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Taken by storm...........The Rock Shop, Storm Records, Brainstorm & Storm

Updated: May 3, 2023

Interview with Mark ‘Storm’ Micallef carried out by Keith Muscat


The older you grow the more you reminisce the days gone by, especially the misspent youth. Dial-up internet in Malta was introduced in the mid-1990’s, before that you either had to make do with what you found on the rock or else go through the whole process of mail-ordering from a catalogue. We did not miss what we did not know, so it was business as usual for us to save some extra liri and try to get the latest t-shirt or some other merch.


Apart from some well established shops that provided us with lp’s, casettes and later cd’s, there were a couple of stands at il-Monti and tal-Cassettes (City Gate), from were we used to buy our fix. The first proper shop catering for rockers and metalheads was The Rock Shop way back in 1990’s. I had the opportunity to carry out a short interview with Mark ‘Storm’ Micallef, who together with his brother Phil were much involved in the scene at that time. Having the opportunity, I could not miss out on asking Mark about Brainstorm, Storm and Storm Records.


The Rock Shop


On Saturday, 9th July 1994, Gozitan Hard Rock Party Leader, Patrick Grima (Ħanfusa) inaugurated The Rock Shop, in Theatre Street, Valletta. Mr Grima (RIP 1957-2019) was quite the character. In fact, few months before he stormed the Victoria Local Council Election and got elected on first count. The Rock Shop was, and I think still is, the only shop that was exclusively dedicated to rock and heavy metal in Malta. The shop used to stock cd’s, cassettes, albums, singles, videos, t-shirts, jewellery, caps, posters, books and other items.


KM How did the idea of opening The Rock Shop come to mind?


PSM As my brother (Phil Storm) and I always loved the rock scene (and still do) we wanted to open a business that was sustainable, and at the same time a passion of ours. In the days, it was very hard to find rock merchandise and various rock/ heavy metal/ death metal etc albums, we therefore decided to divert from running a Hi Fi shop into a music store specializing in various types of Rock Music


The Rock Shop did not only serve its economic purpose, it because a sort of hub for the local rock/metal community. I can still remember ads for wanted musicians or musicians searching for bands, gig posters etc. Was this part of the raison detre behind The Rock Shop?


In a way it was, as we are also musicians, we wanted to help the rock scene in general, however we could.


If I am not mistaken, the shop shifted from Theatre Street to one of the arcades in Republic Street before calling it a day. When did The Rock Shop close for good and how do you describe this journey?


We started off at Regency House arcade in Valletta selling Hi Fi, and over the years, we then started also diverting to Rock Music and merchandise. Further to that, we then closed the shop and opened a new shop ‘The Rock Shop’ on Old Theatre Street focusing only on Rock. It was enough to keep the business going.


Storm Records


Another brave move was the setting up of Strom Records, with the aim of giving local bands a chance to achieve local and international success and recognition. When did the venture start and what did it entail to start record company?


We started ‘Storm Records in the mid 90’s. At the time I also had a recording studio. Through ‘Storm Records’ we also managed a few local bands and helped promote their music overseas, on the other hand, through the recording studio, we recorded various local bands, ‘Storm Records’ eventually produced and released a few albums and some compilations with a selection of Maltese bands.


In 1995 Storm Records released several compilations featuring the cream of Maltese rock/metal talents. “Eruption” and “The Storm has begun”, in my opinion still stand the test of time and stand as witness to the bubbling talent in the 90’s.


Eruption featured bands on the hard rock side and included the bands Cry (Permanent High), Limestone Kick (Lola), Blade (Faith), Nightwing (Inferno), Brainstorm (One Eighty Seconds), Different Light (In The Grey), Purple Haze (Helping Hand) and Fatal Aggression (Eternal Sleep).


The storm has begun leaned more on the heavier side and included Norm Rejection (Trance Upon the Chessboard), Trial By Fate (Once Upon a Time), Beheaded (Vae Victus), Forsaken (Moon Dancer), Sanity (The Insane’s Tale), Masada (Redemption), Orbus Vitae (Lament of the Disturbed) and Amentia (Charms of Mysticism).


