(1965) Various Artists – Greece in Music and Song

Argo issue numbers
DA 29 in Jan/Feb 1965; re-released as ZFB 70 in March 1972.

Field recordings
made by James McNeish in 1961 using a portable Nagra II

Ioannis Thassarigikis – bouzouki
Nicholas Halkias – clarino
Halkias family – folk band
Unidentified singers and musicians

(Click on a track and it’ll play in a new window)


Side A
Skaros (Epirus) – Halkias family
Servicos (Arachova-Rumeli) – IT bouzouki with accompaniment
Servicos (Zagori-Epirus) – unidentified female vocalist
Klepht bird song (Rumeli) – Halkias family
Tsamicos (Archova-Rumeli) – IT bouzouki with accompaniment
Miralogia (Epirus) – unidentifed male vocalist and accompanists
Tsamicos (Arachova-Rumeli) – Karamusa player with tupan
Miralogia (Epirus) – unidentified clarino and string players

Side B
Sirtos (Arachova-Rumeli) – IT bouzouki with accompaniment
10 Marriage Song (Zagori-Epirus) – female vocalist
11 Itia (The willow tree) – Halkias family
12 Stis Theropolis Ton Kambo (Epirus) – Halkias family
13 Miralogia (dirges from Epirus) – three female singers
14 Lullaby (Skiathos) – female vocalist
15 Hagnotico (Cretan dance) – Halkias family
16 Paglio Zagorisio (Epirus) – unidentified musicians
17 Aiutos (Arachova-Rumeli) – IT bouzouki with accompaniment

The music
To find out more about the songs/music, skip to the section at the bottom for the sleeve notes by McNeish and some interesting background/context/commentary kindly contributed by Greek music specialist Tony Klein.

The field trip

Here’s McNeish’s account of the 1961 field trip, taken from the album’s back cover. 

mcneish notes back cover 

James McNeish
These field recordings were made in 1961 by New Zealander James McNeish. McNeish is an interesting character. Born in 1931 in New Zealand, he did a BA in modern languages, taught a bit, then, in 1958, worked his passage to Europe on a Norwegian freighter.

He became a fireman at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and, after a spell teaching in south London, set off around Europe in 1959 with his first wife, recording folk music. He recorded in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary before landing in Sicily in 1960, where he stayed two to three years.

Back in London (1963 or 1964), he turned the Greece and Sicily recordings into two series of radio programmes for the BBC’s Third Programme. Two people from Argo sat in on one of the programme recording sessions, “got excited by what they heard and commissioned a disc”, he remembers.

The Sicily recordings – Sicily in Music and Song (Argo DA 30) – and this album got a simultaneous release in the UK and the USA in early 1965. A later Argo LP of McNeish recordings – Folk Music of Czechoslovakia – was one of reviewer Brian Rust’s albums of the year in The Gramophone in 1970. "A model of its kind, instructive and delightful."

During his time in Sicily, McNeish worked with the anti-Mafia campaigner, Danilo Dolci. McNeish’s biography of Dolci, Fire Under the Ashes, was published in London the same year this album came out (1965).

He returned to New Zealand in 1967, to an isolated, rocky peninsula in the King Country, and wrote – making sporadic trips abroad to research books and make further recordings. Amongst his publications (novels, journalism and drama) are: Mackenzie (1970), Godwits (1977), An Albatross too Many (1998), My Name is Paradiso (1995), The Mask of Sanity: the Bain Murders (1997) Dance of the Peacocks (2003), The Sixth Man (2008) and, most recently, The Crime of Huey Dunstan (2010).

His European folk music episodes are going to figure in a memoir he’s currently writing, due for publication in 2012.

Thanks to James for biographical info. Looking forward to that memoir.

Earlier field recordings in Greece
McNeish got to Greece early with his Nagra, but many had gone before him.

Epirus was one of the stops of Sotirios Chianis on a field recording trip to Greece in 1952-53, just three years after the last communists retreated across the Albanian border at the end of the Greek Civl War.

