Sounds, March 9, 1974
The eminent genius embodied in the giant frame of Vangelis Papathanassiou has still to break its bounds in the true sense.
Not that it hasn't already, simply that this Greek composer is still in the ranks of the obscure.
Yet the fact remains that Yes' Jon Anderson worships his music, and after putting Vangelis' "Apocalypse Des Animaux" soundtrack in my playlist I received an alarming succession of phone calls from fans asking where the album could be obtained. He is indeed an obscure genius.
Vangelis resides in Paris these days - the same city as
his former colleague in Aphrodite's Child. Demis Roussos.
The fact that their respective energies are now polarised. one in pop music, the other in free form experimental keyboard work. is testamental why Aphrodites Child split up after the release of their monumental double album "666. (The Apocalypse Of John. 13 18)" - an essential piece of listening to my mind.
It was a necessary master piece for Papathanassiou to create since it proved to him that Aphrodites Child had finally outlived its usefulness.
These days Vangelis is very much a lone creator - he retains no permanent band but sits at home creating songs. soundtracks, building and streamlining keyboard instruments - and when I called him at his Paris home. he was preparing a concert at the Olympia, Paris at the end of February.
Aside from the "Apocalypse Des Animaux" soundtrack Vangelis has also recently released his own solo album "Earth" which, like "666" features the brilliant guitar and lute work of Silver Koulouris in some strikingly creative instrumental sequences.
When I spoke to him. Vangelis emphasised that he was no longer in touch with Roussos, currently enjoying his first taste of success in Britain. "When I make a record it is generally alone. I use the voice of a singer and on "Earth" there is some percussion, but I have no permanent musicians, no group."
Aphrodites Child became something of a European legend but caught on only partially in Britain and the U.S. Nevertheless it gave Papathanassiou the platform to launch his own exemplary talents.
"We were really together for three years - from 1968 until 1971. It was the first Greek rock band and an amalgamation of ideas with the exception of '666' which was the end of the band."
"It was too sophisticated for the group. I realised that I couldn't follow the commercial way anymore, it was very boring. You have to do something like that in the beginning for showbiz, but after you start doing the same thing everyday you can't continue."
"Now I'm doing the kind of things that I've been wanting to do."
The theme of "666". he says. is highly relevant at the present time. "If you see what is happening in England today it's exactly 666: the answer to the question 666 is today."
In America, he said. the album had sold pretty well but the band never got across to promote it. "It was a valuable record though, firstly because it was good and secondly because it helped to split the band." he added. "In the end it was impossible for the band to follow my ideas."
He says that he has been greatly influenced by all forms of "honest" music and has little time for music prepared specifically for success or intellect. "Everyday I find less music that I like. the music today is very cliched just like everything else we make but ... what I like to hear is a primitive honesty. Because of the cliche I like very little pop music. Only in Stevie Wonder's music is there something really happening."
Papathanassiou had every intention of winding up in England initially but remained in Paris when Aphrodite's "Rain And Tears" became an overnight success there. Nevertheless his arrival in Paris was like a shattered dream ... it was far from being the place that he had read about so fervently. "I didn't want to stay in Paris but because of the '68' uprising I couldn't leave." he says; at times his concept of Paris street life is mirrored in his music like a modern day Lautrec but he is likely to release an album of the Paris uprising interpreted in sound - a project which will be his most ambitious to date and is likely to be titled "My Face In The Rain".
Clearly he would love to end up in England, for he certainly has no intentions of returning to his homeland. I was unable to ascertain whether or not he is a political refugee as all he would say was that Greece became too heavy, too suppressive and that he couldn't go back there for the time being.
His music today is a reaction to the days of Aphrodite's Child. "After 'Rain And Tears' we had a lot of hits but what happens is that you are obliged to keep having number ones. With "Earth" I've been able to do what I feel, it's healthy music with a very honest theme. The lyrics I've used are just very very simple."
Vangelis has been to Britain before but .his concert last summer at the Festival Hall supporting Tempest was, by his high standards, a failure. Nevertheless two of his fans who inquired about "Les Apocalypse Des Animaux" recalled the concert fondly. One hopes that Polydor will see fit to release such a beautifully serene composition with underlying hints of Schoenberg in Britain, if only for the beautiful "Creation Du Monde". Even better would be to see he and his army of keyboard instruments back on a British stage.
But to gain a clearer picture of Vangelis' musical capacity it is better to speak to one of his associates who is happy to permeate the composer's prevailing modesty with these facts: "He didn't study classical music formally but he's certainly into classical music. He uses a V3 Hammond and he's built on certain devices like new manuals. He uses synthesisers but none of the standard models, mostly instruments that he's built-like a series of frequency modulators and oscillators.
"Quite simply when he hears a sound in his head he makes an instrument that can reproduce it and this leads him into the field of vibes, timpani, flutes, gongs and percussive instruments. There's no limit to what he can play but he hasn't been doing much live work because he can't find the musicians to work with."
Feature by Jerry Gilbert