These were followed by another two compilations in 1996. “The Core of Creation” featuring Thera (Sin or Die), Dirt (Fresh Blood), Obscurity (Obscurity), Sceptocrypt (Oratorio Mortem), No Name Yet (In Your Face), Norm Rejection (Where’s the green?), Subtraction (Humanity Undone), Mystic Pearl (Let the Leaders Fight) and Victims of Creation (Lotions and Potions).


“Illusions” included Jane Air (Act), The Koyl (Come), Juicy Affair (Lady), Wex (Damn), Grip (One Life), Dreamscape (The Fall), Wildflower (Love & Reality), Rubber Souls (Before I forget), Purple Haze (No More), Brainstorm (Mushroom) and Storm (Hard Dreams).


It must have been quite a feat to coordinate all the bands and a lot of sleepless nights till the final product hit the shelves. What do you cherish most from this experience?


It was an amazing experience. In the 90’s it was so difficult for a Maltese Band. Instruments cost a lot of money, recording in a studio and releasing a CD was a dream for many rock bands. We therefore decided to do our utmost to create opportunities for the rock scene, and the 4 compilations we put together gave good exposure to those featured on the albums. The recordings for the compilations took place in my recording studio ‘Storm Studios’. Of course, it was a very challenging experience to put it all together, however once we released the material, it was well worth it.


In March 1996, Storm Records opened a new recording studios in Salina (l/o Naxxar). The studios were equipped with the latest state-of-the-art technology and services offered included cd pressing, tape duplication, production, artwork, printing and mastering services. What were the greatest satisfactions and delusions whilst the studios were in operation?


Working in the studio with a lot of young talent was an amazing experience, although it was very hard work. It brought great satisfaction to us, and at the same time to the bands.


I am correct to state that you were not alone in this venture?


At the time I was working in the studio with producer Boris Cezec. Once the material was recorded, we used to send it to London to be digitally mastered and to press the CD for the final product.



Brainstorm

Times of Malta. Saturday, March 22, 1986

Love them or hate them Brainstorm hit the ground running from day one. A lot of emphasis was focused on the music but image, branding and showmanship were important ingredients for the band. The initial formation, in 1986, included J. J. Axe (guitar), Mark Storm (vocals), Phil Storm (bass), Martin Debono (guitar) and Bobby Calbion (drums and percussion).


What can you tells us about how the band got together and the early years?

We got together in 1984, the original line up was Mark Storm on vocals, Ivan Filletti and JJ Axe on Guitars, Martin D.Bono on Bass and Bobby Calbian on the drums


Where there any line up changes at the early stages of the band?


Later on, Ivan Filletti departed and Martin B Dono shifted from bass to Guitars, whilst Josef Petroni joined on bass as a session musician for live gigs until Phil Storm was eventually introduced as the main bassist.


During the late 80’s and early 90’s it was not unusual for bands to play at, what today, we would consider unconventional venues, such as small local theatres and the sound systems were not that great. Do you have any experiences you wish to share?


Unlike today, in the 80’s and 90’s, in order to perform a concert, we needed to rent a hall where we could perform from and organize a concert from scratch. This meant, we had to rent a premises, rent a sound system with an engineer, rent the lighting system, print out own marketing material such as posters, concert programs, tickets and so on. The biggest challenge was that we then used to have to go out, meet friends and sell our own tickets, at the time was also used to market the concert stating that tickets could be purchased from the Rock Shop or at the door. Keep in mind, that at the time Social Media did not exist, therefore we had to do everything ourselves.


What was the average attendance for gigs back then?


In those days, we used to have anything between 400 and 500 people attend our self-organized concerts. Playing in festivals with a number of different bands, sometimes used to attract larger crowds.


Ever innovative, Brainstorm in 1988 decided to release their first ever video as a publicity stunt towards the release of your first L.P. The video for “Chained to the Wall” was banned from local television as it was deemed as ‘a bad influence to the public’. What was the issue all about and how was the matter resolved? Did this project include a collaboration with Krokus vocalist Marc Storace?


