In the 1960s, the sun-soaked Mediterranean island of Ibiza was a hippie paradise where artistic “peluts” or “hairies” mingled with liberal-minded beatniks.
For 11-year-old Geraint Hughes, life on Ibiza in the 1960s was an education, a lesson in living amongst the famous and the infamous.
The island’s tiny Moorish-looking capital and its whitewashed beaches were places for the beats to meet, where the hippest of the hippies hung out: from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell to Charlotte Rampling and Norman Mailer.
This was where Geraint’s step-father, the writer and Egyptologist John Anthony West, had an island home called Rum Place, a house where Geraint holidayed with his mother, actress Catherine Dolan, who was John’s girlfriend.
When John threw one of his wild parties at Rum Place, the young Geraint would find himself in the company of people such as the art forger Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, who hoaxed a biography of Howard Hughes, and the painter Alan Schmer.
“It was Bohemian, fun, very arty and anarchic,” says Geraint, who now lives in Brighton.
“For an 11-year-old to have artistic discussions at a late-night party was quite something. They had very left-wing views and a lot of Americans there, like my step-father, whose family owned Martha West’s Outsize Clothing store in Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, had run away to avoid being forced into their fathers’ businesses."
Ibiza would resurface in Geraint’s life 30 years later. He is now one half of the song-writing duo Typically Tropical, whose 1975 global hit Barbados would top the charts again 25 years later in 1999, reinvented as We’re Going To Ibiza with its original reggae beat replaced by the Eurodance pop group Vengaboys.
The journey to Ibiza began in Port Talbot, Wales, where Geraint’s mother grew up just round the corner from a boy called Richard Jenkins.
At secondary school, Catherine and Richard went out together, and in 1943 performed in a school production of Pygmalion with fellow pupil Graham Hughes. The play was directed by Philip Burton, and he adopted Richard, who later became Richard Burton, the actor famous for marrying Elizabeth Taylor. But it was Graham whom Catherine would later marry, and their only child was Geraint.
“My mother always followed Rich’s career, especially when he married Liz Taylor,” says Geraint.
“When I was a child, my uncle, a journalist, took me to Aberavon Rugby Club to watch a match from the journalists’ enclosure and Rich and Liz were visiting, just when their film Cleopatra was out.
My uncle pushed me forward to meet Richard Burton and he bent down to give me half-a-crown. But I threw it on the ground because I didn’t know him.”
By then, Catherine and Graham’s short-lived marriage was over, and Catherine, a RADA-trained actress, embarked on a peripatetic life, going where the work took her – and Geraint.
A year in New York introduced Geraint to music shows on TV.
“I would watch American Bandstand, presented by Dick Clark, and Frankie Avalon, Dickie Do and The Don’ts and Buddy Holly,” recalls Geraint.
“It kickstarted my interest in music.”
Then came six months in Bermuda after Catherine won a role in the TV series Adventures Of The Sea Hawk, and back in London, she was in great demand as a stage and radio actress. But when Geraint suffered a bout of bronchitis, it was reason enough for his mother to move them to Barcelona.
“She told me it was for my health,” says Geraint, “but I suspect it was not the truth.
She had met John in London, who was living among the ex-pat beatniks on Ibiza, and Barcelona was closer to Ibiza than London.”
In Barcelona, their life was spent in hotel rooms, interspersed with holidays at Rum Place.
For six months, they lived in an apartment in Gaudi’s Casa Mila, its undulating stone facade an iconic sight in the Passeig de Gracia. “It was like living in a fairytale,”
says Geraint. “There were no corners – everything was rounded. We were on the very top floor and the way to the sleeping quarters upstairs was mirrored, with a fake trompe l’oeil.”
In 1966, when Geraint was 13, Catherine and John married and moved to Ealing in London, establishing a more settled life for Geraint until he left home at 20 to work as a tape operator at London’s famous Morgan Sound Studios, where Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath and Paul McCartney recorded.
He struck up a friendship with fellow engineer Jeff Calvert and they wrote Barbados in two hours one day, inspired by reggae rhythms.
The two sneaked into Studio 1 at Morgan to record a demo, and a few months later, Barbados was Number One. Geraint and Jeff made their debut on Top Of The Pops as Typically Tropical and Barbados sold a million records worldwide.
They sold a million again with I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper, a Sarah Brightman hit in 1978, and beat their own record in 1999 when We’re Going To Ibiza by the Vengaboys sold well over a million, despite a Radio One boycott.
Catherine and John split up in 1977, and she died in 1991 from breast cancer. John moved to New York, where he lives near Woodstock and runs tours in Egypt.
Geraint remains close to his father, Graham, Professor Emeritus of criminal law at New York University, who once lived in Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, probably the trendiest place in New York.
“It was like a Woody Allen film,” laughs Geraint. “I’d walk out of the apartment building called Silver Towers and Debbie Harry would walk by. Extraordinary.”