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The Art of Herding Cats – Bringing together bands in Malta’s 1980’s


Be it saints or sinners the Maltese are divisive by nature. It might be the fruit of years of colonisation but we air our opinion on everything and assume a parochial stance. It seems that fifty shades of grey is not our favourite topic.........the shading part I mean..........and tendency is that we shade in black or white. We are either in favour or against. Only few were those who tried and succeeded in making us pull the rope in the same direction and they should be hailed as true national heroes. Don’t get me wrong, we do come together when disaster strikes or to aid in charity ventures, but that’s about it. When it comes to bringing together bands and supposedly like minded people in the early 1980’s the sense I get is that it was an attempt at herding cats. Yet some ventures had much more success than others.



One of the first attempts I encountered was the forming of the Rock Appreciation Society (R.A.S. ......not to be confused with the band) in August 1981. This was an initiative taken by Mr. A Farrugia and Mr B Hili, amongst others, who headed this society as co-chairmans. Their aim was to “help various kinds of rockers from Punk to Ska to Reggae to Heavy Metal, to get together to exchange ideas, addresses, posters and photos.” They tried to start with a bang by organising “Rock Summer ‘81”. This event took place at the Orpheum Theatre in Gzira on Friday 7 August 1981. It was promoted as the first such event for the local rock groups, with the aim to promote and encourage local talent. The announcement mentioned that 12 groups were to take part but no names were mentioned. From correspondence in local press one takes the impression that due to problems with the sound system the event, though well attended, failed to reach a high standard of organisation. Only three, of the twelve promised bands performed on the day, namely Mirage, Valdacry and Fusion. A battle of words raged through the local news papers on the merits and demerits of R.A.S and the organisation of this event. R.A.S. was a voluntary organisation and depended for funds on membership donations.


Eric Montfort, in his article entitled Rock On Summer ’81 (Times of Malta, September 14, 1981) gave a detailed description of the event, that I am reproducing hereunder:


Just over a month ago, a long awaited organization finally materialized, The Rock Appreciation Society, a concept for four years, initiated by Vincent Saliba finally came into being at a Press Conference held at a band club at Gzira. The following Friday the first activity – Rock On Summer ’81 was held at the Orpheum, Gzira.



Heavy metalists Valdacry headlined the show, which was a pure gig; people listening to the music, jumping and going out for a beer and returning when they heard a couple of striking notes. Anyway, Valdacry had a terrific start with “Fool for the last time”, a fire engine’s siren preluding a grating guitar, and a good melody which was spoiled by the biggest stigma in local concerts – the poor sound system. The group comprises Benny Hili (vocals), Charlie (Spider) rhythm guitar, brothers Joe and Charlie on drums and bass and Twanny (Pistol) on lead guitar.


Furthermore, there was a lack of feedback which dimmed Benny’s voice to a minimum. The band also seemed to indulge in long tracks, this present day and age is a fast-moving era employing catchy economic sounds and this should be understood by the group if they are into other aspirations. Let’s hope that this materializes before the group turns to the more elaborate Spanish guitar and boogie. With more practice, this gap might close and Valdacry would surmount the huge impediments that they’ve faced, for theirs and everyone’s satisfaction.



Mirage were a richer (not only in apparatus but also in music) outfit and looked less nervous. Long complex sounds influenced by Camel and Rush could easily be inferred. Incidentally, this group consists of Denis Vella (joy-boards percussion), John Vella (bass, lead guitar, percussion, guitar, synths: the latter weren’t used), Robert Longo (lead, bass guitar, percussion) and Joe Zammit (percussion). This group is opting for a drum-kit in the future. Three of the five numbers incorporated lyrics, which were down to earth and included a love song – “Don’t get me wrong” an obscure on-the-road feeling about loneliness.


“Are you ready for Fusion” shouted the very polite voice of Ray Mifsud Bonici, apparently taking over from Noel Mallia who seemed a bit hoarse after his two introductions (or short sermons about rock?). Well, Fusion appeared. This group has now been going on strong for six months and includes Audrey on keyboards, Eugene (bass guitar), Tony (guitar) and Lawrence on drums.


A group full of enthusiasm and commitment, the members are deep into jazz-rock and the full use of the possible instruments and sounds that they can deploy. However, as might be expected, the sounds are too complex and many a time were lost in the aula. Indeed jazz-rock requires a lot of attention and a gig like the Orpheum’s would certainly not befit Fusion and even Mirage.


After all would the audience be there to appreciate the music or simply to be stimulated and react accordingly? I doubt how many teenagers were sure of what was gong on when Mirage and Fusion were playing, which brings me to the Rock Appreciation Society and what it stands for. Briefly, this society is aimed at instilling a sense of feeling, acquaintance and knowledge for rock, be it symphonic, ska, blues, punk and all other forms and labels. It is there to shun the rotten conservative 60’s idea that Rock Music is a blasphemy. Mentioning abuses in sex and language, one must point out that these always cropped up during this century, be it in films or in the back rooms of some Chicago swing club. It may be that Lydon and others gave us a full cornucopia of swearwords lately, but then one must not forget Dylan’s relish for God and Lennon’s doing away with drugs. Rock itself is an art which borrows from many other fields of music – African, Jazz etc. Indeed, this is rock’s enhancing characteristic. One must feel disappointed at the lack of sponsors which reflects the lack of interest shown by many local firms – only (a local record shop) gave a helping hand and one must not forget Philip Pace’s and Araxis had work on the Alp lights system. It is also noteworthy that Andrew Farrugia and Benny Hili deposited LM450 to cover the use of the hall and the sound systems as well as other factors and costs. The three groups were tired, battered, hungry and worn out, but at least it was their own show in which they did all the dirty work involved in the preparation.


Their very own fumbles could best be forgiven if the society would be unified enough to promote other groups like Flash, as well as getting adequate sound system. A 2000W, 16 channel PA would be enough for Maltese groups. Applications for membership should be sent to PO Box 2, Gzira.


I have found some more info on the Rock Appreciation Society in the printed press during 1982 but sadly that was about it. Thus came to a close the short episode of trying to bring supposedly like-minded people together.............a most noble cause turned out to be a failed exercise in the art of herding cats. But something good might have grown out of this first attempt. The second and more successful chapter of this venture was written by Rokarja, a private-public partnership, set up mainly to represent and organise concerts for bands that were based at Tigne.............’nuff said for today, will be for my next rant.


PS. Opinions expressed in my rants are completely personal and might not reflect the opinion of melodija.eu.


References:

Times of Malta, August 4, 1981. Page 13.

Times of Malta, September 7, 1981. Page 7.

Times of Malta, October 8, 1981. Page 9.

Valdacry photo property of Charles Fenech

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3 Comments


Guest
Mar 10, 2023

This is a really interesting article, as specially for those who like myself, joined the metal/rock/punk scene later in the early 00s. Well done Keith, and I look forward in reading such intriguing and mind blowing articles 🤘😁

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Nicely done!!!

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Well done Keith! Really cool & interesting! Looking forward to read the next \m/

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