When/Why did you come to Valencia?
I came to Valencia in 1995 when I was in my mid-twenties. I remember telling my then English girlfriend that I was going to eventually travel to Spain with a guitar in hand and she was welcome to come along too.
She was dark-haired, brown eyed and of a passionate nature and was intrigued with the idea. I was drawn to the mysterious sounds of flamenco music and I had heard that the weather was good in the South of Spain too. She bought me a flamenco cassette by an excellent Spanish guitarist called Juan Martín as a present that Christmas, which I still have. We later broke up as a couple but, a few years later, that wish to move to Spain came true and I arrived here on my own.
In my family tree, it says that the McCarthy clan originally came to Ireland from Galicia in Spain around 3000 B.C… Talk about deep roots!
I fancied living somewhere that was really Spanish but not too hectic, I wanted to avoid Madrid and Barcelona. So, my choices were Valencia, Granada or Seville. Culturally & historically, they struck me as interesting cities that were not too large. I chose Valencia in the end because I also had some expat contacts here. These included a London friend, Becky, who was living in Javea on the coast.
She had taken the ferry from Southampton to Bilbao and then cycled down all the way to the Valencia region that same summer. So, Javea was my base for a couple of weeks and I had a couple of teaching contacts in the city of Valencia from TEFL and University days called Andy and Lucia (Andalucia!). I got a teaching job at Lenguas Vivas academy in the city of Valencia.
I actually spent my first night in Spain sleeping upright in the reception of Javea police station! This was because neither I nor the taxi driver nor the police with torches could find Becky’s chalet and it was very late at night.
I had the correct address but the street numbers and chalet names didn’t quite all match up and didn’t really make any sense in the pitch black of night. Spain is indeed different! This is in the days before mobile phones really took off. Becky’s place in Javea was much easier to find in the sunny morning. The chalet was on a mountain with a fantastic view of the sea. The same sea that gave me a virulent jellyfish sting on my very first swim in the Mediterranean ‘mar’ of Spain!
What can you tell us about your parents and family?
I was born in London but the family moved after a year or so to Vancouver in Canada for my Dad’s work for 2 years. We then moved to Cambridge in England where my Dad was working as a research scientist at the University.
He was a physicist and mathematician and he was very productive in a number of areas like ‘quantum mechanics’. He was to produce many research papers over the years in a fair number of scientific fields. Dad smoked a lot sometimes yet had great stamina and could swim like a fish. He could be very funny & the life and soul of a party and he was a fine singer in his local choir. His sister lived in Valencia in 1967 and he came to visit her here while he hitchhiked from England to Morocco in the sixties.
He was very gifted and I much later found out that he had got a scholarship to Oxford University when he was just 17 years old but he was also very modest about his achievements. He was sort of in his own world at times because of the scientific mind he had. He had a good heart, which is the most important thing…
Dad was recommended for his research post by Stephen Hawking who he worked with. I went to primary school with Stephen’s children and I remember family parties at their home, with Hawking whizzing round the gardens in his motor-powered wheelchair. His wife Jane was a real star, supporting Stephen through thick and thin. Because Stephen’s speech was becoming more and more difficult to comprehend as the years went by, Dad had a good ear and could interpret what Stephen was saying to then explain to the rest of us. This was in the time before he had an electronic box fitted for his speech.
It was intriguing going to the cinema with my English family recently to see the film ‘The Theory of Everything’ about his life and family. I thought that the lead actor who played Stephen Hawking was spot on and it was a very difficult role to play…
My Dad was quite traditional in that he cared a lot for his extended family, that was of Irish descent. So, we would have endless visits to all sorts of aunties, uncles, cousins all over England & Ireland and spent many memorable holidays with my grandparents, who retired on the West Coast of Ireland. I suppose I’m lucky to have had such regular contact with extended families on both sides of the family while growing up. It helps you relate to other people more. I went to a state school and I grew up with people from all walks of life and quite a few nationalities too…
Sadly, my father passed away relatively young at the age of sixty due to cancer but he certainly lived a full life and I remember him fondly. The family moved back to London when I was 16 years old. His death taught me that none of us are here for very long and his death has made me more productive & active too in terms of ‘living’ life…
My mum is my hero to this day. She is from a beautiful village in the mountains of Nice in the South of France. Her family are humble, hard-working, resilient folk and she had a very happy childhood, which has stood her in good stead over the years. In her family you didn’t need to use the word love, you showed it with your actions.
She came to London in the 1960s as an au pair to learn English where she eventually met my Dad at a party. Mum is a very fair, selfless & kind person. She is also very wise and perceptive with a lot of inner strength and she understands people and is tolerant too.
