Eloy – interview met Frank Bornemann (vocals, guitars)
Frank Bornemann: “I talked a lot with historians to dive deeper into the matter of Joan of Arc. Later I collected all that I could find about the real truth behind the story. I wanted to create something which is definitely the truth”
Eloy happens to be an institute of progressive rock since the seventies in Germany and way beyond. Connoisseurs are jubilant about albums like ‘Dawn’, ‘Ocean’ and ‘Silent Cries And Mighty Echoes’ for their refined musicianship and intense commitment. And they are still alive and kickin’ because the third album of a trilogy about Joan of Arc has been released recently. We took the opportunity to talk with mastermind Frank Bornemann about his latest album ‘Echoes From The Past’. Soon it turned into a debonair conversation between two music lovers.
Vera Matthijssens Ι 4 augustus 2023
When I called Frank on his telephone he wanted to make sure in which language this interview would happen, because he switches easily from English to German to French and even Spanish….
Wow and you manage to do that in all these languages?
Yeah, I do my very best. I signed some discs in Paris on the occasion of the worldwide release in a record shop. Gibert Joseph. It is a monster store in Paris with three different stocks. It was a little bit funny, because all the people there speak French and not so many people in France speak English or German, but with the time it was working and we had a very nice time there and the new album is selling well. It is a success in Germany and in other different countries also. So I am quite astonished.
That is amazing after al these years! I remember I drove in an old car with my parents to Germany to buy your albums – and those from Eloy, Jane, Grobschnitt, Birth Control….
Oh oh oh oh oh oh. (laughs) It’s a long list of German bands, but we are a little bit different. We are more in art and progressive rock. By the way The Scorpions, I produced them in Munich in the beginning of the seventies. We are actually friends.
Maybe ‘Lonesome Crow’?
No no no, ‘Lonesome Crow’ was a flop. And the second one was quite successful. It was ‘Fly To The Rainbow’.
Oh yes, fantastic. With Uli Roth…
Uli Roth and Jürgen Rosenthal on drums and later he played for a while with Eloy. It was a funny time and the engineer at that time, Reinhold Mack, later he was the producer of Queen and ELO. Before the Scorpions, The Rolling Stones were there in the studio in Munich (Musicland Studios – Vera). It was a very famous place. That was the beginning for me as a producer and later, years later, I became to do the job for Eloy of course (and lead guitarist and composer) and since then we were quite successful.
What was the Horus Sound studio then?
That was later. I founded the Horus Sound studio in 1979 in Hanover after a couple of big successes in Germany, after the record ‘Silent Cries And Mighty Echoes’ and it should be a studio for the band of course mainly, but it was the end of this line-up, at that time, and I had to look for other musicians. That was not so easy…
But you did quite some different things in that studio, like Guana Apes, Helloween and AYWKUBTTOD… (And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead)…
Yes, of course. Finally, after the other members of the band left, I was alone in the studio and it was not anymore the studio of Eloy, it was only my studio and that means that I needed money at the time. That was the reason why I decided to produce other bands and luckily I had big luck and Guana Apes and Helloween were big successes. It was not so bad (laughs).
I think it is only normal that you speak a bit of French, because you are living in France partly. Which department?
Not really. I rented an apartment in Paris sometimes and the last one was the very best, in former times it was the atelier of Amadeo Modigliani. I was very sad when I heard that it was sold and it was no longer possible to rent it. We found another place a few metres away from that apartment and it is very good address in Paris. Over there I planned and started to think about a rock opera about Joan of Arc. I started with it in the nineties and then okay, I had the problem in the studio, I had to work with other bands and later on I got the chance to contribute music for a big movie with Sinead O’Connor in the role of Joan of Arc. The name of the film was ‘Company of Angels’. I thought: ‘oh yeah, this will be very good and my publishing partner in the US was won for the idea and he was at that time the president there and he did a lot to manage that I could compose the music for the film. And then Sinead O’Connor, she was not so nice, with her own words concerning the Pope. That was the end of this project. Then I finished and used my music – I started to write something – and ‘Company Of Angels’ was put on an Eloy album ‘The Tides Return Forever’. After a couple of years, I thought: ‘okay, I should come back to my dreams and realize this big opera project and I started with ‘The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre’. Making an album about Jeanne d’Arc, Johanna from Orleans, or the Maid of Orleans is okay, but I needed a better title. And then I decided to make ‘The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre’ in three chapters. And the new one ‘Echoes From The Past’ is another story (chuckles).