He’d been given a Guggenheim fellowship to study Homer “as an oral poet in the light of Greek heroic oral poetry and folk songs”. The American Philosophical Society gave him a grant to buy recording equipment. The result was the 1955 Folkways album ‘Folk Music of Greece’, available here.

Around the same time another academic, James A. Notopoulos, was doing a similar Homeric recording trip in Greece. His 25 tapes of Greek heroic poetry, folk tales, and folk songs are in the Library of Congress. Two albums were released – Folk Music of Modern Greece (1955, Folkways FE4454) and Folk Dances of Greece (1956, Folkways FE4467). They’re both still available. Here.

It wasn’t just foreigners, though, who were collecting folk music in post-war Greece. The Athens Academy set up its own National Music Collection in 1951 and by the time McNeish truned up with his Nagra had already gathered 4,500 items of folk music on disc or tape and some 60,000 folk song texts with their variants.

A lot earlier recordings in Greece
But it was all happening a lot lot earlier. I used to think it was the Alan Lomax generation that started getting European (and world) folk music down on disc. Not true.

Its eye may have been more on earning the odd drachma or two, and the performers it recorded may have been city-dwelling professionals, but The Gramophone Company was at it in the late 1920s. For example, recording engineer Edward Fowler was sent out to record folk music in Tunis, Cairo, Constantinople and Athens in 1927. A year later HMV released 44 (forty-four!) 10-inch ‘Brown label’ 78s of Greek dance and folk music. Recorded in Athens. Pressed in Hayes, Middlesex and sent back mostly for the local market.

"If you want to hear what a Greek inn sounds like late on a Saturday night, get ‘Livadia’ (one of the 78s)," said The Gramophone when the records came out. "It is an acquired taste, I admit."

Check out Paul Vernon’s article ‘A look at the engineers who made history travelling the world recording its music’ on www.bolingo.org. Really interesting.

And for some great examples of old 78s of Greek singers and musicians, check out the fantastic excavatedshellac site. Don’t visit it if you’ve only got 10 minutes to spare. There’s stuff from all over and once you’ve landed it’s difficult to get away. Buy a box of Pringles and settle in.

Here are a couple of contemporary reviews of the album.

“One of the finest existing commercial records with Greek folk music,” said Wolfgaang Laade in the magazine ‘Society for Ethnomusicology’ in 1970.

“If you love folk-lore, you will find them very exciting,” said a contemporary review in the Gramophone.

“One’s ear is more severely tested when listening to the sounds of ‘Greece in Music and Song’…once we get used to the new sounds, songs such as Servicos (a song about a famous eighteenth-century traveller named Rovas) or Miralogia – laments which are sometimes sung at marriages – become very interesting.

“One of the tracks which attracted me on this LP was another Miralogia, from Epirus—the mountainous northern zone stretching to Albania. In it, three widows in black, crouching at dusk by kerosene lamplight, intone a dirge in praise of a young man. Village superstition decrees that if keening occurs and there is no death, ill-luck will befall the inhabitants, so this track was made secretly with the help of the Mayor, who, fortunately for the sound recordist, was not superstitious.

“But, in spite of that, and on the advice of the Mayor, the crew left the village immediately afterwards. I found this fascinating!”

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According to a review in the International Folk Music Journal, the female vocalist on tracks 3 and 12 is ‘foreign to the true popular tradition’. Hmm. I’ve only seen an extract of the review. The article proper is kept behind a paywall. Quite right. You never know who might get hold of it.

The Halkias family
The Halkias clan come from the villages around Delvinaki, north-west of Ioannina, close to the border with Albania. For generations, the family has produced – and continues to produce – some of Greece’s great folk clarino virtuosi. For a flavour check out this video.

The songs
Right. If you want to get into the music/songs and their context a bit more deeply, read on.

Tony Klein, who kindly passed me a copy of the record, also sent over some notes on some of the music/songs that appear here. As he told me, no criticism of McNeish intended, just that much of the knowledge that’s around now (in his head principally) just wasn’t available to a New Zealander travelling the Greek countryside in 1961.

