By Alexia Evripidou
AFTER A LONG absence from Cyprus, Christos Christou is returning to the motherland with a guitar in tow and life lessons to share. The free spirited 33-year-old musician has spent over four years travelling the corners of the earth, using his voice and a guitar to make ends meet. With a less than ordinary life under his belt, Christos and his guitar have busked and gigged their way around much of the world till all roads led back to Larnaca.
Since the age of 28, Christos has lived what most would perceive as an unconventional life, judged and frowned upon by some and envied by others. Packing up his life and job and putting his money where his mouth was, Christos hit the road with very little but the goal of taking life day by day and playing his beloved music. Deeply patriotic – with a large tattoo of Cyprus on his forearm adorning a Makarios quote – he tells of his adventures and his return home to Cyprus, where his heart lives.
Born in the seaside English town of Torquay where, according to cliché, purple-rinsed old ladies go to play bingo or bachelor weekends are rife, Christos spent his early youth listening to music and dreaming of the stage. At age seven, he sat in the car with his parents and spent the following ten days driving to Cyprus. His family wanted to start a brand new life here. He was unhappy and missed England. At the age of fifteen, his parents divorced and he got his wish to go back to England.
The following thirteen years involved moving between Cyprus, Torquay and London. In between countries and homes, he never quite knew where he belonged but always knew what he wanted to do: become a working musician. Restless and eager to be in a band, Christos moved to London and enrolled on a music course in 2001. Within the year, he thought his dreams had come true when he auditioned for a band. “All I wanted to do was play music; the course couldn’t teach me what I already knew, which was how to feel the music, so I left,” he said.
With his deep and gravelly voice, reminiscent of the Demis Roussos and Nana Mouskouri era, he was snapped up instantly as lead singer of a band. Within six months the band got signed by agent Alki David from the Levendis Group, who had branched out in the music business. With an agent, a band and high promises, Christos felt unstoppable but the endless conflicts between him and the manager forced Christos to leave. His band, The Cognition, collapsed shortly after.
Back to square one again, he joined the rat race working different jobs, one being in the Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge on 12 hour shifts. In between work and an hour long commute, there was little time for his music. Until an epiphany hit.
“In England I wasn’t a musician, I was a mobile phone worker or the like. I never had guilt about getting a ‘real job’ although my family around me did,” he explained. “I tried hard in ‘normal jobs’ and worked long hours. I have never called in sick in my life. I was always there on time, looking to do the job the best I could, but I never felt I was going anywhere in life, I wasn’t achieving anything…I felt I was growing old and doing nothing.”
In 2009 he made the decision to leave behind his belongings and set out on the road less traveled, not knowing what was around the corner or where the financial security would come from. But somehow, it always did.
In Thailand, he ended up gigging in a little village called Pai, situated at the very tip of the country.
“One early morning I was sitting outside a bar which had closed. With my guitar and a few others we were jamming until a Thai man called Pi Nong came and offered me work gigging in his bar,” he said.
He stayed for several months in this small place famous amongst artists and musicians, a place where creative people congregated and created.
Playing both regular solo sets and with a band, Christos generally enjoys playing melancholic rock and his own songs. He got paid 300 baht a night (around seven euros). “This was enough to pay for my room my scooter hire and food. I was breaking even comfortably. I was so happy.”
He gigged around Thailand three times until the wind took him to Australia.
Here, Christos spent most of his time busking in the streets. Some days he made only $20 and others $150. Many times he didn’t have two cents to rub together, but work would always appear just when he was about to give up and go back to England. Other than the joy of playing music for a living, “I got to meet many people, especially homeless people,” he said.
He showed up for work as a professional musician with an amplifier and a guitar. Everyone knew he didn’t live on the streets, yet “they would always look out for me and protect me”.
“They were very giving people. I would even have homeless people throwing in coins for my music when I was playing. It might only be five cents, but for them it was a lot of money,” he said. “Often people tell them to ‘get a job’, but they don’t know what that person went through, that ended them up living on the streets. People make the mistake of judging before knowing and it’s wrong.”
One of his pit stops was St Kilda in Melbourne. “I was busking and a guy with long hair and a rug around him came up to me and stared at me. He went off and came back with a portion of chips for me. It really struck me how someone who has nothing can be so generous and the rich and powerful of this world don’t give a penny to anyone.”
Musically, travelling allowed him to constantly improve his skills, as he was always playing with new people. Often he would strum his guitar on a beach or an alleyway and someone would hear and offer him work.
Now in Cyprus, Christos both busks at Finigoudes in Larnaca and plays gigs in a variety of bars. He’s off to Germany soon and on his return he’ll be playing in the Lithos Bar on August 3.
So, does Christos see himself as a hippy?
“What is a hippy?” he challenges.
“Some others see me as a ‘hippy’. Yes I love the earth, I love the world. I’m just a person who loves to play music. I am no better or worse than any one else. We’re all in this world together,” said as he sipped on his Italian roasted coffee and talked about unhippy subjects such as souvlakia and good whisky.