Another story? How do you mean? It should focus on the pyre I think, the moment she was burned and staked?
Jean De Metz is the companion in the whole story, the so-called comrade in arms as protagonist who tells the story, he was hunted by his remembrance and all these very sad events and there’s a reason why it is called ‘Echoes From The Past’. It is always coming back in his mind. He reflects what he has done all the time. This is completely different. ‘The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre’ was only storytelling and on ‘Echoes From The Past’ it is quite different, isn’t it? It was not so easy to sing it. At the end, that very last title almost killed me. I was in the studio and I was close to tears. My wife said: ‘okay Frank, the people will probably feel that, but leave it as it is’. It is what you feel and bring it out and I sang it only one time.
That is marvellous, because if I compare it with the past, your voice is a little bit softer, smoother let us say, but in one song ‘Warning Signs’ it still has that venomous tone…
Yes, on ‘Warning Signs’, I thought I should create it with an introduction and then start the song. In this song Joan of Arc had very much doubt, because of the situation between Jeanne and the king and the army. All these things were very hard to understand and sometimes she had the feeling that it was not as it should be. She was not sure what to do. She didn’t know what to do to bring it to a better end and we know the rest. It is a disaster and it is not easy stuff. It is very intense.
Only that way you can perform it as artist, you have to dive deep into the matter. I was wondering, when you started with the subject of Joan of Arc, how did you approach that? Did you read books or Internet, dived into history lessons or just what you remembered from the past? How did you do it?
Oh to be honest with you, I started very early with finding out what is the truth. What has really happened and I had so many meetings with historians and I am a member of the historian club in Orleans and I had discussions with people there. These were my helping buddies when I had questions about Joan of Arc, especially one lady was a huge help, because her point of view was so close to mine. Unfortunately she has died. She was an old lady but amazing. It was a shock for me when she died. Later I collected all that I could find about the real truth behind the story. I wanted to create something which is definitely the truth.
That is not so easy, because the more we go back in time, the more stories pop up with different approaches…
Of course and a propos, I found an actress, you can see her in the video of ‘Fate’. Her name is Jeanne and she is of the same age as Joan of Arc. She is born in the same village. It sounds mysterious, but it is what it is. I saw her on stage for a big spectacle in France which takes place every year for one week in opposite of the Basilica, a basilique in Longueville. The composer, the performance and the whole project is very well known and very popular there. And Jeanne, my Jeanne in the video, she performed Joan of Arc on stage. She is the very best I have ever seen. Meanwhile we are good friends, my wife and her man, our families are very close and what I wanted to reach in France is what they say ‘a spectacle musical’. It is a mixture of theatre and rock opera, it is not a musical. I hate musicals, when they sing dialogues. I’d liked to create something which is totally different. This is like a theatre; but with a dramatic kind of music you know from my albums and create something which exposes. That is very important for me. And maybe I could realize it with this wonderful producer in France who was making the video. He is wonderful working with visual effects and so we will see what happens for more videos. It means a lot of money. In Orleans he says that it is possible to get the attention, others by Orleans, Rouen, department Lorraine (Lotharingen) we will see what happens.
Are you planning to make other videos for longer songs as well?
No, I will use exactly the music as it is made on these albums, plus in addition on stage the actress and the dialogues in the language where this spectacle musical will take place. It is the only way to bring it out this way.
And that is the way Eloy is going to present a show in near future?
On an Eloy concert, perform all this music is nearly impossible, because I need that big choir, I need that children choir, I would need an amazing stage. An opera is not big enough for that and it is not so easy to make. So many fans ask me: ‘oh Frank, would you like to present this on stage?’ but how? In which way? Yet a spectacle musical would be possible to realize.
But we already have the third record, let us enjoy that…
By the way on the second part, ‘The Vision, The Sword And The Pyre part II’ the text in the last track ‘Eternity’ is spoken by an actress who played Joan of Arc on stage in a theatre. I have goose-bumps when I hear this. ‘Welcome to eternity…’ the way of speaking is amazing. When I recorded it, it was so amazing, but it is not necessary to make a person doing it live on stage. We playback that voice of the girl, but the music that is another story. It is a voice from eternity, from far away. At the moment I am a little bit tired I must say. I worked eight years to realize this. Three albums, that is not bad compared to ‘Les Miserables’ (laughs) If you have so many Eloy records, what are your favourites?
