Joe Grech

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Joe Grech in Malta 2005.

Joseph (Joe) Grech, a Maltese singer, was born in Cospicua, Malta on 9 February 1934. He is best known for introducing Maltese language singing to an international audience, especially through his participation in Eurovision Song Contest 1971, the first appearance from Malta on this pan-European television event.

Early years[edit]

At a very early stage in his life, Joe started to play the trumpet with the Zejtun Band Club. However, he soon switched to singing.

He was the first singer to win the first Malta Song Festival in 1960, a festival which was organized by the Żgħażagħ Ħaddiema Nsara, the local section of the Young Christian Workers. The festival was held at the Radio City Opera House in Hamrun, Malta. Ten songs were presented in the semi final of Thursday 3 November and another ten songs on the semi-final of Friday 4 November. Out of these twenty songs, ten made it to the final night of Saturday 5 November 1960. The Winning Song was Joe Grech's own composition "Vola Uccellino".[1]

The festival was also transmitted on Rediffusion Malta, then a cable radio service provider in Malta since September 1935.[2] Victor Aquilina and Marlene Lauri were the comperes of this festival. Two orchestras conducted by Prof. Giorlando Valente and Mro. Dominic Vella respectively, accompanied the ten songs. Eight of these songs were sung in Italian, one in English and one in Maltese, the latter being "L-Għada tal-Festa Ma' Vitorin". This song was sung by Frans Fenech and Terry L. Bencini. Incidentally Terry was also awarded the Best Singer Trophy of this festival.

Again in 1962 Joe was classified as the winner of the Malta Song Festival with the song "Żgħażagħ Rebbieħa" written and composed by Ivo Galea B.A. Hons L.P. This was also interpreted by Carmen Schembri, later Gusman. Carmelo Abela was responsible for the orchestration.

Joe married Josephine née' Buttigieg on 24 September 1961. They have a daughter Marcelle, also a versatile singer.

In 1965, the "Impresa Valente" chose Joe Grech to represent Malta in the Italian Festival of Martina Franca. Another Maltese singer, Tony Agius, also participated in this festival. In those days, it was very rare for a Maltese singer to participate in an Italian festival, let alone win a trophy as the Best Foreign Singer of this Italian festival. The then Italian High Commissioner of Italy for Malta, Signor Antonio Spada, presented a trophy to Joe Grech [3]

In 1967, Joe managed to establish himself as one of Malta's most popular pop singers. His 45 rpm entitled " Il- Kaċċatur", The Hunter, published on Maltadisk APL 1005 B, and recorded by Audiovision Productions,[4] with their studios then located in Zachary Street, Valletta, and now at Mile End in Hamrun, started selling like pastizzi (cheese-cakes) in Malta. It also made a tremendous success in countries where the Maltese and the Gozitans had a diaspora, especially Australia. "Il-Kaċċatur" was composed by Mro. Joseph Ciappara with lyrics by Dr. George Zammit. Incidentally "Il-Kaċċatur" was designated as the "B" side of the record, with Carmen Schembri singing "L-Għanja tal-Emigranti", The Emigrants' Song, being the "A" side. This success prompted Audiovision Productions to issue another follow-up record for Joe still as a "B" side entitled entitled "Il-Festa Taghna", (Our Feast). This was another composition by Mro. Joseph Ciappara with lyrics by J.B.Cassar.(Maltadisk APL 1006). Joe's first "A" side was entitled "Ku Klu Ku Klu" (Cock-a doodle-doo) with lyrics by Albert M. Cassola and music by F.X. Pisani.(Maltadisk APL 1007). In 1968 two other "A" sides were published  : "Il-Lejl Tal-Vitorja" (8 September Night) (Maltadsik APL 1015) and "Nhar San Girgor" (St.Gregory's Day) (Maltadisk APL 1016). The lyrics of these two songs were written by Dr. George Zammit whilst Mro. Guzeppi Ciappara composed the music. In those days, in Malta it was a landmark for a Maltese singer to record four consecutive 45 rpm in less than two years. These records continued to increase the popularity of Joe Grech both in Malta and in the Maltese diaspora. In these four recordings Joe Grech was always accompanied by the orchestra of Mro. Spiro Zammit.

