Beat Instrumental, December, 1975
It took Mike Oldfield almost a year to compose and assemble Tubular Bells, on which he played all the instruments. The new album Heaven And Hell, composed and played by Vangelis Papathanassiou, took, according to its writer, "as long to compose as it did to play", and the whole thing, including creating, recording, arranging and overdubs, took just one month.
Naturally every musician has his own special way and speed of working, but these methods tend to get exaggerated once a person has the chance to work entirely alone and unaided on a solo project. Had Oldfield had his own studio, like Vangelis, he may well have sped through Bells at a rate of knots. A lot of people will spend months, even years, polishing and perfecting the solo work by which their talent and ego will stand or fall - how long is it since we last heard from ELP, who are still working on their individual albums? With Vangelis, however, his frenetic haste isn't borne solely out of a speedy personality, but also out of his own concept of music - honesty through spontaneity.
Vangelis was, of course, the keyboard and percussion virtuoso and chief composer with Aphrodite's Child, the Greek band who gained an enormous following and many gold discs on the Continent. Since they split, so far only singer Demis Roussos has made an obvious success of a solo career. However, whilst Roussos has been packing out the Albert Hall. Vangelis has been packing in a lot of groundwork from which to build his own future.
He sprang briefly into the limelight last year when it was rumoured that he was to fill Rick Wakeman's vacated place in Yes. But when Patrick Moraz joined instead, most people thought Vangelis had sped back to his residence in France. In fact, he took a flat in London and has been getting on quietly with a number of things, writing film scores, setting up his own recording studio, Hampton Gurney Studios near Marble Arch, finalising his new record deal with RCA and completing Heaven And Hell, his first album for the new label.
No-one could be further away from the image of the laconic, laid - back musician than Vangelis. A dynamo of natural energy - he takes no stimulants, not even cigarettes or alcohol - he roars his way through every sphere of his life with the raw power of a blastfurnace. Everything is a happening when he's around, whether he's pounding out an instant symphony on the grand piano or just holding a conversation, where he's likely to spring the most unexpected questions into any gap. When he's creatively involved in one aspect of the arts, like music, the energy overflows into other directions. The walls of his studio are lined with the paintings that grew out of Heaven And Hell, a crowd of faces mirroring just about every human emotion, tumbling into a black abyss, a winged angel directing a girl across a misty landscape. He's also reputed to be a brilliant cook!
For him, there is only one way to do things and that is immediately and whole-heartedly. "If you spend one year on an album," he says, "you will have new experiences during that period, you'll change your mind, alter what you've written so far and keep moving on. I think the most honest thing is to record music as you are comprising it, with no time to think about what's right or wrong.
"I won't even re-record a thing if I play a bum note, because you can never recapture exactly what you put down the first time. Making music is like making love, it's not good unless it's honest and spontaneous."
The wag who made the test pressing of my copy of Heaven And Hell inscribed in the centre vinyl, "And It Was." This record-centre graffiti seems to be a new vogue. There must be quite a few collector's items spinning round turntables unnoticed. But this particular technician made a point, intentional or not, that the music does take you through some pretty heavenly and hellish experiences. The music isn't divided into obvious sections, but rather flows from one movement into the next. Side One is Heaven. It's not just pretty and pastoral but passionate, too, with powerful bursts of sound from the English Chamber Choir and great contrasts of light and dark, reminiscent of the classical composer, Janacek.
The side ends with the ethereal voice of Jon Anderson (a case of the mountain coming to Mahomet?) singing lyrics which were as "instant" as the rest of the album. Apparently he and Vangelis went out for a meal, came back to the studio, Vangelis sat down at the piano and began playing a tune and Jon just started singing the words which the music inspired.
Side Two is Hell. Whereas Side One largely features keyboards, the "Hell" movement features percussion, evil, threatening drum rhythms and gong sounds, overlaid with synthesisers snickering like mischievous devils.
The list of instruments Vangelis uses on Heaven And Hell makes complicated reading, but includes Vangelis's pride and joy, a Bosendorfer grand piano, a Hohner Clavinet, a Hammond B3 organ, a Fender 88 electric piano, an Elka Rhapsody string machine, a Tornado reed organ, a Farfisa organ, an ARP Pro- solist, a Crumar compact piano, two Mini-Korg 700's, two Roland synthesisers, two Clavioli, and two Stylophone 350S mini-synthesisers.
All this is a far cry from Aphrodite's Child and also from his solo album of a couple of years back. Earth. How does Vangelis view the musical changes he's going through?
"Three years ago it was technically possible for me to make an album like this and if I didn't do it before, it was due to things like timing and marketing. Some of the tapes I made ten years ago are more musically and technically complicated than this album. The trouble about being a musician is that as well as creating music you have to fight with a market, a record company and a world full of brainwashed people. The problems of creating music today are connected to economics.
Mike Oldfield brings his solo creations to the stage and Vangelis is hoping to do the same with Heaven And Hell, with a symphony orchestra playing many of the keyboard parts. How will he feel when he sees a stage full of musicians playing all the parts he played on the album?
"Great! It'll be wonderful to sit back and listen to someone else playing that music that wrung so much, physically and emotionally, out of me. How many drops of sweat will there be on the brow of each member of the symphony orchestra? Every one of those drops of sweat is mine!"