December 2011, ten days before Christmas, devout followers of European cinema throughout the world received news that sent a tremor through their fuzzy VHS collections. The reported passing of one of the leading lights of a micro-cosmic film genre that later became known as horrotica served as a huge blow for fans and followers of the progressive director who had continued his journey through celluloid phantastique till the final throws of his 60 year long career. The legacy of Jean Rollin, often grouped with the likes of Jess Franco and some of the more risque patrons of the Italian Giallo generation, would on closer inspection, bequeath a sprawling family tree with deep roots in the Letterist & Situationist movements, the French underground free-press, avant-garde theatre, the European comic book cognoscenti, Belgian fine-art groups, the sexual revolution and the Parisian free-jazz & rock scene. It was a great privilege to have spoken to Jean Rollin in early 2009 to discuss the possibility of hunting down original musical master tapes and artwork for his films as part of a planned long term relationship involving the debut releases of some of his key soundtracks by well known avant-garde artists such as free jazz pianist Francois Tusques, Pierre Raph and synthesizer composer Philippe D’Aram, all of whom Rollin remembered affectionately. One of the key musical artists from the Rollin Flexography, however, proved to be more elusive and as much as Rollin racked his memory the true identity and whereabouts of the band who I could only explain as “Doppleganger Ame son” or “Gong-Gone-Wrong”, known only as Acanthus, remained a perpetual mystery. Having pondered the future of the band since I first heard what seemed to be their only soundtrack on Rollin’s fourth film Le Frisson Des Vampires (1971) when it was re-issued on VHS by Redemption in 1993 I was delighted to score a pre-release copy of the brilliant ‘Films Of Jean Rollin’ CD the following year, which listed the films titles on its cover. The disc, produced and compiled by Peter Blumenstock for his own short Lucertola Media label came with mixed blessings. It was obviously a great achievement to have sourced any master tapes or isolated music from Rollins film reels (at all) which is why the CD is now regarded as a treasured collectible item, but out of a possible twenty five cues the disc boasted just seven rescued tracks from Le Frisson Des Vampires with sleeve-notes that shone virtually no light on the true story of the artists that made the music. Fifteen years later I felt it was finally time to hand in my overdue homework...sadly Rollin and his maestros left very few breadcrumbs apart from the recurring Rollin sound-bite “They were a bunch of teenagers who were fans of fantastic film. They disbanded after the movie and i never heard from them again”. The fact that Rollin lefty Paris to film his fifth film virtually directly after “Frisson” was completed might explain why Rollin never met the band again...but they didn’t disband.
Anyway to cut a long story short, I did my homework, found all the links, read some French pop magazines, even found a bunch of records (one in my own house!) recorded under a different name and handed in the essay to my colleagues at Finders Keepers, which was printed en masse within the sleeve-notes of our final release. I found all the oinfo but i never found the band...but then, the band found me.
This interview with Daniel Buffet from Acanthus was made possible by our good friend Alain Lebon from the amazing Soleil Zeuhl records. Alain was on the Acanthus trail himself fifteen years ago and was happy to translate my intrusive and star-struck questions to French and back again. Some of the points have already been made in the sleeve-notes of “Le Frisson Des Vampires” by Acanthus (FKR038) but in this interview we hear it all from the horses mouth including exclusive info about a second soundtrack, a full length LP and explanations about the bands name change amongst other nuggets.
AV. How was Acanthus formed and how old were you? Where were you from? Who were your influences? Tell me the whole story.
DB. The band in its entirety (Except Gerard Salette) met around 1967 at an Aikido club in Levallois near Paris. We were all 17 years old. There was also an extra member called Bernard who left in 1969 to become a professional Aikido sportsman. At that time , we listened a lot to Spencer Davis Group, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix & The Who. Personally I was getting into weirder stuff, like Soft Machine. We started off playing covers of tracks like ‘Gloria’ by Them and tracks by Otis Redding & James Brown and called ourselves “The Bayens” (After a close by street Rue Bayen in Paris) After a few gigs at venues such as Damier Club, close to the St-Lazare railway station we garnered a good following. The superb look of Guy Ouly, our Caribbean singer (born in France) was possibly one of the reasons of our direct impact on stage.
We found further dates outside Paris and quickly became involved with a manager named Eddy Jones. He provided us with a lot of concerts and in 1968 we were touring as the first act of British rocker Vice Taylor (who was in big trouble with drugs at this point of his career and who could hardly stand up on stage) Also present as an opening act was Dick Rivers, famous French rocker from band “Les Chats Sauvages”. We toured a lot in Northern France (Lille etc), mostly at night-clubs. By 1969 we returned to Parisian clubs like the Bus Palladium & Golf Drouot. Early in the year Bernard, our guitar player, left the band so we published ads in Rock ‘n’ Folk magazine which is how Gerard Salette got in touch. This was the major turn for the band as Gerard was an extraordinary player, much better than the rest of us. He could play Hendrix note for note and with his arrival the band took another dimension. It was Gerard that made us compose our own songs and, very quickly, we both became close friends and the two lead composers of the band: Gerard for the music, me for the words and general ideas. It was also the time of our (Gerard’s and mine) first experiences with Cannabis and LSD. With the new line-up of Gerard Sallette (lead guitar/organ), Francis Bendichou (electric twelve string rhythm guitar), Jean Vazan (bass), Daniel Buffet (drums and lyrics) and Guy Ouly (vocals) we began to play gigs outside of Paris for the first time, with some nightclub gigs in Italy.
