‘You will never guess who was just in here’ Aki beamed with a Cheshire cat-like grin from ear to ear. The ‘good Greek music guru’ as I affectionately called him in my weekly music column seldom smiled like this. His knowledge of Greek music was so vast that anyone could walk into Trehantiri – the biggest Greek music record shop in the world – hum a tune and he would know it. Aki passed away far too young due to complications after a routine hip replacement operation. I can see him now sitting with Jimmakos somewhere beyond this world saying quiet jovially ‘remember that day when you came into my shop in North London?’
Today the world is a much poorer place soulfully following the death of Jimmys Panousis. Jimmys was an artist who came in and out of my life as a friend and fan. Before I get into the how these connections were made over the years I just want to clear something up on that word ‘artist’.
Since his death Jimmy has been called all kinds of things, stand-up comedian, comic, actor, satirist, singer but very few people have touched on that word artist, that’s what he was, a unique resonant opinionated artist who had a habit of always sending-up people in or with power. Whether these people were politicians, priests, pop star singers, media celebrities or just plain hypocrites, Jimmy always had a way of exposing them through the tool of satire. He was for me an astute oppositional voice in a sea of mediocrity and his work touched the soul of this thing called humour simply by being daring, different and provocative. Yes he did get up people’s noses, and no he was not PC (politically correct) but what did we expect from someone who made art into a form of cultural anarchy. Even the sounds of some of his songs, often cleverly pastiche – take note of the tune ‘Psofia Glosa’ his take of ‘La Bamba’ – buzzed away annoyingly. In some cliquey music circles dominated by Greek notions of ‘entexna’ – those crafted often PC songs – which are wrongly associated as natural expressions of protest music – he was shunned. I had to get all this off my chest because the most pukey thing I heard about Jimmy’s passing was from George Dalaras, the ‘famous one’ from Greece who Panousis often satirized (and at great legal expense). It so easy to sweep things under the carpet….And Dalaras is so good at grandiose carpet sweeping exercises, his best being those concerts for the military defence of Cyprus in a past life – nuff said!
My first connection with one of his songs was mid-1980’s, a couple of years after Greece joined what was then called The European Economic Community -EEC – aka nowadays the EU. 1981 was a bumper year when EEC membership reached double figures. Jimmy, ever loud and vocal, shared a different viewpoint a couple of years later with the hearty song ‘Axx Evropi’ – loosely translated as ‘Ohh Europe’ – although it must be said – ‘ohh’ is much milder than ‘axx’. This was the song which everyone with a guitar and half a voice would sing at Bouats – those bijou music gatherings – a lot of French words in here- where radical students congregated to ease their troubled minds and souls. It was a song with an anarchist slant, and while not everyone was one there was something defiant about just singing the chorus because mainstream political thought went in the complete opposite direction. ‘Ax Evropi – esy mas maranes’ ‘Oh Europe – you have drained use dry’. What a way to start a song. Direct to the point and prophetic. Axx Jimmako what a philosopher – predicting so much that came true.
So when the good Greek guru was for words, exasperated by who had been in his shop on that grey, drizzly north London afternoon, he just pointed his finger ‘that-a-way’ to the next room bursting with vinyl, rifled through a few LP covers and held this one up to my face.
My initial reaction was ‘when, where is he, how come…’. Aki then told me everything he observed about Jimmys Panousis being in his shop, with every meticulous detail. He actually came into buy a copy of ‘Mousikes Taxiarxies’ his LP unleashed to an unsuspecting public in 1982. ‘Imagine that’ he said ‘Jimmys Panousis coming into this Shop, buying his first LP because the record company did not give him a promo!’ Akas said in a whimsical philosophical tone, ‘and he stood right there’ (pointing to where I was standing) ‘and he was quiet shy actually, trobalos, very softly spoken, and I did not realize who he was until he took off his hood off’. These were the good memories I had from living above a Greek Record Shop in Green Lanes Haringey.
