Legendary radio producer and presenter Giannis Petridis was born in Athens in the late 1940s. In 1975, he began broadcasting his show 'Pop Club', later renamed ''from 4 to 5'' on Greek Public Radio ERT. The show ran for 39 years on the same frequency, Monday to Friday, and from 4 to 5 in the afternoon, making it one of the longest-running daily radio music shows, not only in Greece, but around the world. Through his show, especially in the 70’s and the 80’s, when only public radio was broadcast throughout Greece, Petridis introduced many generations of Greeks to the new sounds of alternative rock and to artists like the Cure, Birthday Party and Joy Division. He was also one of the first radio djs to play and support rap and other styles of urban music considered too “American”, too “pop” or too “black” at the time. Although focused on rock, his show is informative and broad-based, covering all musical genres and styles.
He has interviewed many important Greek and international artists, including David Byrne, Dire Straits, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Joe Cocker, Nick Cave, Roxy Music and Rory Gallagher among others. In 1978, together with his long-time collaborator Kostas Zougris, he launched Pop & Rock magazine, which touched on all musical developments in the international scene and was the go-to magazine for all music lovers in Greece. In 1998 he left his position as the magazine’s chief editor.
He has served as director of record label Virgin Greece for some 22 years (1983-2005), where he signed-up two of the most popular and influential Greek rock bands of the time, Trypes and Xylihna Spathia. Over the years and in the course of a lifetime devoted to music, he has amassed one of the largest private record collections in the world. He is one of the select few Europeans with the right to vote for the U.S. Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
In 2013, when Greek Public Radio and Television were abruptly shut down by the government of the time, Petridis’ show "from 4 to 5" went off the air, although he kept active at other radio stations and launched his website, apotis4stis5.com. Since 2017, the show is back on public radio and Petridis can be heard once again imparting musical knowledge through the airwaves.
Petridis spoke to Greek News Agenda* about his plans for his recorcd collection, how the new model for distributing music favors commercial music, whether or not rock has indeed died, how Black music is at the root of most music we hear today and is rightifully dominating the charts, his opinion on new Greek and international music, and finally, his travels to Big Sur, California.
You have one of the world's largest record collections. How many records do you have?
What can I say; it’s a huge record collection. However, I don’t know if it means anything these days, and I'm in the process of seeing where it could be laid to rest in a few years. The music that I have has value as a record collection; however as individual songs, anyone could have them in a couple of flash-drives. This is why the songs people listen to via streaming are not fully appreciated. No one can really appreciate new songs anymore. In the past, record buyers valued songs differently; they inevitably formed a bond to their vinyl records or even to their CDs, a special connection they cannot have to, to let’s say, a song on their mobile phone, probably one of thousands there. I’ll be damned if they know who the composer is, or who the musicians are, or if it comes with some sort of artwork.
It’s the first time we hear about your plans for bestowing your record collection. Could you tell us more?
I'm out there looking, but I’ve not come to any decision so far. My idea is to create something that does not yet exist in Greece, like a ‘House of Music’ - a musical institution where this entire collection will be housed, both Greek and foreign records. Like I said before, some might say that all this music can be found on the internet, but it’s not as simple as that. You have for example the record sleeves, both Greek and foreign, which are of enormous significance and reflect their era. Many of them are like paintings. Take the sleeves produced by the Greek label Lyra: they had distinguished artists creating them. The same goes for record sleeves of albums from around the world, some of them are real works of art; it is not just about the music but all the memorabilia that goes with it. And my collection does not just include records, it's a whole library of music magazines, books and rare publications dating from the 1960s. I would not want all of this to go to waste, but to be made good use of here, in this country. Because I too am growing older and I need to sort out this matter, find a home for this material where that the public can have access to it.
I want the entire collection to be there as a library, so that anyone who wants to carry out research and listen to the music could do so. I also imagine that there could be rooms - as is the case at similar institutions abroad, e.g. in the USA and Britain - for watching documentaries: there could be daily screenings at standard intervals of, let’s say, of documentaries about Greek music, Tsitsanis, or about rebetiko, laiko, éntekhno, rock, jazz and so forth.
