Michel Scheijen, owner and author of Musicophilia.nl did this interview with Frank Bornemann recently. We are happy to present you the translated version of this interview. Please note that all (c) are with Musicophilia and Frank Scheijen. The original article (in Dutch) can be found here.
He is now 78, but Frank Bornemann continues unabated as the driving force behind the German progressive rock band Eloy, which has been active since the early 1970s. In addition to owning the famous horus sound studios in Hannover, Frank is known as the discoverer of the alternative rock band Guano Apes. Eloy remains his brainchild, however, and in June of this year he completed his three-part rock opera about Jeanne d’Arc with the release of the album “Echoes from the past”. Frank talks about realizing his musical dream in a tumultuous period with special moments.
…How are you?
“Well, I’m a little tired. The result of a busy period and the time when you feel the need for vacation. Ha! Ha! My wife and I live on the tnop floor of a penthouse in Hanover. In our downtown area, it is 34 degrees. You can probably imagine how hot it is indoors then.”
The impressive “Echoes From The Past” is the conclusion of the Joan of Arc trilogy. What fascinates you about Joan of Arc as a person?
“Enormously. She was an exceptional figure in world history. So exceptional that a second Joan of Arc never existed after her death. Her life was full of contradictions. She was spiritual, but at the same time a realistic, strong personality who achieved something with her commitment at a time when women represented relatively little. With her strong character and presumably equally strong charisma, she managed to mobilize an entire army. An army composed mostly of men with which she liberated Orleans from the English making Charles the VII king of France in 1422. She accomplished even more, but we probably don’t have that much time. I don’t even know what I admire most. The music expresses my fascination with her. That goes without saying.”
Each album in the trilogy deals with a different period in Joan of Arc’s life. Consequently, the albums differ from one another. That must have been a huge job.
“It’s the first time I committed to a concept of such magnitude. I like concept albums. The Eloy albums ‘Power & The Passion’ ‘Ocean’ and the diptych ‘Planet’ and ‘Time To Turn’ are just as good concept albums, but not rock operas like this trilogy. In my opinion, a rock opera is different from a concept album. Rock operas are more elaborate. There is a lot more involved in them. As an example, I would mention Pete Townsend who did the rock operas “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia” with The Who. After that, no one really made anything similar. While working on the trilogy, I became aware of why. It is an enormous amount of work and you depend on many things. Not to mention achieving what you want to achieve without getting boring or losing focus. The life of Joan of Arc encompasses so many different passages and elements. It was a long-held dream to translate this into music. Now I had the time, space and technique and went with it. Musically, I have been concerned with nothing else for the past few years. I quickly realized that it would not all fit on one album. For that reason, an excellent observation of yours by the way, the three albums differ from each other.”
The two preceding volumes to ‘Echoes From The Past’
You will be an authority by now when the subject of Joan of Arc comes up, won’t you?
“There are those who know more than what I do. Of course, through intensive research over all these years I have come to know quite a bit. I was always annoyed by those biographical films about Joan of Arc. Every one of them is bad. I became a member of Sacre Jeanne D’Arc. That is a Jeanne D’Arc association for hobbyists from whom I received a lot of cooperation and information. After all, they know everything. There is nothing they don’t know about the subject. I came into contact with the writer and historian Régine Pernoud, who died in 1998. She was a real authority on the subject. From her I learned cattle. After she died, her colleague Marie-Veronique helped Clin regarding research and advice. Then it was historian Oliver Bouzy who today is the authority on Joan of Arc. In fact, a lot has been written about her and not every writer uses the same facts. Therefore, I was happy to have Bouzy to whom I could always turn with questions or advice.”
The absence of Eloy keyboardists Michael Gerlach and Hannes Folberth must have had a huge impact on the production process.
“Hannes withdrew as a musician some time ago due to various private circumstances, about which I don’t want to say anything, by the way. Michael Gerlach has a home care organization in Berlin in addition to his musical life. During the Covid period he could not leave there. He had an enormous amount of work and, in addition, the lockdown made travel impossible. He couldn’t contribute anything, unfortunately.”
Were possible replacements readily available?
