Music

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.

Eagles at Wembley

in Culture Insight

I’ve had this band on my bucket list for so long that sadly one of them passed on. The legendary Country rock band that wrote ‘Hotel California’, perhaps the most well-known song in the world, are still around albeit in the autumn of their years. They’re still filling stadiums across the world.

Thankfully I was helped by my son to secure a top seat fifteen rows away from stage front at Wembley Stadium on 23rd June. This after the concert had been sold out months previously. My stars had aligned for this to happen and I was beyond excited.

It was probably the finest concert that I have witnessed over many years and like their fans around me I was held spellbound by the sheer quality of their vocals and the impeccable renditions of their well-known song catalogue. ‘The Eagles Greatest Hits’ album of the seventies was the US biggest selling album of all time and they are still one of the best-selling concert bands in the world. They are now off my bucket list and I need to spread the joy about these musical dinosaurs in London this summer.

After a very good set from opening act Cheryl Crow and her band who said she had past help from ‘The Eagles’ in her early career (25 years ago), the legends took to the stage at 7.45pm and after a staggeringly impressive ‘Seven Bridges Road’ opening, promised a two and a half hour concert “because we can” casually said drummer and main vocalist Don Henley to a huge roar from the stadium now in full voice.

Appropriately ‘Take It Easy’ was led vocally by Deacon Frey, son of Glenn Frey who passed. His father was co- founder of the Eagles and has been replaced by Vince Gill, a Country music giant who is a superb vocalist, a gifted guitarist and a hit songwriter to boot. This double replacement has enhanced the band’s line up by two guitarists and they now have a keyboard player too.  In between song announcements Don Henley said “We opened for the ‘Beach Boys’ in the old Wembley stadium forty five years ago. We are proud to be dinosaurs. Dinosaurs may be old but they leave big footprints.”

‘One of These Nights’ followed on and then he gave a hero’s welcome to Deacon Frey “who stepped up to the plate” and to Vince Gill who had the biggest boots to fill. He did, with ‘Take it to the Limit’ and we all approved the new signing. Vince also sang ‘Tequila Sunrise’ which typifies the laid back melodic Country Rock sound of The Eagles and the giant colourful desert backdrop completed the illusion.

This was another spellbinding moment for me, which as I looked around at the sea of faces with expressions of awe at the majesty of the sound coming from that stage, confirmed that it doesn’t get better than this at concert level.

Many times during their concert, guitarist Joe Walsh traded solos with 2nd guitar Stuart Smith whose tasteful guitar mastery got all eyes riveted on the giant side screens. Later they would trade iconic solos again in ‘Hotel California’ perhaps the most anticipated encore of all time from any band.

One hour into their set the famous song catalogue kept on unfolding. Each song marked a moment in the lives (or the concert t-shirts) of the many thousands of fans singing along or lost in the Wembley moment. Vince Gill has a beautiful melodic voice with which he kissed ‘New Kid in Town’ and ‘Lying Eyes.’  The latter song was perhaps his finest vocal and one which would have seen Glenn Frey proudly smiling down. Each band member got their showcase, which saw bassist Timothy Schmit revisit some of his ballads and main man Joe Walsh belt out his quirky songs and blazing guitar solos. 

Nowadays the band uses two drummers so that Don Henley can move to stage front and play a bit of rhythm guitar now and again. It was Don who raised the roof with ‘Heartache Tonight’ and had everyone up on their feet and dancing in the aisles. At 10.15pm they left the stage to wait for the crowd roar that would bring them back again.  The intro to the most famous song in the world ‘Hotel California’ had all the mobile flashlights coming on and the crowd jubilation factor was off the scale! Security had long given up telling fans not to film and I’m sure that no one left the stadium that night without at least having filmed a minute of this iconic anthem crowning a perfect concert. They were called back again but I was hearing their roars from outside Wembley, now hurrying back to walk to my hotel avoiding the throngs.

This dinosaur went to Wembley to see ‘The Eagles’ and was simply overjoyed speechless and spellbound when a bunch of fellow dinosaurs (by their own admission) held the stage for over two and a half hours and left a full house Wembley Stadium asking for more. More of what may I ask? You couldn’t have extracted one more ounce of musical energy from this band! They gave it their all and this after a long and illustrious career that even saw them split up for eight years and then reform again, proving that the sum of its parts is not greater than the whole ‘Eagles’.

If you were around in the mid-seventies and have not yet seen them, put them on your bucket list now because I guarantee that there are not too many concerts left in The Eagles’ tank. They were certainly not running on empty but there is a limit to the reserve a dinosaur tank can hold. Till next time, remember to breathe music, it’s better than air and good for the soul.

TAKE THAT – to party in Gib

in Culture Insight
Take That
Take That

Formed in Manchester in 1989, the band currently consists of Gary Barlow composer and lead singer, Howard Donald and Mark Owen. Of course, people of a “certain age” will recall the original line-up that featured Jason Orange and Robbie Williams. And over time, there have been reunions of sorts – whether on the stage or in the studio. They’ve had a string of chart hits behind them and some very successful million-selling studio albums.

