Interview in Sounds music newspaper, February 16 1980
Will 'Spont Rock' be the next craze to sweep the nation? JOHN GILL swops labels with its creators JON AND VANGELIS.
The place looks like Federico Fellini has just whirled through, interior decorators at the ready, on a surreal bender. Gold-painted stucco walls and ceiling and Grecian columns vie for attention with glowing rock-lamps, Prisoner-type armchairs, sculptures and serried ranks of keyboards.
The elderly music columnist from "NOW!" magazine wraps up his chat with Jon Anderson and Vangelis Papathanoussiou, eyeing the burly, effusive Greek warily, as though he's being sent up, and wanders off with the polite - as - a - wedding - guest press officer.
The slight, careful Anderson sits on a sofa the size of an oil-tanker while gentle giant Papathanoussiou buzzes around his Hyde Park flat receiving phone calls on a spacey-looking walkie-talkie. Anderson has taken time off from recording the next Yes album to join friend Vangelis and test press reaction to their vinyl duet, 'Short Stories'. I and the OAP from "NOW!" seem the only people they're seeing. They're (sensibly?) wary of the press.
Jon and Vangelis are an impressive double act. They present a laugh-a-minute, easy-going and bouncy side to their artistic marriage. Vangelis does lapse into a few of those stereotyped Zorba-isms; operatic, gesticulatory and passionate, but he tempers his Mediterranean fire with an impish sense of humor and a canny, far from hot-blooded business mind.
And Jon, far from being the taut and sharp-tongued individual I met in New York two Septembers ago, is personable, self-effacing and not averse to taking a look at himself and having a laugh.
Emotionally and intellectually they seem very buddy-buddy, chattering among themselves (sometimes to the exclusion of yours truly) and, at times, seem as though they wouldn't amiss having a pint down the local, The Starsky & Hutch of technoflash, anyone?
Small one met Big one when Anderson sought out the "bear-like figure" behind early Vangelis waxings while in Paris. As their friendship grew, they began playing and writing together in each other's homes. The 'Short Stories' album was born out of one such impromptu session last year.
From start to finish, according to the ebullient Vangelis, the album "didn't take longer than, oh, I dunno, two and a half weeks, altogether, I didn't work two and a half weeks solid."
Yes, the hirsute Hellenic with over ten G's worth of electronics lying around his front room did say two and a half weeks. No years spent in Montreux, no millions spent on studio time.
"Well," Vangelis stretches credulity even further, "it was just four days to start with. But this is a completely different approach to work. It's spontaneous. No preparation, nothing."
"It wasn't so much 'improvised'," interprets Jon, "We were going to call it 'Spont. (Spontaneous) Music'."
They go on to explain that 'Short Stories' is a collection of pieces committed to tape in one take - give or take the occasional extra-instrumental overdub. Sensing a note of disbelief, Vangelis booms triumphantly, "You can go the studio, try all the tapes and you won't find a song that took two takes. No way. It doesn't exist."
"I think there are two ways to work," he goes on. "One way is to plan everything. Another way is to do it just like that - " A click of two chunky fingers " - and both are valid - " Two more clicks, for emphasis " - and it has structure, then maybe you are more fresh. Sometimes you lose the freshness, or sometimes if you do it very spontaneously you don't have the definite structure. But if you do it very quickly and it happens, then it's maybe the best you did."
Neither is a member of the school which believes the longer you work on a piece the better it becomes. Ask Pollock, Rothko, Ornette Coleman, the Art Ensemble, Pop Group, Can (waaughh!) even.
"I think time is irrelevant or relative," Vangelis pronounces with an Einstein-ian sweep of muscular arm. "Five minutes could be ages, or one second could be centuries. It doesn't matter."
Jon concurs, saying that it is not how long one spends on a work but how one spends the time on a work.
As he's the talkative one of the two, Vangelis responds (and vehemently) to the question as to whether or not they had difficulty mixing their different styles into the whole of the new album. Of course not, he affirms, "because, I think, we both have a larger range of music than you believe. 'You', that is, meaning people. Because Jon has to keep to a style within a band. And my involvement with music is larger than what I do. Each album is not my statement, it's not my last work. It's just a piece that I've decided to release."
"It's like when you do films. A director can do different subjects in different kinds of films. But people always like to buy product. 'We buy Vangelis because Vangelis is always like this'. So, the more you have an identity, the easier it is from the marketing point of view. But when you change all the time it's more difficult to decide what's your style. Actually I don't think I have a style."
There speaks a man aware of the pressures from company and public to produce the 'commodity' they want and aware of the fact he should fight against that pressure. Therefore, he steadfastly refuses to have any tag tied around his neck - lest the tag become an albatross.
The only mutual point of reference they seem prepared to admit is, in Anderson's words; "We're both very romantic."
"Yes, we are," Vangelis senses the walls of definition closing in again. "We are as well. I can also be very hard. I can be very pessimistic or optimistic or whatever. And, maybe because we are flexible, that's why we are compatible."
Both seem, unconsciously, to be using their work outside their normal career structures to shrug off the categories pinned upon them by public, press and previous work. Not that they're trying to prove their eclecticism with 'Short Stories', but just saying 'Here I am, but different. Don't judge me by what went before.'
It may not be common knowledge, but both have stepped beyond the boundaries of technoflash; Jon to perform straight rock live, and Vangelis to record two (at present litigation-bound) albums of electronic/free jazz, And for the record, Jon "loves" Vangelis' jazz work, and Vangelis thinks Jon is "one of the greatest blues singers" (don't knock it till you've heard it). 'Short Stories' sees them pushing against the cell walls, just a little, and neither expects the album to blow the pigeonholes wide apart.
"It doesn't matter," Jon remarks. "As long as there's the opportunity for it to be heard, it's an important thing for me. We did something, we enjoyed doing it and if people enjoy it, that's the main thing."
So, pals, what personal intentions did you have in making 'Short Stories'?
"To be happy", quoth Vangelis.
"To have a good time," quoth Anderson.
"To have a good time," Vangelis emphasises. "That's all. Nothing else."
"I wanted to work with Vangelis to achieve -- " Anderson pauses, searching " -- fun. I won't say effortless, but the enjoyment of making music without prior conceptions, without deciding what it's going to be. Just do it. And we're going to do it again and again, I hope, in the years to come."
And those years to come might just include the possibility of live gigs - improvisations and all.
Won't you even risk the pigeonholes and answer whether or not you intended to make an impressionistic album, guys?
"I'm not sure", Jon laughs. " 'Impressionistic'. Sounds good." They burst out laughing. Jon finally demurs, his explanation of their music suggesting they're more in the Action Painting line of business.
"I remember seeing Jimi Hendrix and Roland Kirk at Ronnie Scott's. They just performed 'something' and to me it wasn't jazz, it wasn't blues, it was spirit music and it was a joy to hear. In complete control of what they were doing and together they formed something else."
"Maybe in a way that's what we do, to a different degree. We create something."
Interview by John Gill
Pictures by Chalkie Davies