So, here are McNeish’s original notes (taken from the back cover) followed by Tony’s comments (in italic).


1  Skaros (Epirus)
(McN) A pastoral, with imitative bird cries. A taste of Nicholas Halkias’ sliding- tone improvisation to come

2  Servicos (Arachova-Rumeli)
(McN) Bouzouki improvisation on a dance theme. Controversy still rages about the authenticity of bouzoukia. Purists say it is Turkish and therefore impure. Enthusiasts liken it solemnly to Bach, and have welcomed it into the demotic (folk) idiom. The name is from the Turkish vouzook. The instrument came to Greece with refugees from Turkey after the First World War.

(TK)This isn’t so much an improvisation, as a version of an instrumental tune recorded in 1937 by Ioannis Papaioannou under the title of Serviko Smyrneïko (Serviko from Smyrna), with the addition of a related theme in the same tonality at the end. The Papaioannou version is to be heard on the excellent Rounder CD compilation “My Only Consolation”. A similar tune was recorded a year or two later by Vassilis Tsitsanis under the title “Politikos Horos” – i.e. Dance from Constantinople.

The idea of calling a genre of music “bouzoukia” – a kind of “pars pro toto”, is a post-WWII, at the earliest 1950s, phenomenon. The use of the word authenticity here, and the assertion that such a discourse raged at the time, is somewhat misleading. The music called “bouzoukia” by the early 1960s when McNeish was in Greece, was the direct descendant of the bouzouki-based rebetika which reached its highest flowering during the second half of the 1930s, maintained some kind of classic form until the mid-50s, and was then modified and influenced in multifarious ways.

Find out more:

There was certainly a discourse immediately post-WWII on the status of rebetika, and its associations with drugs, criminality, and the miseries of poverty and exile, as well as its association with the music of the Asia Minor immigrants, who were by no means its sole exponents. In fact, many major rebetika figures were born on the islands, or in mainland Greece, e.g. Markos Vamvakaris, who hailed from the island of Syros, and Vassilis Tsitsanis, born in the mainland town of Trikala.

Bouzouki music has never actually been “welcomed into the demotic idiom” in the sense of being seen by Greeks in the same terms as the other music on this LP. Greeks talk of laïki mousiki, by which they mean popular music, and dimotiki mousiki, i.e. what we usually call “folk music”.

There is no such Turkish word as voozook. The Turkish word bozuk does however exist, and means “broken”, but it is unclear whether this meaning has any connection with the name of the instrument. The word bozuk is also used in Turkey to denote one of the various sizes of the instrument known as saz, and of one of its various tunings, known as bozuk düzen.

While there is still no consensus on the etymology, it would thus seem reasonable to see the Greek word bouzouki as a typical familiar diminutive form of the Turkish word. By the way, the bouzouki has a close relative in Lebanon and Syria – the bouzouk, also transliterated variously as buzuk, buzuq, bosuq, &c, and according to some mainly played by Rom musicians – the Lebanese virtuoso Matar Mohammed (1939- 1995) being an example.

The instrument certainly did not come to Greece with refugees from Turkey after WWI. As you will see in the Wikipedia article, it was known by that name in Greece by at least the first half of the 19th century.

In fact, the Greek-Christian refugees from mainland Turkey who arrived in Greece in the wake of WWI, and especially the events of 1922, did not generally speaking play the bouzouki until they met the instrument in mainland Greece.

3  Servicos (Zagori-Epirus)
(McN) Song about a famed 18th Century traveller named Rovas. All the available manpower would go with him. Wives are said to have their houses built exceptionally high, the sooner to see their menfolk returning with Rovas’ caravan-trains.

4  Klepht bird song (Rumeli)
(McN) ‘A bird sang by the dry stream of Levodhia
And was looking towards Distomon
It sings that at Distomon
They are killing people’

A moving example of the organic folk process – traditional heroic form grafted onto recent events. In the last war German reprisals against local guerrillas wiped out almost the entire village of Distomon: 400 died in 60 minutes. In Greek folklore the symbolic messenger is invariably a bird.

