them to promote the music. I have already placed one song in the new documentary that we made for Sky Arts. It’s not yet scheduled for release but that will be a significant window of opportunity for this new music. The songs will also be sent to various other entities and my hope is that our team of local musicians will be able to perform and promote this music in ways that are current and trendsetting. It’s the only way that we can put ourselves out there in the music scene.”

Christian will not be performing his new music. He will be more interested in exploring new concepts and deeper lyrics along with ways of making them work musically. He assures me that the nine songs that I have heard so far are a marriage of ideas which shouldn’t work but through experimentation have been made to work successfully in sound and vision. The excellent lyric videos which accompany the recordings have been painstakingly put together by Hook who is a master of visual art and also a great musician so you do get a sense of his artistic touches coming through all the songs. 

There are various significant projects which he told me about that can’t be publicised yet and at least two of those excite me enough to predict that they might be winners. His lockdown time has been used to create some really beautiful work and I didn’t see a brush or a canvas anywhere during our meeting at his home (I saw his recording studio though).  I came away knowing that I had been in the presence of a creative force that is still at the zenith of art in more than one way. Who knows how the rest of this year might play out for the Hook projects?

A touch of Magik promised every month

in Features

‘MAGIK’ was born out of the efforts of two experienced musicians: guitarist/producer Manolo Arias (Ñu, Niagara, Atlas, Arias – Barón Rojo, Iguana Tango, etc.) and British Gibraltarian vocalist Giles Keith Ramirez (H.O.T., Ghost, Reach). After a friendship of nearly 30 years, the opportunity to work together had not yet presented itself until now. From this collaboration came the idea to publish on a monthly basis, a string of cover tracks under the title of “Covers in Isolation”.  Ideally this project aims to offer their particular vision of Rock classics from the 60’s and 70’s. They give the classics their own personal touch, hence adapting these hits to their own musical criteria.

The idea flourished during lockdown, when Giles had been performing and sharing some classic covers through social media. For that same reason, the global pandemic, Guitarist /producer Manolo Arias found himself having to postpone his main work on “No estoy para nadie” and he came up with the idea that it was then the right moment to unite forces with Giles Ramirez and record twelve classics which they will be offering as single releases on a monthly basis. These singles are a pre-cursor to an album of original songs which will follow.

Manolo Arias analyses his choice of the third track for ‘Covers in Isolation,’ Peter Frampton’s iconic ‘Show Me the Way’: “There are certain songs which in one way or another become a part of one’s own history. ‘Show Me the Way’ is one of them. You could say that in my case it was love at first hearing. I also discovered (in Frampton) one of the best guitarists I had heard in my life.”

 For this their third single, ‘MAGIK’ have the collaboration of prestigious vocalist Danny Vaughn who has been a part of such bands such as Waysted, Tyketto, Vaughn, Ultimate Eagles and Danny Vaughn’s Myths, Legends & Lies. Danny and Giles first met during a concert at the London O2 Arena when their respective bands, Tyketto and Ghost recorded the ‘Gods of AOR’ in 1994 for MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. 

Years later they met again in Gibraltar, where their great friendship saw them teaming up on a project they called ‘Harmony Street’, which took them on a small tour of Spain as a duet, performing classic covers on acoustic. When Giles and Arias decide to embark on MAGIK, the opportunity of having Danny Vaughn collaborate with them came up on ‘Show Me the Way.’ MAGIK now offer us their own vision of this emblematic song, 45 years after the worldwide hit achieved by Peter Frampton with ‘Show Me the Way’ in 1976 as the main single from his live album ‘Frampton Comes Alive.’

Their treatment gives the song a new urgency and brings with it an edgy and infectious performance which makes compelling listening. I had just come off my headphones and I caught up with Giles to glean some more information on his exciting project.

I have to say that I was impressed with what I had just heard.

