Where in the world is… Gibraltar?

in Features

There is only one Gibraltar, or is there? With stories that people who receive Google Alerts or who are using Google Search for news about Gibraltar are getting a bit confused when they suddenly realise that it is not our Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula that they are reading about, but in fact Gibraltar a small city in Wayne County in the U.S. state of Michigan, we decided to investigate.

According to Geotargit.com website, there are 32 places called Gibraltar in the world. Not surprisingly the name is often given to mountains or hills due to their obvious resemblance to our Rock. 


Located in the French River in the province of Ontario in east-central Canada, Gibraltar Rock is a popular summit from which death-defying jumpers often leap. Published in 1832, a book titled The Columbia River by Ross Cox commented that “The Canadians, who are very fertile in baptizing remarkable places, called an island near our encampment of the 6th Gibraltar, from the rocky steepness of its shore.” (p.118) 

Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, located on the Toronto Islands in Toronto, was named by John Graves Simcoe, Ontario’s first lieutenant-governor, after what we know as Europa Point, who also chose it as the site for one of the new lighthouses he was planning along the Great Lakes. The lighthouse is the oldest one left on the Great Lakes and the second oldest in Canada. It was built in 1808 and guided ships to Toronto’s harbour from what was then a sandy peninsula until it was decommissioned in 1958.


Even more confusing is the fact that if you had a craving for some ‘Gibraltar Candies’ you would be forgiven for thinking that you were eating sweets produced here in Gibraltar, when in fact you would be indulging in confectionary renowned to be the first candy produced in America. Also known as ‘Gibraltar Rocks’, presumably because the candy is so hard to break apart, the white candy comes in either lemon or peppermint flavours and apparently melts in the mouth. They originate from Salem, Massachusetts, in the early 19th-century when an English family set sail for America. They lost all their worldly goods in a shipwreck and arrived in Salem in a destitute condition. Mary Spencer (a widowed single mother) started the company with a barrel of sugar given to her by some of her neighbours on Buffum Street in 1806 and Mary Spencer’s ‘Salem, Gibraltars’ were born! They are now sold by America’s oldest candy company, Ye Olde Pepper Companie based in Salem. 

American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem and had a special fondness for the candies. He sent some to his sister Louisa and in his letter said: “I send Susannah’s Gibraltars. There were fourteen of them originally, but I doubt whether there will be quite a dozen when she gets them.” He also mentioned the sweets in two of his novels. In The House of the Seven Gables, published in 1851, a character named Hepzibah Pyncheon operates a little “cent-shop” which contained “a glass pickle-jar, filled with fragments of Gibraltar rock; not, indeed, splinters of the veritable stone foundation of the famous fortress, but bits of delectable candy, neatly done up in white paper.” And in Hawthorne’s short story “The Old Apple-Dealer” there is a mention of “that delectable condiment, known by children as Gibraltar rock.”


Another popular place for rock climbing enthusiasts is the 2,100 feet (640 metres) high granite outcrop known as Gibraltar Rock in the Porongurup National Park, south of Perth, in Western Australia. The Porongurup region is well known for its vineyards because the Mediterranean climate and long ripening season of the region produces exceptional quality fruit with intense flavours. One of the two oldest vineyards in the region was Gibraltar Rock, acquired by the Burch family in 2010, which provides the majority of fruit for their Howard Park label Rieslings. 

Then there is the Gibraltar Range National Park situated in one of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, recognised as part of the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia, a World Heritage area, featuring rugged trails perfect for hiking and six spectacular granite columns rising out of Dandahra Gorge known as The Needles.  


There are also 10 places in Colombia, South America with the name Gibraltar. One of which is in the region of Antioquia, where Gibraltar is a town located some 223 km North-West of Bogotá, the country’s capital.

Three Kings – 2020

in Features

The night of the Epiphany is but a handful of weeks away. It’s one the community certainly looks forward to at the beginning of every year. The last trace of Christmas and the first celebration – with more to come – of 2020!

