One band crossed continents to bring the improvisational music of America’s heartland to Cyprus. ALIX NORMAN gets in the swing, and finds local influence on sets

Six thousand miles from home, Bloom Φields are bringing the music of the Midwest to Cyprus. It’s a sound that springs from the very heartland of America, where community rules okay and jam bands are gods: a musical smorgasbord of country, folk, rock and blues that’s unlike anything heard on the island before. And yet there’s something in this music that’s deeply resonating with local audiences…

“If Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan played psychedelic folk on stage together, that’s the sound we’re going for,” grins Kevin Brown, the band’s bass guitarist. “We kind of refer to it as ‘progressive psychedelic folk’, and it’s very different, very novel in this part of the world.”

The band itself is also relatively new, having launched this March. But there’s a wealth of experience to this four-man ensemble: all of the members (most of whom are in their 40s) have been playing – and performing – for their entire lives…

“It’s just what you do in the Midwest,” laughs Kevin. “You grow up listening to music, jamming with your friends, improvising so that you never play the same piece twice. It’s kind of a culture: you sit on the porch in the evening and just hang out with a couple of guitars and maybe a banjo or two. So I guess we’re really out of place in Cyprus. Back home audiences tend to arrive with certain expectations – here they’re more open to this new experience.”

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Kevin Brown

Straight out of Memphis Tennessee, Chris Bloomfield is the founder of the band: a guitarist, singer, and writer of the group’s original songs. On the drums, there’s University of Kentucky alumni Bobby Xenofontos. And, all the way from Owensboro, Kentucky, Kevin himself on bass.

“And more recently, Jacob Papageorgiou has joined us,” says Kevin. A classically trained musician, Jacob is more local; a half-Bulgarian, half-Cypriot who studied in Long Beach. It’s not quite the heartland, but “Jacob gets all our eclectic musical references,” smiles Kevin, “and brings his own unique sound to the group.”

Quite what so many musical Midwesterners are doing in Nicosia is a bit of a mystery. Until, that is, you discover there’s a thriving Cypriot community in America’s heartland. “Both Chris and I met our Cypriot wives in the States,” says Kevin. “And both of us moved here to give our families a safer life. Before I came to Cyprus, I was working for the government in Washington DC,” he adds. “You could hear gunshots all hours of the day and night. That isn’t somewhere you want to raise kids, right?”

Today, the band have eschewed life in the US for a less dangerous, more chilled existence in a country where “things are slower, more relaxed, and much safer.” Chris is a special education teacher at a private school; Bobby owns Zen Productions Studios in Nicosia; Jacob is the founder of software development company Mojo Digital; and Kevin himself is the founder of renowned digital marketing agency Minabocks. And all look to music as a well-deserved break at the end of the working week…

“I don’t think any of us could imagine a life without music,” says Kevin. “I’ve been around the world, and it doesn’t matter where you are; if you have a guitar, you’re never alone. Making music, creating a sound, building a shared experience for us and our audiences – that’s what gives us energy. I guess it’s the reason we never play our songs in the same way twice: in this type of music, we’re vibing off our audience – constantly reacting to their reactions.”

The band’s unique amalgam of folk, rock, jazz and blues pays tribute to the members’ diverse influences, which range from Bob Dylan to Stevie Wonder to the Grateful Dead. But the eclectic sound also incorporates the group’s more local experiences…

“We often have a bouzouki in our line-up,” Kevin reveals. “We’re the kind of band that enjoys the unexpected, and what’s more unusual than the strains of a bouzouki woven through progressive Midwestern folk? Our band name is also written with the Greek ‘Φ’, and the colours of our logo are drawn directly from the island’s flag. It’s in homage to our community: Bloom Φields is our way of giving back to the culture in which we live. Because we’re certainly not doing this for the money – if we make enough for gas to the gigs, that’s a win! Rather, this is a way to maintain our own sanity and thank the island that has taken us in.”

To date, the band has played just 10 or so gigs, bringing their original songs – “Sunshine, All Too Much, and Pilgrims are the crowd favourites,” Kevin reveals – to the people of Nicosia. But their first booking came about through a mistake!

“I’d made this list of potential venues and was visiting them all when I got my addresses totally mixed up. I rocked up at Studio Tapas, and blithely went into my sales pitch. And they were all like ‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ Well, once I’d got over my embarrassment, they were really nice about the whole thing, and asked us to play our very first gig there on May 17. I’ll always be grateful!”

Further gigs at Moondog’s and in Fanoremeni, as well as a just-booked stage show at the Ayia Napa Street Food Festival are cementing Bloom Φields’ reputation. “Everyone seems to really enjoy this new sound. We get people who come specifically to see us – all ages, from teens to their 70s. And they never know quite what they’re going to get – so much of what we do is improvisational.

“But then that’s what the music of the Midwest is all about: jamming with friends; vibing with players and audience, slowing down time. And that’s kind of what we’re doing: hanging out and enjoying an evening while the world passes by…

“When I lived in Togo,” he concludes, “one of my friends said ‘In America you have watches. Here we have time.’ And I feel it’s a bit like that in Cyprus: everything is slower, more relaxed. Perhaps that’s what makes our music so popular on the island? It’s a different sound, but a familiar, chilled experience.”

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