Interview with Simon Copeland from The Sun, March 2007
THEY helped invent hard rock, have sold 100 million albums and were once officially the loudest band in the world.
Deep Purple also gave us the ultimate head-banging anthem — Smoke On The Water.
But even more legendary were the bust-ups, particularly between guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and singer Ian Gillan. At one time the feuds and line-up changes threatened to destroy one of Britain’s greatest bands. But since axe hero Steve Morse joined in 1994, Purple have been back to their best and are heading towards their 40th anniversary. You can see just how good they are in April when they play Britain on their Rapture Of The Deep tour.
SFTW met Gillan and drummer Ian Paice and found them proud of the past and excited about the future. Just don’t call them “heavy metal”.
SFTW: Ian Paice, you’re the only surviving member of the original band — are you the boss?
Paice: If you’re Paul McCartney and Wings or Count Basie and his orchestra then you’re the boss, but we’re a group. Each of us have ideas and we need each other to make it work. I can’t make them do anything they don’t want to.!
SFTW: You’re touring all the time — how do you do it?
Gillan: It’s the other way round, If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be able to. If you’re a singer after 40 it’s particularly difficult because your voice box changes unless you keep it trained. With regard to my trademark screaming, I think Child In Time would put me in a hospital now! The notes are still available but not for as long.
SFTW: You have a massive repertoire. How do you choose what to play?
Gillan: First you don’t do requests, that’s the day you decide to pack up. Seriously, though, there is a formula. A lot of material is historical and engrained in older fans’ memories and it’s also the classic stuff new fans have trained up on.
So, of course, we do Smoke On The Water, Space Truckin’, Black Night. What keeps it all alive is the fact you make a new album every couple of years so you have to bring in some of that stuff. That’s like changing your diet.
You always have the basic food but you change the accessories and that makes it worthwhile. Plus it’s contemporary. You feel good about it. So you find which one of those tracks is compatible with the old songs.
Paice: Every time we start a tour we have this idea about putting three different shows together — act A, act B, act C — to try to rotate the songs. A lot of people go to more than one show. So you try and play as many songs as possible. What happens is you get a natural selection and you find that Act B is better than A or C and you end up with a set of songs that work well together. You my alter it but once you get it right, you say: “This feels good we’ll do this one”.
Gillan: Some things don’t work. There’s always a request for Flight Of The Rat (from Deep Purple In Rock) but it sounds horrible, so dated. It just doesn’t lend itself to where the band is now. The other element is the improvisation and that keeps it fresh. Reviewers who look at the set lists, say, “Bloody hell, they did the same show they did last night’.
But of course it isn’t. The set list’s the same but the performance is entirely different and if they checked the times they’d see one is an hour 40, the other is two hours ten — half an hour’s difference.
SFTW: Ian G, how difficult was it leaving Purple in 1973 at the height of their powers, then seeing your band continue with David Coverdale?
Gillan: The leaving was sad, particularly as I wasn’t really sure why I was doing it. I bought the records Burn and Stormbringer with David Coverdale on board — I still have them today — but I couldn’t play them. At the last minute something told me that it would be like watching my Ex making love to someone else.
SFTW: How difficult was it deciding to reform the classic MkII line-up with Ritchie in 1984, then rejoin in 1992 even though Ritchie had kicked you out?
Gillan: ’84 was easy because there was still a spark of desire and an element of mutual respect, and that resulted in the record Perfect Strangers. Rejoining in ‘92 was an entirely different matter though; we struggled for a while until Ritchie left a few months later.
SFTW: What were the main personality differences between you and Ritchie?
Gillan: Well, I have to be honest, the main personality difference between me and Ritchie was that I was terrific and he was a tw*t. Seriously, though, Ritchie was my room mate for the first year. He had a great sense of humour — very dark humour but, nevertheless, he made us laugh. There was no love / hate thing. But Ritchie did have dominant tendencies and I don’t like being shoved around, so I guess it was inevitable that our relationship would not flourish in a positive way.
SFTW: The band seem very happy and stable now compared to the old days.
Gillan: Yes, it’s part of growing up really. You can prepare for everything else during your formative years — how to be a musician, how to write songs even. But you can’t ever be prepared for success and it takes a while to adjust to it particularly when you are in your mid-20s and you have money coming out of your ears. Then you drift apart and soon it’s separate hotel rooms.