It’s called `The Feast of the Epiphany’ and every year on the 5th January we celebrate it with a cavalcade of floats, bands and the Three Kings – Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – slowly travelling along Main Street all the way up to John Mackintosh Hall. The pavements of our main thoroughfare packed with not just kids and their parents but with other adults and visitors too, eager to witness the spectacle and, as is the norm, comment on the quality of the floats rolling past in front of them in a tight fit between trailer and spectator! Whatever the view of those onlookers it must be said many hours of hard work goes into the construction of the floats, and the Cavalcade committee says whatever the contrasting standards of the decorated entries, the more the merrier. “We always aim to encourage as many firms, associations, essential services and even families and friends to get their thinking caps on as early in the year as possible and get working on an idea and how to go about it, culminating in the building of their float in the autumn or December and we’re always at hand to give advice and help where we can, including financially,” long standing President of the Cavalcade Committee, Eric Abudarham tells me. The boss-man informs me up to £1,000 can be granted to assist in the construction of floats, which is not a bad sum! Where to build your ideas has always been a headache, consequently limiting the amount of entries appearing on the night, but for the past two or three years Government has allowed the building of floats at the Midtown Coach Park which has turned out to be a fantastic space to build where quite a few trailers can be accommodated. “That’s been a great advantage. Also some firms and essential services have their own premises so that’s another great help, leaving more space for others. The issue that gives us a little bit of a headache is the lack of trailers and their `heads.’  There are some groups willing to participate who can’t acquire the required transport for their float. It would be good if there were more low trailers which would allow a 4×4 Land Rover type of vehicle to tow them along, but you know, we can’t complain. Thanks to donations coming from the GBC Open Day and others we were able to have custom built trailers for the Three Kings at a cost of £36,000!”

Work for the committee starts shortly after the Cavalcade celebration is over. A post mortem, if you like, is undertaken by those attending over a coffee, with the aim to iron out any difficulties experienced or issues that can be done better next time. The handing out of sweets has now, for the past few years, been done ahead of the parade and that has worked well. “Also,” Eric says, “visits to the hospital and two Cathedrals -including a pop-in-invite by the management of the Piccadilly Gardens Cafe for a quick beverage – are now carried out prior to the parade which helps to run things more smoothly with fewer stops and less waiting time for the crowds later in the evening. Thanks must also go to the two taxis provided to ferry our kings around.” So the next big meeting for the committee comes just after National Day when things go up a few notches as responsibilities for members are sorted and other matters are organised and ironed out, like who to approach for the all important judging that needs to take place at Casemates ahead of the word go.  “Another issue that always comes to the fore these days is Health and Safety which is so important. That’s one of the reasons why sweet throwing from the floats was put to a stop as children were running out in front of the floats to grab the sweets.” And here’s another extremely touchy issue which has been highlighted by the fact Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been reprimanded for wearing black paint on his face a couple of times many years ago – on one occasion in character as Aladdin! The Three Kings came instantly to mind so I had to ask Eric how that affected our 2020 event. “We’ve given it much thought and we have engaged a Gibraltarian lad of Moroccan ethnicity to represent `Wise Man of the East,’ Balthazar.” Phew!!! Good news. We already have enough concerns with the never ending Brexit saga!! 

THE `PRIZES: £1,000 goes towards the 1st prize floats in both the Senior and Junior sections with £500 for the 2nd prize senior float and £250 for the Junior runner-up entry. We’re just into November so there’s still time for you, a firm or association, a family or bunch of friends, to get started building your float for the next edition. 2018 and 2019 were a great improvement on events of the recent past with some excellent entries. You can ring President Eric for more info on 57586000 or at email, ericabudarham@gibtelecom.net  

Therefore, let’s make this one even better. In fact make it the best… So who’s in charge of the paint, brush, hammer and nails?

Still Blowing Sweetly After All These Years

in Features

This is a feature on somebody who is still highly regarded in local music circles yet is an ex-pat Gibraltarian who has been living in Canada for twenty years. John Victor is a consummate flutist who, if I remember correctly, was voted the first ‘Young musician of the Year’ many years ago.  He plays flute, saxophone and is also a gifted vocalist.

Championed by the late greats Hector Cortes and William Gomez, over the years he has played in many bands three of which have been Gibby, Jade and Vibrations which saw some success outside of Gibraltar and helped to anchor this gifted musician to our musical landscape of the last forty years. In the great scheme of things he is trying to repatriate back to the Rock to enjoy retirement here and play occasionally of course.

“When I was three I already had musical leanings and picked up the harmonica and graduated to recorder at age seven and was greatly helped by my old music teacher Charlie Adamberry and later Hector Cortes. When I went to the Grammar school Hector had already started the Youth Orchestra and the old Music Centre was where I first played the flute which I picked up quickly, that was around late ’69. I think by 1972 I had won the young Musician of the Year twice.”

In those days the promising musician had the benefits of a summer course at Newbury in the UK where he was exposed to international players and symphony orchestras, one of which he enrolled into for a whole month (he was 14 then). Importantly he had one-on-one tuition from the late great Sebastian Bell of the London Symphonia. “Up to that point I was largely self-taught and only had a few lessons under my belt, but an hour with Bell put my flute fingering and my overall body posture on the right track.”