An institution like that could generate the income needed for its maintenance, by charging a very small entrance fee for visitors. This is more or less what I have seen abroad, in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for example, and it’s something that we should have in Greece as well. What I am saying is that I do not like people approaching me and telling me ‘if you do not find a suitable home in Greece for your collection than we can make good use of it’. It is not right; the collection must stay here and be cared for with love. I am not interested in making money out of this, I never cared for the money, I did it all for fun. What interests me and what I want to be sure of is that the collection will be used in a good way. Unfortunately, only a few can appreciate this in Greece.
What do you think about the change in the music distribution model and the fact that artists can have their music available more or less free via streaming?
Most believed, and this is true in part, that their music would now be more easily accessible to the public. The point is however, and they've probably realized it after all these years, that there is still a need for professionals that can effectively promote this music. There may be some amazing works out there, but how will they become known to the world and be picked out of from the millions of others that are available online? So I believe that we are now at an era that ultimately favors commercial music, while I suspect that the artists who wanted easier access to the public were alternative artists, who were struggling to get record companies to release their albums.
So, at this moment in time we are witnessing the dominance of commercial music, whilst what we call alternative or quality music, is almost on the sidelines or addressed to limited audiences only; unfortunately this music is no longer achieving high levels of popularity. Let me tell you what I mean by that. Up until 10-12 years ago, important artists such as Van Morrison, or Paul Simon -who is also commercially successful- or Nick Cave for that matter -not someone you would call an easy artist to listen to- managed to acquire a very large audience via traditional means of music distribution and promotion, and through music magazines, radio shows etc.
Since 2000, alternative musicians like Rufus Wainwright, Father John Misty, St. Vincent and several other remarkable new artists, are only known to, say, a group of friends in Athens, a few others in Dublin, some more in Rome and so on. The general public cannot find out about them, they are never given airplay; and while there may be quite a few websites that write something about them, they cannot make them famous.
I therefore come to the conclusion that while music these days may be everywhere, much more so than before, it is predominantly commercial music, and it is only in rare cases that alternative artists like, let's say the Arctic Monkeys, can reach a wide audience. And they are obviously not new, they’ve been around for 12 years, and they had a label behind them to make them big.
Music is everywhere, but unfortunately, as far as I’m concerned, it is not listened to in the way that it used to be, not only by my generation of the ‘60s, but even that of the 1990s. I am of course talking about rock music and the alternative scene that interested people looking for something more than mass consumption. For example, the generation of Radiohead -probably the last one to experience the old system of music distribution- listened to them in a way that is different to the way they listen now to a new band: they knew the members of the band, the songs from beginning to end; they knew everything about them; they were their heroes.
Songs, as one of our greatest Greek composers, Stavros Xarchakos, has poignantly said, are ‘refugees on the internet’. I have been quoting this since the day he said it. Our songs, especially the songs of new composers and alternative musicians, in Greece and around the world, are the absolute refugees. The rest can come and go freely.
So this new model for distributing music and streaming services has not overturned the record company system?
Everyone is saying that now we have music for free. But money is made from concerts, as tickets prices have gone up considerably, as well as from advertisements and sponsorships. Companies are not making less; as far as I know, by drastically limiting their employees, they are now making more profit than before. The system is still here. Streaming companies like Tidal and Spotify can, with great ease impose something as successful. For example, a song is being released now: when you have your own platform, you use an entire team for continuous streaming to generate millions of views; the songs with the most views are on top display. So everything was worked out fine for the music industry.
You often say that rock has died. Do you see something new in contemporary music? Will there be a popular new kind of music like rock was n the 50s or rap in the 80s?
I do not know if this is possible. We are living in era of technology, and maybe something new will emerge that’s technologically related; I do not know what that could be. Until 2000, I could make predictions: I was one of the first to foresee in 1979, against many reactions, that hip-hop, or rap as we called it then, would be the biggest music movement in the years to come. Of course I could never have imagined the situation today! Hip-hop has been around 40 years now; it has lasted as long as rock.
Thus I cannot now predict what it will be. Everything has been done: We have gone through lounge music periods, we’ve spent time with world music in the 90s, we experienced the highs of Peter Gabriel and David Byrne who brought us acts from Africa, Asia and South America, the Womad festival, and all that. We've been through it all; I don’t know what more could be done. But if something does happen, it won’t be for me to say, as it will come from someone who is now maybe eight years old; this kid is our hope for new music.
