The sound of freedom from behind bars – Berlin 90

by Lorraine Williamson
Berlin90 Alan

MURCIA – It was a twist of fate that brought a young Allan McCarthy to Spain. Originally from Barrhead, just outside Glasgow, Scotland, he decided to take some time out, and visit Spain on holiday. However, his move ended up being more permanent than he thought.

Arriving in Murcia, Spain in 1984, Allan was full of hope and excitement. He quickly settled into his new life, making friends with locals and expats alike. However, his world was turned upside down when he was arrested for possession of drugs. Despite protesting his innocence, Allan was sentenced to over six years in prison at the Sangonera de la Verde prison in Murcia.

The band was formed

At first, prison life was tough. Allan struggled to come to terms with his new reality and missed his family and friends back home. However, he soon found solace in music when he joined a classroom in the jail. One day, he overheard some of his fellow inmates singing and playing guitar, and he joined in. Before long, the four men had formed a band and with Allan as the front man, were playing regularly in the prison. Berlin 90 was born.

Allan had previously played guitar as a stand-in for student union events he organised back home. His friends could not believe that he was the front man writing and singing for the prison band.

The band

Radio competition

One day, they heard about a singing competition on Angel Sopena´s programme, “Musica de Contrabando” on the Onda regional de Murcia radio station and thanks to their prison music teacher, decided to enter. To their surprise, they won, and their performance was broadcast across Spain.

Suddenly, they were famous – and not just within the confines of the prison walls. There were articles in local and national press throughout Spain. Consequently, the prison authorities were thrilled with the positive publicity and allowed the band to record some original songs in a professional studio.

Stormy Waters

Their winning song, “Stormy Waters” was also featured on the compilation album “UN AÑO DE ROCK EN MURCIA 91”. Stormy waters was the opening track on side one of the album.

The band were then inundated with interview requests from newspaper, radio and television stations. Most of these interviews had to be conducted by phone or letter, however on a few occasions they did manage to get out of the prison grounds for face-to-face interviews.

Live gig

Sometimes, radio channels would even broadcast live from the prison. This gave the band members and other prisoners alike an opportunity to feel connected with their loved ones, as many dedicated requests to family and friends. They were even given permission to play at a woman´s prison and at a gig in a venue in Murcia.

Over the next few months, Berlin 90 continued to play and record music.

Berlin90 in concert

As time went on, the band found they had less and less restrictions placed on them. On hindsight, Allan thought this could have been his downfall as he pushed things to the limit on more than one occasion.

It all ended suddenly

Days before Allan was expecting to be advised of a release date, without warning, he was transferred to the notorious Carabanchel prison in Madrid. This meant the end of Berlin90. It also meant Allan lost all his copies of the music he had written.

When Allan was released from prison in 1993, he returned to Scotland and lost touch with his band mates. Back in Scotland, he built up a successful marketing and advertising business.

What happened to the music?

However, now, 30 years later, Allan is back in Spain. He works remotely, and is living in the coastal town of Murcia. As he sits on his balcony, sipping a cold beer and looking out at the Mediterranean sea, he wonders what happened to the songs he wrote all those years ago. He knows that some of them were released on a cassette tape that sold a few copies, but he’s never heard them since.

Determined to find out what happened to his music, Allan decides to start digging. He contacts a few old friends and attempts to find his former bandmates. He even manages to meet up with Angel Sopena, the man who helped make the success of Berlin 90 possible.

Angel and Allan

Throughout the 30 year gap, Angel continued to play the music of Berlin90. Even when interviewed by various press at the 30th anniversary of the radio station, when asked what his favourite memory was, he never mentioned meeting and interviewing Mick Jagger. Instead, his most memorable time was when he interviewed Berlin 90!

Eventually, Allan manages to track down a copy of the cassette tape. As he listens to the scratchy, low-fi recordings, memories come flooding back. He remembers the camaraderie of the band, the thrill of performing, and the joy of making music in the most unlikely of places.

Could a documentary be next?

Allan knows that he’ll never be a rock star, but that’s not what matters. For him, music has always been about connection – with others, with himself, and with the world around him. As he listens to the songs he wrote all those years ago, he feels a sense of gratitude for the journey that brought him to this place. And he knows that, no matter what happens next, music will always be a part of his life.

Over the last few months, there has been renewed interest in the story of Allan McCarthy and Berlin 90, and although there are no concrete plans, there is talk of a possible documentary. As the journey continues to unfold, you can keep up to date with any developments on Allan´s official website.

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