5  Tsamicos (Arachova – Rumeli)
(McN) The tsamicos is one of the most popular of Greek dances. Here the bouzouki has the feel of a balalaika.

(TK) I don’t know where he got the idea of balalaika from here, unless he’s referring to the occasional mandolin-style tremolo passages. The tsamikos is named after the Cam tribes of Albania.

It is rather unusual to hear a tsamikos played on a bouzouki – in fact one of the virtues of this LP is that it offers one of the only two recorded examples of “country” bouzouki players.

Of the other recorded “country” bouzouki player, Dino Trig, there have been seven pieces available on disc, on three issues of Bhattacharya’s recordings: the Musidisc LP Musique Folklorique du Monde – Grèce ( 30 CV 1106), Songs and Dances from Macedonia (ARGO ZFB-56), and the first track of the CD Zingari – Route of the Gypsies, NE 9702-2.

Dino Trig lived in the village of Mikro Dasos (”Little Wood”) in Macedonia. According to Bhattacharya, who recorded him there in October 1961, he was a Rom. The population of Mikro Dasos in fact consisted almost entirely of refugees who were forcibly transferred after 1922 from the Black Sea area of present-day Turkey, known to Greeks as Pontus. Some of the tunes Trig played are typical Pontic tunes which have no musical connection with any other kind of Greek music.

Whether Trig was his true surname is a moot point. I have a Greek friend in Uppsala who was born in a neighbouring village. Last year he went to Mikro Dasos on my behalf to ask about Dino Trig the bouzouki player. Nobody had the slightest remembrance of such a person. It is known that Rom people may guard certain words very secretly, not revealing them to anyone outside their own tribe. The name Trig is not to be found anywhere in Greece – but could conceivably be either a joke (trick!) or from the Greek song Τριγκ-τριγκ τα ποτηράκια (Trig Trig Ta Potirakia) which refers to the sound of clinking glasses. These are my own ruminations; Dino Trig was the first bouzouki player to capture my imagination 40 years ago.

6  Miralogia (Epirus)
‘Come out from the earth’
‘I can’t – I have no feet’
‘Make your nails into hoes
And with your other hand push aside the tombstone’

(McN) Miralogia (‘words of destiny’) are metrical dirges. They are isolated phenomena today. The form may go back to the dawn of Epirote history, after the Trojan War. Incredibly, laments like this one for clarion and voice – usually pentatonic – are occasional table songs at marriages.

(TK) Should in fact be spelt/transliterated as Mirologoi or Moirologoi from the Greek μοιρολόγοι

7  Tsamicos (Arachova – Rumeli)
(McN) The players were quarried with difficulty from a cafe table-top during the Feast of St George and removed to a less bacchanalian recording ground – the municipal rubbish tip. The squalling note of the karamusa (flared reed pipes made of walnut – see cover) is common all over Greece and the Balkans. This shepherd exponent wore a spray of mouthpieces round his necklike a witch-doctor’s charm. The drum is a tupan.

8  Miralogia (Epirus)
Laments for clarino solo are usually in praise of heroes. In Greece this is not a virtuoso performance; this is popular music.


9  Sirtos (Arachova – Rumeli)
(McN) Bouzouki variant of a lyrical dance, performed close to the ground, usually by women.

(TK) This is an interesting example of ”gesunkenes kulturgut” if one dares to use such a concept. The tune is actually not really a sirtos, which is a dance in 4/4 metre, but a 7/8 kalamatianos. Furthermore the song was actually composed by a prolific popular songwriter/composer duo and recorded in 1954 by the singer Eliza Marelli with heavily orchestrated accompaniment, under the title “Το καινούργιο σου φουστάνι” i.e. ”Your new dress”.