At this point I began reading Nietzche and writing words based on my impressions. With quite a lot of lysergic interactions! “Tryphasys” our rock opera, began slowly to take shape: with Gerard writing the music. The plot of the opera was (very summarized): a guy lost into a desert, captured by a tribe and brought to the Queen, in a city renamed Acanthus and we started rehearsing our rock opera Tryphasys, whose length was slightly over 30 minutes (one long track)
At that time we met Jean-Philippe Delamarre, a film producer. His home was inhabited by a lot of artists of the Parisian scene, notably the not yet well-known Brigitte Fontaine & Jacques Higelin. He introduced us to Jean Rollin, author of horror-vampire movies. When we met, the film Frisson Des Vampires was already cut and we recorded the music minute per minute to fit the scenes. I clearly remember we watched the complete movie eighteen times! In spite of a great contact with him, a heartfelt guy, we never met again. At Delamarre’s home we also recorded, in a one day session, the soundtrack for his own art-movie “Liberta”, based on horror film posters.
Early 1970 we went to see Magma in concert, before their first album was issued, and this was a major shock and discovery (superb musicianship, way ahead of us!). Encouraged by their signing to a major label (Philips) we made some contacts here and there and we met Philippe Constantin (who was involved with French bands Komintern and Red Noise). He soon introduced us to the infamous Etienne Roda Gil (from Pathe-Marconi). As we didn’t listen to any French singers, we had actually never heard of him and we were unaware that this guy was a huge name on the music scene (caring of French rising-star Julien Clerc notably). He listened to our demo of Tryphasys, liked it a lot and soon we were signing an exclusive contract with him for...no less than seven years!! He Took the tape to Pathe-Maconi (future EMI) and in the summer of 1970 we found ourselves into the highly professional studios of Pathe I Boulogne (another close suburb of Paris). The whole Tryphasys track (35mins) was recorded in one night and a small number of acetate vinyls were pressed.
Immediately Pathe restricted us from performing any section of the opera on stage and they went as far as forbidding us to use the name Acanthus for concerts as long as the LP was not issued. These months (late summer/early 1970) were rather odd, performing on stage under our old name The Bayens and having to play covers and none of the personal compositions. The weeks went by and then one day Etienne Roda Gil told us that Pathe wanted, at first, to issue a single from Tryphasys - delaying the LP for later. Gerard and I, the creative force behind the band, instantly said a massive NO! Taking this offer as a major offense to our full concept album, Etienne Roda Gil tried to persuade us several times but we didn’t change our minds. So, still supporting us, he introduced the band to Patrice Blanc-Franquard and Jose Arthur, two active radio DJs and we played live on France Inter. Then Etienne Roda Fil left Pathe (for his own reasons) and that became the end of our relationship with both Pathe and Etienne.
In 1971 we turned onto other major labels (Polydor notably) but we failed to garner any interest. It was a difficult year for the disillusioned band and I started working in a record shop named Lido Musique, located on the Champ-Elysees - one of the major record shops in Paris by then. There I had the opportunity to meet Jim Morrison a few times before his death in Paris, in July of that year. One day the boss of Lido Musique, who was primarily a businessman, proposed us to record a pop single aiming to sell as many as possible inspired by the huge commercial success of French-Norwegian band Titanic. He told us that the proceeds would be re-invested to finally issue the Tryphasys. In order not to confuse our fans we released the 45 under the different name Unity but the line-up was exactly the same. The first single was really quite a success leading to a French TV appearance and soon we were on the road again...billed as Unity. Six months later, we were asked to cut another Unity single but were told that the plan for Tryphasys was completely dropped by Lido Musique. we agreed to record the follow-up but all the work was done by the three other members, Gerard and I , in despair, were merely session musicians. In 1972, after a major dispute between both Gerard and I versus the rest of the band the group split forever.
Gerard then went to live in Italy (probably working as a mountain guide, none of us ever heard of him afterwards) and the rest of the band went back to their studies while i went on , for a while, working as a musician. In 1973-4 I became involved in the band Ocean but i did not record with them, It was a difficult time for me, and i became somewhat dependent on drugs with erratic behavior. Shortly after i left the music scene.
AV. Did you interact with other underground French Rock bands...Chico Magnetic Band? Rotomagus? Quo Vadis? Tac Poum System? Dynastie Crisis? Who else if any?
DB. We met a few times with the Tac Poum Systeme guys at the Golf Drouot. As far as i remember, we had no relation with the other. But i liked a lot of the music of Chico Magnetic Band.
AV. Did you have an interest in film, like Rollin said, before you began making music.
DB. Our 2 soundtrack recording have been made by pure coincidence, by meeting persons involved into this.
AV. Emi was an ambitious leap. Did you ever consider a deal with a label like BYG for example? Do you recognize similarities with bands like Ame Son, Soft Machine or Gong?
AV. Did you go to Amouges festival?
DB. No , at that moment we were playing somewhere and we could not attend the festival
AV. Who played the other instruments on the Rollin soundtrack? There is a lot if flute for example.
DB. If I remember well, the fulte is played by Francis Bendichou. By all means, we never recorded anything with extra players - always only the five of us.
AV. Are there any other record releases that include Acanthus memebrs? Would love to create a new discography.
DB All our releases are mentioned in the booklet you wrote for “Le frisson des vampires”
AV The Delamarre soundtrack was based on horror posters and comic books...Were you interested in this area?
DB.No specific interest, just an oppertunity for playing and recording
AV Out of interest...Do you know the work of Igor Wakhevitch?
DB. Around 1970-71 I really liked the first Igor Wakhevitch, the first Guy Skornik, Rene Joly, Gerard Manset (La Mort d’Orion), all from Pathe - the label that dropped us. In spite all of them signing with EMI at the same time Acanthus did for Tryphasys, we never met any of them.
Andy Votel 2011
Huge thanks to Alain Lebon, Jean-Luc Doucet, Daniel Buffet. For extensive notes about the film Le Frisson Des Vampires see the CD and Vinyl release available at www.finderskeepersrecords.com.