Back in Gibraltar as a side project from the Youth Orchestra, John and Albert Vallejo together with Derek Diaz and a young Brian Torres (13) formed ‘The Triads’ who later developed into ‘Glass War Creation.’ “The late great Francis Caruana helped me with sax and I became good enough to play Rock with it. I also became a vocalist with GWC and we went pro for about nine months playing Spain and the South of France and after that another Hector Cortes project, a band called ‘Gibby’ who could have done great things in Spain.”

“Hector had the youth choir which he whittled down to sixteen girls which he called ‘Tone Cluster’ and then to four whose band name Gibby was coined in Madrid. We made a demo in the UK and we stopped over in Madrid and got noticed by the record label Polydor and the two producers who were behind ‘Mocedades’ promised to come to Gib to speak to the parents as some of the girls were still under age and they wanted to sign us up.”

Intense negotiations here followed and the band Gibby signed a record contract. They recorded an album (twice – English and Spanish versions) and were anointed to be contenders to sing the Spanish Eurovision song entry. In those heady days boy and girl bands were all the rage. Politics intervened and Gibby came second to Jose Velez who was chosen to represent Spain in 1978 with ‘Bailemos un Vals’ (it placed 9th). The band continued but their fate was sealed.

“The producers were told to keep away from ‘Gibby’ and all that remains of a great album is a bad sounding cassette copy of the English version. I still have the copy. We had done a few dates touring in Spain but it fizzled out because we were unsupported and there was no other way it could end in those early post Franco days.”

By January 1979 John Victor was unemployed and he had lost the chance to take up a teaching scholarship in the UK. He ended up as an over qualified bill collector in the old Algemene Bank Gibraltar Ltd. However, he bounced back. “10 years later I was an internal auditor of the bank then went to join Spanish bank Banesto as assistant manager. That was my strayed career path.”

“I joined ‘Jade’ in 1979 till 1985 and we went from strength to strength till we had our hits in Spain. When the border opened two Spanish talent scouts came over to Gibraltar and although we had already recorded our songs we went to Malaga to re-record them and our Ska inspired arrangement of ‘No me comas el Coco’ eventually broke into the Spanish Charts. I remember signing records outside the door of my bank and it was a magical time. We recorded ‘Dale marcha a tu Cuerpo’ and songs for an album. During all this time ‘Vibrations’ was always a side project.”

Some years later in my other life as a dance band musician with ‘Horizon’ I recall playing at a villa in Sotogrande and the main entertainment after dinner was ‘Vibrations in Concert.’ I was impressed at the neat arrangements of light classics played by three classical guitars and the flute interludes were part of a music formula which was noticed by local musician producer resident in the UK Brian Wade who took them on a UK tour with West End theatre star Michael Ball. 

John continues his story: “What happened was that after six years with ‘Jade’ I was so tired and was looking for a change of direction in life. The Vibrations project was still alive and by early ‘91 Brian Wade heard our home recording and decided that it should be recorded professionally for the easy listening market in the UK.” At the time there was a band called ‘Sky’ who were having UK success with popped up classics. They were led by John Williams the famous Australian classical guitarist and composer. Vibrations decided that they would not copy ‘Sky’ and put their own Mediterranean spin on the classics.

“When we first heard the new recording of our ‘Death of a Whale’ we were all in Willie Gomez’s flat and I distinctly remember that he cried with emotion. It sounded so good and sincere – to our ears anyway. Some time passed before our album was launched and it went out titled ‘Mediterranean Moods’ instead of ‘Vibrations.’ Our take on Rodrigo’s famous ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ had to be pulled out of the album at the last minute because the late composer’s daughter simply opposed it. It was around 1995 when we started to get noticed and did TV spots on UK television, but although the rest of the band were more or less free to play there I had just started a new job in insurance here and could not meet the ‘Vibrations’ UK commitments. I was a nervous wreck.”

As with many music career stories and musicians’ lives, reality and domestic life take a toll on them and it would be quite some time before things smoothed out for John Victor to carry on his musical journey. The second part of this story which is still unfolding in another continent will be told next time.

The 10th International Gibraltar Song Festival

in Features

It finally arrived, the ten year anniversary of our music institution song festival. I have said before that we should preserve and continue to nurture this festival because it serves as an important date in our social calendar and it gives our songwriters a chance to compete on home ground against international competition. I can’t quantify what it achieves in international publicity for ‘brand Gibraltar’ but it does come in at a very small fraction of the cost of ‘Gibraltar Calling’ and we are getting a better song festival each passing year. This year it was postponed in the spring and moved to this autumn date which unfortunately comes after so many recent music shows that it may have caused attendance to fall. 

