When I was a kid, growing up, there was very little music in our house. There were no records, save a shoebox of old rock and roll 45s, relics, that my mum hid under her bed. During the week there’d be silence*, but we did have a radio, and on a Sunday, while mum cooked dinner, my dad would tune into a London-based station, Capital. A shrine to AOR and soft rock, we`d be serenaded by a playlist that rotated stuff like Maria Muldaur’s Midnight At The Oasis, and Steely Dan’s Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, while the DJ, Nicky Horne, would also enthusiastically share his obsession with The Beach Boys. I still know all these songs by heart. Something else that was a mainstay of Nicky`s “sets” was the very distinctive voice – high-pitched, and angelic, almost – of Yes` Jon Anderson, accompanied by the symphonic electronics of someone called, Vangelis – particularly their promise of a paradise-like State Of Independence.
I was 16, 17, when Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was released. To say that the film made a lasting impact on me – like so many others – is a massive understatement. Not only its imagery of a broken future, which in south London was super easy to buy into, but I was already a huge fan of noir. Mum was, still is, into detective novels, it was, is, all she reads, and she reads a lot. So hanging onto, hiding behind, her skirts and apron, it was cinch for me to slip quickly into the world-worn / weary romantic poetry of folks like Raymond Chandler, spend afternoons skipping school, feigning sickness, soaking up matinees, old black and white movies starring Humphrey Bogart. It’ll probably come as no surprise that I have this kind of hard-boiled narration going on in my head pretty much constantly. Vangelis` score, of course, is integral to Blade Runner, even if back then I didn’t realize it.
As the second summer of love spiraled on into `89, Chung-Kuo would provide the finale at the Downham Tavern all-day raves whenever DJ Tony Wilson spun. Intro`d by helicopter rotor blades and fanfare-like blasts, this beautiful blend of bucolic bleeps and oriental chimes was an attempt to calm and cool the collectively chemically-crazed young Teds**. However, the first Vangelis record that I actually owned was Earth.
I`m not sure exactly when, but somewhere toward the end of the 1990s, Gilles Peterson had taken to opening his weekly Kiss FM show with the tune, Let It Happen – a fantastic slice of funky folk, that, when a tad stoned, sounded as if I were surrounded, caressed, cradled by stars. I was absolutely desperate for a copy. One of the stores that I regularly shopped in was Atlas, on Archer Street, in Soho, which had taken over as THE electronic stopover, once the mighty Fatcat sadly closed. Atlas didn’t really stock second-hand records, but if you asked, they kept a list behind the counter, and that`s where I found Earth, for 20 quid.
Just as it was with Klaus Schulze though, it was joining the DJHistory.com forum, where as an online community we dissected Daniele Baldelli, Beppe Loda, and Jose Padilla’s treasured tapes, that really turned me onto Vangelis’ music. Plugged-in, and under cryptic assumed names, we all egged on, encouraged, and justified, each others fanaticism, and vinyl gluttony***.
I have 16 Vangelis albums, and 10 of them came out of Beano’s £1 “Jumble” bin – bought in dusty rummages on the way home from work****. Raising eyebrows from the shop`s staff, who eventually asked, “Mate, what are you doing with all this stuff?” When I explained and showed them my “wants list” they too became fascinated, and interested in the story behind everything that I brought up to the counter – like the Afro / Cosmic club classics, Stuffed Aubergine, Le Fete Sauvage*****, I Can’t Take It Anymore, and Dervish D. Percussive, tribal workouts, coupled to soaring stratospheric synths, switched-on robotic rituals of flickering sequences, and extended hushed harpsichord hallucinations of hookah smoke harmonies, aligned with the early output of the Greek composer’s German kosmische counterparts. All caned by both aforementioned Italian DJs.
There was Aphrodite’s Child, the heavy prog-rock behemoth that Vangelis founded before going solo. Jolyon Green put their The Four Horseman on a brilliant Ibiza / Hippie mix, while I was still with Test Pressing. Plus the Vangelis-produced disco numbers by Aphrodite’s former frontman, Demis Roussos – the giddy grooves of Midnight Is The Time, and I Dig You. A tune which has received several cracking covers.
There were the blissed-out, Cafe del Mar essentials, like Abraham’s Theme, Antarctica Echoes, I Hear You Now, and La Petite Fille De La Mer. Buoyant, bubbling, summer breezes, daydream-like dedications to objects of desire, nostalgic, music box melodies, and wistful wordless soft focus sonnets, hammered by Jose during his mid-90s heyday.
One exception was The City, which I had to order from Brazil. It arrived on a typically paper-thin pressing. I`ve forgotten who first played me the gorgeous Good To See You – a sax-y, sultry, erotic, eavesdropped conversation, teasing, teaming with, the anticipation of a dangerous liaison – but it was either Phil Mison or Moonboots.
I was almost embarrassed to own the cheap, budget, compilation, Themes. It felt like a cop-out, until I learnt that this was the only place to find the then unreleased Love Theme From Blade Runner, and the opening and closing titles from the still shelved score to Mutiny On The Bounty. The latter, a slow, dark, nocturnal, ceremonial march – tambourine shaking a little like temple bells. Taping into the ancient, as Vangelis so often did.
I guess it`s for that feted score to Blade Runner that Vangelis is most well known, and for which he will no doubt be best remembered. Inexplicably officially unobtainable for over a decade, and countered by a baffling array of different bootlegs, bits of it continue to be issued, and disappear in a blink. Other parts have yet to see the light of day.
On the album that I have each composition sort of segues into the next, peppered with snippets of poignant dialogue. It`s shot through with a synthetic stillness, muted musical motifs, and the sound of distant perpetual stormy weather. Damask Rose brings mournful Middle Eastern strings. Rachel’s Song is fragile, ethereal, future folk. The rattling, rhythmic machines of Wait For Me, make way for a very human harmonica, and Dick Morrissey’s sad, seductive, sax. Gently, ruefully, serenading the drama’s central doomed romance.
Notwithstanding the replicants, and questions surrounding identity – what makes us what we are – both the film and its soundtrack are pieces of art concerned with love / lust’s unstoppable nature. Testaments to its power and force. Listening, I see my own life, passions, those requited and those now forever out of reach, rush past. Within the subtle sonic serenity, there is also a sense of resignation, without remorse or regret. Something that strongly conveys the knowledge, acceptance, that everything ultimately fades, the universal comedy / tragedy that all our moments will one day be lost to time, like tears in rain.
Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou “Vangelis” Rest In Peace.
*Perhaps this why music has always represented such an escape for me, and why I have amassed so much vinyl. A two-fingered salute, and an act of rebellion. Gorged on forbidden fruit.
**”Ted” is a disparaging term used for someone into Balearic Beat / Acid House from anywhere other than West London.
***It`s kinda telling that Bill Brewster, who ran the forum, has since “purged”, and sold all his records.
****Others I later picked up, on Japanese pressings, obi and all, similarly remaindered, in 300¥ racks, when I lived in Tokyo.