Gibraltar has a rich and textured heritage stemming back to the dawn of time – in fact one of their claims is that they are the cradle of history, with Neanderthal remains being found here back in 1848, and a continuous occupation spanning close to 3000 years. Passing between Moorish, Spanish, and most recently British hands, this tiny peninsula on the southern coast of Spain is a mere 6.6 kilometres square with a population of just over 32,000. It’s no wonder there’s a strong community atmosphere that’s obvious from the moment you step off the plane and enter the tiny airport terminal, where locals greet each other by name.
Taking a taxi to my hotel, my driver gave me a potted history of the British enclave in our 10 minute drive. He said in order to make Gibraltar work, everyone has to get involved in the community, whether it be charity work, cultural, or religious activities. The Gibraltar Fair, an annual event held on the site of the former HMS Rooke naval base on Queensway, is one such cultural event, with this year’s fair commencing on 23 August, and closing on the 31st.
The Gibraltar Fair has the usual attractions of rides and food (the Spanish influence is strong here with tapas and churros on offer, among other delights), but the main event is the nightly showcase held in the 500 seat marquee, the Family Pavilion.
Over the 9 night session, the Pavilion hosted a wide range of musical and cultural attractions, ranging from local dance groups and up and coming artists from both Gibraltar and the surrounding Andalusian area and beyond, to more widely known artists and at least one internationally recognised act per year. I arrived on the evening of the 29th, and immediately headed down to the Fair, where I was pleased to be entertained by Mark Montegriffo, a local performer, who performed Bob Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel songs, accompanied on his acoustic guitar and harmonica. Highlights of Mark’s performance included one of my favourite Simon & Garfunkel tunes, ‘The Boxer’, which had the entire audience singing along.
He also brought his father, another talented guitarist, up on stage to join him, as well as local singer Layla Rose, who had performed with her band in the Monday evening’s show.
The pair sang a rousing rendition of the Johnny Cash classic, ‘Ring Of Fire’, which went down very well. Mark has an EP out, ‘Dear Miranda’, which is available to stream on Spotify.
Following Mark was The Ultimate Cher Experience, performed by Michelle Daniels, a talented vocalist whose repertoire spans from the 1960s right down to contemporary tracks. Her speciality however, as the name suggests, is performing Cher songs, which she did while wearing a costume similar to the ‘Turn Back Time’ era.
Michelle also sang a few ABBA songs, and it’s important to note that while Michelle does a Cher impression in outfit, her vocal style is all her own, which, to my way of thinking, is much better than imitating the artist note for note. The audience seemed to agree with me, giving Michelle a resounding round of applause.
Friday evening was a reggae night, featuring local performers, Sista Dee, and Heritage, both of whom proved very popular. Sista Dee performed her acoustic roots and reggae pieces with much gusto, accompanied by The Chicardos Band.
Sitting with her guitar on her lap, Sista Dee brought a little peace and love to the Family Pavilion, while The Chicardos Band backed her up. It was the perfect dinnertime accompaniment, and even so, several people got up and danced and videoed her set.
Following Sista Dee was another local reggae band, Heritage. The 8 piece group performed reggae and roots covers, including several by The Specials, among others.
Saturday night saw the end of the fair, and consequently, the most entertainment of any evening. Starting with local singer Janine Pons-Busto, the show swiftly moved on featuring Surriane Dalmedo, who performed with her acoustic guitar, through to the Yalta Dance Studio, who performed several co-ordinated dance routines on the stage. The highlight however, and the ones everyone was there for, was of course Jedward. In previous years The Gibraltar Fair has had as their special guest performers the likes of S-Club, Katrina (ex The Waves), and B*Witched, but Jedward are certainly the highest profile performers to have graced the Family Pavilion stage, and according to entertainment manager Jay Callejon, were the name on everyone’s lips all week, as people asked when they were going to be performing.
Jedward certainly didn’t disappoint. Originally contracted to perform for half an hour, beginning at 11.30pm, they brought forward their start time to 11.15, and kept the show going beyond midnight. Opening with their 2010 classic, ‘Under Pressure (Ice Ice Baby)’, John and Edward lulled the audience into a false sense of security, before launching into a cover of Walk The Moon’s 2014 hit, ‘Shut Up And Dance’. Following a short chat about their new album, ‘Voice Of A Rebel’, which they released in June this year, John and Edward performed ‘Respect Your Dreams’, the first of five brand new songs from the album, all of which they’ve written and produced themselves. The song went down a treat, and at this point many of the audience moved from their seats down to the area in front of the stage.
Making references to how hot it was, and suggesting they needed some water, Jedward next performed their song, ‘Waterline’, which had been their 2012 entry at the Eurovision Song Contest, the second of their twin performance when they represented Ireland. It was pleasing to see that many in the audience knew the choreography to the song, and Edward thanked Gibraltar for, as part of the UK, having given Ireland 12 points both times they’d performed. They followed this with another cover, this time Maroon 5’s ‘Sugar’. If anyone in the audience was still in doubt as to Jedward’s performance being for audiences of 18 and older, they were certainly no longer wondering by the end of this song, and especially not after they sang ‘Spice Things Up’, the second offering from ‘Voice Of A Rebel’ – definitely not a song for children – and one which they encouraged audience participation, in singing the chorus.
Possibly one of the better known songs to the audience was Jedward’s 2012 release, ‘Luminous’, with many knowing the words and singing along. Another one that everyone knew was their cover of blink-182’s ‘All The Small Things’, which saw John doing one armed cartwheels and backflips across the stage. Somehow during this performance he managed to dismantle his microphone stand, causing it, in his words, to go “the full Freddy”. Without pausing, they swiftly launched into a rendition of the chorus of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’, with all the audience joining in.
By this point John and Edward had been performing for half an hour, and showed no signs of stopping. Suggesting we should all now pretend we were in Ibiza, they sang a cover of Justin Bieber’s, ‘Sorry’, another which most in the crowd knew very well. The third song they sang from their new album, ‘Extraordinary’, is already a firm fan favourite, and equally went down very well with the Gibraltarian crowd, who, when informed there was a banger dance section in the song, joined in and gave it their all, everyone jumping and fist pumping. Fourth track from ‘Voice Of A Rebel’ was the very appropriate ‘Taste The Heat’, which was prefaced by a comment on just how hot it was there (the average temperature in Gibraltar this week has been 27 degrees with close to 90% humidity – VERY steamy). In quick succession they treated the audience to a fifth self written album track, ‘Teenage Runaway’, which also proved very very popular. John and Edward should certainly feel very proud of themselves and their obvious song-writing talent, because the audience enjoyed their own tracks just as much – if not more than – as any of the covers, or songs written for them by other artists.
Final official song of the night was their 2011 Eurovision entry, ‘Lipstick’, which left the audience wanting more. John and Edward didn’t want to leave either, and decided to give the audience an encore of ‘Under Pressure (Ice Ice Baby)’. When that wasn’t enough – nobody wanted to leave – John suggested that the first 30 people in the front row could come and have selfies with them. Of course, many more than just thirty came forward, and so it was well and truly nearly 1am before John and Edward finished, ensuring that everyone in the Family Pavilion that night, no matter their opinion when they first entered, were firm fans of Jedward when they left.
You can find Jedward online on their official website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and YouTube. Stream and download their music on SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, and Google Play. Stream and download ‘Voice Of A Rebel’ here.