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When I went to Thrace in 1989 with my wife and 10-week-old daughter I employed my trusty technique for unearthing the local folk culture, which is to walk into the nearest likely place and ask. He played in the Greek manner, with the drone balanced on the crook of his elbow and the chanter held forward. The following year my wife found out about an island in the Cyclades that a girl friend of hers was a regular visitor to, and where there were two traditional tsabounaides a€“ players of the island bagpipe.
The whole holiday was, in fact, a catalogue of near-disasters (most of which I will not mention) but I relished each one because of the effort it required to renew my faith in providence and the Greek people, and the rewards I gained.
The islands of the Cyclades each have two main villages, one on the sea edge and one on the top.
Three more days passed while we explored the island, absorbing the warm spring sunshine and breathing the herb-scented air. With only one day to go before we had to leave for Piraeus I discovered that the ferry schedule we had been given was wrong; there was no ferry the next day.
When I speak highly of Greek music I need hardly say I'm not referring to modern bouzouki music, which is a rather empty style of playing derived from a more interesting but now largely defunct style of bar-room music called rembetika. I love those videos in which a sky full of clouds above a picturesque landscape is shown in fast-forward. I get that same feeling listening to Buskin and Batteau sing the title track of their 2009 release, Red Shoes and Golden Hearts. David and Robin have conducted the introductions: a€?Exceptional intelligencea€¦ meet classical training.
David and Robin were part of a Sunday evening group concert in Connecticut in mid-September They would be at rehearsals during the afternoon, but would talk during a€?down time.a€? We set up a phone interview to find out what their life paths would reveala€¦ Succinctly, it's been one hell of a ride.
And then I got into folk music in high school, basically because a lot of girls were into it. From April 1963 to September 1964, a network TV show called Hootenanny featured pop-oriented folk music.
Later on, a different coincidental event occurred where David went to a concert to see Blood, Sweat and Tears, The Allman Brothers and Appaloosa, a band that Robin was in. After David got out of college, he was drafted and ended up in Army entertainment doing shows for the troops from the fall of 1966 to the fall of 1968. When he was around 8 years old, around 1956, Robin was on a trip with his family driving through the Adirondacks. Once, Dee Dee called to ask, a€?Do you want to get together and sight-read some classical music?
Robin left Harvard after his junior year, because his father died and the family was broke. After the band made two albums, Robin's mother found a well-paying job doing translations for the Boston court system and Robin was able to go back to school. Back at Harvard, he said, a€?I took a wonderful writing course with Kurt Vonnegut.a€? He remembers Kurt as a wise, generous man who, the more successful he got, the more he tried to give back to others. Pierce Arrow toured and opened for many big acts -- The Kinks and The Doobie Brothers among them. Things went well from there until one of the band members dove into a pool during an after-gig party and hit his head, breaking his neck. By then, David and Robin discovered that they were having more fun playing Everly Brothers songs backstage than they were doing the act onstage. The steps that occurred in the formation of David and Robin plus Marshall Rosenberg into a full act is a testament to the generosity and flexibility of Tom Rush. The beginning of the end for Buskin & Batteau started when they were booked as the closing act at the first-ever Friday night show at the Newport Folk Festival. Robin did get involved with Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, which supports children with with incurable cancer and blood diseases.
Now they've both realized that the most important thing is the love of making music together. David and Robin were part of a Sunday evening group concert in Connecticut in mid-SeptemberA  They would be at rehearsals during the afternoon, but would talk during a€?down time.a€? We set up a phone interview to find out what their life paths would reveala€¦ Succinctly, it's been one hell of a ride.
From there you will be directed to someone who will know someone who will know someone, and with uncanny serendipity you are soon in the midst of a very satisfying experience. With this posture he could release the chanter altogether during improvisations and bounce it rapidly on his thumb, executing a back-note trill which drew gasps of appreciation from the now-assembled audience. Amazingly, both Mehmet's instrument and mine were exactly in tune a€“ B flat a€“ and as I knew some Thracian tunes we were able to play together, though his louder conical bore chanter swamped mine. Not least was the experience of sailing through the Cyclades, with islands appearing to left and right, gracefully recumbent, dozing in their translucent shroud of magic like jewels in the lustrous sea.
