My daughter was reading something yesterday and asked “what’s a kaftan?”. It wasn’t a word she’d come across before.
If you’re a bit older than me, you might associate kaftans with the Summer of Love, the hippy lifestyle and a time when the world was a simpler place, largely lived out in music festivals, if the surviving film footage of those times is anything to go by.
But if you’re my sort of age, the instant picture that pops into your mind when you hear the word “kaftan” is that of Demis Roussos on Saturday night TV variety shows throughout the 1970s and 80s.
Morcambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, The Des O’Connor Show…and many, many others…hosted this large, bearded Greek man dressed in a kaftan on a semi-permanent basis, or so it seemed, through my formative years.
For all I know, he wasn’t really on all that often. Demis Roussos might just have stuck in my childhood memories because he was such an unusual act. Not because of what he did, particularly, as he was a singer and there were plenty of other singers around.
Although…and I’m not sure whether this was a good thing or not…he did have an especially high, distinctive, quivering voice that easily lent itself to being lampooned.
And, of course, given where we started with this article, Demis Roussos was the only person I saw regularly, who habitually dressed in a kaftan.
Which is why, when my daughter asked what kaftan was (it’s a type of robe for wearing outdoors in case you haven’t come across one either, suitable for men or women), my memory banks instantly brought up a mental picture of Demis Roussos on Saturday night TV somewhere around 1978.
His biggest UK chart showing was with an EP which contained his best-known single “Forever And Ever”. With “The Roussos Phenomenon EP” Demis Roussos reached Number One in the UK singles chart in July 1976.
“Forever And Ever” is a very nice record (here if you need a reminder… https://youtu.be/F3vCB3YBMUo ). Although not as commercially successful, Demis Roussos also had hits with “Happy To Be On An Island In The Sun” and “My Friend The Wind”.
For all his kaftan-enveloped success during the 1970s, by far my favourite Demis Roussos song saw the light of day back in 1968. “Rain And Tears” wasn’t even a big UK hit, just managing to squeeze briefly into the Top 30 that year.
However that was before Demis Roussos found solo success in the 1970s. Back in 1968 he was the bass player and lead singer of a somewhat avantgarde Greek band called Aphrodite’s Child.
1968 in Greece must have been a pretty exciting musical place as the keyboard player in Aphrodite’s Child was Vengelis.
Vangelis would later collaborate with Jon Anderson, formerly of Yes, under the Jon and Vengelis banner. And he also won Oscars for scoring the movies ‘Chariots of Fire’ and ‘Blade Runner’.
Off-hand, I can’t think of any other Greek trios, much less trios with two members who went on to enjoy international chart-topping success and win Oscars. So Aphrodite’s Child was clearly one of those very special environments where good work was allowed to flourish.
Aphrodite’s Child were popular in Europe. But they only troubled the UK charts briefly with “Rain And Tears” and then we never heard from them again.
“Rain And Tears” is charming, and somewhat mesmerising, song.
Even if you think you know very little about classical music, you’ll recognise the tune pretty quickly as Vangelis reworked Pachelbel’s very famous Canon in D to come up with the music for “Rain And Tears”. Over the years Canon in D has been used in countless films, TV programmes and commercials, so even if you’re not sure exactly where you heard it, or don’t instantly recall its proper title, you’ll definitely know what it is and be able to hum along.
The concept behind the lyrics is a good one — essentially that in winter it’s hard to tell the difference between winter rain running down someone’s cheeks and the rivulets of tears that sadness brings.
But in the summer, you can’t pretend it’s just the rain…the tears can’t be hidden any more. You have to admit them to yourself, as well as to other people.
There’s something simple, but very appealing, in that concept.
Rain and tears are the same
But in the sun, you’ve got to play the game
When you cry in winter time
You can pretend it’s nothing but the rain
This very gentle song was perfect for Demis Roussos’s high, delicate, quivering voice.
In the video below you’ll see that Demis Roussos used to be rather more svelte than most UK audiences will remember him. He even plays the bass rather than just jiggling around in a kaftan.
Demis Roussos passed away a couple of years ago. But the fact that someone has only got to mention the word “kaftan” and he pops straight back into my mind means he hasn’t been forgotten. And if you’re not familiar with his work, I’d recommend you check out this lovely song from 1968, so you’ll remember Demis Roussos too.
I admit “Rain And Tears” is something of a “period piece”, but it’s a real favourite of mine and I promise it’s well worth your time.
With the late Demis Roussos on vocals, Vangelis on keyboards and Loukas Sideras on drums, here’s Aphrodite’s Child with “Rain And Tears”…
The video is below, but if you prefer you can listen to the track on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/3gE5067onHssnwibln70ef
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