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BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, BOUGHT THE T-SHIRT!

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From independent.com

Colin Fitz meets Winter Moods frontman IVAN GRECH to sift through and hear all about his immaculate collection of Hard Rock T-shirts.

Ivan Grech can be said to have indeed been “there” and done “that”, if one is referring to releasing hit music and performing to large, adoring crowds, as is the dream of most rock musicians. And when it comes to buying T-shirts – well, he’s done that too: Hard Rock CafÌ© T-shirts that is.Indeed, the charismatic, golden-voiced frontman of one of Malta’s most popular bands is the proud owner of over 150 original, branded T-shirts as well as 15 Hard Rock jackets and shirts.

“I’m very proud of this one – it’s very rare,” he announces as he displays a monochrome T-shirt featuring a drawing of a guitar seen from the neck down, a garment he purchased from the London cafÌ©.

A set of special edition signature series tops designed by bands and artists such as U2, Green Day, The Who and Bruce Springsteen are also close to his heart, but, he says, his absolute favourites are the ones sporting the classic logo – especially when it’s raised or embossed.

“I also love the very rare Fender guitar T-shirt I bought from Rome, the Toronto camouflage design, the T-shirt designed by The Edge of U2 to raise funds for New Orleans musicians after Hurricane Katrina, and the Cologne CafÌ©’ T-shirt that has special memories as I bought it when we were there to play the Ringfest in front of 70,000 people,” he enthuses in that somewhat laid back but nonetheless earnest and soulful style he is known for.

The Hard Rock brand has inspired many collectors around the world – there are fans of the pins and badges, soft toys and glassware as well as clothing. Tourists often make it a point to buy a city’s branded Hard Rock T-shirt. A Maltese in Italy will buy a Rome Hard Rock CafÌ© top, while Italians in Malta are famous among local staff for their shopping sprees at our Hard Rock establishments at Bay Street, Valletta Waterfront and the airport.

The T-shirt phenomenon started shortly after the first Hard Rock CafÌ© opened its doors in London in 1971, when a local football club requested a sponsorship for their kits. The CafÌ© obliged by providing a run of branded T-shirts for the players and their most fervent fans – but they had some left over, so the CafÌ©’s owners offered them for sale to patrons.

This initiative proved so popular that more had to be printed and eventually, having no space for a retail store inside the premises, they bought out a newspaper kiosk on the pavement outside and turned it into a clothing sales point. The rest is history.

Ivan’s collecting trail started way back in 1994 when he used to travel a lot working as a tour leader. “Every city I have visited with a Hard Rock CafÌ© or Bar, I have headed there for a drink and to buy a T-shirt or two since then,” he explains.

The singer’s been most impressed with the CafÌ© in Orlando, Florida – it is shaped like a Coliseum with a huge, adjacent performance arena. But he’s also been to the ones in (deep breath) Dubai, Budapest, Paris, Athens, Barcelona, Lisbon, Ottawa, Niagara Falls, Beijing, Berlin, Madrid, Munich, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Dublin, Surfer’s Paradise (Australia), Moscow, Toronto, New York, Edinburgh, Cancun, Manchester and Miami.

“As for the countries I haven’t visited, friends get me T-shirts when they visit Hard Rock CafÌ©s where I haven’t been, such as in Jamaica,” he smiles.

But why the obsession, I ask?

“I simply love the brand and the outlets under its umbrella,” he replies. “I’ve been into music since I was very young and Hard Rock CafÌ©s feel like second homes to me.

“There’s even more of a connection since it opened in Malta in 2001. Winter Moods was the band that played at the opening and the president of Hard Rock who was at the gig enjoyed it so much that he invited us to the 30th anniversary celebrations in London that year. We were there mingling with musicians like Matchbox 20, Mick Jagger, and Boy George,” he recalls, fondly.

“We’ve also played at the Hard Rock CafÌ© in Rome on the same weekend we played at a festival in Cassino, Italy in 2006.”

Of course, he reminds me, Hard Rock has repaid the compliments by adding some of the band’s memorabilia to their walls. “One of my shirts, worn at our Valletta Waterfront concert where 10,000 people paid to get in and one of our guitars used in the Marigold video are displayed. The outlets have also added three of our music videos to their screen rotation,” he adds, a sense of pride in his tone.

Then there’s the food. “I never tire of eating here. In fact I visit at least twice a month. I love the Chicken Caesar Salad and Fajitas as well as that amazing dessert, the Apple Cobbler.”

To conclude, I enquire whether he ever gets teased about his dedication, but he asserts that his band mates and wife Deborah, who is also his manager, actually spur him on.

However, Deborah sometimes gets cross with him when he goes against her advice and buys a T-shirt that she is sure he already owns… then they come back to Malta and he finds that she was correct all along.

As he packs away the beautifully ironed examples (another of his talents, apparently) he makes an appeal to readers visiting Tokyo, Las Vegas, Mexico City, Sydney and any South American cities to keep him in mind if they make it to the Hard Rock CafÌ©s there. He’s joking of course… but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lend him a helping hand with his amazing collection.

Feel free to send in your requests or even proposals for designs to events@hardrockcafe.com.mt. Hard Rock CafÌ© is also currently running a ‘Show Us Your Classic’ T-shirt selfie competition. For more details visit https://www.facebook.com/hardrockcafemalta?fref=nf, https://www.facebook.com/hardrockbarmalta?fref=nf

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