‘Silent Cries And Mighty Echoes’ and ‘Ocean’….
Okay it was in Germany our prime time, that is beyond question, but I still prefer the live album from 2014. Everything, most of the songs, are better on this album than on the original album. ‘Atlantis’ Agony’ has a slide solo by Steve Mann, it is so amazing! So much better than the original. And ‘The Tides Return Forever’, the song is better than on the original album. The female voice is blowing you away, incroyable. I would recommend this album to everybody. If you have this album, then you have everything, the essence of Eloy. ‘Reincarnation On Stage’ is the title of that live DVD. (2014) On the front is my photo. That is definitely the best. 100% Believe me. Compared with the original versions. I am very proud on this album, really. ‘Dawn’ is one of my favourites. Sonic-wise ‘Mighty Echoes’… well… I have good memories on the time when we exactly recorded this album. Unfortunately we made only three albums in the same formation. ‘Dawn’, ‘Silent Cries & Mighty Echoes’ and ‘Ocean’, and afterwards it was another drummer, another keyboard player… for me it was sometimes very hard to start anew with other musicians. With the exception of Klaus-Peter Matziol (bass – Vera). He is for me personally, one of the best bass players in the world. He is incredible. From the three bass players I adore: it is John Entwistle from The Who and Geddy Lee from Rush and Matziol. Luckily he is still with me. Meanwhile he is also more than 70 years old. He is the owner of one of the biggest companies in promoting in Germany. At the moment he represents Paul McCartney in Germany, The Rolling Stones, Elton John….
Why did you react hesitating on ‘Ocean’? Didn’t you like it?
Yes from ‘Ocean’ I like the music and illustrations of course, but I must say, to be honest with you, the text for ‘Ocean’ was created by our drummer Jürgen Rosenthal. Five minutes before I had to start to sing, he came in and said: ‘hey Frank, here is the text’. I said ‘okay,’ but asked myself in which way I should render or perform this. I was in the studio, it was the last day of the recordings, what could I do? So the original vocals from my side are on the album. There are even mistakes in English language. The phrase was very difficult to sing, but I could manage to do it. If you listen to the live album, it is much better. Later the songs came into full development in live versions, as I told you, ‘Atlantis’ Agony’ with Steve Mann, that is absolutely amazing. You should forget the original, I am absolutely sure. (chuckles) The introduction is nice, okay, but for me it is much too long. In ‘Decay Of Logos’ the bass is fantastic. When I had to sing ‘And so the gods decided, great is the fear for you’ in Atlantis’ Agony’, it was live always a nightmare for me. Five minutes intro when I thought ‘come on, guys, let us play!’ (laughs) That part was always a moment I didn’t like so much. ‘Silent Cries & Mighty Echoes’ is totally different. ‘The Apocalypse’ is a wonderful song. That is really great in my opinion. And then ‘Master Of Sensation’, great song. It was a quite good album, yes. And ‘Dawn’! Oh the album ‘Dawn’, it was the first time in my life that I could record a string orchestra. I had in mind to do that also on ‘Power And The Passion’, but I had not the chance and then, when I became the producer of the band, I said: ‘okay, but there is one condition for this: I want to have a string orchestra in the beginning’ and they agreed. Then, it was the first big success of the band. ‘Power And The Passion’ sold 35;000 copies in Germany, ‘Dawn’ 100.000 copies in Germany. It was my first production as a producer for Eloy and then the recorded company concluded: okay this man has done a miracle within one year and that’s okay. Let him be the producer.’ (laughs) Then I could do what I wanted to do. Then followed ‘Ocean’ and Silent Cries And Mighty Echoes’ when I was the producer. On ‘Time To Turn’ also and there I wrote the whole story and so on and so on.
What a glorious career!
Yeah it was full of ups and downs, but I am quite happy and at the moment I am a little bit tired. It was very hard working for doing the promotion. Since five weeks I have interviews and radio and more. I would like to go on holidays. But afterwards we come back with a vengeance!