Greek crooner ever, forever best avoided

Demis Roussos

Festival Theatre

**

"THE Roussos Phenomenon is back!" screamed the publicity for last night’s concert. Sadly, on a cold wet April evening, no-one seemed to be listening, and it was a disappointingly small crowd who ventured out, no doubt hoping to be rewarded with a little ray of sunshine from the golden-voiced Greek.

After all, back in the 70s there was no-one bigger than Artemios Ventouris Roussos (Demis to his fans), and more than 20 years on, even though he’s shed ten stone since his heyday, he’s still a big lad.

But the Roussos who took to the stage last night was much changed from the hairy monster who warbled his way through the decade that, like his kaftans, taste forgot.

Gone was the explosion of black hair, the unkempt beard that looked like it could easily hide traces of last weeks moussaka and - sacrilege upon sacrilege - gone too were the intricately embroidered kaftans. They were apparently auctioned off when the big man slimmed down enough to comfortably get back into suits.

These days Demis is bald, his beard is white, and what hair he has is scrapped back into a ponytail. But it’s not just his appearance that has altered. The voice that fascinated a generation - and inspired many a Kenny Everett sketch - has changed too, the trilling vibrato having evolved into a husky, and at times guttural, whisper.

"Tonight is going to be a night of nostalgia," said Greece’s biggest export since Nana Mouskouri. "A night of love between me and you. . . going through my musical career."

Consequently, he opened with Rain and Tears, his first British hit, before romping through the rest of his back catalogue, theatrically conducting his band on a selection of ballads, occasionally whistling birdsong over traditional Greek folk songs and even attempting the odd soiree into the realms of opera .

Right from the start it was clear that his voice isn’t what it used to be.

Even so, he can still hold a tune, and still engage his audience, as he proved when he got them up in the aisles, no mean feat when only 500 of the 2000 plus seats in the auditorium actually have bums on them. "Ever, forever and ever" he sang, taking them by surprise with his best known number fairly early on in the set.

It was the highlight of the show, which in the second half descended into mediocrity, and posed the question: Should backing tapes carry a vocal track? Mmm...?

However, the most surreal moment on the evening had to be the sight of Roussos, dancing around the stage like a balletic hippo, while singing Santa Lucia, a rendition that came complete with mouthed clip-clop hoof effects, and some bizarre groaning and moaning.

Sometimes, nostalgia is best enjoyed through rose-tinted memories and a quick spin on the turntable of the original seven inch single.