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Vangelis

+ {The Forminx} + {Vangelis Papathanassiou}

Multi-award-winning soundtrack composer of Chariots Of Fire, Blade Runner and 1492: Conquest Of Paradise, among his greatest achievements, Greek keyboard wizard VANGELIS was also involved in a number of pop/rock projects outwith his esteemed solo career, namely APHRODITE’S CHILD, JON AND VANGELIS – and did someone briefly mention YES?
A child prodigy, the young VANGELIS (born Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou, 29 March 1943, Volos in Greece) was performing his own compositions in front of a large audience from the age of 6. Guided by his parents, he subsequently studied classical music alongside other areas of the arts at the Academy Of Fine Arts in Athens. Having already cultivated a love of jazz, like many other budding musicians of the day, Evangelos was inspired by the revolutionary pop invasion of The BEATLES.
In 1963, the organist duly instigated a 6-piece beat combo named The FORMINX (alongside vocalist Tassos Papastamatis, rhythm guitarist Vassilis Bakopoulos, bassist Sotiris Arnis and drummer Costas Skodos), who scored a major mid-60s hit in Greece with the single, `Yenka Beat’. The band became one of their country’s leading popular music acts and also initiated a dance craze with their biggest hit, `Jeronimo Yanka’.
Following their demise, Vangelis Papathanassiou and His Group (as they were billed) took on board a more keyboard-orientated style, the result being the release of a single, `The Clock’, in 1967. Working with him at this point were drummer Lucas Sideras and vocalist/bassist Demis Roussos (initially with guitarist “Silver”); the trio soon evolving into APHRODITE’S CHILD. A classical adaptation of Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon” (similar in style to PROCOL HARUM’s `A Whiter Shade Of Pale’), `Rain And Tears’ was a Europe-wide hit. Albums soon followed, `End Of The World’ (1968) and `It’s Five O’Clock’ (1969) being an unlikely hybrid of progressive rock and Latin-styled folk. Following the evolution of popular music through the beat and progressive eras in his native Greece, Papathanassiou released the soundtrack to French soft-porn “adolescent awakening fantasy” SEX POWER (1970) {*4}, now one of the rarest and most sought after items in his catalogue. The music itself – split into 1 & 2 parties – was diverse and experimental, with the more obscure angles illuminated by light, melodic pieces, giving the impression of a dream landscape perhaps better understood with reference to the long-lost movie. Essentially one long sound collage, the soundtrack mixed swirling piano melodies and matching vocal motifs (Greek-only single `Djemilla’ included) with passages of industrial noise (particularly segments 8 and 10), interspersed with sound effects (speeding motorcycles over plaintive guitar on segment 3) and choral interludes. All throughout, Van Papa employed an intimidating range of styles and instrumentation (particularly percussion), and the experimental tone was perhaps that of a composer still searching for a distinctive voice. Incidentally, two of the man’s other works of the period: the May 1971-recorded THE DRAGON {*4} and HYPOTHESIS {*3} were respectively released by Charly and Affinity Records when VANGELIS was at his first creative peak in ’78.
Post-split, APHRODITE’S CHILD resurfaced from their Paris studio, delivering the seminal double set, `666’, which explored the Bible’s Book Of Revelations against a prog-rock backdrop. It was a critical success, although the man in the kaftan DEMIS ROUSSOS had already taken off for a fruitful solo career (`Forever And Ever’ and `Happy To Be On An Island In The Sun’).
Papathanassiou almost immediately emerged with two solo works: FAIS QUE TON REVE SOIT PLUS LONG QUE LA NUIT (1972) {*4} – “Make Your Dream Last Longer Than The Night” – recorded a year earlier and inspired by the student riots of summer 1968, and the TV soundtrack (cut in 1970!) to L’APOCALYPSE DES ANIMAUX (1973) {*5}.
Also released in ’73 (credited to Vangelis O. Papathanassiou), but recorded that same year for Vertigo Records, EARTH {*6} was prog-rock in flavour. Augmented by bassist/lead vocalist Robert Fitoussi (aka F.R. David and later known for his `Words’ hit), guitarist Anargyros “Silver” Koulouris (from the original/final APHRODITE’S CHILD line-up) and lyricist Richelle Dassin, the record had its moments in `Come On’ (a flop 45), `We Were All Uprooted’ and `Let It Happen’. Incidentally, the 1974 outtake single (as Odyssey), `Who’, was down to this alumni.