Her family speak French and ‘Nissart’, which is a variation of the Provencal-Occitan dialect with some similarities to Valenciano-Catalan. In many ways, the Mediterranean way of life with all its idiosyncrasies is very familiar to me from having gone to her village in the South of France so many times over the years.
My mum was a qualified tour guide and did some part-time French teaching and translation over the years. She is now retired and still happy to live in London, surrounded by a good group of friends of different nationalities and she has taken up Spanish lessons again with a weekly group.
My brother is a Doctor of Philosophy & Theology who works in the field of medical ethics and is married to a Polish journalist and they live in London and have a son.
Do you return home much?
Yes, I go back twice a year and I enjoy going for long walks in Epping Forest with family and friends, exploring different corners of London, unwinding on the sofa with old film repeats and catching up with the Premier League with football highlights with ‘Match of the Day.’ I’m always pleasantly surprised at just how good British television documentaries and period dramas and the comedy can still be…
I also experience how awful & changeable the weather is. In that sense, England hasn’t changed! I love the rain but I don’t like the way the weather can change by the hour. I could never live with a temperamental Northern European climate again; it just doesn’t suit my upbeat mood and outlook on how life can be lived. I’m a Leo, I need the sun! I guess I do tend to look at England through more Spanish eyes each time I go back, for better or for worse. England is familiar but at the same time slightly foreign to me as time goes by, if that makes sense.
Where/what did you study?
I studied English Literature at the University of Wales, Swansea and I did a Master of Education (PGCE) at Bath University.
What other places have you lived apart from Valencia?
I was a teacher in the post-communist Czech Republic in Moravia not so long after the ‘Velvet Revolution’. At the time I was fascinated with the idea of Eastern Europe… the culture, history, the music and the architecture and the ‘otherness’ of it. Prague was a great city to visit but I was teaching way out in the sticks in a small town near the city of Bruno, which at the time seemed to be something out of a grim Gothic novel, it always seemed to be nightfall! There were some interesting bars and museums to check out and I met some friendly people as well as some gloomy people. It was a world away from the touristy side of Prague…
Living in a small town in Moravia was an interesting life lesson, an eye-opener into a different way of life but it was not very joyful at times and it taught me that Communism had failed as a system and had damaged Czech society, which had been a really prosperous and productive country in the 1920s. After 1989, many of the people who had been the leading Communists became the leading Capitalists. That’s why it was called the ‘Velvet Revolution’ because it was a smooth takeover and no-one died! So the ideology they supposedly believed in becomes irrelevant, it’s all about certain people wanting to maintain power whatever the system is. That I did learn there.
However, I visited some memorable and out of the way places like the ‘Moravian Karst’ (Moravsky Kras), with a deep gorge that still sticks in the memory and which involved rowing a boat in the lakes of ancient caverns of stalagtites & stalagmites. It was the kind of place that would fit into a landscape from ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
I remember the surreal city of Zlin, which is where the world famous Bata shoes are from as well as the birthplace of playwright Tom Stoppard and Ivana Trump! The local hotel ballroom reminded me of the film ‘The Shining’, a sort of haunted remnant of the Austro-Hungarian Empire! By the way, I got the chance to visit Budapest in Hungary and it was the most atmospheric city I’ve ever visited, it had an incredible vibe and the architecture was striking, a meeting of East and West. If only Valencia still had those old-style trams!
The beer in the Czech Republic was of real quality and I got to travel around and see some entertaining top flight Czech football matches with teams with odd names like (my local team) the troubled yet charismatic FC Petra Drnovice, Sparta Prague, FK Viktoria Žižkov and FC Fastav Zlín. It could be very open football sometimes, not too much midfield action, more end-to-end stuff.
I was then a teacher of ‘Business English’ in Genova, Italy, teaching the shipping company ‘Maersk’ and radio pioneers ‘Marconi’ among others. It was living in Italy that convinced me that the Mediterranean way of life was more to my taste. Italian students were a joy to teach.
I followed the local football team ‘Sampdoria’ while I was there and Roberto Mancini, David Platt and Rudd Gullit were all playing at the time as players and not yet managers, which they later all became! The Italian fans are the most passionate I’ve ever known; football is woven into their skin.
There was a tremendous rivalry with the oldest club in Italy, Genoa. It was founded by expats, hence the English name. Genoa got relegated that season and I remember some morbid Sampdoria fans arranging a mock funeral with a coffin draped in the Genoa flag in the centre…sort of like a living Fallas! Genova was quite a tough port city like Marseille and with a very special feel to it, a huge historic centre and I felt quite sad leaving it…
When I look back, I see that I’ve always been drawn to the major provincial cities of any given foreign country that I have lived in. Maybe it’s because they’re more representative of their nation and more down to earth and maybe also because they’re easier to live in than the capital cities. While I was in Italy I visited Rome and was mightily impressed by the grandeur of it; I’d never seen a people so justly proud of the history that clearly surrounded their city. You could tell it just by the way people walked around!
