I met up with Vincent Neale, (the owner of Groo-V in Benavista), for a chat about how the landlord was coping with the effects of lockdown, and what his view of the future is for the pub trade on the Costa del Sol.
First, you have to understand the history of what’s occurred since he opened the live music venue in 2018.
Vince told me that he didn’t originally have a plan to come to southern Spain, he had a successful telesales company in the New Forest in the UK.
There came a day though when he was sitting at his desk, wondering why he was still in the UK, looking out of the window at a standard rainy day, and having staffing problems with his business, when it struck him that he could do this job anywhere, and a sunnier clime was far more inviting than staying in the cold.
Several years before this his Uncle Salvatore Santoro was living in Marbella and had asked Vince to come over and work with him, and he turned his uncle down. He regrets this decision because as he said “I do blame myself in part for what happened to my uncle next, perhaps had I been there I could have stopped him from going to Iraq and getting executed.” Back in 2004 Iraqi insurgents shot and killed an Italian aid worker (Uncle Salvatore), when he attempted to break through a militant roadblock, they took the aid worker and executed him.
“That perhaps is how Marbella was so prominent in my mind when I decided to leave the UK.”
In any case after a few false starts, and as he put it “dodgy” real estate agents, he was drawn to the venue formerly known as ‘The Gig’, in Benavista.
After being regaled with stories of the history of the venue and its one-time celebrity clientele, along with the fact that the venue holds something rarer than hen’s teeth, an actual proper live music licence! That’s something that in itself can be worth almost as much as the building, extremely rare to find anywhere that has one on the Costa del Sol.
So in August of 2018, the doors were opened with a fresh new look, an incredible sound and light system, and a new name, ‘Groo-V’.
The plan was to in part emulate the extremely successful cabaret bar in La Cala called Legends, which was already in its eighth year at the time and had built up a fantastic reputation with some of the best tribute shows seven nights a week. Vincent had looked around the area of Benavista and found nowhere that was doing the kind of thing he envisaged and thought that it was a sure-fire winner.
Thing is if a venue wants to put on the best artistes then that doesn’t come for free, and (like Legends), Vincent decided he would have to put a cover charge on the door when the more expensive acts were performing, unfortunately, this did not go down so well with some of the locals, who had been visiting the venue for years before Vince took over, and had never had to pay to get in, “some had the attitude that as they were long time customers, they had a say in how things were done in the venue,” Vince said, he continued, “don’t get me wrong, of course, the customer has a very valuable outlook on how they would like to see things done, and I am always open to suggestion after all the area is not heavily populated with tourists, it’s locals in the main, and as the core client base I have to take notice).”
The problem seemed to be that the damage had been done because he then found that the locals almost boycotted the venue in protest at a cover charge being implemented.
This was further exacerbated when the popular TV show ‘Bargain Brits’ asked him to be a part of the programme, and unfortunately, the outcome was very negative, according to Vince, the production company was as he put it ‘inventive’ with their editing, making him out to be a tyrant, and to put it bluntly ‘a bit of a yob.’
Now after being closed since March Vince is looking forward to giving it one more go, he has some great plans for the future, and has spent what time he was allowed to during lockdown refurbishing the venue, with a new stage which is extraordinarily well-appointed with a full set up for bands to perform, including a full drum kit, keyboards, and backline amps and speakers! “This is for our new jam nights,” he said “I want the local musicians to feel they have somewhere they can go to relax, and if after a hard gig they drop in and want to jam and have some food and drink with like-minded people, that would be amazing.”
He is also starting things off with a bang this weekend. Friday an 80’s night, Saturday Karaoke, (and the microphones will be sanitised!), and It’s this coming Sunday though that has the locals hurrying to book their seats, because it’s the return of one of the Costa del Sol’s top duos, Mark ‘n’ Ron, they will be taking to the stage on the 28th to play your requests as only they can.
It is up to us all at this time to help our local traders, and if we happen to have a great night in the process, where’s the harm in that.