That was all she could tell me, as she herself never went 'up' any more; she had a grievance against the 'up' villagers involving a stolen purse (the detailed story need not concern us here) and would not speak to them. I had been warned not to expect too much; it would be difficult to get him to play, the weather had to be right, he had to feel right, it had to be a special occasion.
Aristidis kept time resolutely in a monotonous marching rhythm while Yiannoukos played a few notes with inaccurate tempo, stuck on one note for a bit and then played a few more. We breakfasted on fresh bread from the village bakery; Adrienne and I dined on local fish washed down with retsina.
I could either hire another fishing boat to Ios ( if I could find anyone to take us) or get the next ferry to Santorini and fly to Athens from there.
I waited outside the taverna as dusk fell and the last rays of the sun lit up the leaves of the vines growing above over the street. It was a modern one, with fruit machines and televisions in the comfortable lounge showing a Greek soap opera. There is an enormous variety of good folk music in Greece, some very sophisticated, demanding an acquired taste, and some quite simple.
I noticed that if I bought a turtleneck and and learned how to play the guitar and went down to Greenwich Village on the weekends, there would be a lot of young women down there. David characterizes it as a€?the nanosecond in recorded time that folk music was a viably commercial enterprise.a€? The show used college students for its studio audiences.
Marshall Rosenberg, their percussionist, was also in that same audience (none of the three had met each other). After he got out of the military, he had written a song called a€?When I Need You Most of All, and approached Lou Levy, the father of a friend who was highly connected in the music business. He says, a€?The band sucked, but I got to meet Robin.a€? Percussionist Marshall Rosenberg was also in Pierce Arrow, so this is where the core of their current act met.
As an adult, Harold was the subject of a€?Butterflies Are Free.a€? first a book, then a Broadway play and then a movie. Robin went to the school cafeteria where he encountered George, who gave a proprietary greeting, just as the jukebox started playing a€?Please, Please Me,a€? by the Beatles.


Robin figured,in a naive 60's way, that he'd form a band, get a record contract and support the family.
Kurt once offered financial help (eventually unneeded) to Robin's younger brother who was having financial difficulties. They were the middle act between Blood, Sweat & Tears and The Allman Brothers, so The Allman Brothers at that point was the warm-up act for Appaloosa. Warnings of a huge hurricane, perhaps the biggest ever, scared everyone away, and they wound up with no audience. In Xanthi, the provincial capital, things started happening when I spotted a small urchin standing on a street corner holding what looked suspiciously like part of a gaida drone. He also had the trick of walking up to a seated listener whom he judged to be sympathetic and playing directly into his ear, more as an acknowledgement of the listener's interest than a direct appeal for money, though I'm not ashamed to say I responded to this gesture fairly liberally.
All the boys were careless and funloving, attaching more importance to horseplay than they did to the business of earning a living.
We alighted on Ios without knowing whether or not we would be able to get to our destination, Sikinos, which was visible close by, as there was no ferry.
I got him to understand that I had come all the way from England to hear him play, and he agreed to oblige me that evening. His reeds were not well tuned and the two pipes of his double chanter were in audible disagreement.
In the midst of all these negotiations and the constant effort of keeping my family occupied and relatively comfortable, I knew I still had to track down the other piper, the elder brother.
The primitive traditional music of Sikinos was already a world away, as insubstantial now as the island itself, just a faint violet smudge on the horizon.
Adonis had gone to a nearby hut where he kept his tsabouna.A  He arrived, bringing the bagpipe and a toubi.
It's the weather, the sea, the islands, the food, the extraordinary light, the variety of experiences, the folk culture (especially the music) and most of all the people. Many of these traditions are very ancient indeed, having probably remained unchanged since early Byzantine or even Classical times. After they teamed up, they wrote a€?The Heart of the Audience,a€? a song about that concert. The Everly Brothers' a€?Bye, Bye, Lovea€? came on the radio and Robin got so excited that he started turning the wheel side to side, almost taking the family over a cliff. He also wrote his autobiography, To Race the Wind, which was made into a CBS-TV movie in 1980. Marshall joined the band, got David into the band as well and it became the start of Pierce Arrow. At a 4th of July show opening for Aerosmith, the audience began throwing firecrackers at them. However, the break in momentum destroyed the band's relationship with the record company causing record promotion and band morale to go downhill.
David asked his friend if Robin could do half the set and then they'd do a couple of songs together.
