Interview in Crawdaddy magazine, May 1976
LONDON - The average Vangelis concert resembles nothing so much as an artistic / thematic confrontation between Handel's Messiah and Dimitrius and the Gladiators, staged on one of Rick Wakeman's backlots. A self-taught keyboard wizard, the bearded Greek musician (his full name is Vangelis Odyssey Papathanassiou) recently gave his debut English concert at the Royal Albert Hall, where he played selections from Heaven and Hell (his new RCA Ip). The hardware and supporting cast assembled for the sold-out affair would have made Cecil B. DeMille blush.
The complement of 150 participants included the English Chamber Choir, 60 female timpanists from Queens College, London, a contingent of "African" drummers, and enough assorted instruments to fill the Topographic Oceans. After playing an impromptu piece on the RAH's towering pipe organ, one of the world's largest (he later called it "a toy"), the former leader of Aphrodite's Child hunkered down amid 21 keyboards and proceeded to go ga-ga. He was assisted in the immediate area by a frenetic rock drummer and David Bedford on grand piano, who last year arranged and conducted the RAH's performance of Michael Oldtield's Tubular Beds.
The choir, timpanists and Afro percussionists were positioned on a series of tiers behind Vangelis; the Africans, half-naked in red knickers and animal skins, were held in relative check by Abdul Amao, formerly of Osibisa, while the choir and the college girls, attired in either red or white tunics, played and sang thunderously under the baton of Guy Protheroe. To help out the angelic timpanists, who included Clement Freud's daughter Emma and a young lady who is the great, great, great grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, the choir pounded large red staffs floorward on the beat.
To top it off, additional wordless vocals were supplied by the sylphidine Vana Veroutis, a gifted young vocalist in the Letty De Jong vein, while a troupe of 20 female dancers leapt about.
Sometimes the music sounded like heaven, and sometimes it sounded like hell.
Reviews in the London press the following day ranged from "exhilarating" and "spectacular" to "vulgar," but the enthusiastic audience - which included actress Lee Remick, responded with a standing ovation.
Two days after the concert, officials from RCA's New York and London offices assembled in Vangelis' palatial Kensington apartment to chat informally with their costly property. The dialogue proved to be as offbeat as the concert, and offered some insight into the grooming processes pre-Big Time acts undergo. During the discussions, the jolly Vangelis tinkered skillfully on his grand piano and showed himself to be, at the very least, his own man.
Joe DiSabato, an RCA product manager, at one point warned the Greek musician that if his Ip is added to FM playlists in the U.S., the most frequently-played track could be "So Long Ago So Clear," on which Yes vocalist Jon Anderson appears. (Anderson once asked Vangelis to join Yes, but the keyboardist declined.)
"But that would be wrong!" said Vangelis. "That isn't really my sound and that would be a misunderstanding."
"Unfortunately, it's a big possibility," said DiSabato. "Before I saw you live, I wasn't sure whether to sell you as a classical performer or a classical-rock performer. Now I think you'll appeal to both, but your initial audience will probably be a teen-aged one that listens to Yes, Rick Wakeman, Emerson, Lake & Palmer..."
"You know," smiled Vangelis, "I don't think I am any of those things. I like classical music and rock, but I don't look for associations or values in my music. I look for two hours of healthy, natural energy and fun, because I want to reach people physically and emotionally - not intellectually. I don't want people to have to read HitParader and see I am a 'new type of Yes music' before they decide they like me!
"Record companies are always trying to find something new," he continued. "And in America, people seemed obsessed with 'new' things. Maybe it is because the United States is a new country with a new music called rock and roll, but really it is all very ancient."
"Is there rock and roll in Greece?" someone asked.
"Of course there is!" said Vangelis with a chuckle. "The United States is everywhere these days!"
Interview by Timothy White