Again in 1967, Rediffusion Malta, published the first 33 RPM long playing album of Maltese compositions, entitled "Malta Song Festival 1967". Joe Grech, together with Mary Rose Darmanin, won this festival with the song "Serenata". Roger Moore was the guest of honour in this 8th. Malta Song Festival, which was also held at the Radio City Opera House in Hamrun on Saturday 8th. December 1967.[5] In this same festival, Joe Grech sang also "O Carina Madalena". The song was composed by Arthur Desira. It is included as the 2nd track on Side 1 of this album. Joe Grima and Victor Aquilina, then Head of Programmes and Assistant Head of Programmes respectively of Rediffusion Malta, were the producers of this first 33 rpm of Maltese songs.

The 1970s[edit]

On 3 April 1971, Joe was the first Maltese singer to represent Malta in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song "Marija l-Maltija" on YouTube. Since it was sung in the Maltese language, this rendered it the first Eurovision song which was sung in a Semitic language. The song was composed by Joe Grech himself, and the lyrics were written by Charles Mifsud. The orchestra of the Eurovision Song Contest was conducted by Mro. Twanny Chircop, the brother of another Maltese tenor and film star Oreste Kirkop of The Vagabond King (1956 film). Incidentally it was Oreste Kirkop who presented the winning trophy to Joe Grech on the night of that first 1960 Malta Song Festival. The song "Marija l-Maltija" was translated into Swedish and was included in the repertoire of the Swedish singer Lasse Berghagen.

In the 1970s, Joe successfully toured the London, Scottish and Irish circuits. He also had many successful tours in Canada, America, Italy and Australia. It was during one of these tours that Joe Grech, under the management of Joe Stafrace, recorded a Long Playing Album "Sahha Malta With Joe Grech". The orchestra on this LP was composed mostly of members of the Sydney Opera House orchestra, under the direction of Joe Paparone.[6] The song "Evviva l-Maltin" was composed by Joe himself, specifically for his Australian tour and was dedicated to the several thousands of Maltese living down under. In 1976, Joe performed at the Royal Ballroom of Melbourne, and on 12 March 1977, Joe gave a spectacular show at the Sydney Opera House.[7] Also in 1977 W&G Records published an extended play featuring Joe's daughter Marcelle accompanied by a narration from the voice of the legendary Maltese broadcaster Charles Abela Mizzi, together with another single sung by Joe and Marcelle.

Incidentally the record "Sahha Malta" was first issued in the early seventies as the "B" side to "Is-Sajjied". The single was published by "Anthony D'Amato" of Valletta. Joe was accompanied on this record by his own Group, made up of Edward Briffa on the Accordion, John Guffrey and Tony Pace on the guitars and a certain George on the drums. The recording was made at the studios of Malta Television. Later on these two songs were also included on a Long Playing Album compilation issued also by Anthony D'Amato, entitled Souvenir Of Malta Vol 1 ( ADLS 8001).

Tracks of the Long Playing Album "Sahha Malta with Joe Grech":

Side 1

  • Welcome To Malta
  • In-Nassab
  • Marija l-Maltija
  • Surriento
  • Godfather
  • Ghada Tkun Tieghi

Side 2

  • Evviva L-Maltin
  • Another Time Another Place
  • Xalata Bil-Karrozzin
  • Is-Sajjied
  • Viva La Spagna
  • Sahha Malta

Musical arrangements: Joe Paparone. Distributed by : M & G Record Co, Melbourne.

The New Millenium & The Cross Of Merit[edit]

In the year 2000, Joe published a CD entitled " Katarin, Joe Grech Marcelle & Philip." Arranged and produced by Mro. Joe Brown, the CD contains 15 tracks all sung in the Maltese language.

Joe Grech's generosity and charitable character were brought to the attention of the Knights Hospitaller also known as Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of the Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, Order Of St.John, Knights of Malta and Chevaliers of Malta. In 2002, the Order awarded him the Cross of Merit.[citation needed]

Joe is the brother of religious philanthropist and veteran broadcaster Mons. Victor Grech, one of the founders of Caritas (charity) Malta.

References[edit]

  1. ^ The GO Eurosong 2010, PBS TVM Souvenir Brochure, "The First Malta Song Festival 1960" by Tony Micallef
  2. ^ Remig Sacco, 'Ix-Xandir f'Malta', Malta 1985, page 19
  3. ^ It-Torca, 9 May 1965
  4. ^ http://www.apl.com.mt/
  5. ^ Times Of Malta,11 December 1967
  6. ^ http://www.musicarrangers.com/jp/
  7. ^ Times Of Malta, 23 March 1977 Page 13
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
None
(first time entry)
Malta in the Eurovision Song Contest
1971
Succeeded by
Helen & Joseph
with "L-imħabba"