A cycle in great musical categories has been completed and we are once again undergoing a kind of recycling. The pop and the hip-hop songs we are listening to now are a revival of music of the past, but offered with a modern rhythm that is relevant to what kids are listening to today and to what they consider their own. And it’s only right that young people listen to music made by young people. If you look at footage of the great bands like Beatles and the Doors you’ll see that the audience below going wild and screaming is actually 14 year old girls. The same was true for Frank Sinatra when he first came out. So music for the young must be made by the young. Recently, I was listening to the latest records by Roger Daltrey, one of my favorite artists, and by Van Morrison, and they didn’t mean anything even to me; so how can they mean something to a 15-year-old kid?
Tell us about the tribute to Βlack music that you’ve begun in your radio show and that will run all through this summer.
I'm really happy for the success of African-Americans, and I'll tell you why. As a race they have been harassed, hounded and discriminated against. In America they arrived as slaves, and even in the age of Motown in the 1960s, when social unrest had already begun and changes were taking place under Kennedy, Βlack musicians on tours had to stay in motels designated for Blacks only, as racial segregation meant they were not accepted in whites-only hotels. And now African-Americans are everywhere. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of old Black musicians are having their absolute revenge.
I mean look, they have totally eliminated every other kind of music. And it's not just music: the film Moonlight was awarded three Oscars, Get Out won an Oscar for screenplay last year, and this year I predict we will see nominations in a range of categories for films such as Black Panther -which is a blockbuster, albeit a quality blockbuster. Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes.
The tribute began on account of the success of Black music in recent times, and in our country - let’s not kid ourselves, I don’t want to comment on whether we are racists - I hear a lot of disparaging talk about Black people. Not only here, of course, you can see what’s happening in Europe with the rise of the Right and the refugees. The occasion came when we uploaded the video Beyoncé and Jay-Z shot at the Louvre. I understand that hip-hop artists can sometimes appear arrogant, but this arrogance is to some extent justified, if you think that, Jay-Z for example, evolved from a kid selling drugs on the street to a kind of king.
So someone left a comment on our website saying that "there are two monkeys at the Louvre." This infuriated me and I decided that I would play only black music all summer. All the music we hear today, apart from folk and classical music, is Black. So, in my tribute, I thought about presenting the history of music through forgotten -as well as relatively known- Black artists, especially from the first half of the 20th century. These musicians remained in relative obscurity, until a new generation of inspired white musicians in the 50s and 60s, like Elvis Presley, introduced Black music to the general public. Some people accuse Elvis of cultural appropriation of Black music, but it's not like that. I have not heard any of the Black musicians of the time say the slightest thing against Elvis, because he really was a pilgrim of Black music, and in a way he carried it over to a wider audience, because he was very talented. The same thing was done by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other British bands of the 1960s; and we have to remember that in Britain the music of the 1930s and 40s was incredibly mediocre. These kids in Liverpool and London, listening to Black music coming from America, created the music we know today. That's what I want to emphasize to the public, that what they hear today is Black; because African-Americans created ragtime, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul and hip-hop.
Could you name a favourite route of yours in America, where you often travel?
I like America, but even more so - although it’s not obvious apart from to some my show’s zealous listeners - I love Italy, which is a very special country for me. I am interested in history and Italy is fascinating in this respect. Some of the best routes I've done are in the Tuscan region, which is a paradise.
America has succeeded, through music and film, to make whole generations of youth over time want to go there. I have been fortunate enough over the years to get to know America by way of road trips across almost all states. And most of all, looking for the America referred to by Jack Kerouac, the writers and poets of the 50's generation, beatniks. I would have liked to live during the time of the beatniks, and since I haven´t, I have been visiting the places described in their books. The San Francisco area and the Big Sur, which is also the title of a book by Kerouak, particularly fascinate me. I have been there more times than I have ever been to any place in my life; I don’t really want to say how many times, because they are too many. Every time I go, I take Highway 1, along the Pacific Ocean coastline reminiscing of the 1950s; I am nostalgic for another era. I also visit places where great songs were written and artists I love have lived. Others may think it odd and eccentric, that, for example, I went to both North and South Dakota to see where Peggy Lee, my idol, grew up. But I will tell you a story that makes me feel vindicated.
Some 12 years ago, Bob Dylan was in Canada for a concert. One day, before morning rehearsals he left his group to visit, alone, the street where Neil Young was born. We’re talking about Bob Dylan here, a god in a way, who actually even bigger than Neil Young, in the sense that was known before Young; and he said, "I sat for half an hour across the street from Neil Young’s house, I knew which room was his, to see what he saw when he wrote those songs." He wanted to see what Neil Young saw when he wrote these songs. So, this is why I go and visit places where artists I have loved lived, or places mentioned in songs, like Joshua Tree.
