A History of the Chipulina Family
Los Romanceros - Gallinita Blanca

1956 The following year I decided to take guitar lessons. Several evenings a week I would trot down to a barber's shop near Irish town accompanied by my friend Lewis Hathaway. There, while el barbero attended to his customers, we would review and play whatever we had been asked to learn from the previous lesson. As rank beginners with little talent for tuning the thing let alone playing it, our music must have been appalling. It was a miracle that the poor fellow had any business left at all.

Nevertheless we persisted and were soon able to strum three consecutive chords without making too many mistakes. It was time to form a guitar playing group with three of our friends, Luis Bruzon, José Ochello and his wife Elsie. Apart from Luis, none of us knew any music and our repertoire was extremely limited. The tunes we played were unoriginal and were copied slavishly from the records of well known artists such as Los Paraguayos, Los Indios, and Los Panchos. We called ourselves Los Romanceros.

Trio Los Paraguayos. We loved all the tunes on this long play record.

Los Romanceros.From the left : Luis Bruzon, Elsie Ochello, José Ochello, me and Lewis Hathaway.

The  photograph above was supposed to be our ‘professional’ one although I don’t think we ever used it as such.The ponchos were brand new as were our tuxedos. I am playing my old flamenco guitar. The group bought me my requinto not long after the photo was taken. Despite all these drawbacks the group became rather popular in Gibraltar. Perhaps it was the rather unusual but probably quite effective use of the double-bass accompaniment played by Luis. Or perhaps it was the sheer vitality of the group that communicated itself to the audience. Ignorant of our considerable limitations we probably thought we were much better than we were: whatever the reason we were soon in great demand. Even the Governor saw fit to invite us on a couple of occasions to play for some visiting V.I.P or other.

We were also once asked to play on board a Dutch warship, a cruiser called the De Ruyter that was on a courtesy visit to Gibraltar. It was an 'officers and their ladies' affair but they were extremely hospitable and plied us with Orangeboom, a well known Dutch lager which was new to us at the time.

Our home base was a restaurant called El Sombrero owned by a friend of ours called Carlos Lagares. It was an appropriate local as our songs were mostly Latin American. The restaurant owner was an unrepentant romantic and an out and out womaniser. After closing hours he would often stay behind with several carefully chosen customers. The group invariably included one or two good looking women whose eyes he would look soulfully into as we played some of our more romantic numbers.

El Sombrero. This was the ‘home territory’ for Los Romanceros.

The Romanceros also had several members who fancied themselves with the fairer sex and there were times when the various affairs and relationships reached such a level of complexity that farce took over and it was difficult to concentrate on the guitar playing.

Photo taken at HMS Rooke, the naval shore base in Gibraltar. The Romanceros are relaxing after a gig. We had been invited to play there by various WREN friends. Jose and Elsie Ochello are centre stage. I am on the far right and Lewis Hathaway is just behind me. Louis Bruzon was probably the photographer. I went out with the dark haired girl on the far left. Her name was Gill. The two girls sitting to the right of Lewis were also his girlfriends at one time or another.

The Romanceros soon extended their range and during the summer we often played in different night clubs and bars in the Costa del Sol. A favourite was the Jacaranda in Marbella, a town which at the time, almost unbelievably had only one hotel, El Pez de Espada. It was an era in which Sweden had just discovered the Costa. There were often so many of them in the Jacaranda that I actually went to the Swedish Consul in Gibraltar and had him write out phonetically a Swedish introduction to our show.
'God afton, mina damer och herrar, vi är mycket glada att sjunga fõr er idag och börjar vårt program med en Mexicansk melodi som heter, El Reloj.'
Or something that sounded like that. The group then decided it was time to buy me a new guitar. They splashed out and ordered a hand-made requinto from Ramirez, a renown guitar maker from Madrid who was reputed to make guitars for people like Segovia and, more importantly, for the lead guitarist of Los Panchos. It was the second item we purchased from the cash we saved as a group. The first was, or were, the evening dresses which we subsequently wore with a poncho thrown over one shoulder. It was an idea copied from some contemporary Latin American group. The overall effect was utterly camp.