AS you know, the mentality in Malta has changed drastically since the 80’s, our video was banned because at the start of the video, we had a girl who was wearing a slightly see-through night dress, this raised a lot of eyebrows.

Mark Storace had eventually featured on the title track for the Video ‘Chained to the wall’


The video for “Chained to the Wall” was eventually remixed and re-released in 1989, with footage of a live concert that was held at Axis as part of a charity campaign for muscular dystrophy. What memories do you have of that concert and was Brainstorm involved in other charity campaigns?


Brainstorm released the video at Axis, it was a totally amazing concert, it still brings back great memories.

Brainstorm was involved in other charity activities, one in particular was a live performance at the Manuel Theatre in Valletta. As far as I could remember, we were the first and last rock band to ever play over there.


Another strange incident happened in April 1988, when Brainstorm were participating in a concert at Vibes and somehow someone managed to creep into the band’s dressing room and deliberately damage the drum kit and guitars. What are your recollections on this episode?


Ha ha, yes, this was a festival, there were a selection of bands and some bands rivaled other bands. Moments before we hit the stage, someone managed to tamper with the drums, the guitars which were fully tuned, strangely enough were no longer in tune, and the firebombs we prepared for the start of the concert no longer functioned.

At the time, it was a very stressful moment, however today I laugh about it.



In 1989 Mr Philip Fenech took over the management of Brainstorm from Mrs. Micallef, who had seen the band emerge from nowhere to become on of the best bands for 1988. This came after the release of “Brainstorm Unchained”. How did this change effect the band?


Philip Fenech took over as manager, Philip is a great man, but also a business man with much less time than what Mrs. Micallef had. We did a few gigs with Philip as our manager, however the passion and dedication Mrs. Micallef had was second to none.


Brainstorm participated in a lot of events is there any concert/gig that you hold above the rest?


Probably the first ever gig we played as Brainstorm would be above the rest. This was on 22nd March 1986 at The Scouts HQ in Floriana. This was our first public performance, and we did not know what to expect. The turn out was tremendous, the amount of people who attended stunned us, we never expected to have a totally full house. We literally played our hearts out. The feeling was magical, and the crown joined in from beginning to end making the atmosphere electric.


Phil Storm and yourself left the band in the third quarter of 1990. The rest of the band decided to continue working under the same name and seek replacements. I am not going to ask about how this effected you. Let bygones be bygones. You moved on to form Storm. Can you give us some information on this band?


Yes, although we never fell out with the band, we eventually departed Brainstorm and formed the band ‘Storm,’ Soon after, I recorded my first ever full-length CD titled ‘Another Day ‘In fact I have just recently uploaded it on Spotify.

The album Storm ‘Another Day’ featured several session musicians on various tracks and some guest singers featured for the track ‘Crime of Innocence.’ We also recorded a video for the hit track ‘Naked in the rain.’ This album was a great success and was also nominated in the Malta Music Awards.

We performed a string of concerts after releasing the album at Axis


After Storm folded it seems that you put your musical career on a hiatus. Is there a chance that we will see Mark Storm back on stage any time soon?


That’s a good question, after so many years, I have decided to get back in the game. I am currently planning to record another album by ‘Storm’ we have already started writing some tracks and its sounding great.

I guess you will have to wait a little until I can say more on this subject.



(Photos for this interview were provided curtesy of Mark ‘Storm’ Micallef)

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4 Comments


Really enjoyed reading this & it brings back many memories personally! Well done Keith bro \m/

Would be great to hear new music from Mark (& Phil I am hoping also), whom I both consider as excellent musicians & good friends although we haven't spoken or been in contact in a while, would be really great to have them back however.

I agree that Mark & Phil gave a really precious contribution & help to the local bands & local music scene back then, also Boris of course when their recording studio was active. Amongst those bands, we had our first recording with my VoC, for which we are so grateful to date, & for some, our track 'Lotions &…

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Michael Bugeja
Michael Bugeja
May 02, 2023

I enjoyed this article - well done Keith!

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Keith Muscat
Keith Muscat
May 04, 2023
Replying to

Grazzi Michael

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Guest
May 02, 2023

It's Boris Cezek dude

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