YES, minus keyboard kingpin RICK WAKEMAN, while he took a “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” later in ’74, VANGELIS was invited to rehearse with the prog band for a fortnight to see if there was any musical simpatico. Apart from striking up a long-lasting bond with singer JON ANDERSON, the musical sparks didn’t exactly ignite, and YES chose Swiss-born PATRICK MORAZ to duly fill the void.
Further French-directed film fare was to follow, including scores for Francois Reichenbach’s Mexican/French drama, No Oyes Ladrar Los Perros?/ENTENDS-TU LES CHIENS ABOYER? (1975) {*3} – Can You Hear The Dogs Barking – and Frederic Rossif’s 1976 nature documentary LA FETE SAUVAGE {*4} – VANGELIS had previously worked with Rossif on his aforementioned TV wildlife series Les Apocalypse Des Animaux.
Re-titled “Ignacio” when issued on CD over a decade on, “Entends-Tu…” was another to be split into two lengthy parts (totalling nearly 40 minutes), and was the synthesizer man’s most space-aged release; possibly a precursor to his “Blade Runner” masterpiece. With sporadic Gregorian chorales over neo-classical noodles, side one suffered from lack of direction: just as you think the piece was settling down it took off on a prog-like tangent. In stark contrast, side two kicked off rather groovily, but just like its flipside, it too (after about 4 minutes!) became monotonous and tinny. Ditto documentary “La Fete Sauvage” – not so much “The Wild Party” (its translation), was an ambient mixture of world-music and electronica.
VANGELIS kick-started a new phase of his career when he signed to R.C.A. Records. Towards the fall of 1975, the composer’s neo-classical/new age of electronics, grand piano and percussion was confirmed and celebrated on the gothic HEAVEN AND HELL (1975) {*9}. Complete with a chorale congregation performing to the lighter or darker sides of his synthesized-led psyche, the side-long (Part One) was poignant in the fact that “So Long Ago, So Clear” featured the celestial angel-high vocals of YES man JON ANDERSON. 3:15 minutes into side two, the `Needles And Bones” of Satan’s lair nigh-on approached the “Omen”-esque of the burning “Twelve O’Clock” – “Aries” – “A Way” segments. All ’n’ all, the galaxy was safe in the hands of VANGELIS; “Movement 3” (from “Symphony To The Powers B”) was later purchased by the BBC for the television series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.
From near Top 30 to breeching the UK Top 20, ALBEDO 0.39 (1976) {*6} was an overly ambitious concept set dealing with the galaxy and its outer/inter-planetary bodies. Nine named pieces this time around, `Pulsar’ kicked off his voyage into jazz-rock and ethereal ambient-rock. Elements of YES and ELP were apparent on the 2 parts of `Nucleogenesis’, but many of his excursions into music’s deep space were not threaded together as with his “H&H” LP.
The adventurous SPIRAL (1977) {*6} suffered sales-wise in its wake, but in its transgression toward prog-electro experimentation (the antipathy of punk-rock), the glossy synth symphonies achieved their goals on the title track and the infinite `To The Unknown Man’ (soon to be, snooker’s “Frame of the Day” TV theme). While 1978’s BEAUBOURG {*4} saw VANGELIS in similarly abstruse territory, the album featuring only one track divided into two parts (JAPAN, were you listening?).
CHINA (1979) {*7} was a welcome step forward into critical normality once again. The textured and horizontal opener `Chung Kuo’, the cinematic `The Dragon’, the classical violin performance by Michel Ripoche on the delightful `The Plum Blossom’, and the romantic `The Tao Of Love’, the listener had stepped into the composer’s bamboo garden and come up with roses.
Often mistaken for his previous Frederic Rossif nature documentary efforts, OPERA SAUVAGE (1979) {*7} ended the year on a high note, the album a sedate (sometimes upbeat) work of art that had in its armoury, TV ad-bound `Hymne’, `L’Enfant’, plus end piece `Flamants Roses’, the latter featuring the harp-playing of the aforementioned JON ANDERSON; it reached US Top 50 status several years on. The Anglo-Greek liaison of JON AND VANGELIS would perpetuate on the collaborative `Short Stories’ (1980), from which `I Hear You Now’ derived, and `The Friends Of Mr. Cairo’ (1981), from which `State Of Independence’ sparkled for both the duo and diva DONNA SUMMER.
