Jonathan Lewis – violin, recording and mixing; Allen Baekeland – guitar, vocals; Lincoln Frey – clarinet; Nick Diochnos – bouzouki; George Iosifelis – bass; Racheal Cogan – recorder, vocals.
It has been almost 6 months now that I left Calgary and moved to Montréal.
When I first arrived in Calgary I was very eager to perform and work with some of the great creative people that live there. I found some really interesting people and reached out – through email, or a chat after a concert. I researched each person carefully before making contact; though mostly we are all pretty caught up in our lives and it’s not the time to think about adding a complete stranger into an often hectic creative schedule. So I wouldn’t hear back from them, or I’d get a brief hello and ‘I’m busy right now’. Which is fair. I think it’s more about serendipity than trying too hard and being disappointed when somebody doesn’t respond in the way that you thought you wanted.
A few people that became key to my life in Calgary however did take the very cool (for me) step of inviting me into their lives. From our very first meeting, the Rembetika Hipsters took me into their lives in a way that helped me call Calgary home for the three years I lived there. Joining a band that has been around for as long as they have (20 years!) is a little like being born into a family. You don’t know quite what you are getting into, they don’t know either – but you all do your darnedest to somehow make it work: quirks and all. It was Jonathan Lewis who first invited me in. Jonathan is a rare musician – you should hear him play: his outstanding virtuosity combined with immaculate taste is simply breathtaking. Sometimes he would play a solo and I’d be so blown away by the beauty that I would strongly feel it wasn’t necessary for any of us to play a single note more and that we should just silently pack up and go home. If I were Leonard Cohen I would have thanked the audience and either gone home, or made 30 minutes of silence to allow the music to reverberate inside.
Each person in the group, in their own time, invited me into their lives and histories, passions and difficulties in our musical worlds. 20 years of performing together and this group is still going. That in itself is remarkable. My biggest challenge was learning a very large repertoire of music, many original compositions, and being ready to play any of those pieces (and remember their names!) at any time during any of our gigs. Nick, one of the founding members, liked to go along with the flow, and was well known for abruptly announcing an unplanned piece (often something I’d never played before) during one of his endearingly comic and long introductions, spinning a completely new story into a song whilst playing the bouzouki and changing the lyrics to fit. (It’s challenging when you are the victim singing harmonies with him.) When Nick was feeling particularly inspired he had the most awesomely unusual bouzouki solos. He is one cool dude and it was never boring playing in a band with him around.
Allen the other founding member partnered Nick perfectly with a slight smile or a grunt or a frown, and would immediately be there with him as I fumbled for that other recorder I didn’t have ready for each new turn. Allen is steady as a rock on guitar, bass (not with the Hipsters, but other groups in Calgary), and singing in much better Greek than I can possibly muster up. Allen is the mortar in the group and one of the kindest, most gentle of people you will have the pleasure of meeting.
left to right: Nick Diochnos, Allen Baekeland, Lincoln Frey, Jonathan Lewis, Racheal Cogan, George Iosifelis, Jon May.
Just before leaving Calgary we found the time to record a couple of pieces together. Here is one of them. One of my very favorite songs in the world – Tsivaeri. I love the clarinet in this recording – it is understated for sure but adds a texture and sound that perfectly reflects the sadness and gentle acceptance of the lyrics. You can hear Lincoln shining in some of the other recordings of the Hipsters on Spotify:
Lincoln released his own album last year. He dresses immaculately for performances, with crisp bow-ties, caps, and jackets; his quiet watchful demeanor occasionally opening up into a hilarious raucous character. There was a memorable solo one night where the clarinet was being being slowly taken apart alongside an uncensored dance. No more needs to be said!
And then there is George, underpinning and supporting the entire group with humour, humility, and his bass, pretty much singing along to all of the songs, frowning momentarily whilst I mangle my Greek pronunciation, and enjoying every moment he has to make music.
Jon May isn’t playing on this recording – but he’s another person I really enjoyed making music with in both this group and with Amy Thiesson. He is an awesome percussionist as well as a great person to have in a group for his insightful and sensitive comments and musical view.
I hope you enjoy this piece with this wonderful, idiosyncratic group of people as much as I enjoyed having them as a part of my life. Many thanks to them for making Calgary a home rather than another brief stop on the long road.
Oh, foreign lands are taking happiness from him,
My Tzivaeri (my treasure),
Gently and humbly.
Ah! It was me who sent him there
With my own will.
Gently I walk upon the earth.
Ah! To be damned foreign lands
You and your good things
Gently and humbly
Ah! That you take my little child
And you made him yours.
Gently I walk upon the earth.