“We now have three singles released and on the latest one ‘Show me the Way’ we decided to guest vocalist Danny Vaughn from American band ‘Tyketto’, as we both share a great friendship and I have worked with him in the past. Danny was really keen to collaborate for ‘Magik’. We thought it would be a great idea to also guest a few other well known vocalists for this project and so far I have had a great response. They will be singing in future singles this year”. 

What is the Magik project exactly…

“This is a twelve song, one single per month project covering classic 60’s and 70’s songs and once this is achieved, we shall be releasing an original album under the ‘Magik’ banner too. Recordings for the album are well underway with great names too. The bassist we have featured in one of our originals is Billy Sheehan (David Lee Roth, Mr Big, Sons of Apollo, Winery Dogs, Talas) so that is exciting.”  

I complemented Giles on the dazzling guitar work on their latest single Show Me the Way’ as it turns out that he is Spanish Rock royalty…

 “Indeed Manolo Arias is an exceptional guitarist with miles of experience under his belt playing for the top Rock bands in Spain and producing such bands as Baron Rojo, Niagara, Atlas and ÑU. He arranged and recorded all the tracks in Madrid and sent them to me digitally so I could record the vocals at home in my studio. I then recorded the vocal arrangements, including harmonies, ad-lib and melodies which I slightly changed to give them that extra Rock edge.” 

I wanted to know whether Magik as a band would be coming over to play here… 

“Oh yes for sure! We’re now putting the band together as we speak and there’s lots of interest from musicians. As soon as possible we will bring ‘Magic’ to perform here.” 

Even under current restrictions ‘Magik’ have been busy hence their generic album title ‘Covers in Isolation… 

“Since November last year we have now released three tracks which are, the ‘Doobie Brothers’ classic ‘Listen to the music’, America’s ‘Sister Golden Hair’ and the latest one ‘ Show me the Way’ the Peter Frampton classic. We have other great classics coming up. All our covers can be found on YouTube under MAGIK and all three singles are on sale on digital formats such as Itunes and Spotify etc. 

So to recap on the Magik project… 

“We still have nine more singles to be released (one per month) and we are already talking and planning collaborations with major Rock vocalists and a few top musicians too. The response has been overwhelming and mind blowing for us.  We can’t mention names just in case some are unable to commit at the last minute.”

The ‘MagiK’ original songs album will be released once the twelve classic cover tracks are completed and as Giles mentioned earlier, as soon as they can play live, they hope to be coming to play here “without a doubt.”  If their latest single is only a glimpse into what this band can do then we are really in for a treat when we get to see them live.

Framenco May Have roots in Islamic Music

in Features

Gibraltarian Dr. Stefan Williamson Fa is an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist currently working as a
Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham and has been responsible for researching and promoting the story of a talented young Sindhi singer and Sufi devotee in the 1930’s who dedicated his life to the exploration of deep connections which he found between Andalucian Flamenco music and an Islamic past.

 Aziz Balouch moved to Gibraltar in the 1930’s and worked here in an Indian shop until he exposed himself to Flamenco music by listening to and meeting the legendary Pepe Marchena in La Linea. He later toured Spain with Marchena in what must have seemed like a novelty act if you can imagine a fusion of the Sindhi religious laments accompanied by Flamenco guitar.

 It’s this fascinating theory uncovered by Dr Fa, about the origins of Flamenco and the discovering of books and recordings by Aziz Balouch which has caught the imagination of scholars and brought Dr. Williamson Fa to the attention of the Ajam Media Collective in London, who dedicated a forty minute podcast featuring Stefan and his research only few weeks ago. We reached out to Dr Williamson Fa to explore his take on the local connection in this fascinating story: 

I asked him first whether Flamenco scholars accepted the theory put forward by Aziz Baluch.

