User:Tonisant/Late 1950s

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Throughout most of the 21st Century, my father has been writing a memoir, not meant for public distribution but simply to pass on some of the things he remembers, so that I may do with them as I see fit; or so he has told me. He writes in Maltese using Microsoft Word, and saves individual documents around specific anecdotes or themes. On this page I hope to bring some of the things he tells me along with his writings and eventually I will possibly be compiling all his writings for my own purposes to do with them as I see fit.

This introduction is merely an indication of what's to eventually come here. Without sounding too self-important, it's just an ice cube off the tip of the iceberg, as I like to say.

Feel free to comment on the discussion page.

Early Rock 'n Roll in Malta

On Thursday 21 July 2011, professional archivist Noel D'Anastas reproduced a copy of an April 1957 circular from the Maltese Curia of the Catholic church, with notice of condemnation on rock 'n roll dancing in Malta from Archibishop Mikiel Gonzi. The image appeared on Noel's Facebook Wall [1] and attracted quite a number of comments. I was quite delighted with this find, particularly since I had heard about this incident many years ago when I worked at Xandir Malta, but never really saw any documented proof of it. As it happens, what Noel found was not even the pastoral letter from Archbishop but a circular/commentary about it. I wonder if the actual pastoral letter for lent 1957 will come out in the open any time soon.

The Curia's 1957 circular about carnival balls and rock 'n roll dancing.

The first comment came from Sandro Debono, senior curator at the National Museum of Fine Arts: "Noel, to when does this date?" This was immediately followed by an anti-clerical comment from one of Noel's Facebook friends. Noel replied that this came from the month of April, and calculated that it must have been 1957. He also mentioned how this related to what Jimmy Dowling, Paul Arnaud and others had been up to at carnival, where L-Innu tal-Karnival first appeared. As Noel tagged a number of his personal friends, Philip Pace joined the discussion soon after and ignited a discussion on authoritarian dictates from the church and other moralists since the late 1950s. And on it went. Steve Borg chimed in with a Malta Labour Party perspective related to a BBC 4 documentary called The Rock 'n' Roll Years. Other comments came from Lawrence Magrin and Rita Pace.

The next morning I was so enthused by these comments that I shared the same image on my Facebook Wall [2]. Further comments followed, of course.

Meanwhile, I had a telephone conversation with my father about all this and he told me that he had written about the first rock 'n roll dances he attended, where he would sing with Johnny Vassallo and his orchestra. He remembered a number of incidents around what was considered the lewd dancing called jive and the jitterbug, particularly with an MC at the Chalet in Sliema. The song that marked a clear change, according to my father, was one that he often sang with the Vassallo Orchestra around 1956. This was Boyd Bennet's hit Seventeen - however, my father didn't really know Boyd Bennet's version but rather those by the Fontane Sisters, Frankie Vaughn and possibly Ella Mae Morse. The important point, was that Seventeen, more than Rock Around the Clock or any other obvious rock 'n roll song, was the one that signaled a change in the music that was played at dance halls at that time.