Jimmys songs kept flowing over the years and he carried on unconventionally, attacking the rotten system and anyone who he deemed as being too establishment/part of it, there was The spat/dig/oppositional rant on Dalaras, ‘Kankela Bantou’ (Railings/Metal Fences Everywhere) to ‘NeoEllinas (The New/Nouveau Greek) – the cover of this release again found him in court for being featured ripping up the Greek flag. He was always a wind up merchant but he always did things as a defiance and not just for the sake of it. Myth has it that once in the 80’s he called a press conference to announce his marriage. Journalists arrived to find him sitting comfortably with a goat.’ She is my wife to be’ he declared! You could see this ridiculous scene as a wind up I guess but it was also a critique of a mass media obsessed with gossip so Jimmy simply though I will give you something surreal to gossip about!
Jimmy was a big inspiration to me. He was the epitome of the Greek saying ‘we laugh with our pain’ – ‘yelame me ton bono mas’ and after my first LP, ‘Haji Mic On The Mike’ somehow, sometime in the mid-90’s a copy of it was ‘liberated’ by Panousis from my good Kyperoundan friend Alvinos. I never really figured if Jimmy fully understood what I did, but he was fascinated with the ‘Gringlish’ vibe of it. So much so that he used it on his popular daily radio show as background music which he ranted over.
Jimmys Alvinos declared was a fan of mine and a few years later, on one of my trips to Athens to spin Reggae and Dub with the very Rankin Johnny I was waiting anxiously outside a small bar in Psiri, Athens to greet the man who more than any artist from Greece had inspired me to dare to be different and satirical. Meeting Jimmy and spending a good half hour with him was very special. He was ordinary, polite, smiling, we shared a few stories and jokes. When he stepped in the venue a quiver of voices whispered his name which carried the weight of someone historic and radical yet so remarkably ordinary. He stayed around for a couple of hours, skanking in his own way, smiling at every one who smiled at him. There was none of the usual fuss that surrounds celebrities, like autographs and this was also in the pre-selfie age. I thought to myself ‘I finally met Jimmys Panousis!’ and took the early morning plane back home after the gig. I was so happy on that trip. The customs man rifled through my stuff, proclaiming ‘DJ!’ when he went through my modest collection of records. I just smiled back in a Panoussian way and said ‘DJ’.
I only saw Jimmy perform once, at Skali Anglatzias, a few years later, in Nicosia. I returned the compliment to visit him at a show, and saw him briefly before he hit the stage we chatted for a short time, he gave me a warm hug and hand shake. The show itself was so powerful, so painfully funny – a combination of media sending everything and everyone up in his unique acerbic humour acutely post-modernist and anarchist to the bone. He did his Dalaras jokes, as the resonance of the pop singer who always played ‘the ever so radical one’ was heavy in Cyprus. Jimmy decided to say the name cautiously, whispering Dalaras name as if a Cypriotic Greek Leviathan would descend from the stage and obliterate him. H ended with the band with carnivalesque version of ‘Zorbas’, with every one mimicking a machismo masturbatory in sync dance.
I followed him online. His radio pranks were just so funny, and yet so ordinary. He once cold called a woman and accused her daughter of allegedly hitting on his 13 year old son. The woman tried to be defensive, with the ‘what’s my daughter’s name’ line but Jimmy out maneuvered her and before she knew it, the whole thing sounded so spontaneous, so believable – check it here . And his passion for doing alternative/disruptive like media interviews even made the Sex Pistols on The Today program with Bill Grundy in the 1970s look so lame. Look no further than the artist’s last ever unedited interview.…And then, the here and now, when we all learned of his passing, and there is this big empty space in our lives called Jimmys Panousis. He will be sorely missed by us and by the establishment, the politicians in suits, the pop stars with egos, the politicians without ties, and the priests in their robes of corruption, then plastic media people and the tyrants who rule out lives day and night. Kankela Pantou Jimmy, even today…And we still sing Axx Evropi with a louder passion that haunts our souls even more these days…..so RiP my friend…we laughed and sang with your/our passion and pain….Bye Bye Jimmako…