“His own theory remains relatively unknown as he provided little evidence for his claims. However, I think few would argue against at least some influence from the Islamic period or the East/Islamic world. The origins of flamenco are still quite contested. Like everything, people will emphasise different features and come up with theories to fit their agendas. Nationalists have tended to downplay non-European influences in an attempt to ‘purify’ flamenco from ‘foreign’ influence. Others, such as Blas Infante, have emphasised the Arabic origins to reclaim the Islamic past of Anadalucia. Luckily today I think most scholars recognise the multiple origins of the genre, and include the possible Islamic roots alongside many other influences.”

Are you considering publishing a book about your own research (and crusade) to bring the work of Balouch to the attention of other ethnomusicologists?

“I don’t have a plan to publish a book for now, although I am considering other ways of promoting his work and music. This has been a bit of a side project to my other work (I had been busy working on my PhD in Anthropology at UCL which was on a totally different topic and now have a job as a researcher at University of Birmingham). It has been a few years now that I have been researching his life and the connection to Gibraltar has made it quite a personal journey. I have managed to gather most of his publications and recordings and spoken to the few people left who knew him. So far I have written about this in a few articles and papers which I have presented at public events and conferences, including in Karachi, Pakistan. Last year I collaborated with a record label in the UK to reissue his music for the first time. It has been great seeing him receive attention and admiration again after being almost forgotten entirely.”

Did you manage to trace any other local connection to Balouch whilst he was here….where he worked, who for, and if any of the Pepe Marchena shows that may have featured Balouch as an artist ever came to play at the Theatre Royal?

“Aziz Balouch had first come to Gibraltar to work at Hotu Mahtani’s shop. They had been friends in Hyderabad in Sindh (now present-day Pakistan) because of their shared interest in theosophy and spirituality. I managed to contact Monica Mahtani Bhojwani, Hotu’s daughter (who had also been my mum’s neighbour in Irish Town as a child) and she told me that Aziz Balouch and her father had lived together in Hyderabad, Karachi and Gibraltar and were such close friends that her grandfather Khemchand Mahtani had considered him an adopted son- a beautiful friendship considering Balouch was Muslim and Mahtani was Hindu.”

“While he was living in Gibraltar he became good friends with the singer Imperio Argentina, and her father Antonio Nile (who was from Gibraltar and also a musician). There is not too much more information on his time in Gibraltar. He worked in the shop for a couple of years before he started to focus on his music. I have found reports of his performances in La Linea in the local newspaper ‘El Anunciador’ but nothing relating to any concerts at Theatre Royal. I still need to look into this more and see if there is anything in the local archives”.

Having listened to the podcast and read the recent articles by Dr Stefan Williamson Fa, I would venture that this is not the last time that we shall read about his research as he may yet uncover even more local connections to the cultural bridge that he helped establish here nearly 90 years ago. Aziz Balouch and his passion for Flamenco music was fired by his Sindhi musical roots going back to Islam. It’s certainly worth listening to Balouch singing flamenco in his native language as well as in Spanish using the link below.


New Challenges to Face

in Features

Business and commerce have discovered that they have to reach out to the potential customers and trade in a different way. No crowds no footfall and no shoppers are all bad for business. From the comfort of telephones and laptops we are ordering-in and the long established shopping trends are changing with each new delivery. Staying in is the new going out and you read it here first.

Amazon and the like don’t spend money on prestigious shopping centres, they have gargantuan warehouses and have AI led profiling which will show you, the potential customer, what they think you might buy. Whether you need it or not is bye the bye, they will insist until they make a sale. Their products are in your personal in-tray daily. Unsubscribe or fall victim to ‘online shopaholic blues’. A new ill which makes you feel guilty about not ordering anything online on a regular basis. There is no antidote vaccine for this and no research is yet in place to find one either.  

In the Arts the hub of every society, the long term impact of isolation is yet to be felt worldwide but in the short term, huge artists and performers have been offering up their work for free. Concerts are more intimate now, stripped back of the glitz and glamour for which in pre- Covid19 times we were paying a fortune to attend. Now we are seated up close and personal, warts and all, but happy to share and comment as we follow them around the virtual entertainment universe for free.