The requinto, incidentally, was irreparably damaged when it fell off a wall in a London flat many years later. It had proved a really wonderful guitar and had cost the group the peseta equivalent of 100 pounds, a princely sum in those days.

My Requinto The guitar was smaller than an ordinary classical guitar. The highest string was tuned to D or re in Spanish hence the name.

Eventually the group made it to the 'big time'. We were invited to play on a late night show sponsored by Gallinita Blanca on Madrid Radio. Although this may sound ridiculous it was in fact quite an honour. The show was one of these hour long affairs in which anybody 'famous' who happened to be in town at the time was invited to take part. It boasted a full symphony orchestra and was done live in a theatre in front of a huge studio audience.

To name but a few well know participants, Frank Sinatra had been on a few days previously and on the night the Romanceros were scheduled to play they were preceded by Lucho Gattica, who was one of the best known Latin American singers at the time. The great Real Madrid soccer player Alfredo Distefano had also been on that week and Hollywood film stars such as Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, and Lana Turner were frequent visitors.

New publicity photograph of Los Romanceros. Luis Bruzon is missing so I suppose he took the photograph. We are all showing off our newly made-to-measure clothes.

The afternoon just before the show we were required to play in front of the programme controllers, presumably to test for sound quality, timing and so on. It was a full dress rehearsal. Even Lucho and his 30 piece band were there. When it came to the turn of the Romanceros there was a respectful silence and we launched into one of our more lively numbers. All of a sudden there was an almighty bang. The strut which held the strings on the double-bass had given way under the strain. The respectful silence now turned into one of stunned disbelief. We could almost read their thoughts. Were these idiots actually going to play live on radio?

Then came the big moment itself: we knew that half of Gibraltar was listening in. Well at least half our families anyway. For reasons now lost in the mists of time we had decided to start our programme with what was technically our most difficult number. It began with a duet of two guitars playing the melody in harmony. When the controller finally gave us the signal to start my smile turned into a rictus of horror as I saw José's trembling fingers searching in vain for the right fret. Our programme thus began with a certain originality as I was forced to play the very unmelodious second voice of the duet as a solo.

Surprisingly, on the strength of our appearance on this show we were invited to play on Spanish Television. This, incidentally was not considered as much of an honour as being asked to play on the Radio show. Television sets were few and far between in Spain at the time. They were practically non-existent in Gibraltar.

Los Romanceros on Spanish Television. I wonder who actually saw us on TV. There was no television in Gibraltar at the time and very few people owned sets in Spain

When we returned to the Rock a business friend of ours organized a special show in the Theatre Royal to cash in on our popularity. Another group called Los Trovadores who were great rivals as well as good friends, were invited to add some spice to the proceedings. Unlike us, they were good musicians and their arrangements were often quite original. Their signature tune was a plegaria called Virgen de Europa which they had written themselves.

'Virgen de Guadalupe'
En México te suelen llamar.
Pero aqui en nuestra tierra
Eres Virgen del lugar.

Patroncita de Europa,
Virgencita de Gibraltar.
A tus pies arrodillado,
Te venimos a implorar. '

We filled the house and the show was a great success.

Luis Bruzon and I. The dark area behind the pedestrians is the entry to a night club called La Venta which we often went to. It looks a bit early for clubbing so I am not sure what we were doing there at the time.

Los Romanceros giving their all at a Calpe Rowing Club Christmas dance Note patriotic photos on the club wall.

Meanwhile Baba was trying to get as far away from it all as possible. She was off on a one year course on Home Economics, which in those days was called Domestic Science. It had once been known as Cooking. She had applied for the course some time previously and was now pleased to find herself at Seaford College in Sussex near Seven Sisters.

Later she confided that the best part of the course had been the lab practicals, all of which, of course, had little or no relevance to what she would teach her pupils when she returned to Gibraltar. It was a pleasant change and she made a number of friends. One in particular, Beryl, she kept in touch with over the years sharing the occasional holiday.

The Mons Calpe. This was the local ferry boat to Tangier at that tme.