From the moment he got chills down his spine singing a Scorpions song at school the current lead singer of Minus One knew it was his calling. NADIA SAWYER meets a man determined to make an impact beyond the shores of the island
If you Google the best male rock singers of all time, the top 20 are almost always of English and American descent, with one notable exception – Freddie Mercury. Born in Zanzibar to parents hailing from India, Farrokh Bulsara (his real name) was the lead singer of Queen and the biographical subject matter of last year’s award winning film Bohemian Rhapsody. Who would have thought that an unusual looking Persian chap with supernumerary teeth would become the greatest frontman the world has ever seen?
It is therefore not unreasonable for a Cypriot man, with an equally distinctive look and impressive vocal range, to dream of following in his rock idol’s footsteps. Bald of head, dark of brow, Andreas Kapatais also sports a ‘soul patch’ under his lower lip. This small tuft of facial hair is sometimes called a ‘jazz dot’ (a comfort mechanism favoured by brass instrument players) and, as we shake hands, I am very tempted to point it out and ask him whether he is aware of its musical significance but decide that it’s probably too personal for a first question.
While we sip on cups of tea, Andreas takes me back to the 1990s to identify what sparked his desire to become a singer. “I grew up listening to songs by George Dalaras, Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson,” he recalls – an eclectic mix. “Then, on my sixteenth birthday, I was given an acoustic guitar.”
Spurred on by a neighbourhood friend who was already playing the instrument, he started practising and singing along to the songs he was learning, which by then were heavily influenced by rock music. While most teenage boys have gravelly or squeaky voices as they make the transition from boy to man, it was obvious to those around him that Andreas could do something a bit special with his. “People were saying: ‘how can you sing so high, how can you do that?’” he recalls. Did he inherit his vocal gift from his parents? “My Dad has a bit of a range in his voice, but he doesn’t know it. When I sang at home, he would make fun of me in a nice way but he was able to reach the notes that I could”.
Encouraged by his family, who started recording him on an old tape recorder, he found the confidence to sing in a school band, with one live performance being the catalyst to his future calling. The song, Wind of Change by German rock band Scorpions, is one of the best-selling singles of all time and is instantly recognisable by its opening whistle. “From the moment I hit the first note, everyone in the school stood up and started clapping and shouting. There were chills down my spine. It was a big feeling for me – I got a rush,” he admits.
On completing school and then his national service, Andreas enrolled at a college in Nicosia to study graphic design, but he soon dropped out. “I wanted to follow my dream of becoming a musician,” he explains. Together with his guitarist friend, and two others, a long-haired Andreas formed a band called Sulphur, playing heavy metal music. “At that time, I was experimenting,” he confirms when questioned about his choice of music genre.
But when his band mates took themselves off to Greece for studies, Andreas decided to follow suit and enrolled at the Philippos Nakas Conservatory in Athens to study music, with his main instrument being the voice. He followed this up with a two year stint at AKMI Metropolitan College where he graduated in sound engineering. To keep his vocal chords well-oiled during this period, he was singing at the Architectural Music Scene Greek music venue that, Andreas says, “is known for producing famous singers”.
Singing several nights a week, actually, several mornings a week – he started at 12pm at night and finished at 5am in the morning, took its toll on him. “I used to get tired just waiting to go on,” he recalls, as I wonder whether this stress and lack of sleep is the reason why he is follicly challenged at the relatively young age of 36. After a couple of years, he moved to another well-known live music venue, Cross of the South, and spent a further two years burning the midnight oil – a total of five years studying and singing in Greece. During this period, he maintained contact with his Sulphur band mates, playing gigs in Cyprus whenever the various members were all back on the island and garnering such local popularity that they were asked to support visiting international acts, including the gothic metal bands Anathema and Paradise Lost. But the band’s greatest claim to fame (with a revised name of Sulphur Generation and a newly released album) was opening for Whitesnake in 2009, which is the only time I can recall seeing Andreas sing in person.
“Did you get to meet David Coverdale?” I ask him, fangirling over the English rock singer. “No, we didn’t even see him, not even at the sound check,” says Andreas sadly, “he’s another one of my idols”.
Despite their local success, studying commitments of some of the band’s members meant that Andreas had to have a rethink about his musical future. Having decided to return to Cyprus, he set about forming a hybrid band, with two guitarists from Sulphur Generation and a bass player and drummer from another disbanding group, calling the new outfit Gnostoi Agnostoi (Known Unknowns). “We wanted to do something different… to play pop and rock. A lot of people came to the first gig. Then, by word of mouth, the crowds were getting bigger and bigger. They liked to come and dance. Usually, if you went to a live gig, you were sitting and drinking and talking to your friends”.