This year’s show was technically superb and it was sad to see that many punters stayed away from the show because the Tercentenary Hall needs to be full to pack a punch and create the vibe that helps make these occasions memorable. Twelve songs competed for a cash prize of £6000 and a handsome trophy and among the twelve were two local songs. The show opened with last year’s winning song reprised by Morea from Italy who was denied her reprise moment last year due to a technical stand off by the Rosario Flores management.  She gave a rousing performance this time and then as further reward went to join the panel of judges. The panel this year was chaired by musician, producer and past winner Denis Valerga and also included Jetstream guitarist and past winner Stuart Whitwell, Enna from Spain and her fellow countryman Juan Carlos Arauzo, and the Italian Maria Penino (stage name Morea).

Andy Coumbe gamely did the presenting honours without a female co-host, which would have made the prize giving ceremony a little bit easier for him as he had to park his script and handle opening envelopes and keep a cool head while smiling too. He came through as he always does, but next year’s show should benefit from two presenters, that’s my suggestion. There were song entries from Spain, UK, Mexico, Venezuela and Gibraltar. There was well designed electronic information text on the backdrop to make the stage presentation smart, current and a joy to behold with the excellent lighting and themed electronic backdrops for each song. Sound was impressive and maybe just a tad loud at first but of course a less than half full sports hall which is not a concert venue has to be taken into account.

The twelve songs were performed without a break and my notes remind me that the winning song ‘Si no estas aqui’ by Ruben Cardenas Castillo and Sara Familiar Ruiz (Spain) sung by Sara Varela crept up on me from nowhere. As many in the hall also thought, a UK entry called ‘Life’ sung by its composer Tony O’ Malley came in second place when it might have come in a clear first. Third placed song was by Monica Gomila and Latvian co composer Kaspars Ansons. ‘I wouldn’t change a thing’ was given a very good reaction when it was announced as third placed. The best interpreter trophy went to Argel Campos from Spain who sang ‘Es por Ti’ which I had placed in my notes as a candidate. The dark horse song for me was ‘El Ritual’ (Mexico) sung by Paulina Pargas. I also have to say that the Venezuelan entry ‘Devuelveme mi libertad’ sung by Jennifer Leon, who delivered a powerhouse vocal, was for me also a contender for a placing.

After the prize giving ceremony and interval we were entertained by TVE ‘Operecion Triunfo’ star ‘Chenoa’ who had an excellent band but was not really the big draw ‘universal’ kind of artist who might have sold more tickets. She gave it all without holding back, accounting for her various hits and engaged in chat with the audience, among which were various contingents of her Spanish fans, who clearly enjoyed her more than we did as they were more familiar with her catalogue. She gave us a short acoustic set with her guitarist Alfonso Sanz and showed a ‘Rockier’ side to her otherwise poppy pedigree. A pretty stunning performer who might benefit from being less ‘Rocky’ and more powerhouse vocalist to which she is eminently suited.

Wrapping it up – it was a good show overall and definately a notch up technically from last year. There were some continuity issues outside the control of Director Joe Cortes and his team who work hard to bring this iconic show home every year. Chairman of GISF Joe Carseni promised exciting changes for 2020 and as a music writer I welcome the drive and optimism that his team brings to the song festival each year. We can’t win them all but we have to keep trying to please and improve all the time. Those two boxes were happily ticked in my book this time. 

Gibraltar Squadron Families Day

in Features/History Insight
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The Royal Navy Gibraltar Squadron (RNGS) recently lifted the lid on its day-to-day operations for close friends and family of those serving.

The Squadron Commanding Officer, Lt Cdr Kyle Walkley said: “We ask a lot of our people here, often working long hours in demanding conditions, but it can be easy to forget the partners and loved ones at home, so it is nice to be able to host them and talk to them about what we do”.

It has been a particularly busy patch for RNGS, which included an annual maintenance period for HMS Scimitar, the NatWest Island Games and a week of Operational Sea Training.

The afternoon included a gourmet BBQ and drinks alongside, children’s entertainment, a bouncy castle and rides in the adventurous training RHIBS.  The day was funded in part from the annual grant the Squadron receives from the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity, and a one off grant from SSAFA – The Armed Forces Charity.  

The event itself had been organised by Sgt John “Ronnie” Corbett and Leading Seaman (Supply Chain) James “DJ” Anderson.  The Commanding Officer paid credit to them: “I would like to extend a huge thanks to Sgt Corbett and LSC Anderson for the work they have put in to today and over the past few weeks.  Without them this event simply would not have taken place”.

It wasn’t all fun and games for some, however. The RNGS capability remained intact during the event with some squadron members maintaining operations on the water.

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