And all of a sudden you have big-time management coming in and you suddenly realise it’s a different world, a brutal world. And you start building walls around yourself and becoming defensive and you can’t do that as an artist. You preserve and pickle whatever it was that was good and try to go through life with that. And that’s no good, it doesn’t work. So things change. Things fall apart. The band broke up and when we came back (for the 1984 reunion) we weren’t quite the same people.
Paice: If you don’t take any crap on stage playing music is real easy. The trouble comes if you take the day’s problems, whether it’s business or personal or your breakfast wasn’t right. If you take that s*** on stage with you don’t play right. The audience know if someone’s going though the motions the same as if they are giving 100 per cent.
SFTW: Was that the difficulty with Ritchie?
Paice: Ritchie used to let the day’s problems go onstage with him for whatever reason. He’s a very emotional man. And towards the later years he became a more concentrated version of himself and he became very difficult to work with. I won’t say anything bad about him because he was so incredibly important to the formation and the life of Deep Purple.
SFTW: The band seem to be working hard to make up for those times when Purple had problems. Is that a fair assessment?
Gillan: I think we always try to. When you’ve been near death you value every second of your life and Deep Purple was approaching death in 1993. Audiences were falling off, we were playing 4,000-seaters with barely 1,200 / 1,500 people in them. That was definitely going to be last tour. Then, fortunately, Ritchie walked out, the sun shone again and we all said: “OK, we’ll give it one more shot”. So, yes, we are grateful for that chance.
SFTW: What has Steve Morse brought to the band?
Gillan: He’s brought Steve Morse. No matter what your skills the most important impact you can have on a group is through your personality. Steve is an amazing writer/player, he still practises for six hours a day — on show days too.
SFTW: There have been a lot of people in Purple over the years.
Gillan: I’ve got this thing that (musicologist) Pete Frame did for a BBC programme called the Deep Purple family tree. And this guy came along and said, “It’s not a tree it’s a f***** jungle”. And it is too with all the connections to the band.
SFTW: You tour Eastern Europe a lot — there seems to be a great deal of affection for you there.
Gillan: As far as he Eastern Bloc is concerned, or behind the Iron Curtain as it was known, our music was forbidden. I’ve spoken to many people who learned their English from forbidden albums by bands like Deep Purple. They understood what Child In Time was about (the Cold War) and that there were kids on the other side of the Berlin Wall who felt the same as they did.
I met a guy who did three years in jail for possession of Deep Purple In Rock — I thought he should have got a little longer myself (laughter). He jumped up on stage and gave me such a hug he nearly killed me. Three years in jail is a long time for having a record. So you realise how oppressive it was.
SFTW: Do you find the record industry disheartening?
Gillan: It’s short-sighted. They should have embraced the digital revolution. All the creative people I knew in the studios — managers, producers writers — were thrilled when this whole thing came along. We all had this vision of the great jukebox in the sky; how great it would be to download movies, anything, how great it would be. The industry itself saw this as a threat. Instead of embracing it, they fought it. There are a lot of people in this business I have a lot of time and respect for. But there are a lot of people who have no respect for music.
There was a meeting at AOL/Time-Warner, which a friend of mine was at. And the great Ahmet Ertegun from Atlantic Records — one of the great record company guys, what a history — was summoned because he hadn’t spent his budget for the previous year. They were going to cut next year’s budget and he was trying explain to them that sometimes he invested it, sometimes he saved it, so he could work on an artist he was nurturing. Anyway, he was told, just a buy a yacht just spend it. And there were these two blokes who had just joined the board and one said about Ertegun: “Who the f***’s that guy?” And the other said: “I don’t know, some sort of content provider”. That pretty much summed it up how much interest these mega corporations have.
We started out as an underground group. But you get successful and you are expected to behave a certain way. To some extent you have to embrace change otherwise you die, which we have done internally. But the music business machine is very unforgiving.
Paice: We gave up trying to make videos years ago. If we spent £2million making the best video ever they wouldn’t play it, so why waste £2million? There was a Kasabian single with an amazing video. The music was OK but I don’t think people would have taken quite so much notice if the video hadn’t been so good. So we gave up being worried or concerned with MTV or any of the TV music stations 15 years ago. That’s difficult because it’s a great way to put your product in front of people. If you’re not 18, or younger, or a rap artist, it’s a waste of time, waste of money. When we started our success grew out of word of mouth and it’s still that now.
