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A Life Well Lived: John Penny

Emanuela Cooper

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John arrived in Ibiza in 1970 with a big van, a close friend, four dogs and a cat. He was 40 years old, and having served twenty-two years in the UK Army as a mechanical engineer and passionate sports-man, he felt it was time for a change of scenery. Punta Arabi was the place where John put down his hat. The first year he worked as a maintenance engineer for the Punta Arabi Club. He also serviced cars and boats for acquaintances at no charge, and his generosity won him a lot of friends. 

This was also the place where he met his true love. Early one morning while walking his four dogs (two Alsatians and two big Labradors), John saw a beautiful lady with ginger hair walking down the road. The dogs ran toward her and John shouted “Don’t be scared!”, to which his future wife replied “I am not scared.” Her name was Milca, and John was immediately smitten. He courted her with full power - taking her to Tagomago by boat, around the island on a Land Rover, and more. Finally she said YES and moved in with him, in a small house opposite today’s Hippy Market. 
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In 1971 John started to make leather handbags and belts that were sold in the shops. But he had always been a pioneering and courageous entrepreneur who had run a successful disco with the famous DJ Golly in Farnborough, near London. Why not try that here in Es Canar? So in 1972 he opened a club in the Hotel Ereso. It was called ‘Revolution’, and for 100 pesetas one could enjoy a free drink and dance all night long. It immediately became popular with both tourists and locals, but here was just one problem: the percentage agreed with the owners didn’t materialize, so after a couple of months John decided to move on. 
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He set up a new club in the basement of the El Cortijo Restaurant which became an instant success. The music was smooth R&B with some Blues. The DJ named Linda was also a beautiful dancer who acted as the club’s go-go girl, sporting high heels and silver hot pants. She inspired the guests to dance till the small hours. When El Cortijo was sold, John opened a new club called ‘Snoopy’ next to the hotel Ereso - it was packed from day one. But John was longing for something more exciting, where he could really let his imagination fly. He found a great venue for rent near Mariner’s restaurant in Santa Eulalia which he completely re-designed to create ‘Bananas Club’. It became a magnet for people who loved to dance, and featured a special panel the size of a cinema screen. Behind this opaque panel was a room where girls who wanted to dance naked could do it safely. The clubbers could only see their silhouettes, and the idea was so original that word spread like wildfire. John promised a bottle of champagne for the best dancer, but at the end of every night all of them got one.
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In 1975 John and Milca bought the house they had been renting for years for 5 million pesetas. It had neither water nor electricity, and needed a total reformation. It sat on a large piece of land and had become a sanctuary for an ever growing number of dogs. They had almost twenty dogs that welcomed John and Milca – happily and noisily – every time they arrived home. An unspecified number of cats also lived there, plus a procession of local stray cats that visited at lunch time.

John was a Pioneer of the Ibiza Music Scene

The years went by and working throughout the nights was taking its toll. The music scene was changing and John was ready for a new adventure. In the late 70s he sold Bananas Club, having cemented his legacy as an original pioneer of the Ibiza club scene. The next step for John and Milca was using a fleet of 14 red open-top Citroën Méharis for tours of the island. They could be seen riding from Port des Torrent all around the island leading tourists who drove enthusiastically to remote spots on the unpaved caminos. When the tours ended, they offered boat rides to Tagomago. 
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Most of John’s many enterprises were very successful, but importing wooden garden houses from Eastern Europe turned out to be the jewel in his crown, until he retired at the age of 82. John can reflect on a life of creativity that was lived with integrity. Today at 93 years young, he is great company, with a sharp sense of humour and an astounding memory. What an inspiration!. 

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