This paid extremely well and, begun as a sideline, had started to become their main endeavor. He describes it as a€?Neo-folk, written with tears running down my face, for Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, sung with the help of Judy Collins and Rachele Cappelli and a choir of campers.a€? It's available for download from CD Baby and all proceeds go to the Camp.
They were both entering a period in life where the gaps in their responsibilities seemed to offer another chance to work together.
Accompanied by an English-speaking student who had befriended us, I approached the young ragamuffin, examined the object and, after ascertaining that it was indeed what I had first thought, was conducted to the town square, where there was a small gang of travelling orphans living on the busking proceeds of their leader, a 14-year-old Turkish gypsy called Mehmet who came from Oresteia near the Turkish border.
The bag of Mehmet's instrument was a large goatskin, very dilapidated and plugged with a saucer-sized wooden disk where it had been torn. When anyone got some money it was immediately spent and the purchase shared among the gang without preference. But I had drunk enough retsina by that time to be generously disposed towards the musicians and applauded fulsomely when, after about fifteen minutes, the ragged improvisation came to a halt. I made one last effort and got directions to the house of Anna Manala, the lady who spoke English.
Adonis Kaboulas and his brother Yiannoukos are the last, definitely the last, exponents of an unbroken line of music stretching back into antiquity. I find in them a lively spirituality, a true pride of self, that I only occasionally find elsewhere.
The peculiar wailing music of Epirus and southern Albania is an example of one of those untouched traditions. Taking lessons while kids outside were playing ball left him "really torn,a€? he says.
I saw all the luminaries of that period, including Billie Holiday.a€? At the same time, the Long Player format or a€?LPa€? with a full a€?albuma€? of songs took prominence over the smaller 45rpm singles everybody used to collect in the 50's. After high school, David attended Brown University, and while there, he was in one of those of student audiences.
Levy replied, a€?They've just broken upa€¦ pick one!a€? David picked Mary, and Levy arranged for them to meet. It was here that a series of auspicious connections started and continued through his life. During his career as a lawyer, Krents worked hard to expand legal protection for the handicapped. Robin told George to knock it off because everyone swore after suffering through that humiliation their first year that they wouldn't engage in this practice.
Robin says, a€?My backbone lit up, and I thought, 'This is my music.' That moment of odd juxtaposition became Robin's rock 'n roll epiphany. The orchestra was faculty-organized and contained a number of prestigious a€?funa€? players. David's daughter had just started college and Robin's son was approaching college-age also. With one of the smaller boys playing expertly on the toubeleki drum, he proceeded to regale my ears with fine gaida music. The chanter also was the worse for wear, with a piece of wood replacing a broken section between two of the finger holes. Mehmet possessed the quality which all people from that part of the world have, of rewarding sincerity with warmer sincerity. The Rough Guide to Greece says that the word malaka (wanker) is an affectionate term of abuse in Athens. He chatted and laughed with his young son as we dived into the billows, drenched with every bowspray; an ideal father-son relationship, relaxed and trusting.


A middle-class, English-speaking Greek woman who lived on the island told me about the bagpipers.
They have faults too, of course; they can be over-emotional, lazy, arrogant, but underlying it all is a richness of experiencing exemplified by Katsimbalis in Henry Miller's book The Colossus of Maroussi a€“ the attitude that 'life is interesting because I am living it'. Bagpipe music also, because of its inability to adapt to the demands of more recent musical trends, including ensemble playing, has retained a character that clarinet, violin, sandouri (hammered dulcimer) etc. Circumstances led to the group's dissolution through the 90's, but they stayed in touch and recently started working together again full-time. However, he was still immersed in classical music, spending more time playing the violin, learning concertos, playing with the orchestra.
One was a friend from Andover, a top-notch clarinet player, a€?Dee Deea€? Pei, Dee Dee's father was famous architect, I.M Pei. These guys are alive!a€? [and wanted to stay that way] After they were greeted with obscenities opening for Jerry Garcia, for the following gig they decided to play all their songs quickly in succession to prevent the boo-birds from gaining a foothold.
He also co-wrote a€?All Aboard Americaa€? for Amtrak and did jingles for numerous other clients. Mehmet spent a good deal of time mucking around with his chanter reed, scorching the tongue with a cigarette lighter and so on, but couldn't get it working to his satisfaction and eventually broke it with a resigned shrug. I quickly developed a strong affection for him and his scruffy entourage, and was sorry to leave Xanthi.
