IT’S not every day a Scot wins a major regional music competition from a Spanish jail cell – but that’s exactly what Allan McCarthy did.

The 59-year-old was in Sangonera prison in Murcia in the mid-1980s when what started as a jam session turned into national news.

McCarthy, from Barrhead, was serving a six-and-a-half-year jail sentence at the time over drug charges when he got involved in the prison’s music workshop and created the band Berlin 90.

A prison guard, liking what he was hearing, decided to submit a recording of the group to a local radio station’s battle of the bands contest.

“It was an accidental thing,” McCarthy said. “It was a music workshop to keep people occupied and out of trouble. By coincidence the radio station had launched a competition and we put in for it never thinking anything of it.”

“We didn’t even have a name back then,” the 59-year-old said. “We were just doing it for our own amusement.”

The problem now was getting there. They had already been allowed to record the track and submit it but more luck was to follow as prison bosses allowed the men to leave the prison grounds.

“We were four convicted criminals going out under armed guard to a recording studio,” McCarthy recalled. “It was totally crazy.”

After that, and a lot of media attention according to McCarthy, the band were again allowed out of prison. This time it was to perform at a local venue.

“We didn’t realise ourselves just how big it was at the time. You couldn’t exactly go outside and see yourself on the front of the newspaper,” he said.

The band were on a high but that was soon followed by a low as McCarthy was sent to the notorious Carabanchel Prison – which closed in 1998 – some 200 miles away from his bandmates.

In a much stricter jail, McCarthy wouldn’t venture into the outside world until his release in the early 1990s.

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“As quick as it happened it ended,” he said. “Somebody knocked on the cell door one day and said ‘get your bag – you’re going to Madrid’.”

“It was worse than Alcatraz. Everyone knew about it. They threatened you with it: ‘You’re going to Carabanchel, you’re a bad boy’.”

After his release, McCarthy returned to Scotland, having been banned from Spain for 10 years. He later took up work in magazine publishing and has worked with the likes of the Scotch Whisky Association.

After his 10 years were up, he went back to Spain and has spent most of his time there since 2018.

He’s keen to get back into music but after returning to Murcia he discovered that one band member had died, one had gone to Madrid, one to France and another had disappeared.

But the Scot is still in touch with one of the band members and hopes to pick up the guitar again and continue Berlin 90’s legacy.

Asked whether he’d play in the prison again, McCarthy said, “aye, only as a one-off,” before joking: “I don’t want to do a residency there.”

Despite breaking up though, the band lives on – not least in the Murcian airwaves. McCarthy said that since they stepped foot in DJ Angel Sopena’s radio show for the competition, the host has been playing the songs ever since. And it’s a memory he holds dear.

“Angel has been continuously playing our stuff all the time,” he said. “I didn’t know he had been writing about us in newspapers either. And he’s just celebrated his 30th anniversary of his radio show.

“He was talking about the best people he has worked with, and we are talking about Bowie, Stones and the rest of it.

“But every interview I’ve read he’s made a big deal about us.

“This guy has met all these people and that still sticks in his mind.”