Symi FestivalSymi Festival 2007PREMIERE - Review & Video Gallery

It was after seven when I saw Thanos Mikroutsikos walking alone past Kantirimi Bar dressed in black, pipe in one hand, a briefcase in the other, enjoying the late afternoon sun and saying hello to people around him. He's an old friend of Symi and was made an honorary citizen eleven years ago. He headed for his piano on the left-hand side of the stage and the first sound checks began. They were all there, on and around the stage, Manolis Mitsias, Giannis Koutras, Rita Antonopoulou, together with a big team of musicians and technicians.

"Wonderfully Alone with the Southern Cross", is a musical journey in the carreer of Mikroutsikos (who together with Mikis Theodorakis are the most influencial Greek composers alive) from his legendary "Southern Cross" album almost 30 years ago, to his latest one "Wonderfully Alone".

By 9:30, the central square is packed full of people and every little corner on every side was taken. A strong light was beamed to the center of the stage as the white smoke receded and Alexis Kostalas, a well-known journalist, appeared on stage. The Premiere was dedicated to the memory of Yiannis Diakoyiannis and Kostalas, a personal friend of Diakoyiannis, paid a short tribute to the founder of the Symi Festival. He reminded everyone a time 13 years ago when Diakoyiannis's dream came true and the Symi Festival started one night at the courtyard of St John with just a grand piano. He talked about Diakoyiannis's passion for Symi and his endless efforts to promote the island and the festival to the whole World.

Eleni Kritikou and Giorgos Papakalodoukas, the organisers of this year's Festival, came on stage for a brief welcome as did the Mayor of Symi, Lefteris Papakalodoukas. This year there were no invitations to Government officials or any politicians at all, as a way of protest for the lack of a direct ferry service between Symi and Pireus.

It was now time for music. The light became dark red and a short-lived silence filled the square. Even the (sometimes loud) children playing in the playground stopped and looked towards the stage as Thanos appeared right in the middle of it.

From the first few moments it was clear we were in for a treat. Rock sounds, drums, electrical guitar, loud... very loud... the central square became a rock venue within seconds.

Thanos on stage performing "Stis Gorgonas to Ftero", (On the Marmaid's Wing), a new song that is among the very few of the hundereds he has written during the past 36 years that he chose to sing and perform himself.

Click the video to the left to get a glimpse of how it all started.

Giannis Koutras and Manolis Mitsias made their first appearance on stage singing songs from Thanos's latest album. I returned to Kantirimi for a quick sip of my wine and to empty the camera. The cafes and restaurants were packed and there was not a single empty seat to be found.

I walked back towards the stage in time for Rita Antonopoulou's first appearance singing "O Stavros tou Notou" ("Southern Cross"), a poem by Nikos Kavadias. A powerful performance and a strong voice by a new singer discovered by Thanos last winter.

On watch by a barren cape
and the Southern Cross above among the spars
You clutch beeds of coral
and tirelessly chew bitter coffee beans

The stage is filled with red smoke as Giannis Koutras performs "Federico Garcia Lorca", another poem of Kavadias set to music by Mikroutsikos almost 30 years ago. Beautiful!

The entrance to the square on the right was now almost completely filled with people standing and singing along. The only way to go from the left to the right of the stage (other than walking across the very front) was via the back and across the car park. There, I saw Mitsias walking leasurely and talking on his phone. I couldn't help staring at him, but I hope he didn't notice.

I walked back to the front of the stage... Koutras was still there, the stage was even redder and the sound of the electrical guitar was everywhere. It was the third poem by Kavadias about his sea travels around the globe. This time it is about Willie, a black stoker from Djibouti.

He was telling me how they smoke hashish in Algiers
and how while dancing in Aden, they take the white powder.
And then how they shout and talk to themselves
as diziness surounds them with strange dreams.

We were now almost half-way through the evening.

Dark everywhere... the only light focused on Thanos and his piano. I was standing a couple of metres away overwelmed by the power of his piano, his voice, and Kavadias's lyrics. This was a tremendous 15 minute solo performance that showed the depth and uniqueness of Greek music.

Enjoy the last three minutes of Thanos's performance by clicking the video on the left.

A huge round of applause and a standing ovasion at the end, as he walked down the stage marking the end of the first half of the concert.

Koutras returned on stage to sing "To Maheri" ("The Knife"), the story of an old african steel knife that someone bought from a merchant in Algiers.

This knife you want to buy
is surrounded by strange stories
and everybody knows that those who ever had it
have killed someone they loved.
Lean and look at it, it has an anchor and a blazon
it's light, feel it, it's not even a quarter
but I would advice you to buy something else
how much is it? - only seven francs, since you want it, take it!

A small dagger I have tightly on my belt
which caprice made me get
and since I hate no one in the world enough to kill
I am afraid that some day I may turn it to myself.

Mitsias came back on stage to sing some of his most well known songs.

Every space on the bridge was taken and the view from Mouragio was wonderful (see video on the right). The bouzouki was now central stage and everyone was singing and dancing.

He began with "Pote" ("Never") and continued with "Panta Gelasti" ("Always Laughing"), a song that almost everyone in Greece knows the lyrics of even though it was written many decades ago.

Evidently, the whole of the square was singing along and the music stopped at times for the people to be heard.

The sinners of the night and the lonely of the dawn
want a heavy zebekiko and a nervous rudder.
They go around places erased from the map
for a drop of sky, for a worthless love.

Those who became friends with death
leave with a cigarette in their mouth.
Given up to their wildest dreams
Always laughing
Always laughing and laughable.

Another zebekiko came next which was as well-known as the previous one. It's the story of "Yiannis the murderer", the son of a woman from Patras and a man from Messologi that came to the house one Sunday after leaving the prison.

We gave him a sweet and a mint
but we said nothing about the murder.

Only Froso with blue tears
in her big eyes
kissed his hands silently
and left the room.

No-one could bare her pain
and not even one relative found a word to say.

It is time for the finale... and what finale it was!

Mitsias sang "Etotiko" (possibly his most famous song), and everyone watching seemed ecstatic.

Thanos thanked everyone and the Mayor went on stage to thank him personally. While the background music was still on, he took the microphone and said: "It is not possible to have a Festival without the artists, it is not possible to have a Festival without you (the people), but it is possible for the Festival to carry on every year without the politicians".

Watch the 5-minute finale by clicking the video on your left.

People were now standing looking high up in Vigla waiting for the fireworks to go off... only to be surprised as the bagning noises were coming from behind the square at the far end of Pitini with fireworks colouring the harbour as people were heading back.

Another Premiere was over, but this year's Festival has just started and will carry on for another month and a half...

Thank you Thano... and please come back soon.

Updated 24/07/2007, 00:07 // 2015 hits