BY CLAIRE SPENCER
After a smooth flight from an almost deserted Terminal 5, there was the usual excitement as The Rock was spotted from the starboard side as the plane winged its way past Europa Point with the lighthouse standing like a lonely red and white sentinel on the southernmost point of the peninsula. Soon, after a series of well-practised choreographed turns, we found ourselves levelling up to approach the runway, with the cars stopped by the barriers as if to pay homage to our arrival, as we came to a halt opposite the sheer limestone face of the North Front.
Incredibly, I had my first live music experience as I stepped off the bus and walked through the hallowed arches leading into Casemates Square, with the colourful sunshades of the bars fluttering like so many flags in a victory parade. Here, a couple of buskers had set up their gear, and were giving an impromptu performance to all who would lend an ear. I sat on a bench where I heard a few covers, most notably by Jamaica’s most illustrious son, Bob Marley, with a bit of Pink Floyd thrown into the mix, along with The Kinks and Rolling Stones for good measure. The unassuming buskers, keeping the live music flag flying gave their names as Steve and Steve respectively, taking it in turns to entertain those sitting the square with a rather nice portable sound system.
“He has worked tirelessly to build up the Rock on the Rock club to be a focal point for musicians.”
The two Steves told me that they had been talent spotted by someone who was suitably impressed with their performance, and that he had recommended them to the owner of the Cabana beach bar in Camp Bay who had offered them a regular spot as well as keeping an eye on the place after it was closed of a night. And so the unlikely pair of Steves, one from West Lothian in Scotland and the other from Uttoxeter in Staffordshire were rebranded as ‘The Night Watchmen’ for their newfound venue.
Scottish Steve writes a lot of his own material, whilst The Staffordshire version plays a wide selection of popular covers, interspersed with witty banter. I strolled over to Camp Bay one evening a couple of weeks later to see them play, and, handily equipped with a Mojito, served by a very friendly lady called Houda, I was treated to a very entertaining set with a similar mix of music as before. Houda is certainly multitalented; as well as making the most delicious cocktails, she joined popular local singer Surianne a few nights later to sing ‘Hotel California’. The Cabana is surely the ideal setting to watch the sun sink slowly in the west, seemingly setting the sky on fire and turning the clouds brilliant shades of vermilion.
As I walked home, I passed a very busy Piccadilly Gardens where OLLI (Their name stands for ‘One Life Live It’) were playing a lively set. This was one of the many gigs put on by The Musicians Association of Gibraltar. In fact, MAG, as they are known for short, also put on live music at many other venues locally including The Cabana Bar, The Dolphin Bar and Rock on the Rock. One place that MAG had featured very heavily for live streamed gigs was My Wines on Chatham Counterguard, where only a couple of weeks previously, celebrated Gibraltarian musician Jonathan Sacremento, or ‘Sac,’ as he is known locally, had featured his newly released album The Wooden Street.
One lunchtime I met up with David J Diaz who runs The Gibraltar Live Music Society at his ‘office’ – otherwise known as Latinos. David, who works at the Panorama, comes from a musical family, and has had quite an amazing career to date. He told me that getting to work at Panorama reviewing music events on The Rock was a dream come true for him. It was a wonderful to hear the roll of honour of the famous musicians he’d interviewed in his career to date, including Gibraltar’s most famous son, Albert Hammond. David explained that it all started with a podcast six years ago entitled Inspired where he’d interviewed local musicians including X Factor winner Sam Bailey when she visited Gibraltar.
“He did muse over the possibility of a gig outside of O’Reilly’s.”
They say like father like son, and this rings very true in David’s case; before his father retired, he played drums and percussion with The Royal Gibraltar Regiment, whilst his son most certainly is passionate about music. David went on to explain the different influences in his life that have made such a big impression on him from the late Hector Cortes, former music teacher at St. Anne’s and leader of The Calpe Singers, to the life-changing epiphany that was Melon Diesel. It would not be an understatement to say that music ran rich in his veins as David excitedly explained that Hector Cortes had been enrolled in the Gibraltar Music Hall of Fame, which is a Gibraltar Live Music Society initiative backed by Gibraltar Cultural Services. He went on to explain that Gibraltar Cultural Services invest heavily in promoting local talent.
David Diaz proved to be a veritable goldmine of useful information on the music scene here on The Rock, and The Gibraltar Live Music Society are definitely at the forefront of some fine live music events around town and are well worth supporting: their Facebook page has lots of info on what’s happening on the Rock.
One place that came as absolutely no surprise that were putting on live music again was the prodigious Rock on the Rock Club on Town Range ably run by Alan Alman, who most famously was awarded the British Empire Medal a few years back. There were some interesting acts already booked for August when I called by one evening, including most notably another well-known local musician, Sista Dee, who told me that she’d managed to get to play a few live sets during lockdown. Alan Alman didn’t get honoured by the Queen for services to music in Gibraltar for no good reason, as he has worked tirelessly to build up the Rock on the Rock club to be a really worthy focal point for musicians here in Gibraltar.
It isn’t just to listen to music that you might call by ROTR club for either, as lockdown gave birth to The Taste of Persia restaurant and takeaway, started by Lili Olivera, cooking food from home in the early days of lockdown for home delivery. Alan so liked the idea that he bought Lili and Taste of Persia on board at the Rock on the Rock, where you can order delicious food with many tempting vegan options at lunchtime as well as the evenings and gig nights.
Whilst the establishments mentioned have live music on outside, at the time of writing Gibraltar hasn’t returned to normal, as big events like Gibraltar Calling have been cancelled and the ever-popular live jam at The Lord Nelson can’t take place because of the need to socially distance. In my wanderings around town I had run into Trevor Emmett, the bass player with Thrifty Malone, who was sat outside his usual live venue of The Lord Nelson one sunny evening with the swifts swooping and screaming like little black scimitars. Trevor told me he had absolutely no idea of when we’d hear Thrifty Malone next, a view shared by their guitarist Alan Jenkins, who I caught doing an online quiz night at Nelsons a few days later, though he did muse over the possibility of a gig outside of O’Reilly’s at some point.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before normality returns and music lovers all over Gibraltar will be able to enjoy seeing their favourite musicians again without any restrictions.
Claire has donated her fee for this article to Charles Trico’s appeal to help disadvantaged children in Morocco.