But success with the new band was short-lived. Unbeknown to him, Andreas’ mother and cousin had secretly entered him into The X Factor Greece and before he knew it he was back on a plane to Athens for the auditions, but failed to get through to the live shows. I can tell this is a bit of a sore subject as Andreas is an accomplished singer. His acoustic versions of Stairway to Heaven and Bed of Roses demonstrate his vocal range while his rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody is as good a cover as you will get of the song. Singing competitions have proven to be the death knell of many a true artist and I intimate that he had a lucky escape.
While back in Athens, Andreas had another think about his career. “It was in my mind that I still wanted to try and do something in Greece and I thought that if I left I might regret it,” he reflects. His old boss at the Architectural Music Scene welcomed him back to his much larger new venue and gave him the opportunity to sing alongside “a very talented guitarist”, Yiannis Papadopoulos, who is currently playing for Scott Stapp, the former lead singer of the American rock band Creed (remember the songs Arms Wide Open and My Sacrifice?).
A further five years in Greece followed, during which time Andreas also formed another band, WhiteNoiz, playing main stream pop and rock music and releasing a couple of singles. He also worked with Goin’ Through, a famous Greek hip-hop band which culminated in a joint song, Καινούργια Ζωή (New Life), a really catchy number with a great video which I find myself replaying over and over again as I write this piece.
“We played at huge venues,” says Andreas, obviously proud of this particular collaboration and his achievements. “I was doing well, I was with two bands, I had a morning job too, I was ok”.
Meanwhile, back in Cyprus, Gnostoi Agnostoi (the band Andreas had left) had taken on a new lead singer and changed its name to Minus One, garnering international recognition when they reached the finals of Eurovision 2016 with their song Alter Ego, which was No 1 on iTunes in four countries.
Did Andreas feel that he had missed out on their success?
“No, although I would have liked to have represented Cyprus in Eurovision, I was happy for them,” he says honestly and philosophically.
But having found somebody to love, Andreas decided to return to Cyprus for good, bringing with him his Greek girlfriend and future wife. He soon formed another band, with the unusual name of Coindrop, and self-released a single called True Love, a track that sounds more electronic than rock. “Yes, actually it was all electronic, except the guitar and vocals,” he admits. “I produced it on my iPad”.
Despite its basic recording method, the track was Kiss FM’s song of the week. But Andreas and Coindrop did not stick to one genre of music, creating sets that included R&B, rock, pop and dance. “I always liked to experiment,” he says. “If you came to see Coindrop, you would have fun.”
So as a singer and performer his aim is to get the audience up and dancing. “That’s my main goal,” he confirms. “I have fun on stage and the crowd can see that”. But, I think it’s more than just fun. With his mesmerising appearance, some of Andreas’ performances remind me of a sorcerer casting a spell over his unsuspecting audience. Unfortunately, in 2017, Coindrop became a victim of its own inauspicious name when Andreas’ heard that Minus One’s lead singer was leaving and they were looking to replace him.
“We had a past together,” Andreas thought, “maybe we can have a future together?”
So he decided to reunite with his former band mates, accompanied by Coindrop’s bassist who replaced another band member leaving Minus One. Needing a new song to match the new line up, Minus One quickly wrote and released a track called The Other Side of Mind to ensure they had regular airplay on the radio before their first live performance together.
“When we played our first gig, people already knew the song,” he says, admitting that, although some of the old fans found it hard to accept the band’s new line up, they quickly gained new followers. Their second single was an unusual cover of an old 1960s classic You Don’t Own Me, featuring a 15-year old female singer from Limassol, Semeli, discovered by the band’s manager Giampiero Soncini. Last year was spent preparing their first album, now out, called Red Black White which was recorded at Medley Studios in Copenhagen and co-produced by Søren Andersen, a guitarist known for his live work with English rock bassist and vocalist Glenn Hughes, formally of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.
And his personal hopes for the future?
“It would be a dream come true if I happened to be the rock singer from Cyprus who achieved worldwide fame,” declares a focused Andreas. “If you don’t have a dream, you’re nothing”. A bold statement maybe, but then Freddie Mercury once said “I won’t be a rock star, I’ll be a legend”, and he wasn’t wrong.
Currently, Minus One are playing gigs at home and planning concerts abroad. “In July, we might open for a very famous band, I’m sure you know them, but I can’t say anything now,” he concludes, keeping his cards firmly close to his chest. Whoever they are, I have no doubt that he will rock them with “one vision” and “a kind of magic!”
For gig information on Minus One go to https://minusoneband.com