A very welcome challenge is that we will have to become increasingly aware of each other and in turn, perhaps kinder and more circumspect in our ‘keyboard warrior’ excursions and put-downs. Coming together as we have recently done during this crisis has also strengthened our community bonds in a virtual way at least and it remains to be seen whether this new broom will keep sweeping once we leave our homes again after lockdown two. Chances are that it will have tempered our resoluteness and forged a tougher ‘Yanito’ metal. That would be a good thing.

Let’s examine the term ‘herd immunity’ by removing it from the medical idiom and asking ourselves whether the indifference to news in general and to the plight of the planet in particular, is not another form of herd immunity that we may well have acquired? Marketing wizards, who are always six jumps ahead of the rest of us, probably have strategies up their sleeves to try to overcome the social distancing that is being created by this indifference to advertising. Notice how sometimes the volume of the TV seems to increase during the ads? For sure that’s no accident.

The challenge to provide new information is good for free thinkers and bad for movers and shakers including news makers. Some of us have learnt not to be too reliant on news led TV.  It’s important to be well informed by serious newspapers and national broadcasters must not be ignored in these times. In the last year the planet has perhaps rebooted and certainly taken a breather from pollution. There is a challenge in not spoiling its honeymoon and a challenge also in filtering what to believe from the glut of information that is being speedily dispensed on the WWW.

Multinationals had already tried subliminal advertising and didn’t succeed because it was made illegal. That would not have stopped them looking for new ways to ‘penetrate’ our subconscious. We may be reading up on the pros and cons of 5G and whatever noises are made against the new technology, it’s only a matter of time before we will be made out to feel backward or technologically deficient if we don’t embrace that futuristic nettle. That is one major challenge that we face in a post-Covid 19 world. 

The Telecoms giants will have been emboldened by the sudden surge in our reliance on the virtual communication tools at our disposal. It won’t have gone unnoticed too that working from home reduces overheads and streamlines the way that new business and commerce is conducted. Transforming our homes into workplaces may seem a convenient thing at first glance but what will happen to the good old fashioned activity of ‘switching off’ in the longer term? That is also an important challenge that we must face up to.

All is not doom and gloom though because the new vaccines are being rolled out at the speed of light- now that will certainly be a challenge- to beat the new strain of the virus before it does more damage. Happily in Gibraltar we are small and the vaccination programme will be easily implemented and carried out. We could all be safe by summer if not sooner, now there’s something to be optimistic about. Where do I sign?

‘These are challenging times that we live in’ may be starting to sound clichéd and weary for most but let’s pause for a minute and examine some of the challenges posed by the near world-wide isolation that the Corona virus pandemic has imposed on society and the way that many things have been done hitherto. Nothing will ever be the same again because most of us have found new ways of doing things. There is a challenge in managing a new found digital independence that kept things ticking over while the lockdowns prevailed.

Better times will surely come

in Features

As I introduce my second column of the New Year we find ourselves still struggling with the Pandemic. When we went into isolation for the first time in March last year I published some poems that were written with the best intentions to promote solidarity and perhaps raise a smile in those dark days which have still not left us. The four selected poems are called ‘Blue Angels’ ‘Lockdown’ ‘Again’ and ‘Deliverance Day.’  I think it’s fair to say that we still have some way to go before we can shake of this bad dream and return to some semblance of our old normal. It is in that spirit that I hope my words will be read and hopefully enjoyed too.

Blue Angels

Mostly they are blue but not always so and we love them to bits

They wear different colours and have different wings but they all matter to us

They have manifested their selflessness to rally against unknown odds

Fate has rolled the dice all over the table and the six has never come up once

Uncertainty and infection were seemingly insurmountable stumbling blocks at first

Blue angels got past the hurdles but yet their folks at home wouldn’t listen

They wouldn’t listen because they were not in that mindset and were not yet ready to obey

There were messages of staying indoors that were being misunderstood unheeded and certainly abused

The threat was still invisible to the naked eye but the havoc it was wreaking everywhere was real enough

