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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Demis Roussos - Class Warrior


I was saddened to hear of the passing of the Greek singer, Demis Roussos. This is partly because my mum liked him and partly because I regard his music as a defiant symbol of the kind of lowbrow popular art that is usually disdained by critics. A few years ago, I wrote about watching Demis on a re-run of an old ‘Top of the Pops’ episode from 1976, observing that: 

"He dressed like a character from an episode of Star Trek, in which Kirk and crew had beamed down to a planet where the dominant species had evolved from a race of fortune tellers and new-age therapists. He sometimes appeared through the miracle of specially-filmed clips shot in Greece (or at least shot somewhere that was hot, with rocks and sand and electricity that was magically supplied to the various unplugged instruments). He was a handsome big fellow and he did his fair share of smouldering, but that ‘mean and slightly moody’ look was rather at odds with his high-pitched vocal delivery, which often attracted scorn from his critics." 

Demis may have sold millions of records, but many folk will remember him for having been rather brutally disparaged by Mike Leigh in the play ‘Abigail’s Party’, wherein his music was deemed to be a risible signifier of the suburbanite affectations of the main character, Beverly. Underpinning the dreadful snobbery of that play was a fear and loathing of the aspirant lower middle-class with their common tastes and their vulgar desire to improve their lot. Goodness, these people wore the wrong clothes, drank the wrong wine, ate the wrong food, watched the wrong films, listened to the wrong music and, when ‘Abigail’s Party’ was first performed in 1977, they would probably have been gearing up to vote for the wrong political party. I’d imagine that in la belle beau monde inhabited by Mike Leigh and chums, where the right kind of people ate in the right restaurants and ordered the right wine, there would have been no little degree of disdain for anyone who had the audacity to get above their station by doing something as vulgar as, say, buying their own council house. 

Sadly, that kind of class snobbery is no longer the preserve of educated theatre-types. It now infests our social discourse like a plague, manifested in the censorious and hectoring desire of the political class to micro-manage every aspect of the lives of those they deem too stupid, crass and vulgar to make decisions for themselves about what to watch, what to eat, what to drink, what to smoke or how to raise their kids. 

I can't claim to be much of a fan of the music of Demis Roussos but, because of that play and because of what the playwright so clearly believed his music to represent, any time I hear one of his songs I get the mental image of a fat man in a kaftan giving the middle finger to anyone who would fancy themselves an arbiter of 'good taste'. 

And somehow, that seems enormously satisfying.

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