Heimerinoi Kolymvites showing no signs of tiring after 30 years on stage

Argyris Bakirtzis, the man behind Greece’s longest-surviving band, Heimerinoi Kolymvites, will be spending the next couple of months commuting between his hometown of Kavala in northern Greece and Athens, as he tries his hand at theater. A self-taught musician, Bakirtzis writes the group’s songs and has succeeded in creating a die-hard fan base despite his unusual voice and singing style. One of his fans is Stavros Tsiolis, a theater and film director, who convinced Bakirtzis to appear in a performance at the Technis Theater and who has also worked with him in his films. In other circles, such as the Ministry of Culture’s Archaeological Service, the frontman of Heimerinoi Kolymvites is better known as an architect who served in the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities for 35 years before retiring as an honorary member of the service. His distinction has since inspired his closest friends to nickname him «Your Honor.» On the music front, Heimerinoi Kolymvites (comprising Bakirtzis, Costas Vomvolos, Michalis Siganidis, Costas Sideris, Giorgos Takmatzoglou, Isidoros Papadamou, Dimitris Polyzoidis and Babis Papadopoulos) is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a grand concert at the Pallas Theater on January 11. In addition to the band, the concert will feature psalmists, actors, opera singers and performers of classic laiko (popular) and demotic (folk) songs, the Glyka Nera Municipal Choir and even an appearance by funnyman and satirist Tzimis Panousis. But Bakirtzis admits that beyond the concert, the play, film appearances and his continued activities as an architect, he is still a father of two and this is one of his biggest challenges. How have these 30 years been with Heimerinoi Kolymvites? Every year seemed like it was going to be the last. We never felt that the band had a future. Has the fact that you always tell your audiences anecdotes and let them participate had an influence on the band’s success? It began as a necessity because our songs are about our experiences and I felt that I needed to explain them. The humor is merely the result of stage fright. The band’s look and style has remained unchanged. We have changed individually and have influenced one another. If you listen to Michalis Siganidis’s first album and his last you will see how much he’s evolved. The band is not necessarily every member’s main focus. We all have our own individual interests and priorities. Costas Vomvolos, Thodoros Rellos [a part-time member whose main band is Mode Plagal], Michalis Siganidis and Babis Papadopoulos, for example, have their own bands and Heimerinoi Kolymvites comes second. You’ve broken almost every rule of successful management and your voice would get you kicked off of any talent show, yet you still manage to pack every house you perform in. Are you proof that there is another way to go other than firm discipline and tight organization? Those are the things that almost guarantee failure. An album was recently released of songs by [rebetiko legend] Markos Vamvakaris that were recorded in the USA. The songs are fantastic. He sings in his unrefined voice, he strums his bouzouki and it all seems so primitive, but at the same time very modern. There is so much freedom in his songs, bravado, I like it. Thirty years and eight albums later, the name of the band, Heimerinoi Kolymvites [or Winter Swimmers], which was supposed to be temporary, has stuck. I think a more appropriate name for us now would be the Catheters. I have admired old people since I was a boy. Older people feel freer than the young. They have nothing to prove. But even at the age of 63, I still feel 20 when I step out onto the stage. Pallas Theater, 5 Voukourestiou, tel 210.321.3100