How I went from clueless guiri to Madrid music sensation in just one year

Benedick Gibson, a 27-year-old from Stroud in Gloucestershire arrived in Madrid a little over a year ago to take up a job as a speechwriter for the UN's World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

How I went from clueless guiri to Madrid music sensation in just one year
Ben Gibson on drums with Not My Circus. Photo: Not My Circus / Facebook

He made some friends, formed a band and earlier this month burst onto the music scene at MADCool festival in a  line up that included, Foo-Fighters,  Green Day, and Kings of Leon.

Here he tells The Local about his extraordinary journey that led him from new arrival in a city full of strangers to performing on stage at a crowded music festival as part of a band tipped as the next big thing.

“Life as an expat can be lived in a bubble.

A combination of language problems and reliance on Meetup groups can mean that, for many foreign nationals, finding other expats with the same interests as you is the most logical step to take as you adjust to life in a new city. And so the Erasmus students, yoga bunnies, runners and musicians are likely to meet fellow enthusiasts of their interests and passions fairly promptly, and then again, and again.

So it came to pass with the five musicians who make up Not My Circus. This band, formed in the summer of 2016, can cite as its origins the many open mic nights in Madrid’s cozy live music bars.

Sally and David, the band´s principal singers, had been charming audiences for some time with their country duets and, when visiting from London, Sally´s boyfriend Jake would often accompany the duo on guitar.

At one such open mic night, they met drummer Ben (yours truly) and the seeds of the band were sown. Upon Jake´s move to Madrid in July last year, we added Benja on bass guitar and began Not My Circus.

Ben (on the left) with fellow members of the band. Photo: Not My Circus / Facebook

As five individuals with quite divergent musical tastes, we had little idea of what would emerge from our collaborative writing sessions.

With ideas stretching back as many as nine years however, we were soon able to feed off each other creatively and before long around a dozen ideas were being arranged into songs.

After a few months of practicing in my Malasaña living room, we moved into a rehearsal space, intensified our practice schedule and targeted having 10 gig-ready arrangements by the end of the year. As January rolled around, Not My Circus had a full set prepared and we felt ready for our debut concert.

In the meantime we’d deemed one of the arrangements ready for recording, and in November 2016 the Malasaña living room/rehearsal space doubled as a recording studio for tracking and mixing ‘One from the Lung’

This folky guitar-driven ballad, with five-part harmonies declaring at the chorus “Now that we´ve found hope”, was debuted online along with an accompanying video in early 2017.

We knew that it only partly represented our still-developing and kaleidoscopic sound, but decided it served as a good introduction to it, and particularly to Sally and David as a pair of complementary voices.

Amidst the preparation, we decided to enter an unsigned band talent contest for a major local music festival. Expecting to gain little from the venture due to our sheer newness (most of the contenders had at least already recorded albums), we nevertheless submitted One from the Lung to be heard and watched.

To our delight we made it onto a final shortlist of 50 acts and harnessed the help, via social media, of almost 1,000 wonderful and incredibly supportive friends and family (and their friends and family) who liked what they heard enough to vote for us to win a performance spot at the festival. And all this happened the week before we had even played our first show. People power – and people’s sheer compassion – gave us the biggest opportunity we could have hoped for.

To say that it was beyond our expectation, one year after our formation, to be playing at MadCool Festival 2017 is an understatement.

On stage at the MadCool festival. Photo: Photo: Not My Circus / Facebook

Yet we did work very hard and for 12 solid months to make the show one to remember. It’s hard work, being in a band; five passionate people have to work together to get each of their voices heard and artistic vision across, as well as working other jobs and living individual lives.

And being in a band of expatriates trying to ‘break’ the local scene has also been challenging. Yet the experience has been overwhelmingly rewarding for each of us. For me, as a relative newbie to Madrid (I’d been here two months before meeting my band mates) one of the more rewarding aspects has been meeting musicians and other creatives in the city – local, Spanish and expatriate alike – and finding common ground across our geographical and cultural divides.

I often say music is a universal language and I continue to be proven right through the musicians and music lovers I meet from all over the world.