As director of Virgin Greece, you signed up Trypes and Xylina Spathia, two of the most important contemporary Greek rock bands.
I had seen Trypes in some small clubs, and then Spathia, long before they became known. They had each released an album with a record company in Thessaloniki and they had a small and loyal audience. We are talking about the 80s, a time when major record companies did not deal with such bands; just try and remember the type of music which then prevailed. So, I saw and heard these groups in one of their appearances, I went to Thessaloniki and we’ve been friends ever since. I reassured them that I would not interfere with their music and that they could do what they wanted to, advising them only on a few matters. We never followed the traditional way of promotion and marketing that is focused on sales. Our approach regarding the label’s repertoire was based on an entirely different way of thinking, meaning that no one was going to be squeezed dry on the altar of sales and success.
With these two groups, as well as with others, we succeeded in a kind of underground way; we just let it flow with their music, and they gained their audience through their live performances. And we got to that point where these totally fringe rock bands would sell 70,000 records, whilst Yiannis Aggelakas (Trypes lead singer) and Pavlos Pavlidis (Xylina Spathia lead singer) became one of the major forces in Greek music.
What do you think of contemporary Greek music? Which Greek artists and Greek music could interest a young foreign audience today?
The good Greek music we once had and is now unfortunately gone. Even in European countries with an incredible musical tradition, such as Italy and France, the music and songs we knew have disappeared. You may think I'm just an old man talking about old times. This is not the case however; I follow, listen and accept today’s music for what it is. Nevertheless, I have to admit that it cannot be compared to the music of the past. Just look at what’s happening with Greek music these days.
I could name five or ten singers, but they have been around since the 80's and 90's, like Thanasis Papakonstantinou, Yannis Angelakas, Pavlos Pavlidis, Soktratis Malamas, Fivos Delivorias, Natasa Bofiliou and the composers who write for her, and others but how many would that that give us - fifteen maybe? I also a ask you, what is modern Greek music? Is it what we saw at the MAD awards? Is that Greek music? I am not opposed to this kind of [pop] music, it has its place. These songs are addressed to 12 year-olds, to an audience that will reach adulthood and move elsewhere afterwards. Yannis Haroulis, for example, is a good performer; but he doesn’t have any songs, there is no one to write songs for him, like Yannis Markopoulos and other composers wrote for Nikos Xylouris. Xilouris’s music has stayed with us, not only because he was a great performer, but also because he was lucky to work with composers of that calibre. Now there are none. And there’s the vast internet. There are some rare and distinctive new artists, but they need guidance. I could say for example, The Boy. There are others like him, but without guidance and without proper promotion and visibility they will be known and loved by small audiences only.
This is the role that recording companies used to play. Of course, recording companies are commercial companies, let’s not forget that. Still, it was totally different in the past, were Patsifas was the owner of the the Lyra label, Lambropoulos of Columbia –with its huge back catalogue of gems by Hatzidakis and Theodorakis- or Matsas who owned the Minos EMI label, which produced so many important artists. Instead of music lovers, record companies these days employ pretentious 25–30 year-old kids, neo-yuppies without knowledge or musical education, whose only understanding relates to lifestyle – which is why I believe that I left the record company business at the right time.
How do you see Greece today in relation to the Greece you grew up in?
It is a different Greece. I am not referring to the political situation, as we’re talking about different times. It is not true what when people say, that things were better then and now they’re worse, it’s not the case. For my generation, which grew up in the 50s and 60s, even now when things are obviously really hard, there’s no comparison with what it was like back then. We even went through a dictatorship then, how can there possibly be any comparison between now and then? It is impossible for someone with no experience of those years seven of the dictatorship to understand what it was really like. Perhaps many feel we are worse off now because they compare today’s situation to the 90's; it was indeed a time of prosperity and lifestyle, albeit a fake time.
What I hope for is that with the new prospects being opened there will be opportunities in the coming years for people to go forward in their chosen field and fulfill their dream. And I say this because at a time when Greece was devastated, in the 50’s, those of us who possessed some talent managed to do so, and I hope that the same happens for today’s younger generation.