Neumusik 5 (UK) - Interview with Vangelis, August 1981

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Neumusik 5 front cover                                    Vangelis cartoon in Neumusik 5


by Wolfgang Fenchel


Fallen Fallen Fallen

Is Babylon the Great!

Space is getting bounded,

Time is getting late!

     These are the first four lines of Vangelis' ambitious record "666-The Apocalypse of John" with Aphrodite's Child (1972). Although Vangelis was quite successful with this group (lead singer Demis Roussos!) and they even had a hit-single with "Rain & Tears", the totally different "666" album is the first record by Vangelis to show him as the composer of the kind of music he always wanted to do.  As early as this he is joined by two other musicians who appear on his later records; Michel Ripoche (violin) on "Fais Que Ton Reve"/"The Dragon"/"China"/"see You Later". The other person is Irene Papas, well-known Greek actress who did a record "Odes" (1979) with Vangelis playing all the instruments - he even composed 2 tracks - and Irene singing.

     The record "Fais Que Ton Reve Soit Plus Long Que la Nuit" was first done in 1971 but was released in 1979. This was the earliest example of Vangelis' music containing even then his floating orchestral sound-clouds, but consisted mainly of revolutionary folk-songs and a mixture of street noises, student catch-words from the 68 revolution in Paris and shots.  When doing the record with Milva - a red-haired Italian who sings Chansons and who is quite popular in Germany - he used one track from this early LP again.  But between times (ten years!) Vangelis did a variety of different music.  It's interesting to note what the sleeve notes on "Earth" already said about him: "In the present album, Vangelis is on his own, fascinating, powerful and unpredictable(!). A remarkable interpreter he explores the world of sounds, searching for the miraculous".  But anyone interested in Vangelis also has to do a bit of miraculous searching... I personally have never seen any article about him, although his name and his records are often mentioned.  He didn't get any publicity from RCA, his former label, nor did he get any from Polydor - except for the Jon & Vangelis project.  Of course it's evident why: it's always impossible to predict what he is going to do next.  Even the label "Electronic Music" doesn't fit him because he does piano music and orchestral arrangements for Milva and so on too.  He has the potential and the ability to do any kind of music he wants, and he makes full use of these assets.  So what does one do with a guy like Vangelis on the record market?  The only possible thing for the companies to do is to force him slightly into more commercial regions - "in the regions of song-return" where he no doubt will be just as successful at churning out the sort of stuff required of him.  And I guess this is what happened to him in the past few years, and this is the reason why lots of music consumers don't like his music too much: for some he isn't experimental enough, while for the "pop" market his music is TOO experimental...

     This is Vangelis' dilemma - and the thing I like in him is his refusal to do what people expect him to: really indivicual music.  But someday it will be impossible to ignore him any longer.

     This account of an interview I recently did with him I hope will give you some idea of who this "obscure" Vangelis is.


     Hampden Gurney St. W.1., 500 metres away from Marble Arch.  "Hampden Gurney Studios" is written somewhere on the building, Nemo Studios is one of them.  I entered through a tomato-red door and stood in an empty staircase.  A theater puppet had been left lying around.  First floor seemed to be the agency for a ballet-school, and the nice old lady there immediately asked me; "you are looking for the musicians? It's the next floor."  How does on recognize electronic-music fans?  I like ballet too!  But alright...second floor, which looks like a back-stage corridor.  One door on the right was open, I had a look in and immeidately came face to face with Mr. Vangelis and Rena (Raine?), his studio assistant.

     He told me he was going to do some tape-mixing that afternoon, and so we arranged a meeting for the evening.  I was in London for just one day, so I know how lucky I was to meet Vangelis there and even arrange an interview for the self-same day.  I was so surprised by my luck that I neither had my cassette-recorder with me, nor had I thought up any questions to ask him beforehand, but while sitting on a park-bench I noted down what came to mind as I was watching red buses, black taxis and Marble Arch.

    A 8 o'clock I appeared at Nemo's Studios once more, where some French musicians/visitors were just checking the centre section of a recording with Vangelis.  He told me to a wait a few seconds, and while he was having a comical conversation - or that was the impression I got - I took a look around the studio.  Lots of synths were centred round a black piano.  On the right hung a dozen silver, gold and other metal records, some promotional material for "The Friends of Mr. Cairo", photographs showing him in his studio, sculpture replicas and portraits - I assumed they were Greek - human anatomy on a poster on one of the doors and, in contrast to Edgar Froese's studio, a lot of pleasant disorder.  Behind me was a board with annotations to some tracks he had recently done.  No drums, no percussion around.  After the interview Vangelis advised me to take a look in the room next door.  It was nearly empty with just a big metallic silver head and strange things placed here and there, but there was also a stage with lots of percussion instruments for every country imaginable.

     But let's start now with the interview: Vangelis wore an elegant black suit with thin blue stripes, so he really looked a gentleman - more like a stock-broker than a musician...

