New Musical Express, October 12 1974
KEYBOARDS ARE the bane of my life. Well, you can't understand everything and until I get something with keys in my gaff the things are going to have to remain a mystery.
Which is a problem, because you can't talk to someone about something you don't understand and Vangelis Papathanassiou says that the keyboard now is taking over from the guitar.
"Vangelis what?" I hear you cry. You must remember him - he's the one they said would replace Rick Wakeman in Yes. Well he didn't, and now he's decided to go solo instead. And it should be good. He's one hell of a player.
A little background. Vangelis Papathanapathasinassomethingiou hails from Southern Greece. Hence the ridiculous name and the fact that he speaks "very few English". At the time of the Greek upheaval in 1968, he happened to be in France, so be couldn't go back. Stuck there, he got down to his music and formed a band called Aphrodite's Child. They made a single, released by Phonogram.
It went straight to No. 1. So did everything else the band did for three years. But Van couldn't stand any more of commercial music. The group split and he turned his mind to writing music for theatre, films and TV.
"Nothing happened in France. That's why I'm here. Maybe tomorrow the States."
He intends to release his album in time for Christmas - but he still has to choose a record company. "It will be an honest album. I don't find a way to make one-million records as I did before. My relationship with music is very open. I don't say that I play jazz or rock or classical Music is music."
Vangelis's music is definitely not based on the "Zorba's Dance", "Never On Sunday" tourist concept of Greek music, but it has a lot of Greece in it.
He says it contains the Greek concept of life, and is more sensitive than intellectual.
"Music is the way that I speak better," he adds to amplify the statement.
He's using nine different keyboards.
"The guitar, he says became very popular in the '60s because it was portable, and has since developed into a more powerful instrument. But today he feels keyboards are coming back into their own. "Keyboards today are more polyphonic and have many other possibilities and they are also popular because they are new." (Because of new developments, that is).
He continues: "Today we are very well equipped, but we don't have the people to play. People buy synthesisers and things like that, and they can't play them."
"I hate the synthesiser because it has been used very badly and for very cheap effects cosmic things, just to try to impress."
"I don't use a synthesiser. I do own a kind of synthesiser but with the instruments I have there are so many other possibilities."
He's critical of the reverence musicians here how for anything new. He believes there are no new things - only new concepts - and blames industry for the false thinking.
"We try to make new instruments like we try to make new toothpaste."
And he adds: "When you have an electronic instrument you do have another possibility of sound but it doesn't mean the sound doesn't already exist in the cosmic system."
Vangelis started out on piano, but when still quite young took up Hammond Organ. "It was an attraction and after trying it I decided it was for me."
Now, further criticisms of his fellow-musicians. He says they are too busy with their egos to listen to what other musicians are playing.
"I never found a generous musician," he says coldly.
And on top of that he has no great regard for the music of the other rock keyboard players' of our time - such as Emerson, Wakeman, Lord - believing that they're all failing to achieve their full potential by not opening their minds more.
Electronic keyboards, he believes, are still in their juvenile stage of development. They are waiting for a virtuoso to come along and show the next generation the way.
Then he sits down in the middle of his keyboard cockpit and commences to prove that he might just be that virtuoso. He plays straight off the top of his head-piece with a classical feel, big orchestral sounding things with lots of echo and elements of Bach, Rossini and modem English composers like Vaughn Williams. Then he shows that you can add jazz to them, but admits that he doesn't like it, so he moves on through blues to rock - all the time demonstrating the sounds available rather than his own technique.
The basis of it all seems to be a Golden Sound, a large mixer with facilities for all manner of effects. Into that he feeds his Hammond B3. He also has a Fender Rhodes which he generally uses to produce a 'celestic' sound, and a little semi-pro keyboard called a Torendo which he likes because of the church organ and other sounds it gives.
Of course, he has a Hohner Clavinet, from which be produces noises that Steve Wonder never dreamed of and which he likes to use as a very percussive instrument, achieving almost a xylophone sound.
Then there are two Claviolines (Selmer), one a Concert version which I never saw him touch. This looks like an accordion on its side with no bellows and can produce some remarkable brass-like sounds and harsh woodwind sounds.
There's a Compa Piano too - which again he hardly touches - and an Ace Tom rhythm unit, used occasionally for effect.
The kind of synthesiser he mentioned is a Mini Korg, largely for fills and link background effects.
Having demonstrated a dramatic speed-of-finger movement coupled with a good dynamic range and the understanding of several separate styles, he insists on mentioning that he also plays in different scales which give a whole new atmosphere to the music.
The one he demonstrates to me is bizarre. It runs: A flat AC D Flat D F G flat G A flat. Yes, nine notes - but very effective. And he says that's only one example.
I try to get him to explain his harmonics in greater details but I stumble across the same problems I always encounter on these occasions:
"I never took my lessons in music so I can't explain it to you."
Interview by Rex Anderson