And the good news for Gibraltar is that they’re coming to the Rock for Gibraltar Calling 2019.

We’re talking about a world class touring band which obviously doesn’t come cheap or small – it’s a big brand and a huge coup to have booked them. We can rest assured that we’re in for a real treat whether a fan or not, because their song catalogue comprises of melodious and heartwarming songs that have become a soundtrack to the lives of romantically-inclined pop music lovers.

Songs like Relight my Fire (1993), Back for Good (2005), Patience (2006), Rule the World (2006), Shine (2006), The Flood (2010), are among the best pop written in the last thirty years, and having witnessed their spectacular show a few years ago here on our big screen worldwide release night, I can vouch for their exciting performance and showmanship. It will crown our new Europa National Stadium and also celebrates the MTV/Gibraltar Government tie-up music festival contract which expires then.

Their 7th Tour: ‘Take That’ presents The Circus Live, begun 10 years ago in 2009 on June 5th at Sunderland’s Stadium of light and ended at Wembley Stadium a month later on July 5th. It was seen by over a million people and made a profit of £40,560,000. At the time it was the fastest selling tour ever with all 600,000 tickets sold for the original eight dates in only five hours! Their current tour sees them in Amsterdam, Zurich, Paris and Berlin and they have revealed that they will embark on a huge UK tour and European tour to celebrate their thirtieth anniversary. That is why that with a little bit of magic and fairy dust we will be proudly hosting them here on the Rock.

Gary Barlow’s net worth is estimated to be around £49.6 million, and he has written thirteen UK number one singles. Jason Orange who left the band in 2014 is worth $30million, to put some perspective into that, Brian May from Queen is estimated to be worth $175million (nearly £138million), so you can appreciate why superstars need to continue to work. They simply want to keep climbing up the rich list to outdo each other (joke), but more importantly, they always reinvent themselves and are always slaves to their concert reputation and song catalogues. That is why we love them, which then translates into their ‘bigger better richer’ and the trappings of their fame.

If life at the top isn’t too much fun because of all the hard work and travelling they should try retiring, but then we would all lose out because we wouldn’t be able to worship them at these huge concerts, the likes of which the Rock can be proud to host one soon in our ever-growing Music Festival.

If you haven’t got your Gibraltar Calling Music Festival tickets yet, get your skates on, as incredible as it sounds, they will sell out. Look at how Andrea Bocelli tickets sold out in just two days. He’s here for our National Week Concert on September 9th. We can do the impossible but miracles may take a little longer as they say. Till next time, ‘try a little patience’ breathe music … it’s cleaner than air, and good for your soul too!

Hammond, a star still rising at 75

in Culture Insight
Hammond
Hammond
Hammond
Hammond

How many famous people do you know whose life journey has been blessed with success through hard work and good fortune but they simply don’t want to retire because they seem to have found their calling? Not too many I bet. But I do know one who just fits that description and he’s very famous and very passionate – but he is getting on and in a rare heart to heart he agreed to share his philosophy.

His name is Albert Hammond and he is a local universal legend who has touched the hearts of many millions through his wonderful music. Read on and enjoy a success story that is still unfolding even after most of us have retired at sixty thinking that perhaps we had done enough.

“I’m not 30 anymore, I just turned 75. I’m still as motivated as ever, still always moving and full of energy just like the universe. You see as I journeyed through my life I realized I was not into being famous or making tons of money, I knew that would all come with success, but it would only satisfy my ego and not my spirit, and what is fame?” He pauses here to reflect for a moment: “Think of all the famous bad guys from the beginning of human existence. Then think that after all, life goes by like the blink of an eye and then you die – so for me it was always about something else.” Fame has not really changed Albert Hammond, he is still humble, creative and restless, always looking for new ideas for new songs which he knows may never get published (he records them into his two phones) but he is still searching and still open to learning.

“I grew up in the times of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the Dali Lama and I read the teachings of Buddha, Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet and even read a little of Rumi. These were my spiritual heroes and they didn’t care about being famous, they cared about humanity and the world, their goal

was to help society through goodness, through kindness with love, compassion and empathy and being conscious. I wanted even in a tiny way to live that mystical journey, to be a small part of that spiritual world.”

The memories linger and come back vividly. “I remember my mother telling me a story that while pregnant with me in London she would encounter an image, more so a spiritual energy, every night outside the window of the 8th floor of the building she lived in, and she told me that one night she felt it come to her womb and never saw it again, so I’ve always believed this to be the explanation of why I found my love for music.” That enduring love is not unlike the strong bond which beckons to him to come back here to visit his mum regularly.