What were your first impressions of Valencia and what do you think now?
Valencia seemed to be full of colour and a vibrant energy and there didn’t seem to be any rules about the nightlife, which I thought was great! I have to admit that not speaking Spanish at the time made it more fun because you were sort of insulated from day-to-day hassles of everyday life as a newly arrived guiri on the scene.
The first year seemed to be like an endless fiesta at weekends, with drinking & dining out & clubbing on a Saturday and playing football down by the Rio Turia on Sundays then a pub quiz in the evening. It was also fun teaching English during the week! I arrived in Spain with just 3 words of Spanish…¡Hola! ¡Olé! and ¡Cerveza!
I do speak Spanish now, my clients are Spanish and I live with my Spanish-speaking girlfriend next to the historic centre so I’m fully integrated and have been for a long time. I spend most of my time with Spanish speakers, which is the nature of my job when I am out and about seeing clients and bumping into friends and acquaintances in the street.
I still enjoy hanging out & talking to expats and getting to know all sorts of other nationalities and cultures. It would be more difficult to truly get to know people in bigger cities in terms of bumping into them again with regularity. You can make real friends here if you stay around long enough. I still think Valencia is a great place to live and it still has a lot of potential.
What surprises you the most and what do you miss the most since you’ve moved here?
I suppose in the past I might have missed good strong English tea with English milk, refreshing pints of beer in old pubs, the English newspapers on a Sunday, the subtleties of British culture like its special humour, the character of the different regions, the more measured British approach to things sometimes. But really I’ve lived here so long that I don’t really miss those things anymore, I can always experience them when I go back to England on holidays!
Anyway, the internet and the growing expat community in Spain means things are a lot more available than when I moved here 20 year ago. Like reading newspapers on the internet or keeping in touch with people abroad via Facebook. I adapt to where I am. I enjoy good Spanish coffee with a local Spanish newspaper when in Spain and a good mug of English tea with an English newspaper when I’m back in England.
I’ve also learnt, with time, that to generalize can be very dangerous and counterproductive because you will always find plenty of exceptions to the rule. You’ll find Valencia is full of subtleties if you look, there’s a special energy here. It’s a place full of interesting coincidences where you meet people just at the right time, especially when it wasn’t planned. Sometimes the hardest lessons are the most useful ones too!
As the years go by, you realize that every culture is different and it’s not a question of right or wrong. The history of a place, the political system, its customs and the weather all have an influence on the way people behave. It’s refreshing for the mind and soul to live in a culture that is not your own as it pushes you to look at things from a different perspective. Of course, it’s easy to say that but it can take years to truly evolve, I know that has been my case!
How does the quality of life here compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
Of all the countries I’ve lived in, Spain has the best quality of life in terms of the great weather, affordable cuisine in relation to quality, reasonable rent, varied nightlife and so on. The fact that Spanish is a very widely spoken language is also a good motivation too for living here. It keeps you more connected with the Spanish Speaking culture of Latin America and, increasingly, the U.S.A.
I bought a flat in the year 2000, which was a good time to buy as it was before the boom. I pay a very reasonable monthly mortgage, a price that I’m guessing would be impossible to find in England.
I go out far more here in Valencia than I ever did in London, which is one of the most overrated cities in the world in terms of quality of life, I feel. I know London has a lot to offer and the culture and diversity is stunning but that does not mean it is for everybody.
Valencia is a great size, it’s sunny most of the time, the winters are mild and you can walk everywhere and I was never interested in learning to drive a car anyway! It’s not a violent or tense place, you can walk around late without having to take a taxi everywhere and it’s not too expensive to live here. Everyone is different, I’m just giving you my opinion of what I look for in a town in terms of a place to live day-to-day and in the long-term too…
If you could change anything about Valencia, what would it be?
The obvious exaggeration that you find in Latin culture that seems to revel in the extremes of “all or nothing”. I find it a bit immature but I don’t really take it seriously anymore. At the football at Mestalla, there’s a tendency among some fans to not get behind the team when the chips are down but to get on their back! I find that very fickle but it’s a minor complaint. The fans have a deep love for the club in the sense that they turn up in large numbers for the matches! That’s their way of supporting the team.