World news is somehow still seen as detached from here because local stats are comforting at first glance

Blue angels and all the other divisions of frontline fighters are much loved and appreciated because we know that they will be our heroes

Yet somehow a number of noisemakers at the eight pm balconies rendezvous also make it outside next day – undoing all the good work done the day before

Blue angels are disheartened but they will never gave up on their folk

Day by day and night by night they fight their battles for them 

They are determined to win at all costs and there will be a cost

The fat wallet and the donations cannot buy time and still folk are not listening

Blue angels sometimes cry into their gowns when no one’s looking

Lockdown words

Unexpected unprotected
Segregated isolated disinfected
We were ready we made plans
Top of the list washing hands
Fight this war and win first battle
Still in hiding penned like cattle
Great outside we’re wishing for
Families meeting outside the door
Someone’s coming let them through
We like to ask how do you do
Suspicion lingers just enough
Spoils the moment life is tough
Smiles unseen behind their masks
Frontline heroes do their tasks
News is good what food is news
Life is changing TV views
We just listen – no debate
Unfolding drama at the gate
Are we there yet are we winning
Seems like so but few are grinning
Crystal gazing self effacing
We can’t lose our sense of humour
Don’t stoke the fire in the mill of rumour
Nose out of joint what’s the point
Staying indoors will set you free
Empty chairs just two for tea.
Cupcakes for you sandwich for me
Mortdella lucky fella
Not the way we it used to be
Happy families the more the merrier
Tasty scraps for cat and terrier
Over the top and always noisy
Happy birthday aunty Rosy
Missing that and missing more
Walks along the seashore
What to do what to say
Have to wait another day
Catching flies wishing ‘n’ hoping
Prefer blue skies to indoor moping
Never mind let’s just be kind
Let’s stay bright fit and sane
It will not have been in vain
Well worth staying alive for
That’s who we are resilient to the core.


We shall dance in the supermarket aisles again
We will have our May Day Rally and concert again
We shall eat ‘calentita’ in overcrowded Casemates, again
Maybe not so soon this time but again

Maybe not too long from now we shall be smiling again
Again we will do our Red and White
This is not a shutdown it’s just a temporary glitch
Mother Earth is breathing easier, pollution resting, looking bright
Give her a break while we make our pitch
A vaccine will be found of that we can be sure
It’s waiting in the shadows for science to procure

Since we’re stuck in this together and it’s not of our own making
Let’s all stick to the plan. Let’s share some home baking- not for real- just onscreen
We can’t be too careful if outside we may have been
We shall laugh again, high five again and hug again
All those noisy things that make us who we are
We know we’re blessed, we have a lucky star.


There was joy in the air and we were running because we had to get there
This was going to be the day when most of us would sing and dance
We had found a new way to live because we had left nothing to chance
Far too long we had been quiet and still – very much against our will

Today would be the day that we could abandon precautions
Once again we could cast fate to our wind from the east
What will be will be and hopefully come in the right proportions
Many a tinge of sadness yes but mostly gladness – we had slain the beast

We had to isolate for a while and we had suppressed many a feeling
Time now to let it out with screams and shouts and hugs and many a kiss
Recent memories of fervent prayers and dark days that we wouldn’t miss
So dancing on the ceiling today would be a welcome break from kneeling

A million happy tears have rolled away the years – now we are all the same age
We have been reborn and we should write ourselves a new page
There was joy in the air and we were running because we had to get there
None of us would be late but the gathering crowds had the same idea

Let’s all go there early and get a view that’s clear
No room for moving with so many familiar faces packed in such tiny spaces
Expectation in the air- hearts in our mouths when we finally got there
Today we’re going to celebrate our deliverance day party in Casemates Square.

Suddenly I wake up and reality is clear this D-Day party’s not happening I fear
Would be playing into enemy hands with so many people to each other so near
We shall have to wait and see and those who believe continue to pray
That we come through this lockdown safely and gather to party another day.

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