Q&A with Greek drummer Michalis Orphanidis of MORKA, one of the most progressive local groups of the 70s

"The impact of Blues and Rock music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications is tremendous because music really makes the world go round. What goes round comes round."

Michalis Orphanidis: Rhythm & Beat

Michalis Orphanidis is a self-taught musician. He began drumming in 1970, in Athens, Greece with his band MORKA. MORKA was the most progressive of the leading vocal groups of the era. In 1972, Demis Roussos made him an offer to join his own band in a world tour considering him to be the best drummer in Greece at the time (magazine and press clippings are saved in his archives). In 1974, while studying English, musicology and psychology at Trinity College, London, he spent two months with Vangelis Papathanassiou at his recording studios as well as his London home, learning from the master. In 1978 he spent two and a half months in Montreal, Canada with fellow musicians who were studying music at Mc Gill University and playing in various clubs around Quebec. In 1980 he joined the British band THE SNIPE and toured with them for two years around Liverpool, Manchester, Wales and London.          Photo by Thanasis Sofras

In 1982 he returned to Greece to work with a band at the Athens Hilton hotel for nine months. Since then he has worked as a session and studio musician throughout the globe with most Greek composers, arrangers, singers and bands. He has recorded music for LP's, CD's, film soundtracks, television, radio and theater shows, jingles, children's songs, live recordings and played in the biggest venues, ancient theaters, stadiums, as well as cruise ships, small clubs and any place imaginable where music can be played in all continents. He has played all genres of music, from classical to traditional, jazz, blues, rock, funk, R&B, progressive, ethnic and improvisational music of a wide range which he is still studying. He has worked as a drummer with the last living legend of the Greek composers Mikis Theodorakis, Dionyssis Savvopoulos among many other top artists including Eugenios Spatharis (shadow-theater master) and Thanassis Veggos (comedian actor). In 2004 he represented Greece at the 18th International Federation of Musicians Congress which was held in London, 12-14 December, as an honorable member of the Panhellenic Musicians Union. He has been teaching the art of drumming since 1985. He has translated books, musical and theatrical texts as well as television plays from Greek into English and vice versa. Michalis also plays guitar and percussion.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock culture? How do you describe your music philosophy and sound?

The Rock Culture has deeply influenced and shaped me as a musician ever since I found out that music was and still is the most important and precious thing in my entire life. I guess you can call that my philosophy. As for the sound, well, music is sound at its best. It is essential to develop one's personal sound as well as it is relative to any musician's various musical influences. In a nut shell, it's mainly a matter of taste.

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The Blues and Rock Counterculture has definitely influenced my views of the world and the journeys I've taken.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

There have been numerous important acquaintances along the way. The most important experiences were meeting and learning from master musicians such as Vangelis Papathanassiou, Billy Cobham, Dom Famularo, Steve Smith and Simon Phillips to name a few. The best advice anyone ever gave me was "Seize the day, never give up and pursue your dreams listening to the child within". In fact, this is what life itself has taught me.

"The Rock Culture has deeply influenced and shaped me as a musician ever since I found out that music was and still is the most important and precious thing in my entire life. I guess you can call that my philosophy."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are so many fond memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions that I can't single one out to share with you. Maybe when I'm old and wise I'll write a book about them...

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

What do I miss most from the music of the past? Why, of course that an album would come out and eight out of ten songs would be great! My hope for the future is the alleviation of the suffering of humankind through good music. My fear for the future of music is that ruthless businessmen can destroy quality in the name of money making.

What were the reasons that made the 70s to be the center of Progressive/Rock researches and experiments?

In my humble opinion, what made the 70s the center of Progressive Rock researches and experiments was the culmination of public awareness in the best of time.

Make an account of the case of Rock Blues in Greece. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

I'm not an expert on the case of Rock Blues in Greece so, I can't make an account. Besides "Socrates Drank The Conium" and "Blues Wire" there are not many other bands living up to the standard as far as I can recall. The local blues scene has been going strong to the few that loved it ever since I can remember.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Rembetiko and Greek traditional forms with Blues and Jazz music?

The good news is that in recent years more and more prominent musicians are combining the lines that connect the legacy of Rembetico and Greek traditional forms with Blues and Jazz music.

"What do I miss most from the music of the past? Why, of course that an album would come out and eight out of ten songs would be great! My hope for the future is the alleviation of the suffering of humankind through good music. My fear for the future of music is that ruthless businessmen can destroy quality in the name of money making." (Photo by Kostas Hatzopoulos)

What has made you laugh from MORKA era and what touched (emotionally) you from Vaggelis Papathanasiou?

Reminiscing the MORKA era, there are so many stories which still make me laugh or cry as those were the best years of my life but I'll save all this for later on. As for Vangelis Papathanassiou, the master really touched me musically as well as did his work emotionally.

What is the impact of Blues and Rock music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

The impact of Blues and Rock music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications is tremendous because music really makes the world go round. What goes round comes round. That is why money hungry mongrels, knowing the power of good music have been fighting it with all of their might by pushing worthless rubbish so they can keep the masses under control.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

If I could take a trip with a time machine, where would I go for a whole day and why? A whole day wouldn't be enough for a start but to make a long story short, I would go back to my youth in the 70s. You can call me anachronistic, incurably romantic or whatever you feel like, it doesn't make a difference. In the words of the great John Lennon, just IMAGINE.

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