Friday, July 29, 2011

My Way (part 1)

This is the first part of a side by side presentation of two very interesting singers and songwriters, active since the 60s the first and the 70s the second, till today. Common characteristics their great voices, their internal drive and talent, the loyalty to their vision, the collaborations with major composers but also the limited (but important) output throughout the years as they have chosen whatever they do … to do it their way.

George (Yorgos) Romanos started his career in the 60s. His first album, Ballads, was released in 1965 with Manos Hatzidakis as producer. Next year he contributed as a singer in Mythology and Captain Michalis by Manos Hatzidakis.

Between 1968 and 1971, George Romanos releases 2 albums that are considered as benchmarks for the local folk/psychedelic scene: In Concert and in Studio in 1968 (featuring Vangelis Papathanasiou orchestra, the members of which later formed Aphrodite’s Child) and Two Small Blue Horses in 1970 featuring among others Koulouris (of Aphrodite’s Child) and Karakadas in rhythm and lead guitars respectively.

Here's the psych gem Two Small Blue Horses

Beginning of the 70s Romanos moves to Paris where he lives for several years writing music for commercials, for the theater etc. In 1974 he releases Dans le Grenier featuring French versions of his songs.

Dans le Grenier (1974)

In the 80s he releases Krama (1988), a very good album but with no promotion at all from the press and the record company. Before this he participates in the group You Guys which consisted of ex members of Socrates and Akritas. Their only release, Love in Armour (1983), adopts a (soft) progressive style.
The 90s proved a strange decade for Romanos it became difficult for the record companies to find a fit for him. As he says in an interview, even though he had some material ready, no record company was willing to release. So he offered these songs to another singer, Vlasis Bonatsos (singer of Peloma Bokiou), who released them on his 1991 album Paralyrima (Delirium). 

Martha's Party from Krama (1988)

In 2004, Romanos, George Simatos and Yannis Stavropoulos release under the name NYN a beautiful album, Winning the Game, a fusion of classical music, latin, rock and jazz. This one and his solo album Krama are among the most unnoticed and underestimated albums. They are practically out of circulation and are seldom mentioned on the net.

... to be continued

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The 4 Levels of Existence...

...of Nikos Grapsas, born 1957 in Lefkada island, Greece.
Nikos Grapsas has been a member in some of the most important Greek bands  including Paralos, The 4 Levels of Existence, Dynameis tou Aigaiou (Aegean Forces), Trihordo, Avaton, Nearhou Paraplous. He has a rich solo career too as well as many collaborations with great composers like Hatzidakis, Markopoulos, Stavrianos, Halaris etc.

Besides his classical studies, his passion for folk and traditional music of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans makes him expand his studies to cover Byzantine music and the Turkish and Arabic music systems. He is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and composer.

So here are the "4 levels of existence" of Nikos Grapsas:

LEVEL 1: Heavy Progressive/Psychedelic

The 4 Levels of Existence was a heavy progressive/psychedelic band of the 70s. Grapsas played the guitar, sang and contributed in compositions. They recorded only one LP which was released in 1976 in only a few copies.
Many consider this a masterpiece of the 70s progressive rock. As the years past this album became very famous among collectors all over the world and changed hands for more than 800$.

The album has been re-issued in LP, CD, mp3 format. Check the official site.

But the story does not end here: in 2009 a representative of the American rapper and producer Jay Z calls the ex-band members to ask permission to include a sample of their song in the forthcoming Jay Z album Blueprint 3. Permission granted and some 33 years later their music contributes to a worldwide smash hit.

So here’s the original: The 4 Levels of Existence – Some day in Athens [1976]

…and here’s the same song sampled: Jay Z – Run this town [2009]

LEVEL 2: The Traditional/Byzantine/Folk

As mentioned, Nikos Grapsas had a genuine passion for traditional music. During early 80s he and fellow musicians Tsiamoulis, Klapakis, Zevgolis and Tambouris, create a band, Dynameis tou Aigaiou (Aegean Forces) focusing on alternative interpretations of traditional songs of the Mediterranean and the Balkans but also creating original ones in the same spirit.

Byzantine scales, Balkan rhythms and ecclesiastic chant is present in all 4 of their recordings. The use of almost forgotten traditional instruments and the element of improvisation on traditional routes creates an influential example that many bands or artists followed in the next years. 

Here’s an original composition from their second album. The lyrics belong to Nobel prize winner, poet Odysseas Elytis:

Dynameis tou Aigaiou – Kokkino Alogo (Red Horse) [1987]

Level 3: The Electro/Ambient/World

In 1988 Panagiotis Xydias and Giannis Papadakis form Avaton, a band that focuses in ancient Greek music seen from a cultural exchange prism and influenced by Indian music, Armenian music and music of the Minor East. Nikos Grapsas soon joined Avaton and contributed in their 1st album with same name, released in 1991 by Manos Hatzidakis record company, Seirios.

