INTERVIEW: Xylouris White | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Two years after the release of their 2014 debut album, Goat, Xylouris White have completed a second set of songs under the title Black Peak, and are currently embarking upon an extensive international tour exploring these pieces.

Their partnership is a wonderful permutation in the narrative of these special musicians, and both players arrived into this rich relationship from acclaimed backgrounds; Jim White is most notable for his work in the element-evoking music of Dirty Three (that connection intertwining him with Warren Ellis of The Bad Seeds) while lutist Giogos Xylouris is born of the iconic lyra player Psarantonis, and a proud Cretan heritage. The pair first came together in Melbourne, Australia, and Xylouris remembers the first time he joined White on some Dirty Three jams. “It was in a very small bar in Fitzroy, Australia. It was the beginning time of Dirty Three. Later on, as I played more, it was the improvisations with Jim – drums and lute – that I really loved. 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 with my Dad and the other lute player Costas Lappas I had that experience to see somebody coming from inside out, like the snake shedding his skin, and how the audience coped with that. My Dad was more and more himself every time we played, with more improvisation on stage, and every day, over time, you could see people drawn to it.”

The importance of audience interaction has also informed Xylouris White’s compositions more directly on their 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 the way I play.” The thoughts that conjure the pair’s performances draw upon an ever expanding history, respected in the bones of the 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 men and kids in any kind of celebration – back yard and front yard and square, and little venues here and there, around Crete, and around the world.”

Both musicians share an organic and in-the-present response to their music, reacting with changes to conditions and sounds in the moment

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 and where are the sonic boundaries of the rooms that they play within? Listening to their lute and drums interact, and exploring their music in this way, you cannot help but 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 they make a universe of stars fly away like fireflies.”

The exemplary track, Forging, from the latest album, shows an increased agitation and a more ferocious energy than Goat may have accustomed the 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 minutes. 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 Saturday 5th November, for that is when Xylouris White will spread a truly reformative fire through The Cluny 2, Newcastle. Support will be provided by a 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.


Xylouris White and Richard Dawson play The Cluny 2, Newcastle on Saturday 5th November.


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