CULTURE

Greek musician Billy Pod taps into rich melting pot of London jazz scene

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The title of his first solo album, “Drums to Heal Society,” can be seen as a prophecy or a message of hope, given the events that shook the world after it came out in 2019. For Vassilis Podaras – aka Billy Pod – it was a harbinger for the next step in his career.

The Greek musician and composer moved to London, started getting his name out in the city’s massive jazz scene and met new people he wanted to work with – until it all came to a grinding halt with the advent of the pandemic. 

“I had been thinking about leaving for London for five or six years, to chase new opportunities, to meet people and get some fresh inspiration for my work,” Podaras tells Kathimerini from his house near the River Thames.

“The album did pretty well and I was starting to book some live gigs, so I made the leap. I hadn’t accounted for the pandemic, of course, but there is still a lot to gain, even as we live in anticipation of ‘reopening,’” adds the Greek drummer, who is also teaching music at the University of the Ionian, online, from the British capital.

Accustomed to playing between 150 and 200 live concerts a year, the forced sabbatical from the stage is definitely annoying, but it also has an upside for the musician.

“Live shows have basically stopped here since last March, with the exception of a brief reopening at the start of autumn. Personally, I have played only one show, and that was a festival in Greece in July. At some point, however, and seeing that the pandemic is not going anywhere anytime soon, I decided that I needed to make a bigger adjustment, so I’m doing a lot of studying and writing a lot of music, while I’m also planning a live show with the band I play with here. The preparation is not very easy because many musicians have left the city because they can’t afford the outrageous rent here, but we’re making do,” he says.

The concert is scheduled to be streamed live on Sunday, February 21, from London’s Premises Studios, renowned for having hosted names such as Amy Winehouse, Nick Cave and the Arctic Monkeys, among many others.

I ask him whether the isolation from the stage has made him feel a tad “rusty.” 

“Sure, studying is great, it gives you confidence, but there’s nothing like a live performance. This is especially so with jazz because the only way to get better is to play and to play with other musicians, to form a bond. If I had to break it down into percentages, I would say that it’s 70% about playing and instincts and 30% about studying,” says Podaras.

What is it about London that has made its jazz scene so attractive in the past few years as to draw “musical migrants” like him?

“London is already a cultural melting pot and the jazz scene here has very deep roots and incredible variety. There’s an entire branch of musicians that play jazz in its more conventional form and do it very, very well. Then there are the modern trends that started in Black neighborhoods in South London and are a mix with funk, neo-soul and hip-hop, music that is much more prominent today. I try to get as much as I can out of all this. I have my own direction, but I am open to new stimuli, ideas and interactions with new sounds,” he explains.