Outside the airport I used the word on a taxi driver who refused to take me, me wife, our daughter and my three daughters from a previous marriage together in his ample-sized vehicle. A young man sat down with them and began to sing along, at which point I realised that the apparently random sequences of notes that Yiannoukos was playing were actually tunes a€“ local traditional melodies. She had heard that by good fortune Adonis was herding his goats in a nearby field and she would take me to see him, if he was still there. But I particularly remember the innocent, untroubled expression on Adonis' face as he sang the simple old songs. What kept him going was that he discovered that he could play songs from the radio, an activity the teacher a€?highly disapproved of.a€? a€?She called it a€?junk,a€™a€? he recalls, a€?but I didn't care. We wondered aloud a€?what ifa€? a counterpart had been able to do something similar before he initiated the Iraq War.
Another was John Adams -- an even better clarinetist -- who would become a Putlizer Prize-winning minimalist composer.
But yes, at 8.30 he walked into the taverna carrying his tsambouna, accompaied by an old man in his 80s called Aristidis, who was going to play the toubi, a small snare drum.
We struggled up the hillside on foot, over rocks and thorny scrub, and eventually came upon a small hut, ouside which an elderly man stood, raggedly dressed, leaning on a stick. He was a natural musician, playing with sensitivity and a superior technique to that of his brother, and his chanter pipes were in tune.
Greeks nowadays love to rattle up and down the scale with great virtuosity, whereas the simple six-note tunes of gaida, tsabouna and tulum offer no such opportunities. Once I learned, at 7 or 8 years old, that I could figure out the chords of the songs, then I was hooked. Once, a friend from camp called to invite him to play at a chamber music party at her house in Stamford, Connecticut. Robin recalled, a€?He was like a lot of other kids at Andover, who were children of very successful people, who could never live up to the expectations of their fathers. They were asked to perform at Woodstock, but, due to an overly crowded roster, they were dropped via a last minute phone call.
After a few shows, David and Robin asked Tom if they could play a couple of their own songs. Robin put his music career on hold, entering a a€?semi-retirement.a€? For the next 13 years, he and David would get together once or twice a year to play at charity events, but that was the extent of Robin's participation. Once I learned, at 7 or 8 years old, that I couldA  figure out the chords of the songs, then I was hooked. I was too cowardly to admit that I had been the cause of this inexplicable event until we were on the ferry and safely on our way.
We played together for the rest of the evening while the relaxed group of listeners chatted and joined in the songs. But Greek pipers do play with their own particular brands of skill and panache even if you have to be there to see it. I wasn't getting a lot of it right, but it was good enough for me.a€? I told him that I wished that I coulda€™ve done that, and he immediately tried to assure me that I still could. An a€?old fat guya€? who lived next door came over with his clarinet case and opened it and asked if he could sit in.
They would never know achievement at that level and thus never have the love and respect of their fathers because they could never be as great. Get off!a€? One particular fan in the back was especially abusive and, finally Robin lost it.
The older brother Adonis was generally acknowledged to be the better piper, but in any case the islanders thought tsabouna music old-fashioned, preferring to listen to modern music on the radio.
Anna hailed him cheerfully and launched into a long speech, while I stood smiling and nodding. Later, he met Peter Yarrow and a€?Paula€? Noel Stookey, got to know them well and wrote songs for them also. They were a€?nicea€? kids and said a€?OK.a€? He played the Mozart Clarinet Quintet and was very good, but would end phrases in an unclassical way, playing the last note a little too forcefully. That worked so well, that Tom said, a€?Why don't the three of you play as my opening act and then play as my band?a€? It was enormous fun and became the set-up for all of Tom's shows.
That worked so well, that Tom said, a€?Why don't the three of you play as my opening act and then play as my band?a€? It was enormous fun and became the set-up forA  all of Tom's shows. Anna told me that she had persuaded him to play for me that evening up in the village, and that he would meet me later at the port kafeneion.
The nice part of it is, he continued, a€?is that any time you learn anything new it gives you that same kick. The three brothers and two sisters were distributed among the families of the island as was the custom. When the adoptive parents of Adonis died he inherited their land as they had no children of their own, but he did nothing with it, preferring to pasture his small flock of goats around the island, moving from place to place. Get your ass up here and I'll beat the shit out of you!a€? The rest of the crowd waited a few beats and then yelled, a€?Yeah!



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