Why go to festivals in the UK, get cold, wet and muddy when you can have a great festival experience featuring top name acts, with warm sunshine pretty much guaranteed? That was my reaction when the chance came up to write about The Gibraltar Music Festival being held on the world famous British Rock of Gibraltar, situated at the Southern tip of Spain.
It’s a hot sunny Friday afternoon as I’m getting my pass at the Victoria Stadium, where, amazingly a couple of years ago, the local Gibraltarian footy team saw off the mighty Celtic. There’s a mouth watering lineup in prospect with music for all ages, with big names like Stormzy, Rag and Bone Man, Rita Ora, Sister Sledge and The Boomtown Rats along with the legendary Bob Geldof.
The first acts on today are local Gibraltarian bands, as well as the son of Gibraltar’s most famous son, Albert Hammond Jnr, who I am really looking forward to seeing since he went solo from his band, The Strokes. My appetite has been whetted as I read a review of his recent Glasgow gig in the newspaper on the plane coming over on the red eye from Gatwick a couple of days previously.
Gibraltar band Sour start the ball rolling at 4.15pm prompt with a great set on the Main Stage, and are followed by another popular local band, Jetstream, who are often to be seen gigging around the Rock at special events like National Day and the not to be missed New Year’s Eve concert in Casemates Square. The sound system is superb, and a credit to the well oiled MTV team.
I head to the smaller Classic Stage, where Dead City Radio are playing, and get talking to local musician Adrian Pisarello, who is enthusiastically telling me about a Gibraltarian music festival funded by Gibraltar Ministry of Culture that will be held at The Unicorn pub In Camden Town in London on Saturday 17th November. He says it all starts at 5pm and will feature a lot of local rock grown talent, including himself, Paul Isola and members of Breed 77, The Jesse Tree and The Layla Rose Band amongst others.
Security is so tight here that it squeaks, and with negligible trouble over the two days is a credit to OSG Security’s dedicated team headed by JP. Mention should also be made to the tireless teams of cleaners clearing litter and keeping the toilets clean.
America play a superb set featuring all their best known songs, ending with their big hit ‘Horse With No Name.’ Their lead singer, Gerry Beckley announces that the band have been together for 48 years playing a staggering 160 shows a year, a fantastic feat for anyone.
What probably in an a lot of peoples opinions is the best act of the night, if not the festival is Sister Sledge, who are on the Classic Stage at 10.45pm. Quite a few people I spoke to days after the event were in full agreement with this. Their set simply blows us all away, with all their hits being sung, and it seems that everyone here is singing and dancing along.
Chase and Status are the last act of the evening on the Main Stage, and as the Classic Stage is cleared, we all head to see their set with a stunning light show to accompany the drum and bass. This is clearly visible, as well as perfectly audible from The Cepsa petrol station slap bang next door to the stadium. As I’m heading home, it occurs to me that here is a free drive in show for those without tickets.
It’s Saturday, another bright, warm and sunny Gibraltar day, and I’m on a mission today, as the first act on is a band called April who are headed by a very talented Gibraltarian singer by the name of Hollie Buhagiar. I had previously chatted with Hollie and the band at the Lord Nelson jam session in Casemates Square on Thursday evening, and so I was eager to see them. Hollie has opted to play the first spot on the Main Stage as MTV are streaming it live, so despite the sparse numbers early on, she’s pretty much guaranteed a wider audience.
The Nova Twins up next are a total surprise to me, and ooze attitude and originality. The set that follows is high energy and innovative urban punk with maybe a nod to Tom Morello, along with a dash of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers to good effect.
At 6.30pm sharp it’s glam rock time with Sweet taking to the Classic Stage. The band launch into a set which includes all their hits, They play for about an hour, and then return for an encore, which very few bands have done this weekend with such a tight schedule, playing two more songs, including their huge 1973 hit ‘Blockbuster.’
I’ve really been looking forward to seeing Bad Manners today, who are a fun ska band in the same vein as Madness, and are fronted by the wonderfully named Buster Bloodvessel who has an unbelievably long tongue which he sticks out in true rude boy style I hear some of Bad Manners best known songs before the set finishes with their big hit ‘Can Can.’ Everyone here is loving this, and it’s a big knees up all round.
There’s some time to wander over to the Main Stage to hear the soulful voice of Rag and Bone Man, before fighting my way through the crowds to get a half decent spot to see Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats. Bob’s wearing his trademark stripey shirt and looking pretty retro with some cool flares with metallic buttons down the legs. The band play a set which includes some of their earlier, more punky numbers as well as pretty much all of The Boomtown Rats big hits.
I manage to catch the fabulous Rita Ora on the Main Stage before heading back to catch the Classic Stage’s headline act, Suzi Quatro. The crowd are well into hearing all those Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman songs again like ‘Can The Can,’ ‘48 Crash,’ ‘She’s In Love With You,’ and ‘Devil Gate Drive.’ and Suzi doesn’t disappoint.
This isn’t quite the end of the festival though, as Suzi finishes playing, headline act Stormzy can be heard opening up on the Main Stage. Stormzy engages with his fans and plays for well over an hour, but before he goes, as a farewell to the faithful, he gets into the security pit and touches hands with those that can reach him.
Come Monday, I’m passing by the stadium, and amazingly all trace of the festival has disappeared, with sports taking place as if nothing had ever happened and already I’m looking forward to next year’s Gibraltar Calling festival.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait until next year to visit Gibraltar, as the Rock has a longstanding association with live music. There’s often music on at the bars in town, and there are live concerts in Casemates Square, usually on National Day and News Year’s Eve, as well as at other times. Bands also play at The Rock on the Rock Club, and St Michael’s Cave, a natural subterranean auditorium, has hosted top names from time to time, making this small but busy British territory a great place in which to be a music tourist.
BY CLAIRE SPENCER