Interview published in Sounds, August 10, 1974
VANGELIS O. Papathanassiou - now if there ever was a proverbial name to conjure with then that's the one.
He's a huge swarthy Greek and he makes your average chap look (and feel) like a garden gnome, but at the same time, he's a really friendly guy. He punctuates his sentences with periods of booming laughter, and what he can't get across in terms of the English language, hell get across by gesticulating madly until the message becomes clear.
Now as you all know, a little while back the names of Papathanassiou and Yes were closely connected. It was hoped that Vangelis would replace Wakeman on keyboards. As far as I can ascertain, the possibility that he may join Yes hasn't been ruled out completely, but at the same time ever) thing is a hit up in the air at the moment. Vangelis is going to "associate with Yes on a loose basis" - that much is certain. Although no record deals have been finalised yet, talks are going on with Atlantic.
But that's enough from me - over to you, Vangelis. What exactly is the situation with Yes at the moment?
"It's difficult. It's a problem. Maybe we going to do things together. maybe I'm going to make a solo album with Jon. This is more sure. But about Yes I can't say."
What do you think of Yes' music?
"I know all the records of the Yes, and we don't exactly have the same perception. We go in two different directions. If we have to be together, then this is a problem more important than the union problem.
"I can say that Yes' music is very interesting. In every record that they do there are some parts I like, some parts I don't. I think the 'Topographic Oceans' is more of a 'head' work. I prefer 'heart' work."
I can fully understand why Jon Anderson admires Vangelis so much. I listened to some of Papathanassiou's album "Earth" - not yet released in this country - and to say the least, it's incredible. I suppose if you had to make a comparison, then his music is like Yes' stuff. But it also explores realms that Yes have never even touched upon. And, amazingly enough, Vangelis doesn't use a Mellotron or a synthesiser.
"I use only keyboards. I play nine keyboards together for the moment. It takes me no time at all to play a sound - any sound - that I might hear in my head. The Mellotron is not interesting for me, because it's not something definite. I'd rather produce a sound that is my own than have it all ready on tape. You know how Mellotron works? It helps you play strings, because you have tapes with strings. But I think I can do better things than a Mellotron. I can play like all an orchestra with all the variations and colours.
But I don't try to imitate an instrument.
"The point is to make the right atmosphere at the right time. The Mellotron is something dead, and I don't like that, so I never use Mellotron."
And what about a synthesiser?
"You know synthesiser is very interesting thing, but the problem is that it has become very fashionable and very cheap. Too many people are using it the same way all the time. I don't feel the need for a synthesiser, because I can make thousands of sounds without one."
Vangelis was once leader of the successful Paris based "Aphrodite's Child". What led to the band's break up?
"We became a very commercial group, and we had to make number one all the time. And I couldn't take it. The only worry you have is to make a number one, not to make music. I couldn't continue. I'm not interested in all that because you're not honest in doing it."
"Aphrodite's Child" split nearly four years ago, and Vangelis remained in Paris.
"But Paris not a good place, Paris good food, and you can enjoy yourself. But if you start to work there, then it's impossible. Paris is not a creative place. Paris copies the rest of the world."
"But I'm in England at last. I have to organise myself and maybe I'll do an album. We talk seriously about it. Maybe I'm going to do a solo concert. hut I hate to make plans. If you make plans, then you're not free. and everything is blocked."
I was interested to hear about the possibilities of a solo concert. As it turns out, the last thing Vangelis did before he left Paris was a big show at the Olympia Theatre. He showed me some pictures of the concert, and it really looked an amazing affair. There were 30 girls on percussion instruments at the front of the stage, with some African musicians and Vangelis himself behind them. The concert took place in February of this year. and judging by the number of people in the audiance. Vangelis is a big name in foreign lands.
"Maybe I do, a show like the Paris show over here. The Paris show was very earthy, and very simple. We played some very strong music."
What do you think of the current British music scene?
"I heard a little bit of the radio, and nothing interesting is happening. They play the same things all the time, and it is the same conception. I don't agree with all that. I feel that music is all the time the mirror of our situation. And the situation is not so clear now - so the music is not so clear."
Vangelis' music struck me as being very ordered and very arranged, but at The same time very spontaneous. He told me that he doesn't think about writing at all. Maybe this is where Vangelis is different from Yes, and it might be just as well if he didn't step into Wakeman's boots. Yes, I would imagine, think about their music a lot.
Says Vangelis: "I don't think. I just play. Every time something different comes out. Every lime I am surprised."
Interview by Goeff Barton