CULTURE

Vanished, but now here again

Observing the lean and quirky character strut through a free-flowing, exuberant, even humorous set as frontman of the Sharp Ties, a recently reformed, top-selling local outfit of the ’80s, it seemed hard to grasp that Tolis Fasois later drifted into musical isolation, largely due to suffering acutely from stage fright. Saturday night at the Small Music Theater in Athens was comeback night for Fasois, a Greek South African whose original Sharp Ties enjoyed instant commercial success with their ska-inflected debut album, 1981’s «Get That Beat,» not long after Fasois had arrived here, straight out of university in Cape Town. The album had sold close to 50,000 copies, which assured it gold status in the Greek market. Three more albums, which sold less, followed throughout the 1980s, with reshuffled lineups backing Fasois. He then disappeared for more than a decade. But a series of impromptu guest appearances for Manos Xydous, formerly of the popular local pop-rock group Pyx Lax – at the latter’s insistence – helped restore Fasois’s ailing faith. During Saturday’s comeback show, Fasois also credited his current musicians, most of them culled from the Happy Dog Project, an interesting local groove-based jazz act, for making his return possible. Opening for Fasois and his new Sharp Ties was another expatriate act, Jessica Bell, a more recent arrival from Melbourne, Australia, whose daringly played cocktail of grit and sensitivity impressed the intimate venue’s solid turnout. The young Bell, who has yet to put out a debut album, was alone on stage, singing and playing guitar. But the charisma, power and grace of the black-clad figure’s half-hour set filled the room. Returning to Fasois, who shares common ancestral roots with Bell – the Greek island of Ithaca – he makes no secret of his previous woes with the stage. The subject was the dominant theme of a telephone interview just days ahead of the Sharp Ties’ comeback show. «I think that scoring a hit with ‘Get That Beat’ really hung heavily on me. I don’t like the mainstream. I like intimate music with personal feeling. I don’t know how the hell Sharp Ties became commercial,» said Fasois. The band’s fresh-sounding debut album emerged onto a domestic English-language music scene whose local produce tended to lack foresight. The majority of acts rendered either prog-rock work that imitated acts such as Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull, or heavy metal. For the more risque, there was also a bit of punk on the side. The scenes were sharply divided and often led to conflict at concerts, clubs, and on the streets. With the Sharp Ties, Fasois had struck a fresh chord. «It’s unbelievable because nothing was happening with the English-language bands here at the time. When we started selling, the record company wasn’t ready for it,» Faosis recalled. «They hadn’t anticipated such sales and needed to start cutting extra copies. I think it was just a matter of luck. It just happened. I don’t think anyone thought there was such potential. We simply did it because we liked it – for fun.» Ultimately, the music ceased being a source of fun for Fasois. Following the band’s breakup in the late 1980s, Fasois gradually sank into an extended period of isolation, both musically and socially. Apart from the duties of a teaching job, he spent most of the following decade mainly keeping to himself at home, Fasois said. His job’s responsibility was «the only thing that kept me together.» But, even so, he did not escape the need to turn to psychoanalysis for help, he admitted. The unanticipated, overwhelming success experienced by the Sharp Ties here, and the subsequent demand for frequent shows, were major factors, Fasois said, in deciding to halt the band’s activity. Another was the musical direction the Sharp Ties had eventually taken. His psychoanalysis sessions, Fasois explained, led to self-acceptance and acknowledgment of his deep-rooted love for music – a combination that has now drawn him back into the music world. The stage fright, though, he says, has not vanished, but he has simply learned to cope and carry on. «Being a musician can be very lonely. You see things from another perspective. I wanted to be like everybody else,» confessed Fasois. «I’m terribly happy to be able to go on stage again. I’m no longer frightened to show people that I’m scared. Analysis makes you accept yourself.» Sharp Ties and Jessica Bell will next perform at the Underworld club in Athens on December 1.