Monday, 24 March 2014
SUN, SAND AND KARAOKE
Since the early days in Marbella I always enjoyed Sundays, still do, at first we used to hang out at Victors Beach, at the time
Mel Williams a long time resident of Marbella and simply know as the ‘Boss’ when it came to music, his Sunday Sessions were always packed with the Marbella ‘faces’ and visiting celebrities. Each Sunday there was always a well known celebrity or two joining Mel on stage, names like Joe Cocker, Phil Lynott (I arranged that) 60’s iconic groups like Marmalade, Brian Pool, The Merseybeats and Freddie and the Dreamers in fact any visiting musical celebrity to Marbella would end up on stage at Mels. I loved this concept and put at the back of my mind in case an opportunity should ever arise for me to duplicate it.
It was one afternoon I was having a coffee with Beaky when I suggested that they should consider putting on Sunday afternoon beach concerts to capitalise on the success Mel was having. Beaky loved the idea and ask me if I could stage manage the event and find a location for the sessions. I remember driving home thinking; here I am from Mandy Smith To Dame Shirley Bassey and now Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, made me smile. The band were not only brilliant musicians but also had outstanding stage presence, I honestly felt they would be a huge success on the Sunday sessions. I was excited, now all I needed to find was a beach that would agree to partner me and the band on Sundays.
Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich on stage at their first sell out Sunday beach session. Looks like they were mobbed by a female fan.
I remembered that there was a very nice beach not far from where I lived at the time and I knew it also to be very quiet, so I drove down to see if they might be interested in my idea of duplicating Mels beach success. Luckily the owner, who also owned a well know restaurant in the old town in Marbella, knew me and had seen the band so he was up for giving it a go. The date was set, posters were designed, the stage built and sound equipment arranged. One little problem I had was to get the boys out of bed as they had been up until 4am playing in their bar! Finally after kicking each one of them out and into the van we arrived at the beach we couldn’t believe our eyes, we were greeted by literally hundreds of people eating, drinking and generally enjoying themselves waiting for these four famous 60's icons to take to the stage.
(Photo: Sunday crowed enjoying the band. In the middle Paul Henry who played Benny in the TV soap Crossroads)
Mike the owner did a terrific job transforming his beach for the Sunday session, adding dozens of tables with sun covers shading them from the heat of the afternoon sun. He had built a large stage which was also shaded from the sun and flags everywhere. The boys were greeted with large cheers as they played each one of their hits as the sand in front of the stage was full of couples dancing and cheering. It was a tremendous success and amazing atmosphere that lasted well into the evening! The Sunday beach shows took off like a rocket. I decided to add another band to the session It was headed up by
The Sunday sessions continued with great success throughout the summer season. The band tired of getting up so early and decided to call it a day. I also felt it had run it’s course. As they say ‘It was fun when it lasted’.
One afternoon I got a call from a gentleman called Jimmy Howson who invited me for a coffee in Estepona Port saying that he had an idea that he felt that I might be interested in. He explained that he was playing a round of golf with a group of friends when he inquired if any of his them knew someone living on the Costa who was in the entertainment business. My name came up and hence the coffee date. He asked if I had ever heard of Karaoke. I told him honestly I hadn't and asked was it some kind of martial arts? He explained that someone would get up and sing to a backing track with the words on a TV screen and that the craze, which started in Japan, was spreading like wildfire throughout UK and the US. I hated the idea and told him so, a load of drunks singing 'My Way.' I thought, do me a favour! How wrong I was! In the end I agreed to give it a go. What I didn’t tell Jimmy was that; .1. I couldn’t sing and .2. I was dyslexic, so singing and reading were out, two important points I felt to host a Karaoke show.
I can’t remember how or why but I ended up persuading a gentleman called Graham to give it a go in his Christopher Columbus Bar in Estepona Port. From the very first night it was packed, it seemed everyone else in Spain had heard of the Karaoke phenomenon but me! So successful was that first night that we agreed with Graham to return every Tuesday. Word started to spread about the arrival of Karaoke in this Estepona bar, which in turn saw people travelling from all over the Costa and Gibraltar, Jimmy was correct this was a phenomena and Laurie Scott popularity certainly helped to pack the bar every Tuesday evening.
One Tuesday morning I got a call that was to make a great change in my life, it was from Laurie Scott to say that he couldn't host the show at the Christopher Columbus that night as he was tied up with the moving the Onda Cero studios into a new building. I was far from happy that he had left it this late to let me know. What was I going to do with approx seven hours to find a replacement! Jimmy’s reaction was to not panic ; "You can do it" He suggested. " Who ME! Are you crazy? I can’t sing, I can't read!" I exclaimed “No way Jose! Not a chance, never, end of!” I told him. I made a few phone calls looking for someone else to host the show but to no avail. Jimmy made a reality check; “It's either you or we call Graham and cancel, but make up your mind.”
I would have loved to have been the lead singer when I was in the band but I had no voice so I took up drumming. Faced with the fact it was now lunch time and the show was scheduled for that evening, myself, Jimmy and Jimmy’s wife Carol started to rehears with all of us trying to find at least one song that I could sing in tune! It took many disastrous attempts until eventually we settled for Sugar Sugar by the Archie's to open the show, it wasn’t great but it was the best I could do.
