“The chemistry between Crete lutenist George Xylouris and former Dirty Three drummer Jim White makes for a thrilling musical foray into avant-garde folk.” The Guardian
If the talents of singer and lute player George Xylouris seem otherworldly, even god-given, it is hardly surprising. One of the best-loved artists on Crete, the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, Xylouris is a member of a clan long-regarded throughout Greece as musical royalty. A clan that hails from Anogeia, a mountain shepherding village down the hill from the Cave of Zeus, that hotspot of ancient mythology.
To hear Xylouris play his long-necked lauto and sing songs of love and liberty in his impassioned, distinctive voice, is to experience tradition at its finest; tradition that this bearded father-of-three grants respect, and crafts into something unique. It’s a sound that has taken him around the world.
His father is the Cretan singer and lyra player Psarantonis, a man beloved of everyone from ethnomusicologists to Nick Cave. His late uncle was the iconic Nikos Xylouris, a singer and lyra player who became a symbol of the protest movement that brought down the Greek military junta in 1973.
Cretan lute was usually played as a backing instrument. But with albums such as ‘Antipodes’, by Xylouris Ensemble , ‘Embolo’ with his uncle Psarogiannis and ‘Oso ki an Dernei o Anemos’ out with All Together Now, Xylouris showcased the lauto’s solo potential with a repertoire of traditional and self-penned material. His numerous projects are testament to his restless musical curiosity. His concerts at home have become legendary for their musicality and power; his onstage record is currently 18 hours straight.
And then there is Jim White. Having first commanded international attention in the mid-1990s with the acclaimed Australian instrumental trio Dirty Three, the New York-based virtuoso is now the go-to guy for alt-A-list vocalists with collaboration in mind. Those who’ve worked with him – and all those he’s mesmerised as he plays – testify to his deft way with a rhythm, a downbeat, a jazz-fuelled wig out.
His is a unique playing style forged in the then isolated Melbourne; a style that can sound like a full band one moment, and something stark and beautiful the next.
With a career this long and varied, credits are too numerous to list. There have been projects with filmmakers, collaborations with visual artists; and an album of duets with the singer Nina Nastasia. A founding member of the now-defunct Australian avante-rock outfit Venom P-Stinger, White has curated the leftfield UK music festival All Tomorrow’s Parties. In his spare moments, he’s drumming. White never rests on his laurels.
Xylouris White poetically describe their approach in this duo as “Like goats walking in the mountain. They may not know the place, but they can walk easily and take risks and feel comfortable.” The sound they create is tumultuous, tender and terrifically expressive and testifies their determination to stretch the scope of their instruments and forge something vigorously questing from more traditional roots.
PJ Harvey has likened White’s playing to dancing. Yet if dancers need partners, Xylouris is his, this being a friendship forged over 25-plus years. Xylouris was touring with his Ensemble when he met White in Melbourne in the early 1990s, when the drummer was in his pre-Dirty Three avant-rock outfit Venom P Stinger. And here they are nearly 3 decades later, on our Supersonic stage, to show us just how far their horizons can stretch.