Issued in between his Jon A alliance, VANGELIS’ SEE YOU LATER (1980) {*3} dropped his guard a little, and to confuse matters even further, ANDERSON was briefly roped in on the concluding title track and penultimate piece `Suffocation’; the voice of glam-punk mistress CHERRY VANILLA (his PR at the time) featured on the narrative `Not A Bit – All Of It’.
VANGELIS became a household name (like Domestos or Dettol, some might say) after the big screen release of the Academy award-winning CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) {*7}. Composed, arranged, produced and performed by the bearded one, the chart-topping OST subsequently “run” into the platinum sales, a feat the synth/keyboards man has never imitated. Everyone and their grannies should recognise the neo-classical theme tune, `Titles’ (which incidentally, also hit the top of the US charts), its echo-y synths and melodic piano propelling visions of slow-motion athletes on a beach. It’s all downhill from there on in though, `Five Circles’, `Abraham’s Theme’, `Eric’s Theme’ and `100 Metres’, saccharine and schmaltzy in equal measures. If one could criticise VANGELIS and his whooshing electronica, it was just he tried so hard to turn full symphonic pieces into sport-themed noodles, while not getting organic enough to register the listener’s brain above the “feel good” factor. A prime example was when he twisted Hubert Parry & William Blake’s jingoistic, British Empire anthem `Jerusalem’ (complete with the Ambrosian Singers/choir) into a level of Elgar’s “Pomp & Circumstance” stratum. One can either go several years in reverse for a rendition by EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER, or indeed fast-forward several for The FALL’s punk-a-billy version to see how it should be done. In stark contrast was the 20-minute `Chariots Of Fire’ track on the whole of side two, a lilting, piano-led suite that was as hypnotic and beautiful as it was uplifting and reflective. Verging on classical, the soundtrack/score/album drew in admirers such as Ridley Scott, who swiftly commissioned VANGELIS to twiddle the knobs again – so to speak – on his sci-fi cult thriller, BLADE RUNNER (1982) {*9}; only made available in 1994 (after countless bootlegs) when it graced the UK Top 20.
Glacially haunting electronica from a heart of dystopian darkness, it stands as one of the most revelatory synth scores committed to celluloid. The Greek composer’s auditory imaginings of a futuristic world gone mad, leached of emotion, were occasionally warmed up by some spacey DICK MORRISSEY sax on the likes of `Wait For Me’ and `Love Theme’, while Welsh icon MARY HOPKIN contributed eerie, wordless vocals on the evocative `Rachel’s Song’. VANGELIS voyagers should beware of the New American Orchestra version which – in everyone’s eyes – was wrongly chosen to accompany the film release.
Scored around the same time as JON AND VANGELIS’s `Private Collection’ (1983), Koreyoshi Kurahara’s docu-drama ANTARCTICA {*5} never saw light of day until Polydor issued the score on CD in ’88. Signifying a sense of icy isolation and dense drama, fans both familiar and unfamiliar with VANGELIS’ work would immediately recognise how closely `Theme From Antarctica’ followed the template of his much-lauded “Chariots”. Conversely, `Antarctica Echoes’ was a pure minimalist journey with a slow-burning backbone of beautiful synths embellished by electronic bleeps and chimes. Similarly, `Song Of White’, with its oriental feel, shared the stripped-down dreamy atmospherics, with moments of silence as important as the instrumentation, before climaxing with the composer’s trademark cascading keyboards. `Life Of Antarctica’ found room for emotive flute lines amongst the dense synthesizers and bombastic war drums, before `Memory Of Antarctica’ pleasantly slowed things down again. Meanwhile, `Other Side Of Antarctica’ was a slab of unsettling madness-inducing psychedelia reminiscent of the intro to PINK FLOYD’s `Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, while closing piece `Deliverance’ was more akin to a lighter version of ANGELO BADALAMENTI’s subsequent theme from Twin Peaks.
The first of a trilogy of VANGELIS albums, SOIL FESTIVITIES (1984) {*6} – in 5 movements – was another to tie-in with his symphonic synths agenda and, with the similarly-hypnotic MASK (1985) {*6}, no one could accuse the now London-based sequencer that he could not shift the mood at will. Taking his timbres to the German Deutsche Grammophon imprint (known for classical sets), INVISIBLE CONNECTIONS (1985) {*6}, was another set underrated at the time.
Relieved to be back on Greek soil, VANGELIS signed a short-term deal with Arista Records for DIRECT (1988) {*6}. Intense as it was dramatic, the song structure was identifiably different, a dozen tracks that had no apparent theme or thread, just the multi-instrumentalist (and a few choice guests: Markella Hatziano on `Glorianna (Hymn a la Femme)’ and Casey Young on `Intergalactic Radio Station’).