SFTW: Why are your generation considered magical? Why have the musicians lasted so long?
GILLAN: Long-lasting is easy to understand we had no aspirations to be celebrities. There were some great characters and personalities who were naturally funny and became celebrities — the Keith Moons and the John Lennons.
You see them in any school in any office. People say to me, “How can I be a rock star?” I say, “Get a haircut, look in the paper, see what people are wearing, make a video, whatever. But if you want to be a musician . . . that’s something different. I can give you loads of advice and it’ll be a good friend to you”.
We understood the value of working. We had to pass the auditions before we were allowed to play on the BBC. It kind of sucks but in a way it was about professionalism — you don’t screw up. You’re there on time for rehearsals, you don’t get drunk on stage. Although there was time when we did because we thought we were immortal!
As far as the magic of it, the stars were just right politically. It was the post-war generation. We were encouraged to be creative, there was a lot of rebuilding to do, rebuilding society. And of course there was (amplifier maker) Jim Marshall and the electric guitar. Those other bits of the music business that don’t get talked about.
Paice: It’s amazing that any rock ’n’ roll band manages to last five years, ten years is amazing. We’re looking towards our 40th year. We play music most of which was created ten or 15 years before most of our audience was born but they are finding something in us they are not finding in their own generation. It’s impossible to analyse why but maybe it’s because if you listen to those wonderful records from the 60s and 70s they are human. They have little discrepancies, little faux pas but you can hear the room in which it was recorded, hear the air, feel the people recording it. Most modern records are so technically perfect and clinical pieces of studio creation and sometimes you don’t connect with the people playing on it. They’re too perfect, they’ve lost their humanity.
When kids hear a Hendrix record for the first time, with all its aggression and its outrageous freedom, or they hear the glory of The Beatles’ tunes and the sheer musicality of it, it’s got something they can’t get from listening to Radio 1 or watching MTV any more. OK, so the music got a bit bombastic in those days but you did get bands like Zeppelin and Purple and you could let your imagination go where it wanted. There was no little man in a suit saying it was no good because it didn’t sound like the last hit record you had. And, we were also given the freedom to see where it would take us. I don’t think it will ever come again. And music isn’t that important today in the way it was to our generation. I also think it was down to the country we were born in. Had I been born in 1948 in Romania I’m sure my life would have been totally different!
SFTW: What creates the Deep Purple sound?
Gillan: We’ve all brought very disparate styles into the band — folk, classical, blues, rock, opera, jazz. Ian Paice grew up the Buddy Rich school of music — big band swing.
Paice: All the classic rock and roll bands of that period were all guitar dominated. Purple was a mixture of keyboards and guitars, so it was a different sound. There have been bands where there was one virtuoso, maybe two, but not everyone in the band and we’ve never lost that. We’ve never allowed anyone less than the best into this little family of ours.
SFTW: The song-writing credits are very democratic.
Paice: It went through a period where it got a bit “selective” but the best music we ever created was done with everyone’s input and nobody saying this is mine. Most of what we create comes from jamming.
You have a tape machine running and you go on for a couple of hours, messing around and then you say there was a bit about an hour in that was good and you find it and you work on that. So it comes from nothing — just a couple of you playing. It isn’t planned it’s just having fun. And every now and then you find a piece of magic that makes you smile and go, “Now that’s all right”. Then it’s added to and embellished by the other guys joining in and nobody knows who wrote what. Democracy of publishing is very good for a band because it means everyone stays on a similar financial level.
SFTW: Any advice for bands today?
Gillan: I could give plenty of good notions based on experience to aspiring musicians — such as how to get the best out of your skills and avoid the more obvious pitfalls. But if you just want to be famous, then all I can do is wish you luck; it’s probably too late for advice.
Nothing at all wrong with good PR; you must let people know what you have got on offer. But if you build up an enormous wave of hype then it’s almost inevitable you’re going to struggle in the rip.
SFTW: Do you get turned on by anything you hear today.
Gillan: I realise how patronising it was when I heard my parents’ generation say they love Elvis, I really resented that. He didn’t belong to them. There’s a kind of exclusivity about each generation’s music. You may see it’s got talent but you’ll never understand it. What I look out for is good pop music, I suppose. I grew up in the era of Dusty Springfield, Small Faces and the Kinks, great stuff like that.