“She’s over 99 years of age and is now at the John Mackintosh Home, but a few weeks ago when I went to see her and asked her to tell me about those times during the war in 1944, she still tells me that same story.” Albert was born in the UK during the evacuation years but that graphic story that his mother tells him is very present in his mind. “It’s really amazing to me and I have never forgotten that. I lived in Shakery’s Passage until the age of seven and always knew that music would be my life and my afterlife. My life because I did it whilst living and my afterlife  because my music, my energy and my spirit will  live on after I’m gone.“ That last statement is sobering but so true, you only have to think of the musical legacy of many great composers and it seems that they are still here with us.

“I learnt many spiritual and mystical lessons whilst growing up and going through my journey, some good and some not so good, but the most important one was humility, staying humble and true to yourself, knowing that what you did as a singer songwriter changed peoples’ lives for the better, it helped those in pain and those who had terminal diseases, it brought people together and in my case because I grew up on the Rock, which is also a privilege, because of that I was able to do it for two cultures. The Anglo and the Latin and I can now say that was and is still my purpose.”

There it is – that explains his calling. He doesn’t do it for himself, although he has to feed his ego and to be able to enjoy what he does in his concerts he has to be secure and happy in himself and always give 100% – which explains why his peers have finally invited him to play at the biggest green field music festival in the world – Glastonbury.

“So now we go to Glastonbury and yes of course I’m excited and it’s a wonderful achievement, very fulfilling and it’s a wonderful stage to play where all the greats have left their fingerprints. It’s just as incredible as being responsible for the sale of over 300,000,000 records, or The Hall of Fame or The Emmy, The Ivor Novello nomination to the Oscars, the Golden Globes, the Grammys, even the OBE and yes of course now finally – the biggest Rock Festival – Glastonbury and am I excited?  Yes of course I wouldn’t be human if I wasn’t, but at the end of your life all will be forgotten. Every now and then someone will mention your name, maybe on your birthday. But my music will live on, and no one can ever take that away. That’s why I’m here, that is my purpose in life.”

Hammond will play at the iconic Glastonbury, a musical milestone reserved for legends, on Sunday June 30. He will play the sub headliner spot on the Acoustic Stage (40,000 capacity arena) and will precede American Country Rock artist Rickie Lee Jones who tops the bill, but his catalogue eclipses most contemporary songwriters.

 “At the ripe old age of 75 I’m invited to play Glastonbury, the largest green field music festival in the world. Wow, how exciting is that and even more so because I’m from Gibraltar”. This milestone concert in Hammond’s illustrious career celebrates him as a song writer with a career spanning over five decades of hits and importantly as an artist in his own right. Although he would have known that his name was on the cards for Glastonbury the reality is a sobering thought. “Who would have thought some kid from Gibraltar was ever going to play Glastonbury?”

“Sometimes I think back to my childhood days on the Rock which were wonderful and that dream that was always in me and still is. Now I know my purpose in life and that is to touch people with my music”

It’s a well-known fact that he’s  touched the hearts of 300,000,000 people with his songs that have been sung by top artists like Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Starship Trooper, The Hollies, Julio Iglesias, Willie Nelson, Leo Sayer and many others in the Latin markets.

“I’ve had an incredible career both as a songwriter and a performer and I’ve accepted many awards and nominations, but to be invited to play Glastonbury has to be one of my highlights”. Albert Hammond is now at a stage of his touring career that has regularly seen him play many major cities and summer festivals over the last five years, but the thrill of playing Glastonbury this year has crowned his recent 75th birthday celebrations. “It is one the most iconic festivals in the world and so many incredible artists have performed there, like David Bowie, The Who, Radiohead, Cold Play and  Adele, just to name a few, so for me it’s another milestone in my career and what an exciting one it is”.

I couldn’t pass on the opportunity of asking him how he would pick the set list from his vast catalogue of hits. “One of the problems I have is what songs do I leave out, as you well know I was given an Ivor Novello Award for ‘Outstanding Song Catalogue’ a few years ago, so choosing the Glastonbury repertoire will not be easy because there are songs that I can’t leave out like ‘It Never Rains In Southern California’, ‘Free Electric Band’,’ The Air That I Breathe’, ‘When I Need You’, ‘When You Tell Me That You Love Me’, ‘Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now’ and ‘One Moment In Time’, to name but a few”.  Well Hammond’s star is in the ascendancy as all these things unfold, and there are plans to release a new album and for a US tour all lined up for next year. “Last year I played ‘Proms in the Park’ at Hyde Park and now this year ‘Glastonbury’, so if you ask me how I feel, I feel really grateful.”

It will remain one of the unfortunate conundrums of our life and times if we as his community miss out and don’t welcome back this national treasure, who keeps making so many people feel good with his wonderful music and give him the ‘home concert’ he so richly deserves. A concert with all the stops pulled out and all tickets selling out in the new stadium, because that is what should happen before he decides to stop touring. As the US is seeing him tour next year, I wonder whether that will finally be the clincher to spring our movers and shakers into action and claim a date for Gibraltar in Albert Hammond’s diary. That will be one for the history books in which we can all share.

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