Antonis Vardis: The Beginning and Haroula

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We dedicate two posts to Antonis Vardis (Αντώνης Βαρδής, 1948-2014), a composer, songwriter and singer who created many beloved popular songs.

That “essence lies in scarcity” can be said about Antonis Vardis, as about many other artists. He was born in 1948 in Moschato to a very poor family. No more than six years old, he met big names in nightclubs, had the luck to sing with them and even got some money for singing as a wunderkind with Manolis Chiotis in a Plaka club. The court imposed a big fine on his poor father because of this. These encounters had a great influence on him.”From a very small age I wanted to do something and to be loved by the world… Maybe because I sang 1-2 times with Tsitsanis and Papaioannou or next to Chiotis and saw that people were applauding me at only 6 years old, I loved this thing.”

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So he did not attend school much, and skipped high school entirely, working in various jobs to help the family. When Antonis was 15 he embarked to work on a ship like his father. He served on a few ships but the long time away from home and sometimes stormy sea were too much for the teenager and one day he fled from a ship. He had brought with him a guitar from Brindisi and in 1965, while he was working in a gas station he formed with friends a musical group, the “Vikings”, who played in the era’s western musical style. Then and on he remained self-taught and never studied music. Gradually the group became professional, releasing singles and taking part in concerts. One of their songs was “Catharine” composed and sung by Antonis Vardis in English under the name Tony Vardi”*

hhhThe band was dissolved in 1970 and Vardis went to the army. He found himself financially broken. “At that time when you saw a stranger on the street, you would say to him “Please, do you have a cigarette to give me?” He was on the verge of suicide. Luckily enough, Dimos Moutsis who was preparing a show with the singers Manolis Mitsias and Dimitra Galani in one of  Plaka’s clubs, recognized his talent as a guitarist, and gave him a job, making sure that Antonis would get a daily pass from the army. He got a payment of 360 drachmas a month and suddenly, at the age of 22 for the first time in his life, he felt rich… “It was a lot of money for me at a time when I had to either smoke cigarettes or pay my rent.” Later Moutsis in a dedication on a photo wrote “I consider myself the luckiest man that I met such a good musician.

He started to write songs, the first “How Much I Loved You” (Πόσο πολύ σ’ αγάπησα) was in a 1973 song contest, sung by Dalaras. Later, in the mid 1970s he wrote songs for other singers, among them Haris Alexiou and Anna Vissi. Gradually he was established as a top acoustic guitarist.

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In 1976 Antonis Vardis released his first personal album “I Envision” (Οραματίζομαι), which was a big failure. “I was very much embarrassed and for two years I didn’t write anything because I did not know what to blame, that I was young? To blame my singing voice? Blame the verse; the music? Until sometime around 1978 Achilles Theophilus who was a producer in MINOS EMI told me: ‘Anthony, do not give up, you write very good songs. Just look to do songs a little shorter; a verse, a chorus, look my boy, you have to be more commercial,’ and I started again after I decided to do more commercial songs.” So that year he returned to his discography, contributing to leading singers like Giannis Poulopoulos, Vasilis Papakonstantinou and Dimitra Galani.

Here is a short taste of a song I love from that era. “Under the Grape Arbor”( Κάτω απ΄ την κληματαριά, lyrics by Andreas Angelakis) sung by Dalaras and Vardis. Press CC for English subtitles.

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It is Dawning (Ξημερώνει 1980) with Haroula Alexiou

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Even though he wrote music to famous singers before, Vardis was really revealed to the wide audience in this album for which he wrote all the music. I think that Vardis is one of the few composers who deeply understood and felt Haroula’s soul.

And in the beginning he was not sure about it. He had accompanied her all the years with his guitar in appearances and albums including the 1979 “Haroula’s Songs” (Τα τραγούδια της Χαρούλας) of  Manos Loizos who had very close relationship with her. So when Achilles Theophilus suggested that Antonis would write for her, he felt that the shoes were too big for him.”‘Hey guys, do you want to kill me?’ I said … I was afraid … ‘It’s dangerous… After Loizos, whom I love, I do not think I can write something better … I love Haroula as a singer and I do not want to be brought down.’

They saw that I was insecure and they asked another very good composer to do the job. His songs were great but not suitable for Haroula. So the producer Achilles said to me: ‘sit down, it’s a great opportunity for you to do this album.’

And I first wrote ‘It is Dawning’. Once they only heard the melody, without lyrics, Haris said ‘I am in love with this piece, I will add the lyrics.’ And so it all began …”

Shortly after, one of Vardis own favorites “I am Leaving” (Φεύγω) was written. It was the first song for which Vardis wrote the lyrics too, a personal verse about a man who is going to the sea. As such, it had to be sung by a man; but he felt that the spirit of the song is for Haroula, and indeed it was sung by her, with some changes of lyrics by her suggestion, like “I am leaving, with a song as my companion…”

Here are the two songs. English caps

The third song from the album, is one which our friend Katerina really, really loves! “You Abandoned Me Like a Pillaged Town” (Μ΄ άφησες σαν πόλη, lyrics by Sarantis Alivizatos):

You abandoned me, like a pillaged town

but I turned my tears into laughter

Then you turned around to see what was left standing

and you said that I cruelly betrayed you.

Then you went on your way, with heavy steps

and then I was left with nothing at all

Laughter came back, it came back with time

and you said that I heartlessly betrayed you.

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Rock Ballad (Ροκ μπαλάντα ) and ‘Tonight I want to drink’ (Απόψε θέλω να πιω)-2003

Twenty three years after this first mutual album, and two “timeless” songs came to the world. The first is “Rock Ballad” from Vardis’ album “Whatever I Have I Give It to You” (Ό,τι έχω στο χαρίζω) Rock Ballad (lyrics by Vasilis Gianopoulos)

The song “Tonight I Want to Drink” is from Haroula’s album “To the Edge of Your Sky” (ως την άκρη του ουρανού σου). As we wrote elsewhere, this is one of Alexiou’s most complete albums in terms of the spiritual connection between the songs put forth, with deep sensitivity, human weakness and strength. Here the soul of Antonis (and the lyric writer Sofia Argiropoulou) identify and unite with the soul of Harola, so we could easily think that this is one of the songs she might have written herself…

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The second part of the story, “Antonis Vardis and friends” is at https://greeksongstories.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/antonis-vadis-and-friends/

See the links at the end of the second part.

*The song “Catharine: https://youtu.be/guJtESMVy1s

Many thanks to my dear friend Katerina Siapanta for translations and explanations! 

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