I’ve lived incredible ups and downs as a Valencia CF supporter including winning Leagues and Cup Finals and witnessing, in the flesh, Valencia lose on penalties to Bayern Munich in the Champions League final of 2001 in Milan…
Deep down, I love the city and people of Valencia and my grain of sand is to promote this great city, which is a job I love doing. Valencia doesn’t need to change; I need to continue to adapt to it and to be of some use to it if I can.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
It helps to learn the basics of the Spanish language, to try and integrate and be prepared for your cultural conditioning to be tested! In my own case, I willingly put all of those things off until my second year here…
How did ‘24/7 Valencia’ come about?
It started in the year 2000. I remember finding a copy in a café bar in the Barrio del Carmen that same summer and being delighted that there was finally a magazine in English about Valencia. I contacted the then editor, Matt Venning, who was looking for contributors and I started writing articles on Valencian culture, as well as music and literature. Within a month or so, Matt announced that he had a great job offer as a consultant in London that he couldn’t refuse. He passed the magazine onto me and I took up the reins.
Even before University, I wanted to be involved in journalism and I had had work experience on my local London paper during ‘A’ levels. The opportunity to work in journalism finally manifested itself years later in Valencia when I wasn’t looking. Sometimes that’s just how life is. I’ve been running ‘24/7 Valencia’ full-time for the last 15 years and I haven’t looked back.
What have been the good and bad things about running it?
Running a magazine full-time means that no two days are the same. Your hours are very flexible, which is great if you are at times somewhat of a night owl. You get to meet all sorts of people: expats, musicians, bar & restaurant staff, shop owners, printers, designers, photographers, bohemians, students, local politicians, teachers, business people, street people and tourists from all over the world!
That is good because you are dealing with a lot of different points of views and perspectives and it is sometimes challenging but, if you keep an open mind, you evolve as a result. You never stop learning when you are living in another country. I can’t really complain, as I am my own person with my own hours. My bosses are my clients.
The bad side is that the costs of running a print magazine mean that you have to keep a tight budget to make sure print and design costs and more are met and that can sometimes be a bit stressful and it does somewhat limits your finances. I would love to travel abroad more in the future but the current nature of the job means that you have to be “hands on” for things to run well, month to month.
There are times when running the magazine feels more like a vocation than anything else. I suppose it is a calling in some ways. I’m here to serve Valencia and give something back to the place that has given so much to me.
One of the occasional perks of the job is that you do get to meet some “characters” close up. I work in the Valencia CF press as a representative of the English Speaking press so you get to meet players and managers. Away from the cameras and press, I found José Mourinho and David Beckham to be very decent human beings and these are things that you can perceive in person that you can’t tell from a television interview. Whatever Mourinho’s Machiavellian tactics are as a manager for his team, I see him more like a pantomime villain who is being very well paid to do a tough job.
On the nightlife scene, you meet all sorts! I partied until dawn in Valencia with Mani from Primal Scream & The Stone Roses (two of my favourite bands). He was utterly hilarious, had a really crazy imagination, irreverent and self-effacing, very knowledgable and enthusiastic about music and kind-hearted too. As one of the best bass players in the world, it’s refreshing that he hasn’t lost touch with his fans.
I met Lou Reed and Kate Moss backstage at the Benicassim Festival and found them to be warm and courteous despite their fearsome reputations. Sometimes the people who are at the top of their field are actually the most humane in person.
‘Celebrity culture’ is quite curious but it is really just a fleeting thing in the bigger scheme of things. I think trained nurses, like my girlfriend, are the real & unacknowledged heroes of the world. To care for others is to do something truly useful for society…
Please explain your musical career.
When I was in Wales in the early 1990s, I started an eclectic band called ‘The Space Raiders’. We played punk, blues, reggae, folk, waltzes, polkas, rock’n’roll, psychedelia, funk and more. We were part of the underground Welsh Scene with bands like Catatonia, Gorky’s Zycotic Mynci, The Green Inspiration Band, The Sweetest Ache and more.
I went to University with some of ‘The Manic Street Preachers’. This included the later-to-be mysterious legend Richey James Edwards. He disappeared off the face of the Earth ‘Lord Lucan style’ in 1995, at the height of their fame, when they were playing to thousands of fans in venues around the world.
Some people claim to have spotted him in Goa and on the Balearic Islands over the years. In 1990, I saw The Manic Street Preachers play the Student Union bar to just 40 people with Atilla the Stockbroker as support. By 1999, they were playing to 57,000 people at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
My band won a battle of the bands competition and our prize was free studio time and, in punk fashion, we made an album in 2 days! I still play a couple of songs in my present set in Valencia from those days, including the ‘Berlin Polka’, which you can find on my music website: www.willmccarthymusic.com
I carried on writing songs on guitar during my time in Czech Republic and Italy, picking up influences along the way. It was only after my Dad passed away in 2005 that I got the push to start recording again and released a solo album called ‘Some Songs’ in 2009, which was reviewed favourably in ‘Mondo Sonoro’ and ‘Levante EMV’.
