Live at the Boite by Costas Tsicaderis
Reviewed by Pavlos Andronikos
Costas Tsicaderis, Live at the Boite. Melbourne: The Boite, 1985.
I have been impatiently looking forward to owning a recording of Costas Tsicaderis’ songs for some time so the release of this cassette-tape recording is a welcome event indeed, but my pleasure at now being able to listen to the songs whenever the mood takes me is tempered with some disappointment. I had hoped that a definitive high-quality studio-recording of the songs would be released, but instead Tsicaderis has offered us a live recording, and an undeniably poor quality recording at that, particularly as regards the mixing of the instruments and voices. I must add, however, that the high quality of the songs (some of them are the best Greek songs I’ve heard in a long time) does make up for the poor quality of the sound, but it also increases one’s frustration.
The collection is comprised of ten songs, and two instrumentals: the dreamy “Love Amongst the Ruins” and the harsher “Beyond Mulamein”, which is inspired by Nikos Ninolakis’ poem of the same name, and which attempts a fusion of Aboriginal and Greek music in that it blends (or should I say juxtaposes?) the didgeridoo with traditional Greek and European instruments led by the flute (? silver pipe v. wooden pipe).
Of the songs, one is in English (with lyrics by Tsicaderis himself) and sounds rather dated, although it does have a pleasant tune, and the rest are all Greek—most of them with lyrics by Greek-Australian poets, including two by Dimitris Tsaloumas. Musically, the songs do not strive for innovative or avant garde effects, but seem to belong firmly in the popular tradition defined and developed by Hatzidakis, Theodorakis, and other Greek composers who set Greek poetry to music. Perhaps, however, Tsicaderis is closer in spirit to Spanos than to either Theodorakis or Hatzidakis—both he and Spanos combine gentle melodies and orchestration with bitter-sweet and often nostalgic lyrics.
Four of the songs stand out particularly: “The Pommegranate” (sic) and “Letters Bearing Bad Tidings” (both with lyrics by Dimitris Tsaloumas), “Select a Day” (with lyrics by Nikos Ninolakis), and “Lost Swallow” (with lyrics by Andreas Triantafillopoulos).
“The Pomegranate” exists in two recorded versions, the other of which is to be found on the V.Ι.S.E. tape for the Modern Greek H.S.C. Greek Song Option, and both are quite different as regards the orchestration. In the Greek Song Option version (the earlier of the two), bouzouki dominates, whereas in the version offered in Live at the Boite the flute dominates. Myself, I prefer the earlier version and particularly like the bouzouki soloing free-fall style behind the voice. In comparison I find the later version bland and somehow much less exciting. The song as such is however superb—the lyrics and the melody are perfectly matched, and the melody has the simplicity and coherence of structure which go to make a classic.
The other Tsaloumas song, “Letters Bearing Bad Tidings”, is a driving zeybekiko with traditional bouzouki-dominated orchestration. It grows on you to the point where you just want to listen to it again and again, as too does the gentle “Select a Day”, an absolutely marvellous song. I especially like the way the melody rises unexpectedly in the chorus on the word έκσταση so that in retrospect one feels that it has been killing time, waiting for that climactic, ecstatic moment.
“Lost Swallow” is a “lighter” song than the other three, but it has a very appealing melody, catchy and repetitive (the sort of melody you hear once in the morning and find yourself humming all day), and the lyrics match well with it in that they are not densely poetical but straightforward and natural—they sound like the lyrics of a song rather than like a poem set to music.
Although for me these four songs are the outstanding ones, the rest of the songs are all good, with competent, often exquisite, arrangements. My only quarrel with the collection overall (recording quality apart) is with the lack of a rhythm section. There is no bassist and no drummer. In Greek song, bass and percussion is an area which is sadly underdeveloped. Bass lines seem to be added as an afterthought by most Greek composers (Theodorakis is particularly negligent in this respect), and I have yet to hear drumming on Greek songs which can compare in subtlety and complexity with the drumming on some of the best rock and reggae albums. It is unfortunate then that Tsicaderis should have chosen to do without a rhythm section for this is an area in which a songwriter of the diaspora could make a major contribution to the development of Greek song.
Live at the Boite is, I believe, Tsicaderis’ first album. If that is the case then I would like to take this opportunity to welcome an important new songwriter who, if he promotes himself correctly, will win an audience not only in Australia but also, I am sure, in Greece.
From Antipodes no. 20, November 1986.
Note 1: The drawing on the front cover is by Nikos Kypraios. To see a scan of the whole cover including credits, click on the image above.
Note 2: A later recording of “The Pomegranate”, sung by Costas himself, can be found at the In a Strange Land web site. The anthology In a Strange Land also includes a second song by Tsicaderis: “They’ve Taken the Sun”, with lyrics by Nikos Ninolakis. For other recordings go to http://www.youtube.com/user/jessicatsz.
To put this review in context, when it was written I was editor of the literary periodical Antipodes, and President of the organisation which published it—the Greek-Australian Cultural League of Melbourne and Victoria . My agenda at the time was to raise the level of the periodical; to introduce coverage of other art forms; and to counter a mentality in the Greek-Australian literary community which expected reviews to be favours for friends. It was important to me therefore that the review be seen to be a candid one.
I expected that my comments regarding sound quality would lead to further releases of better quality recordings, but sadly this was not how things turned out—the only other recording released before Costas Tsicaderis’ untimely death was a 3CR album (stereo LP and cassette) simply entitled Greek, which contained songs by Irine Vela and Sandra Damnics on one side and songs by Costas Tsicaderis on the other. Again, the sound quality of the Tsicaderis songs was poor, despite the fact that these were studio recordings.
In 2006 The Boite released The Mighty and the Humble, a posthumous CD of songs by Costas Tsicaderis, and although one might question the inclusion of some songs and performances, and the exclusion of others, one could not but be satisfied with the sound quality, which was excellent.
Interestingly the CD includes two tracks from the Live at the Boite album. This suggests that the quality of the master recordings for Live at the Boite was fine, and that the problem with the cassette release was the mix itself. There are no tracks from the 3CR album on the CD.