     At first I asked who is responsible for his non-popularity, the media or Vangelis himself (as the name Nemo Studio suggests to my mind).  He agreed that he doesn't like too much publicity, but he also said; "ask the press why they don't write about me. I don't know."  But I know: they can't file him under any particular style of music and so they aren't interested in him.

W: An early solo record you did is "Hypothesis" which is very different from your other records - nearly free jazz - and "The Dragon" with its minimalistic side is again unusual stuff.  Are there other recordings you did before the "666" Aphrodite's Child record which will be published one day?

V: "Hypothesis" and "The Dragon" are fakes. There was a court-case because of them. This is music that shouldn't be on the market - besides, it isn't very good music and I hope there won't be any others left. But I think there is another record like this still around in Germany. (Yes, this is the double LP "Portraits Vangelis", but it only contains the complete "Hypothesis" and "Dragon Music". - W)

      Vangelis' first official solo LP "Earth" was a very Greek affair.  After this he produced a lot of music where he seemed to be denying his Greek influences, and not before 1979 did he do a Greek record with Irene Papas again.  But he emphasized that he does this kind of music whenever possible now, recognizing that his Greek background is of great importance to his music.

W: What did you have in mind with the album "Beaubourg" (1978)? Without doubt, it is your most experimental record. Was this just a gag - to do music like this once and only once - and are there connections between this unusual record and you changing record companies after the LP?

V: No, this isn't a gag. I do this kind of music a lot when I am in the studio. But you know, it isn't really the sort of music for the market. Therefore I was very lucky to have this contract with RCA so that they had to publish this music as well as other stuff. But this had nothing to do with the end of my contract with RCA.

W: Starting with your collaboration with Jon Anderson you did a lot of vocal tracks on records such as "Jon & Vangelis", "IrenePapas", "Milva", "See You Later" and the "My Love/Domestic Logic 1" 12" single. So was it something of a sudden event to rediscover the human voice?

V: Sorry, I didn't rediscover the human voice, I always used it on many of the older records. It's very interesting for me to create a synthesis between voice and other instruments.

     After this he pulled a "Chinatown"-style plaster from his nose and I remembered to ask him whether he has actually been to China or if this record - "China" (1979) - is purely from his imagination.  He said that he had never been there, so this LP reflects the China of Vangelis' thoughts as interpreted by European (and Japanese...) synths and traditional Chinese instruments.

     When we talked about "See You Later" (1980) I got the impression that Vangelis is not very well informed about the layout and sleeve-notes of his covers.  I aksed him why it is mentioned "composed, arranged, produced and performed - all instruments and lyrics by Vangelis" because Michel Ripoche plays violin, Jon Anderson sings and there is also a guitar-player and so on... Vangelis said: "of course this is all stated on the cover", but I remembered that only "very special thanks to..." followed by a list of musicians was in fact written, with nothing specific about their participation or instruments.  "Oh then that is wrong" was Vangelis' funny comment... besides, he was also sure that "Fais Que Ton Reve..." is mentioned as film sound-track on the cover, which it isn't.  And the children's choir single version of "The Long March" from "China" wasn't published as he thought with "this was done for UNICEF" on it.  Strange.  I hope Polydor will involve him more with the covers in the future.

     But back to his musical variety: as he said, there isn't any style he prefers, it depends on his mood from day to day, and therefore is constantly changing.  He also said that he does so much music that he can't release it all - it would glut the market.  But Vangelis has already released 6 sound-track records - 5 of them for documentary films and the last for a film for Cannes - "Chariots of Fire" - which pushed Vangelis - single and album - into the charts.

W: Yes, your sound-track record is quite different from the film. For example, I noticed that the music which on the film accompanies the USA team training is missing.

V: How do you know that?! - Gestapo!! - you know even morethan I do! No-one else has noticed that up to now. (There's a compliment for you!)

Gestapo: That's easy - I listened to the record, saw the film and that's all... In a review I described the sound-track as a suite - is this a fair term for it?

V: Yes, that's very good. A record is something other than a film. There have to be changes - not least of all for artistic reasons.

Gestapo: You also did a session with the Spanish group Neuronium. Will this be released someday, and does it perhaps signify that you are going to do more live performances?

V: You even know that? No, this won't be released on LP, it was simply a one-off affair, and of course I'm not going to do live performances. I have my little studio here and there's quite enough here for me to do.

Gestapo: Are you already working towards a new LP with other musicians, or is there still something you want to do but which you haven't got round to yet?

V: Oh I think you know everything about me - you should know that...

(Which was probably the best answer - W)

     He also said that he couldn't say much about future records as he is always changing what he does.  Ah yes, I remember another question...

Gestapo: Are you going to release your next LPs at the same rate as you have done in the past? (3 in 6 months!)

V: Yes. (and he sounded quite serious...)

     Part 2 will consist of a biography, a detailed record list, more information - I hope - and some more photographs.


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