The lyrics belong to ancient Greek poet Sappho (in ancient Greek)
Avaton released their 2nd album (without Grapsas) in 1993. Their 3rd album, Ex Adokito (Unforeseen as it was) includes new versions of the 1st and 2nd album compositions (including Grapsas compositions from the first album). There is a 4th release in 2001, Cosmon, based on Heraclitus and Epicurus words.

Here’s Avaton - Aerion Epeon Arhomai (With a Few Celestial Words I Shall Begin) [1996]

Level 4: The Solo journey

Nikos Grapsas moves from rock to eastern traditional music with ease. Here are two examples from two of his solo albums.

Perdika mou (My Partridge) from the Mia Kori Apo Tin Amorgo (A Fair Maiden from Amorgos) album of 1996. A double album including 13 songs, with traditional instruments but original orchestration.

The other side on Nikos Grapsas solo career is the one trying to unite eastern and western influences.
Mikri Erotes sti Lypimeni Poli (Young love in Sad City) album was released in 1997 and finds Nikos going electric again (after 4 Levels of Existence days) but also maintaining lot of traditional elements resulting in a unique blend of music.

Here’s To telos enos kalokairinou erota (The end of a summer love) from this album

Friday, July 8, 2011


Just before temperature hits 40C for the first time this summer, it is time to pay a small tribute to the world’s most famous summer song:
George Gershwin’s Summertime.
So here are 3 Greek covers to be added to the thousands of covers.
In chronological order.

1. The M.G.C.

The M.G.C. (Modern Greek Combo, 1967-1971) is one of the first greek rock bands.
Summertime comes from their 1967 single ("Summertime / I'm Gonna Cut My Head", 7" Vinyl, Pan-Vox, 1967).
The song also appears in “Greece Goes Modern Vol. 1” compilation of 2000 (info here).

The group members are: Polytimos, Poulikakos, Tseberopoulos, Belliyiannis, Kiurktsoglu, Sembos, Dovas, Triandafyllou, Dallas, Katsadorakis, Alahadamis, Tzimopoulos.

The M.G.C - [1967] Summertime / I'm Gonna Cut My Head

2. Solid Silver

Solid Silver is a side project of Argyris – Silver – Koulouris, rhythm guitarist of Aphrodite’s Child.
This is the only single released under this name.
The cover is an extraordinary funky-disco piece, a really unique addition to the long Summertime cover list!

Solid Silver – [1976] Summertime / Walrus Music

3. Elias Zaikos
Elias Zaikos is a band leader, guitar player, singer from Thessaloniki.
He is one of the blues pioneers in Greece, demonstrating a rich and lasting career with his band Blues Wire or solo.
Summertime comes from his solo album of 1997, Off the Box and is an instrumental blues version combining the guitar and the violin.

Elias Zaikos – [1997] Off the Box 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Graut Rock

I’m obviously paraphrasing Kraut Rock as the groups described below sound at times like some of the great German bands (Can, Neu, Faust, Guru Guru etc).

Baby Guru were formed in 2009.
They released Yogi Sister EP in 2010 and the Baby Guru album in 2011.
Kraut rock, electronica, african rhythms get mixed with psychedelic landscapes.
They could easily fit in the new Brooklyn indie scene with groups like Yeasayer, MGMT etc.

Baby Guru are:
-Obi Serotone: vocals, sampler, keyboards, synths, percussion, soundscapes, drums, production, editing
- King Elephant: drums, percussion, programming, saxophone, soundscapes, backing vocals, editing, production
- Sir Kosmiche: bass, sound manipulation, backing vocals, noise,percussion, editing, production

Baby Guru - Navigation

Baby Guru - Marilu

Baby Guru on MySpace

Which brings us to the second release: King Elephant, drummer of Baby Guru released his solo album with same name in 2011.
Heavy sampling, jazzy sounds, folk, african percussions and psychedelic vocals from his fellow Obi Serotone of Baby Guru.
Great stuff.

King Elephant on MySpace

King Elephant ft. Obi Serotone - Appreciation by Inner Ear Records

Regarding Fantastikoi Hxoi (Imaginary Sounds) I’m copying from their (his) site:
“Fantastikoi Hxoi (Imaginary Sounds) is a re-edit project based in Athens that draws material mainly from obscure greek pop, rock and folk tunes, among other global music.Using samples from classic or totally forgotten tracks, FH creates a peculiar retro-futuristic sound through complete reconstruction or a drastic re-edit.

2008’s “Masters Of The Universe” LP (self-released and available for free at has gathered praise from people like Ivan Smagghe, Lovefingers, Eskimo Recordings, Optimo, James Holden, 20Jazzfunkgreats, Finn Johannsen and Marcus Scott - as well as rave reviews by the local music press. It now counts over 15,000 downloads.”

You can download his album from his site here (highly recommended):

Here's my personal favorite: Old Eden (Palia Edem) a re-edit of Kostas Hatzis song
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