Crete – good to know it’s there
We have just returned from what I think is our 4th trip to play in Western Crete. It was as wonderful to be there as ever, and this time I appreciated the friendship and welcome even more than before.
The connection began several years ago when I looked out into the audience at the Royal Festival Hall Foyer in London and saw my old friends Phil and Francesca Harrison standing there, after many years of lost contact. We exchanged details and they said simply, ‘come and play in Crete’. People often say these things, but as they do with everything, Phil and Francesca made it happen.
Phil Harrison was an important mentor to me as a child, along with his musical partner of many years violinist Stuart Gordon, encouraging my early songwriting efforts and including them in the (to us) legendary ‘Animal Show’ held in West Wales in the 1970’s organised by Pat Wolseley.
Of the London and Somerset children who spent a week there making costumes and music and putting on a show along with children from the local village, several others are now professional musicians – singer/songwriter Taz Alexander (formerly with folk band Siné and Juno Reactor), Justina Curtis (keyboard-player, singer and long-time collaborator with Goldie), and Hawi Gondwe (top session guitarist and Omar band member).
After a long musical career which included The Korgis and their worldwide hit ‘Everybody’s gotta learn sometime’ (featuring Stuart Gordon’s iconic violin solo), and a second career as a linguistics professor, Phil and his watercolour-artist wife Francesca settled in Crete, where they run KAG – Kalamitsi Arts Group – and provide musical and artistic events for the large community of English-speaking people living there.
On the first 2 visits to Crete we played an evening gig in the Arts Cafe in Vamos, and took part in the gala concert to end their week long arts festival. We also played in the beautiful Western City of Chania at the jazz club Fagotto.
The second year we were there with Stuart Gordon too, and I am so glad to have had this opportunity to play with him and Phil together. We sang their Korgis hit in the stone amphitheatre, with Andy on bass, and a lot of things were joined up for me.
Stuart sadly died last year and his incredible musicianship and vitality is much missed.
The third year we went with my parents and our daughter Ruby and were there at the same time as poet Roger McGough, a fellow Liverpudlian and old friend of Phil’s.
My Dad wrote his first poem at Roger’s workshop and we all enjoyed the sunshine and good food and being with old friends.
This year we returned with Ruby and stayed in the historic village of Vamos in a traditional apartment organised by Yiorgos and the Vamos Tourist Office, who also organise off-the-beaten-track visits to food producers and hidden coves. There are wonderful tavernas serving traditional food, and Yiorgos’ own taverna has traditional music and locals filling the tables and a fantastic lively atmosphere.
The village itself is very small and friendly and has simple shops selling local produce and crafts, with few tourists in sight. You can swim at the nearby beaches in crystal clear water.
By now we feel that we have made many friends there amongst the concert-goers, great people – English, Dutch, German – and Cretans, most particularly Yiorgos who brings together the local and ex-pat communities and is a fine musician and singer himself.
It is amazing to start a concert in another country and have people immediately join in with my songs. People have collected my albums and keep in touch with me between the visits and I appreciate that very much.
This time I had the bad luck to get a bad cough before I arrived, and as the week went on it got worse. The first concert I got through pretty well with the help of hot raki (the local spirit) and honey.
By the second concert which was luckily as a band, with Andy on bass, Phil on keyboard, singer Alison Hatzidakis and mandolin, guitar and banjo-player John Mansell, I had partially lost my voice. I was like another singer with a deep range but no top notes.
I felt like walking off into the hills as it seemed impossible to sing, but people rallied with more hot raki and mountain tea with honey, a neck massage and on the spot reflexology from nurse Lizzie Mansell, and so much goodwill I just plunged in and decided to do the best I could. Alison took over and sang my song ‘Orange Roses’ which she has recorded with Phil on their album ‘ Unlikely Story’, and somehow it was ok. I got through the lower songs and sang backing vocals on some covers including ‘With a little help from my friends’, which seemed very apt. The feeling of friendship in the room at the Durakis Winery was amazing and I was so grateful to everyone.
Sometimes it’s just very annoying being a singer.
I realise how much I love it there, because I enjoyed being there so much in spite of my voice troubles.
The sunshine, the beautiful village of Vamos with its cobbled lanes and traditional houses and the friendly shopkeepers and taverna owners, the smell of herbs in the evenings, and the beautiful sea and mountains. The delicious, unpretentious food and local wine. The great conversations we had with everybody.
At some point I’d like to rent out my flat and go and stay there for a month.
It’s very good to know it’s there.