A Scots ex-con is dealing with new-found fame in Spain after a band he founded while imprisoned in the country over three decades ago had their songs played by a commercial radio station.
Allan McCarthy, from Glasgow, formed Berlin 90 with some of his fellow convicts while he was serving a six-and-a-half year sentence for drug trafficking at Sangonera prison in Murcia.
After impressing at a music workshop set up by one of the prison staff, the monitor took a chance and submitted a demo Berlin 90 recorded to a ‘battle of the bands’ contest organised by local radio station Onda Regiona to record a song for a cassette compilation entitled ‘A year in rock in Murcia 1991’.
The band were given day release by prison chiefs to record a few tracks in a local studio, with one track, Stormy Waters, then chosen to appear on the compilation alongside tracks by well established bands of the region such as Ferroblues, Joaquín Talismán, Fenómenos Extraños and Doble Cero.
However, things came to an abrupt halt after the Scotsman was transferred to the infamous Carabanchel Prison in Madrid over 200 miles away, losing all contact with his bandmates in the process.
Now, over 30 years later, a Spanish radio presenter on commercial station Onda Regional has sought to retell the story of Berlin 90 and their music, and in doing so, the band has captured the attention of music lovers up and down the country.
Speaking to The Herald from his home in Murcia, former Berlin 90 frontman and lead guitarist Allan McCarthy said: “When our song got entered for a radio competition it ended up on a double cassette compilation.
“Since we were ‘track one, side one’ on the tape if anyone played anything of it, it was us.
“I swear to God, we were appearing in the newspapers everyday and on the radio, not just in Murcia but in Madrid and across Spain.
“We were singing in English, that was the novelty, plus the fact you had a Scotsman singing from a Spanish jail.
“We were under no illusions about it, that it was a good story at the time: ‘Bad boys go out and make a record’. The track, Stormy Waters, surprised quite a few people.”
Prison chiefs also granted Allan and his fellow Berlin 90 band members day release to perform in front of an audience in a local venue, which Andy admits was a far cry from the band playing to just their music teacher and a handful of prison staff in the prison’s “wee auditorium between the blocks”.
Following his release from prison, Andy returned to his native Scotland and forged a career away from music in magazine publishing, before returning to the Murcia region of Spain after the covid pandemic was over following his retirement.
His return to Spain has coincided with a return to fame for the 59-year-old as interest in Berlin 90 grows, although this time he is able to embrace it as a free man.
And Andy says the fact the band is now en boca de todos in the Spanish region of Murcia he now calls home has helped dispel doubts from his family that he really was the “rock star” he once said he was, albeit briefly.
“My nephew is into music and this is all for him. I told my friends and family that I had a band and our songs get played on the radio in Spain and they were all like “yeah yeah”.
“People hear Berlin 90’s songs and don’t think its me that’s singing.
“That’s been the satisfaction for me, showing my nephew that his uncle wasn’t an old git all the time. That and introducing my family members that never heard of the band to our music.”
Such has been the renewed interest in Berlin 90 in Spain that Andy has now sought the help of radio station Onda Regional to try and locate his former bandmates, in the hope that the band could reform and perform a one-off concert or even perhaps hit the road for a small tour.
“Why not, if the Rolling Stones can perform on stage aged 80, I can do it with a few years less under my belt,” he said.