When we arrived at the venue we explained to Graham that Laurie couldn't make it but I would try and of course we wouldn’t charge him if he didn’t like it. He wasn't very happy to say the least but it was now too late to cancel, the place was already heaving. I spent at least 10 minutes in the toilet panicking, too nervous to come out. Eventually I took to the stage and what ever happened during that evening the crowds loved it, I covered up my tuneless performance by winding up most of the poor unsuspecting singers by dismantling their performances. Whilst a lot of the hopeful 'superstars of the future' weren’t to happy with me the audiences loved it.. Thankfully Graham also loved it and insisted in not only paying the full fee but with a proviso he wanted ME back instead of Laurie every Tuesday! This was a very unexpected turn of events but secretly I was delighted, at last 40 years old and I was accept as a live performer of sorts. As word got out about the success of the Christopher Columbus shows and the mad Irish presenter more venues along the Costa started to book us.
One day whilst driving passed a large stand alone restaurant called Dragon D'Ora that had a small lean-to bar attached called the Roadrunner I decided to call in to see if I could do a deal for Wednesday nights, now the only night we had free during the week. Luckily the owner, a bigger than life Belgian called Rudy was working in the office. I introduced myself and tried to sell him the idea of putting me on, on Wednesdays, he had never heard of Karaoke but said he would give it a go
The first Wednesday was a disaster hardly anyone turned up and I went home with just 6 Euros!! Rudy decided to add a Chinese buffet to Wednesday nights to help boost the turnover, which was supplied by his restaurant next door,. It worked and the nights started to gain popularity. One noticeable difference between Rudy's and other venues I was playing was the clientele they were pulling up in top end Mercs, Range Rovers , Jaguars etc It was because the price for the evening was a lot more expensive, obviously being a dinner show, than other venues , mostly bars I was performing in at the time. Within a few months there were queues waiting to get into the show with tables been booked weeks in advance. I was loving every second of what was happening. The shows were in huge demand and there was hardly a night I wasn't on stage in one venue or an other.
I hardly slept all that week. I had made the decision, because of the size of the venue, to change the total look of my show,
Finally the Wednesday arrived and I made my way towards the now enlarged venue and to tell you the truth I was very nervous, new show, huge venue, would anyone turn up? As my car approached I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; queues of cars parked all the way down the road leading to the show. I remember thinking someone must be having a very large party in one of the large neighbouring houses, not for a moment did I believe it was for my show. As I arrived in the car park I noticed the newly erected a large lit up sign with my photo on it announcing the show and the throngs of people making their way into the venue!! I simply couldn't believe it! I quickly realised that Rudy had actually pulled it off, perhaps a couple of hundred packed into the restaurant for dinner and the bar knee deep with people hoping for the chance to get a table!!. By 10 o'clock I was back stage changed, ready and extremely nervous, all I could think was; 'what if they don't like my show, what if they don't like the new enlarged venue, this will be it, the end !!!.
I had rehearsed all week with the dancers the opening of the show which included my opening number Achy Break Heart by Billy Ray Cyrus. The lighting and sound were outstanding. The crowed loved it. The atmosphere was electric. I loved it, it was like a dream come true. Rudy's became THE place to be on a Wednesday night from that day on. Many celebrates began to turn up whilst visiting Marbella to get up on stage and join me, They included Lionel Blare, comedian Faith Brown, Bonnie Langford, Mike McCartney (Paul's younger brother), Peter Stringfellow even Eric Morcambe's widow and many famous footballers and show biz celebs would turn up on a Wednesday at Rudy's.
From left to right: Kenny Lynch, Bonnie Langford, Mike McCartney (Paul's younger brother) Lionel Blair.
The Wednesday’s at Rudy’s continued to sell out every week, I was having a ball but felt I needed more to do than just one show a week. Back in my days in Ireland I used to love attending furniture occasion held at Adams showroom in Blackrock, somehow I always left owning something I didn’t really mean to buy! I realised that’s how these auctions work, you quickly get caught up by the occasion. I always enjoyed the banter from the auctioneer and it must have stayed in the back of my mind as I pulled into the car park in front of a large empty store on the Golden Mile. Although it was empty and there was no sign indicating it was for sale or rent, I started to get excited, was perfect, I would open Marbella’s first furniture auction showroom right here, all I had to do was to find the owner and negotiate a deal.
It didn’t take long for me to find out it was owned by Sheik Mohammed Ashmawi one of Marbella’s wealthiest residents.
I drove immediately to the showroom where I met Jimmy. The first thing that struck us was sheer size of the premises, it was huge we wandered to the very back and to our surprise it was full of brand new furniture, most of it still in corrugated cardboard wrapping. It must have been left over from the original furniture store when Sheik Mohammad bought the premises.
Rudys was still packing them in every Wednesday. I came up with the idea to run a singing competition in two parts and called The Entertainer of the Year Show. Please note this was well befor X Factors or Pop Idol's etc. The entre ages were from 10 to 14 and 15 upwards. During the day of the show I invited the younger participants into Rudy’s to rehearse in the morning. One of the entries was a young girl called Anna Petrovic the daughter of Yugoslavian Bob Petrovic. I immediately thought Bob was a poor refugee as he wore torn jeans (They were in fact very expensive Versace jeans but id never known them at that time) and a leather type cap. He had shoulder length hair and generally looked very scruffy. Little was I to know this man was about to change my life again.
To be continued.......