We are looking forward to continuing our journey as five guiris who made the grade in Madrid’s music scene. We continue to be overjoyed by the love and support that the city has shown us and our music. We have made many friends and we hope to make many more.

And most of all, we are determined to repay everyone’s faith in us by delivering music that you can love, enjoy, share, and dance and sing along to. See you at a concert some day!”

Follow Not My Circus on Facebook for the latest updates about the band.


Living in Spain: Why Valencia is officially the best city in the world for foreign residents

Anyone who lives there probably already knows it to be true. But now the secret is out: Valencia has officially been declared the most desirable city to live abroad as a foreign citizen.

Living in Spain: Why Valencia is officially the best city in the world for foreign residents
Valencia tops a ranking of 66 cities in the world for expats. Photo by Giuseppe Buccola on Unsplash

The Mediterranean city in the east of Spain ranks top in the annual Expat Insider Survey published by InterNations.

More than 15,000 expats participated in the survey which analysed 66 cities around the globe during March 2020 in pre-Covid times and before the global pandemic sparked lockdowns.

The survey placed four Spanish cities in the top ten worldwide; Valencia in first place, followed by Alicante (2nd), Málaga (6th), Madrid (9th). 

Spanish cities overwhelmingly score high for the ease of settling in and quality of life indices but score less well when it comes to urban work life, because Spain can’t compete on the work opportunities front.

The city of Barcelona lags far behind in 25 place since expat life seems to be most expensive there: it ranks far behind the other Spanish cities in both the Finance & Housing and the Local Cost of Living Indices.   

So what’s so great about Valencia?

Photo by travelnow.or.crylater on Unsplash


Well, according to the survey which asked more than 15,000 expatriates representing 173 nationalities and living in 181 countries, the Spanish city scored the best in all five indices but one.

It ranked first worldwide in both the Quality of Urban Living and the Local Cost of Living Indices.

In fact, 94 percent of expats rate the local cost of living positively (compared to 46 percent globally), and 91 percent consider healthcare easily available (vs. 74 percent globally) which places the city first in the Health & Environment subcategory.

The climate is also a big draw with Valencia ranking second in that category thanks to conditions that are not too hot or too dry but with plenty of sunshine and a sea breeze that means summer temperatures usually max out at between 32-35C, far more hospitable than the over 40C found in parts of Andalucia and inland Spain.

Valencia also ranked well for its leisure options (4 in the survey) with vast stretches of beach within the city, the warm Mediterranean to enjoy swimming, watersports and sailing as well lots of parks and bikes routes and hills to explore inland.

Photo by Paul Povoroznuk on Unsplash

It’s also easy to get settled in Valencia. More than four in five expats (84 percent) find it easy to get used to the local culture (vs. 61 percent globally), and 91 percent say that the local residents are generally friendly (vs. 68 percent globally).

And more than four out of five expats in Valencia (82 percent) find that housing is affordable in the city, compared to 41 percent globally.

“The quality of life and the cost of living” are what makes Valencia great, according to one American expat who responded to the survey.

Where Valencia, and indeed all Spanish destinations, score badly is in the Job and Career categories.

Valencia ranks 62 out of 66 in this section with 46 percent of expats living in Valencia admitting that they are unhappy with their local career opportunities.

“Finding employment has always been difficult,” responded a French expat living in Valencia.

But all the reasons that make Valencia a favourite among expats are also found just down the coast in the region’s second city Alicante, which ranks a close number 2 on the list beating Lisbon, Panama City and Singapore.

Malaga appears at number 6 on the global list and Madrid at number 9, although Spain’s capital scores the most points globally for “leisure options”.

Barcelona however doesn’t make it into the top ten or even top 20. In fact it ranks 25th out of 66 cities in the world. Only 53 percent of expats are satisfied with the state of the local economy (vs. 63 percent globally). According to the survey 28 percent of expats in the city are dissatisfied with their financial situation (vs. 21 percent globally), and 67 percent find local housing unaffordable (vs. 41 percent globally).

“I do not like the working conditions, the pay is too low, and the rents are high,” remarked one German expat.