“The keyboard parts for ‘Echoes From The Past’ were partly played in by Steve Mann. He has been involved in Eloy productions as a keyboardist and guitarist since the 1990s. My two sound engineers Nic Knoll and Finn Mac Cormac are conservatory students who happen to play piano. From piano to keyboards it’s a small step, as you know. They played the parts I provided. In addition, Artur Kühfuss made some contributions. He was also involved in the previous album. During production, I could always fall back on bassist Klaus-Peter Matziol. The way he plays bass is exceptional. He is a genius. Not every band has a bass player like that. In that difficult period full of setbacks and health problems, Klaus-Peter was my support and anchor. In addition to all this, I was fortunate to have drummer Stephan Emig. Emig studied drums and percussion in Los Angeles and was taught by Joe Porcaro and Mike Shapiro, among others. He now lives in Hanover again for quite some time. When he auditioned, I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. What a technique! Fantastic! Because our drummer Bodo Schopf emigrated to Sardinia for health reasons, I was suddenly without a drummer. Stephan was truly a gift from heaven
Besides a lot of sadness and setbacks, there was also some happiness. Because of the Corona pandemic, recording and production were delayed quite a bit. This is why ‘Echoes From The Past’ took so long to come out.”
Steve Mann, Frank Bornemann and Stephan Emig
Eloy’s music sometimes contains elements that have similarities with the works of others. The bass part in the beginning of ‘Love Over Six Centuries’ [album: ‘Power and The Passion’] refers to the bass run in ‘Echoes’ by Pink Floyd and ‘Point Of No Return’ [album: ‘Planets’] recalls ‘Squonk’ by Genesis. The background vocals in ‘Fate’, on the current album, has the same melody as the screeching on ‘Child In Time’ by Deep Purple. Is that a coincidence?
“You hear that melody several times in Eloy’s repertoire in different ways. Gillan does it slightly differently. With him, the melody keeps going up a step, creating a climax. On “Fate,” it stays the same. As I said, I had that melody in my head before. In that sense, it is not a one-to-one copy. The similarity I acknowledge. It often happens that music is borrowed from each other, so to speak. By the way, Deep Purple borrowed the organ part for “Child In Time” from the song “Bombay Calling. Who that was from, I don’t remember.”
That band was called It’s A Beautiful Day.
“Oh yes! Correct. Excuse me. At my age, you forget such things.”
Where was the music video for “Fate” shot and who participated in it?
“The record company thought ‘Fate’ should be the promotional single. That was fine with me, but they also wanted a music video for it. The filming took place in a medieval church in Troissy and what I can tell you about that is not a fabrication. The actress in the music video also happens to be named Jeanne. Like Jeanne D’Arc, she also comes from the village of Domrémy and during the filming she was at the same age as Jeanne during her triumphs. Every year she plays Jeanne D’Arc in a big theater production near Domrémy directed by Damien Fontaine. I couldn’t believe that at first when I visited the theater production with my wife. After the performance, we were introduced to each other and it clicked immediately. She agreed to a role in the music video. I made it clear to the record company that for the role of Joan of Arc I wanted only her. If not: ‘kiss my ass’! Working with the production team, I wrote a mini-script, because telling the life of Joan ‘D’Arc in three minutes is difficult. The actress did a fantastic job. She immediately understood what we wanted and how to portray Joan of Arc in the clip.”
Jeanne as Jeanne in the music video for ‘Fate’
A rock opera is best expressed in a live performance. How likely is it that the play will be performed in its entirety on different dates? Fans will be thrilled!
“In France, a theatrical performance will be performed with selections from the three albums. The music has been pre-recorded and the lyrics have been adapted and rewritten in dialogue form in French. The intention is to make it an international theatrical performance so that each country can perform it in its own language. A touring performance with orchestra, choir and band is not affordable. Then I would be in the red before a single note has been played. Ha! Ha! I can’t say much about that theater production because it is still in the works. What I can reveal, however, is that Damien Fontaine is the director of the performance in France. On that collaboration I am very proud.”
French theater director Damien Fontaine
We can safely say that a long-cherished, artistic dream has come true for you.
“Absolutely. The trilogy is my life’s work. A project I’ve talked about many times in the past is finally here. Although I already made two songs about Jeanne in the ’90s. The first is called ‘Jeanne D’Árc from the 1992 album ‘Destination’. Then I wrote the song ‘Company Of Angels’ for the movie of the same name with Sinead O’Connor in the role of Joan of Arc and Sean Connery as her antagonist. For that film, I was allowed to create the score. Unfortunately, filming was cancelled when Sinead tore up a photo of Pope John Pauls II on television with the words “fight the real enemy. The head of Warner called me personally to tell me that film will not be made. That was quite a setback. ‘Company Of Angels’ ended up on the 1994 album ‘The Tides Turn Forever.’ Beyond the music and future theatrical performances, it brought me even more. The wonderful people with whom I have had the opportunity to work, the extensive traveling, the positive reactions to the trilogy. I am satisfied and soulful with what I have accomplished.”
Those are the perfect words to end the interview. Many thanks for your time.
“Thank you, too. If you have any questions, feel free to call.”