I started playing live again as a guitarist & singer in Valencia in 2009 as a duo called ‘Folk-Jazz’ with a really good Portuguese jazz trumpeter player called Nuno Alves. A Spanish poet said that “Nuno’s trumpet has the sound of a clown that is happy and sad at the same time, it is a sound that comes from within.” In 2010, things got interesting when a superb Moroccan multi-instrumentalist, Abdel Louzari, joined us and we became ‘Folk Jazz Arabe’.
Abdel plays instruments like the oud, darbuka (Arabic percussion), Ney (Arab flute) and violin. We’ve gone on to record 4 albums as a trio, combining elements like Spanish & folk guitar with jazzy trumpet and assorted Arabic instruments. We’ve played live all over Valencia in venues like Black Note, Café del Duende and Café Mercedes Jazz.
Our debut album ’80 min’ is quite ethnic and another album, ‘From Ibiza to Berlin’, incorporates more ‘found sounds’ like birdsong, music boxes, bike bells and the Mediterranean sea. You can hear all the albums on our website: www.folkjazzarabe.com
Our latest release ‘Over the Sky of Azerbaijan’ is the official soundtrack to the national television documentary of the same name. It has been broadcast on ‘Television Española La 2’ a number of times recently, which is the Spanish equivalent of BBC 2.
There are plans in 2016 to officially present the documentary in Azerbaijan and our representative is now in talks with their government so that we can play there as a band to present the soundtrack album next year as part of the national premiere for the television documentary. Azerbaijan is actually next to Iran. I’ve never been further east than Poland before!
The documentary is about Spanish republican pilots who fought in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Almost 80% of Soviet Union Oil came from Azerbaijan and Hitler knew that if he conquered this region the Second World War could be won by the Nazis. Adolf famously said: “When I take Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan) the world will be mine!”
The Nazis did invade Azerbaijan but they were defeated by the tenacity of the Spanish pilots along with their Soviet comrades. The Spanish pilots (who were mostly Valencians and Catalans) had the experience of active service in the Spanish Civil War so were very experienced as well as valiant in action. They actually trained Soviet Pilots in record time as the war was on and time was of the essence. In the documentary, there is an interview with a Spanish pilot (now well into his nineties) who shot down 25 Nazi planes. The people of Azerbaijan are very grateful for what the Spanish did to help them in the Second World War.
This summer, an Azerbaijan representative of the Azerbaijan-Spain association and myself wrote to the King of Spain. In the letter we explained about the story of Azerbaijan in the Second World War and the heroism of the Spanish pilots in this key historic turning point in the war. We have put forward the idea to the King of Spain that he visit Azerbaijan to present a blue plaque in commemoration of the Spanish pilots who lost their lives and who fought for liberty and democracy.
The King recently presented a blue plaque in commemoration of the Spanish Republicans who were the first allied soldiers to liberate Paris in the Second World War.
The King’s representative got in touch to say that the King had received our letter and DVD of the documentary and that they are open to considering the proposal. As far as I understand, the protocol is now a question of both embassies and both governments coming to an agreement. I’ll keep you informed…
Back to the music, as well bigger venues, I love doing little gigs solo or in duos in restaurants and bars around town with plenty of cover versions thrown in like Van Morrison, old blues & folk numbers, The Rolling Stones and now even Frank Sinatra as I’m getting older!
Do you think that living abroad has changed you?
Learning another language has to be positive for your development and change you in some way for the better. You slowly become more tolerant about different ways of looking at life and people and situations, if you have an open mind. I guess Valencia has definitely helped me to develop as a person but I’ve still got a long way to go. Overcoming your cultural conditioning takes time…especially if you’re English!
Plans for the future?
I would like for the magazine to keep evolving positively. I would love to have the freedom and time to travel to more exotic climes. Maybe one day…
Musically, I hope to keep recording and playing live in and around Valencia and maybe abroad. I hope to keep developing my music in the soundtrack world and to continue collaborating with different musicians in Valencia from different cultures like Spain, the USA, Britain, Morocco, India and Syria.
Finally, I hope that Valencia as a city and region continues to maximize its full potential. I am very grateful for the team of designers, writers, photographers and all those advertisers who have made the magazine possible. ‘24/7 Valencia’ is now 15 years old. Here’s to the next 15 years.