It is an example of a popular song composed in a folkdance metre, whose musical substance has basically no connection whatever with the demotic idiom other than its metre. Furthermore, on my very first trip to Greece in 1975, when I was making music with my taxi-driver host Fotis and his wife Margarita in the ancient village of Castro on the island of Sifnos, Margarita sang the song, which I’d already learned from the LP! But my Greek wasn’t sufficient at the time to discuss the song’s origins, and they probably wouldn’t have made the same academic distinctions I make here.

Funnily enough it was then recorded on bouzouki by the Finnish “jazz-folk-world” group Piirpaukke in 1976 on their 2nd LP, obviously learned from the McNeish LP, and with no knowledge of the tune’s true identity as a commercial popular song.

10 Marriage song (Zagori – Epirus)
(McN) Almost devotional in character. The melancholy style of local singing is said to have resulted from the constant male depopulation.

11 The Willow Tree (Epirus)
(McN) A pastoral love song with piquant double meaning. Nicholas Halkias’ improvisations on a grotesque ground bass create an even fruitier texture.

(TK) Grotesque? I wonder what he means. Certainly the musicians don’t follow the conventional harmonisations of this tune consistently. It usually uses the tonic minor chord, its relative major, and the dominant chord of the minor key. Perhaps the laouto player wasn’t entirely on top of things here – McNeish mentions that these musicians liked to exchange instruments….

12 Stis Theropolis Ton Kambo (Epirus)
(McN) One of the great polyphonic songs of the klepht manner. Turkish influence is unmistakable, but Greek musical enius transcends it. The ‘owling’ in the background is Vassilios’ fiddle. The song commemorates a noted freedom fighter against the Turks.

13 Miralogia (Zagori – Epirus)
(McN) Three widows in black, crouching at dusk by kerosene lamplight, intoned this dirge in praise of a young man. Laments like this are heard only in Epirus, Mani and parts of Crete. Village superstition decrees that if keening occurs and there is no death, ill-luck will befall the inhabitants. The recording was made secretly with the help of the mayor (who was not superstitious); on his advice we left the village immediately afterwards. The theme is unchanged for centuries; the imagery varies with inspiration:

‘Where are you going, my silver one…
Where are you going, my fresh sprig of basil
To lose your bloom?
You are not meant to descend into the black earth.
You will repent, my boy, a thousand times an hour
For the decision you have made to die.
There where you have gone
They call it the land of no return
Where two together do not sit
And three do not talk
And no marriages are made
And no festivities held
And there are no fields where you can play with your horse’

14 Lullaby (Island of Skiathos)
(McN) In Greek song Nature is personified. Here the mother appeals direct to Morpheus, God of Sleep, to guide her child.

15 Hagnotico
(McN) A Cretan dance, popular also on the mainland.

(TK) Mistakenly transliterated – it should read Haniotiko or Chaniotiko – from the north-western Cretan harbour town of Chania gr. Χανιά.

16 Paglio Zagorisio (Epirus)
(McN) A grotesque dance, performed in threes by women

(TK) Should read palio (gr. παλιό) = old.

17 Aiutos – ‘The Eagle’ (Arachova – Rumeli)
A tsamicos. The dancers, with arms outflung, have the freedom of the great eagles which plane in the air currents here, under Mt Parnassus. The eagle is the old symbol for Byzantium.

(TK) Should read Aëtos (gr. Αετός).

~ by folkcatalogue on February 22, 2010.

3 Responses to “(1965) Various Artists – Greece in Music and Song”

  1. […] These recordings were made between 1960 and 1964 by New Zealander James MacNeish (for a limited biography of MacNeish see the post for his other album of field recordings issued on Argo, Greece in Music and Song. […]

  2. Is there anyone that willing to help me to finish my collection of Odeon HGRA ?
    Please let me know if you have any idea about that seiries.
    Thank you

  3. Is there any possibility of getting the audio files (maybe in flac)?
    I am from greece and this is a very rare vinyl. I am big fan of Xalkias family (Χαλκιάδες) it;s a very talented music family with music generations until this days.

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