[2016.10.17] Tom Hollingworth, for NARC Magazine.
Two years following their 2014 debut album, Goat, Xylouris White have recently completed a second set of songs under that title Black Peak, and are currently embarked upon an extensive international tour exploring these pieces. The UK leg of this tour starts with the duo landing in Brighton at the end of October.
This partnership is a wonderful permutation in the narrative of these special musicians. Both players arrived into this rich relationship as Xylouris White [a compound of their surnames] from acclaimed backgrounds: Jim White most notably for his work in the element evoking music of Dirty Three (that connection intertwining him with Warren Ellis of The Bad Seeds) and Giogos Xylouris, being born of the iconic Lyra player Psarantonis, and that proud Cretan heritage. Xylouris and White first came together in Melbourne, Australia. Xylouris remembers the initial times he joined White on some Dirty Three jams.
“I remember the first time we played together, it was in a very small bar in Fitzroy, Australia. It was the beginning time of Dirty Three. Later on, I played more and what I remember is during the show, the songs I played with them, two or three, it was the improvisations with Jim - drums and lute - and I really loved it and I could see that the way Jim was playing.” Xylouris is humble at the generosity he felt from the interaction with White at this time. “It was like he released my hands and feelings.”
Both musicians share an organic and in-the-present response to their music, reacting with changes to conditions and sounds in the moment. Xylouris recalled how primitive experiences with his father going through his “new metamorphosis way to express himself” helped shape his relationship with music as a live and vital expression. “It happened that I was next to him as a kid but on stage, on stage with my Dad and the other lute player Costas Lappas, so I had that experience to see somebody coming from inside out, like the snake shedding his skin, and how the people - and how the audience coped with that. I remember people leaving the room, and other people loving it and coming constantly to see my Dad. [He] was more and more himself every time we played. More and more improvisation on stage and doing new things. I could see my Dad continually doing what he was doing, and every day, over time, you could see more people drawn to it.”
The importance of audience interaction has also informed Xylouris White’s compositions more directly on the first set of songs, with some referencing traditional Greek dance forms (Sousta, Syrtos) in the titles. Xylouris has comprehensively observed this relationship between movement, and the active participation of people with this music. “I play the music that goes with the dance and singing together, and, of course, I take things back - and that gives me the movements, the characters of the dancers and inspires me the way I play.” The thoughts that conjure the present performances draw upon an ever expanding history, respected in the bones of this lutist. “I can see my grandpas and grandmas, and back… centuries dancing. [I] imagine how many people have danced the same dance, how many faces and women and man and kids in any kind of celebration, and back yard and front yard and square, and little venues here and there, around Crete, and around the world.”
Another attitude that has also been consistently present in their work, both prior to and through Xylouris White, is the ambition to explore the limits of their bespoke instruments. What is the full lexis possible that can be used in the musical dialogue? Where are the sonic boundaries of the rooms that they play within? Listening to their lute and drums interact, exploring in this way, you cannot help imagine a physical space; like seeing the shape of an invisible object appear for having its capacity filled with an observable, tangible substance. Xylouris explains this behaviour has an intrinsic mechanism which works to this outward behaviour.“All this is connected together. Further - the notes and the harmonics of the drum and the lute makes a vision - the vision is each sound following the other sounds and all together makes a universe of stars fly away like the fireflies.”
The exemplary track, Forging, from the latest album, shows an increased agitation and a more ferocious energy than Goat may have accustomed a listener to. It seems that Xylouris White’s touring schedule may have informed this compositional progression. “Often shows with Jim are very short, maybe only 45 min, when opening for other bands to a big crowd. It made our shows a little more intense” It would seem that routine has promoted a more bounding spirit within their new music. As for the capture of these songs, the album once more represents a moment whilst the creations are “still fresh.”
I implore you all to remember, remember the 5th November, for that is when Xylouris White will spread a truly reformative fire through The Cluny, Newcastle. Support will be provided by the natural choice - hometown hero Richard Dawson, whose acoustic guitar, with coins in its belly, has twangs, rattles, and a spirit that will move perfectly alongside the music made by the travelling guests. The differences and shared qualities between these two acts both speak to extremity, and will undoubtedly test hearts.