When you think of Tigne what first springs to mind? Luxury apartments? Swanky shops? A ‘concrete jungle’ perhaps?
Just a few generations ago it was a different scene altogether. The town core itself was quiet, Tigne was known as a small, sleepy residential area of Sliema, but left uninhabited and abandoned closer to the shore stood the old British Army Barracks, which from the late seventies took on a new lease of life for music lovers from all across the islands.
Local punk, rock and metal bands began to take up practice rooms in the old barracks, which, at the time was managed by Phillip Pace, who coined the space ‘Rockarja’. Soon enough the music loving youth of the time began to congregate in the area, using it as a place to meet and hang out with other like minded people, make new friends, put on gigs and support the local talent.
“It was a special place.” says Sonya Tanti, who, although not a band member, was one of the rock chicks at the forefront of the scene. She now runs a Facebook group along with ex CHI-2 and Davy Jones band member Joseph Paris, which documents the movement.
“Joe and I were reminiscing one evening and decided to start the group.” She tells Lovin Malta. “As soon as we launched it in 2012 we had an outpouring of support and emotion. There were people that got in contact telling us they were commenting through tears. Most of the photos on the group hadn’t been seen in more than thirty years. We soon started getting membership from younger members, who wanted to know more about what went on.”
The rooms themselves were in dire straits, after being untouched since they became defunct as an army base, but the thickness of the limestone walls meant they were ideal for making noise.
“The rooms were humid, and some even had a sort of ‘waterfall’ trickling from the ceiling. The band members would put up cardboard boxes against the walls to make them look better and cover up the humidity damage, and stick egg boxes up for better sound quality in the rooms.
We didn’t bother anyone. At the time there were a lot of Chinese people who used to live there, as they worked at the dockyards. They were a friendly bunch who could only say ‘hello’ in English and would wave when we walked by.”
“My friends and I didn’t know anyone when we first turned up. We had heard about it and went down there. We knocked on the door of one of the practice rooms and just sat there and watched them play, and from then on we knew we’d found our place.
The bands on the scene were varied, from metal to new wave to experimental jazz and electronic bands. Girls were a big part of the scene, definitely. The lead singer of Overdose was a woman, Miriam. She’s passed away now sadly.”
“There were gigs in the old Chapel in Tigne, and open air concerts. With international names too, the band Nazareth played at a two day rock festival. Of course, everyone dreamed of making it big, but it was all just done from the heart. The bands performed out of their love for music, it was never about the money. They just wanted to rock.”
When asked about the styles of the times Sonya reminisced fondly.
“We wore jeans, especially ripped jeans- they were our thing. We didn’t have as much choice in clothes like nowadays, so people would customise their clothes themselves, with bleach, spraypaint and stencils, by cutting off the sleeves of tshirts…
We all wore stud belts and wristbands. It was hard to find the black band t-shirts that we all wanted. There was a shop in Paceville that did heat press printing. So we’d buy the t-shirts and choose from their selection of sticker transfers to go on the t-shirts. We’d go to Exotique or D’Amato for band patches for our leather jackets. Some people would get their mums or girlfriends to make their clothes. I would choose fabric that I liked and get my mum to sew me up an outfit. It was like that, it was all very personal and we were all very expressive with our personal style.”
The “rock village” went on all throughout the eighties, until the bands started being pressured to leave.
“It was around the time that (development group) MIDI started talking about planning for the area. The mood changed and suddenly kids started robbing the studios and some were suspiciously set on fire. We left with heavy hearts, definitely. It was the end of an era. We were sad about it at the time and we’re still sad about it now. I’ve never been to The Point and when I drive past Tigne I turn my head. Many people got jobs, got married and had kids, but music is still in their hearts. Some are still on the music circuit playing shows.”
When asked what her thoughts are on the recent closing of Cocunut Grove in Paceville, Sonya looks pensive.
“Paceville is no place for our generation anymore. Coconut had a long running legacy and the owners are getting older, they’re tired. You’ve got to put it in perspective, a lot of Paceville goers are students, they don’t have that much money for spending on drinks. That was the last remaining rock bar in Paceville. There are some places that play our music, biker clubs, rock bars…all of them are out of Paceville though.
We’d love to see something similar to Tigne Rock Village being created. A space for all artistic people, with practice rooms, shops, a music venue…a sort of ‘creative village’. We’ve proposed the idea to a member of parliament who showed interest at the time and listened to us in the meeting we set up but we’ve seen nothing come of it.
We’ve had two reunions at The Black Pearl, with live bands. Wherever we are we have to have live music! ”
It’s clear to see that Sonya is a real advocate for the importance of music spaces and venues and keeping the legacy of Tigne Rock Village alive.
“We have younger people in the group who tell us that they wish they were around in our times, that they were born earlier. It’s great to see such an interest in the group from younger generations.
At a time where it was all about politics, fights and riots, Tigne was our refuge. We could escape all that there. All we can do is share our stories, scan our photos to keep the memory of Tigne alive. Without talking about it and reminiscing, it would just be forgotten. The memory of what was so close to our hearts would die.”
Find out more about ‘Tigne’s Rockin Past’ by following the group page on Facebook: ‘Tigne Barracks “Rock Village 80’s” That’s where it all started’.
40 Years Of Punk-Ft. Abstrass and Rage Against Society will be held this Friday 14th October at The Funky Monkey, Manoel Island.