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Malta's Musical Evolution Part 1: From The Malta Bums to The Black Train

In the early 1960s, the seeds of Malta's musical revolution were sown as a young Freddie Portelli embarked on a quest to form a band. What began as a humble endeavor evolved into a remarkable journey marked by serendipitous encounters, international acclaim, and the birth of two iconic Maltese bands: The Malta Bums and The Black Train. From their origins in small gatherings to electrifying performances on German television, this is the story of how Freddie Portelli and his bands carved their names into the annals of Maltese music history.

The Malta bums

In nearly 1963, a young Freddie Portelli endeavored to assemble a band. Initially comprised of Mario Perrone, Paul Perrone, and Tony Camilleri, the lineup underwent changes due to various circumstances. Mario's relocation to Australia led to Tony Muscat, known as il-Maduwi, assuming his role on rhythm and lead guitar. Meanwhile, Paul's departure prompted Tony Bartolo Il-Gegu, recommended by Freddie's father, to take up drumming duties. Thus, the new formation of the renowned Maltese band emerged: Freddie Portelli (19), Tony Muscat (18), Tony Bartolo (17), and Tony Camilleri (Bayzo) (16).

An interesting anecdote surrounds the band's name. Initially dubbed "THE BUMS" in jest due to their lack of employment, the name evolved to "MALTA BUMS" after their manager, Herr Otto Alf, coined it during their tour in Germany. This name was derived from a misinterpretation in Germany, where it was understood as "Malta’s Explosion."

Their journey commenced in West Germany, traversing cities like Essen West, Dusseldorf, Duisbergwen, and Koln, where they performed live on radio and television.

The band's opportunity to tour abroad materialized when a German couple, regular attendees of their rehearsals in St Paul’s Bay, offered to sponsor their trip to Germany. Herr Otto Alf facilitated the arrangements, covering expenses for a contracted 20-day tour, which extended to six months. Upon their return to Malta, they were inundated with performance requests, including a documentary feature by KOLN TV titled ‘Malta of the Malta Bums.’

Their distinct sound, characterized by musical proficiency and harmonious vocals from all four members, garnered attention. A pivotal moment arrived when they were invited to perform on Germany's esteemed TV show, following the success of their Maltese-language song "VIVA MALTA." This exposure propelled their popularity in Germany.

Despite opportunities in Germany and England, conflicts arose, notably during negotiations with Apple, The Beatles' record company, over the release of their song "OLD OLIVE TREE." Disputes over copyright profits led to its cancellation.

The journey of Freddie Portelli and The Malta Bums concluded in 1972 due to Freddie's burgeoning commitments. However, the band continued with new members, achieving success with hits like "L-Ewwel Tfalja Li Ħabbejt" in 1973. Eventually, The Malta Bums disbanded, with Bayzo pursuing a solo career and later forming "Bayzo u Klikka" with Anthony Bartolo (Gigu), Tony Muscat (Pempel), and Freddie Scicluna.

The Black Train

Freddie Portelli established The Black Train in 1973. Initially, the lineup comprised Freddie Portelli on lead guitar and vocals, Freddie Calleja on drums and vocals, and George Baldacchino on bass and vocals. However, George later relocated to Australia, and Joe Vella took over as the bassist.

The band's name, Black Train, originated from a spur-of-the-moment decision when a local promoter, Leli Saliba, urgently needed a name for publicity purposes. The band quickly gained prominence, consistently voted as Malta's best local band in popularity polls throughout its existence.

The Black Train's regular gigs included performances at venues like the Phoenicia Ballroom and Palace Hall, supplemented by summer concerts across Malta and Gozo. They also received invitations for international performances, including concerts and TV appearances in Canada, the UK, and Italy, thanks to their hit records and popularity.

During their tenure, The Black Train released two albums and approximately twelve successful vinyl records. However, as their popularity grew, so did their commitments, leading to more frequent gigs and appearances, which became challenging for Freddie Portelli to manage alongside his other endeavors, such as his profession as a draughtsman and his involvement in water polo.

After twelve years, Freddie decided to take a hiatus, leading to the band's split in 1985. While Freddie Calleja briefly continued playing before retiring, Joe Vella remained active as a bassist, particularly with jazz bands like the Vinny Vella Jr. Band, until recent years.

Sixteen years later, Freddie Portelli made a comeback, releasing his debut solo CD album, "Għall Dejjem," which featured old recordings he composed for both The Malta Bums and The Black Train. This album, issued by KTA Records, achieved tremendous success, undergoing multiple repressings and remaining popular to this day. "Għall Dejjem" marked the beginning of Freddie's ongoing solo career.



The Malta Bums Discography


Singles

  • Dinja Din / Yvette / Football

  • Viva Malta / That's All I Know

  • Ġej il-Milied / That Ain't A Sin

  • Nerġa Nsir Ferħan / Do This

  • L-Ewwel Tfalja Li Ħabbejt / Mister D.J


The Black Train Discography


Albums

  • Viva Malta

  • Black Train


Singles as The Black Train Group

  • Blue Sea Bay

  • Konna Tfal


Singles as Freddie & The Black Train

  • Jidbiegħu / Tgħallimt

  • Mulej / Kliem

  • Flimkien / Ejja Lura (1975)

  • Se Jkolli Nemmen / Joħlom Min Irid

  • Fuqek Se Immut / Titlaqnix

  • Viva Malta / Tilwima (1977)

  • Ġej il-Milied / Għandek Lili hawn Hekk (1977)

  • Wied Ta' Dmugħ / Tigħddx Le (1978)

  • Kullħadd Jaf / Adam u Eva

  • Ħallini / Ma Kellekx Tort

  • Naf Għalfejn / Magħqudin







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