On the back of a fruitful “Themes” compilation that unearthed material from his Polydor catalogue (including titles from the unreleased `Missing’ (1982), `The Bounty’ (1984) and `Blade Runner’ scores), the Atlantic Records-sanctioned THE CITY (1990) {*6} was seen as a concept to urban living and the nocturnal ambience of its people. Recorded at the Hotel de la Ville in Rome and rounded off at the Mega Studios in Paris (Roman Polanski contributed a narrative along with Emmanuelle Seigner), there was certainly a soundscape soundtrack if VANGELIS had wished; check out the darkness of `Dawn’, matched with the seedy atmosphere of `Red Lights’.
Finally resting the JON & VANGELIS duo after 1991’s `Page Of Life’, a further link-up with Ridley Scott on the soundtrack to 1492: CONQUEST OF PARADISE (1992) {*8} proved he was the obvious choice. The Top 40 album was the catalyst for his most successful score in years, pairing Columbus’ visually arresting bio-pic with typically regal synth pieces and earning him his third Oscar nomination of his career. Very much in the mould of MORRICONE’s “The Mission” from several years back, the 15th century somehow gets captured by the likes of tracks `Conquest Of Paradise’, `Light And Shadow’, `Moxica And The Horse’ and the haunting 13-minute `Pinto, Nina, Santa Maria – Into Infinity’. True to form, other scores from around the same time were obscure and foreign, such as Roman Polanski’s bleak psycho-sexual drama `Bitter Moon’ and a Latin American adaptation of Albert Camus’ `La Peste’; both films released in ’92.
Unintended to be released as a soundtrack (until 1998’s Discovery documentary `Deep Sea, Deep Secrets’ thought otherwise), VOICES (1995/6) {*5}, introduced neo-classical fans to singers PAUL YOUNG, STINA NORDENSTAM and cellist/vocalist Caroline Lavelle on respective songs `Losing Sleep (still, My Heart)’, `Ask The Mountains’ and `Come To Me’. Not unlike its predecessor in many respects, 1996’s OCEANIC {*3} was at least nominated for a Grammy.
To add confusion to the mix, and while thoughts must’ve been on the possibilities of yet another soundtrack work, EL GRECO (1998) {*5} – a tribute to the life and times of 16th century artist Domenikos Theotokopoulos – was not in fact a film score as yet; that would come much later. Re-creating the mood of the era, VANGELIS painted his own period pictorial, but unlike the sculptor’s “Mannerisms”, the composer’s Byzantine style (fused with synths on `Movements I-X’), didn’t match the intended mood; Montserrat Caballe (the singer with whom FREDDIE MERCURY sang `Barcelona’) was present.
First premiered in concert some several years back, MYTHODEA (2001) {*6} was another grandiose affair, its classical concept commissioned by the NASA mission to Mars. Subsequently re-emerging with a big budget, historical epic directed by Oliver Stone, ALEXANDER (2004) {*6}, the music was generally better received than the film itself, revealing a more organic element to his sound and cementing his position as one of the most accomplished composers of his generation. Inevitably, the EL GRECO (2007) {*5} score re-ignited the fortunes of VANGELIS, hitting the top of the Greek charts for a few weeks; more inevitable, was the author’s involvement – to coincide with the 2012 London Olympic Games – with the CHARIOTS OF FIRE: ON STAGE {*6} play, which was released on CD by Decca Records.
Attempting to re-create a work that would sweep his acolytes back to his productive prog days a la Heaven And Hell, Albedo 0.39 and Spiral, VANGELIS’ music for the mind, body and scientific soul was strong among the interstellar ROSETTA {*8}. Inspired by the Rosetta Mission which coincidentally, and intentionally, crash-landed on a comet upon the album’s venture into Top 40 terrain in September 2016, the elevation-al record – endorsed by the ESA – was the complete chill-out – a cosmic conquest that encompassed his most thought-provoking score for some time. Up there with Antarctica, Blade Runner and 1492… in each and every segue – from `Origins (Arrival)’ and `Starstuff’ to `Elegy’ and `Return To The Void’ – VANGELIS ventured where no man had ventured before (well almost): a case of “Also Sprach” with techno-ique, so to speak.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD-LCS/BG/SW/LF/MCS // rev-up MCS May2015-Sep2016

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