Mel Williams has performed all over the world. :: SUR
For many, living in a quiet inland town like Álora after a long and hectic career would be the ideal way of spending a peaceful retirement. For rock and roll singer and musician Mel Williams, the whitewashed Andalusian town has been home for 25 years, but after a professional music career spanning six decades, there’s still no sign of him slowing down to a quiet retirement just yet.
Having formed a skiffle group at the age of 14, Mel first appeared on television in 1959 but it wasn’t until two years later that he formed a band with his brother and left England to tour cabaret venues in Beirut, Cairo, Baghdad and cities across Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Greece and Israel, before taking his rock and roll music show to Paris and back to the UK. “In 1961 I was singing ‘Johnnie be good’ in Lebanon and I’m singing the same song in La Cala next week,” jokes Mel.
After four years working in Buenos Aires in Argentina and various summer seasons working in the UK and the USA, Mel was commissioned to write the music for a touring musical called ‘The Yogi Bear Show’. He jokes “During those years I worked with The Rolling Stones, Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Engelbert Humperdink, Bill Haley and many others. I even played at the Star Club in Hamburg, which is where a lot of those people went and then became famous, whereas I became nearly famous!”
Mel came to live in Spain in 1974 when he applied for the job of Entertainments Manager at Pontin’s in Torremolinos, before moving to the newly opened Holiday Club Pontinental in Cancelada. “I spoke French, Spanish, fair Italian, some Dutch and I had been out with a few girls from Germany too, so I could get by in German! He added that although the Spanish loved rock and roll, hotels and bars were restricted to playing classical music at certain times of the year, such as Easter. The Spanish loved rock and roll and knew how to dance to it, although only the songs allowed by the Franco regime.”
Driving between Cancelada and Malaga airport was very different forty years ago during the early days of package holidays. “There was only one road and it was single carriageway in each direction, so it only took one car to break down somewhere along the route and the delays could last for hours,” says Mel.
All through the seventies and eighties Mel continued to entertain tourists and residents, setting up his own club in Puerto Banús followed by ‘Mel’s Beach’ and then Banana Beach where thousands of Sunday afternoon revellers would be entertained by Mel and famous guest acts.
“The eighties were a boom time. You would see celebrities and film stars all along the coast and the infrastructure started to change, even in towns like Álora.
Mel moved inland in 1989. “I was still working on the coast six or seven nights a week in all the madness of Puerto Banús, living the rock and roll lifestyle but at home I integrated into the quiet Spanish community in Álora. Our children were born here and went to the local school and I was known by people in the town at the time as ‘Don Guiri’.
Shortly after moving to his rural farmhouse, Mel and his wife found themselves cut off when a river flooded and surrounded their home with water for ten days. “The house is between 300 and 400 years old and had no water or electricity when we bought it but when the flood happened we found out why it had been built on high ground,” remembers Mel.
Throughout his time in Spain Mel has continued to write, perform and record his own music. “I wrote a musical about pirates that was performed on a stage built into the sea at Fuengirola.” The show eventually went to the Caribbean and Mel had a chance to work in the Virgin Islands.
More recently his work took him to San Tropez in May of this year, Croatia earlier this summer and in September he will be performing in Austria.
“I have had lots of success as far as a career goes but only had a couple of hit records. I even wrote an autobiography called ‘Nearly famous’, which is quite apt,” says Mel, who took part alongside Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and other musical legends in a memorial concert for his childhood idol, fellow skiffle musician and in later years, best friend, Lonnie Donegan.
Despite his past globe-trotting, working with the stars and his continuing overseas work, Mel still enjoys his home in Spain. “I’ve always loved the food here, the climate and above all, the Spanish people,” he says.