I finally get to write about two of my most favorite subjects; Greece, and, of course, the Beatles.
So what is the relationship between Greece and the Beatles, you ask? The most famous connection is the time, on July 23, 1967, when they wanted to buy the Greek island of Leslo. The story goes that right after the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album was released, and the Fab Four were at their epitome of drug use, John Lennon was toying with the idea of the band living in a commune or communal society. They zeroed in on Greece. Why Greece?
From 1965 to 1969, head of Beatle’s Apple Electronics in London was Yianni Alexis Mardas, a Greek national, who Lennon dubbed, “Magic Alex,” and the rest of the band referred to him simply as the “Greek Wizard.” In 1964, the Beatles had tried to buy the island of Agia Triada but it was a no sale. Mardas, who entered the picture and became close with the band, and whose father was a major in the Greek secret police, assured the boys that through his father, they would have a connection to the Greek government. They could purchase anything in Greece. What a coincidence, even today, you can still purchase or sell anything in Greece… like a name?
The Beatles and their entourage rented a yacht and sailed around the Greek islands, doing LSD, drinking ouzo, dancing Zeibeikiko (well, maybe not), and other things you do on a yacht when you have a billion dollars available to you, but finally ending up on Leslo. It had a small fishing village, four beaches and an olive grove (hey, if the music thing didn’t work out, they could have cornered the market for Greek olive oil). They offered £95,000 but needed permission from the British government to take this amount out of the country, which it gave permission, but, by that time the Beatles’ interest in becoming Greek island owners faded and they began working on the film, Magical Mystery Tour, and their manager, Brian Epstein would pass away in a few weeks. The island, however, did eventually sell a few months later to a little less famous band, Seizmos. (those of you in the loop, I see you laughing!)
But there is more between the connection between Greece and the Beatles.
In 1965, the Beatles released Rubber Soul. One of the Lennon’s songs (but credited to Lennon-McCartney), was Girl. According to sources, Girl was Lennon’s answer to McCartney’s Michelle. The year before, the hugely successful movie, Zorba the Greek, with its theme song of the same name, written by Mikis Theodorakis, was released. The song reached #6 on the UK singles chart and became famous around the world. Today, Zorba the Greek is to bouzouki players what Stairway to Heaven is to guitar players – everyone asks you to play it but you can’t take it anymore!
Lennon wanted to hop on the bandwagon of the most famous song of the year, and since the boys had tried to buy a Greek island in 1964, it’s not a stretch to say they had some interest in Greek stuff, so Girl had a “Greek” flavor to it. The rhythm was similar to the two-step Zorba the Greek beat. In addition, the instrumentation when recording the song included a bouzouki, which was played by George Harrison, although there is some argument as to whether he actually played a real bouzouki.
Wikipedia, states that Harrison had the “capo positioned so high up the neck and is played by him in a manner that creates a “nasal, sitar-like ‘bouzouki’ sound.” But, Peter Asher, of the famed 1960s group, Peter and Gordon (who biggest hit was A World Without Love, written by Paul McCartney), said during his Sirius XM Radio Beatles channel program, “From Me to You,” that Harrison actually did play the bouzouki on Girl. I like Asher’s version better. Since his sister, Jane Asher, was Paul McCartney’s girlfriend, at the time, that makes him an expert in my eyes!
So whatever happened to Magic Alex? Interesting and confusing character. In 1968, he traveled to India with John and Yoko but left stating that the food did not agree with him. We Greeks are particular about our food. More realistically, he didn’t get along with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. During his time at Apple Electronics, the Beatles continually asked Mardas to invent certain equipment they wanted, but he occasionally delivered. They closed Apple Electronics and he left. In the 1970s, he set up a company offering bugging devices and security hardware, using ex-king Constantine II of Greece as a salesman. I assume the ex-king had nothing to do since he was exiled to Britain (funny, since the Greek government these days is busy “selling out,” maybe they will sell him back his thrown?). There are newspaper articles in the late 1980s naming Mardas as an arms dealer, but they retracted the story. Seems our man, the Greek Wizard, was in an out of court until 2010, in defamation cases filed by him for stories claiming he was a fraud inventor. He died on January 13, 2017, at age 74.
There you go. We all know that everything leads back to Greece, or the Beatles. Remember, “All you need is love.” Enjoy the summer everyone.
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