So it was very refreshing to me to hear a new generation of bands that were coming along last year that weren’t necessarily given birth to from that Zeppelin, Sabbath, Purple era. When I heard the Kaiser Chiefs I thought they were f****** brilliant. I new nothing about them because I hardly spend any time in England, I’m always on the road. But I saw them on MTV and heard them on the car radio.
SFTW: What do you think of X Factor and the way it makes “stars”, then quickly forgets them?
Gillan: It is beyond my comprehension and has nothing to do with real original talent. Imagine a band entering the competition with, for example, the young Elvis Presley on vocals, Jimi Hendrix on banjo, Keith Moon as batteur and Jack Bruce on bass.
They wouldn’t get past the village hall auditions because they don’t fit the shallow, dated profile that exists in the stupid heads of these gobby panelists and TV’s insatiable but self-devouring lust for content. It’s all here today, gone today so what do they expect?
Paice: It’s too easy to be a celebrity now — too easy to be successful, too easy to make records. So we have a lot of nonentities showing up who are around for three months then disappear. It’s a whole world from chuck-away food to chuck-away entertainment. And when people say the quality’s not very good, what do they expect? You’re picking out kids who maybe have spark of talent but they are being obliterated by the industry before it’s got a chance to blossom. They lose interest and maybe another Paul McCartney just ends up working in a factory somewhere because he thinks, “Nah, this is horrible”.
SFTW: You’re a big Elvis fan, did you ever meet him?
Gillan: I couldn’t bear to. I think he was a very decent bloke but surrounded by sycophants. He lost it after coming out of the army and making these crap movies. I couldn’t bear all that. It seemed he’d lost his integrity. And it was a lesson to me to avoid all those traps. But you’ve got to hear the voice and not look at that stupid rhinestone suit that made a mockery of everything he did. In fact, I’m doing a radio documentary on his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. I have a few questions that need answering ...
SFTW: What do you think of Blackmore’s Night (the guitarist’s current solo project in which he dresses up in costume to play medieval music)?
Gillan: I think Ritchie’s wasting his time. I know he’s always loved medieval music. He always used to play Greensleeves and he is eccentric. He spent a lot of time playing with Screaming Lord Sutch and I think some of it rubbed off. He’s an amazing guitar player, a phenomenal, articulate player - just incredible. And I think a lot of fans would like to hear him lay rock’n’roll again. But he’s found a niche that keeps him happy and as far as I’m concerned, if he’s happy we’re all happy.
Paice: I don’t think it’s what he should be doing. I think he can write a devastating rock’n’roll album. He’s a master of creating riffs. If he had the urge to do it I’m sure he could do it tomorrow. But whether he’ll ever let the monster out again, I don’t know. Good luck - but to me it’s the waste of a really great rock’n’roll guitarist.
SFTW: What do you think of the term heavy metal?
Gillan: Well I’ve been called a lot of things over the years; some of them not too pleasant. But, heavy metal is a term that is just unintentionally clumsy. It induces anything from a raised eyebrow to mild nausea in most of the musicians I know. However it is nowhere near as offensive or irritating as the equally unintentional — but much more damaging — knell of death known as “classic rock”.
SFTW: Ever get bored playing Smoke? (Do you ever get bored being asked if you get bored playing Smoke?)
Gillan: Take a wild guess. Put yourself in my position. No, it’s like there’s an untamed stallion or a high-powered motorbike parked outside. I can just jump on board and take off — feel the wind rush through my hair. Pavarotti told me he was jealous of me. We were doing Nessun Dorma together at his annual fundraiser and he said: “I have heard you sing (Smoke) many times now and every time it is different; not a lot, but just different enough for it to be interesting, no matter how many times you sing it.
With Nessun Dorma I have to be technically exact with every performance — any deviation from the accepted classical delivery and I would be crucified. I am jealous, you are a lucky man.’ In fact the song is now public property and the audience — being the sixth member of the band — looks forward to it every night.
SFTW: Is it true you invented head banging?
Gillan: That’s a definite possibility; I was quite an enthusiastic head banger. It was not really head banging — more hair floating. I discovered if I moved my head in a certain way it created a contra-dynamism of the old Barnet Fair; I had no idea until I saw some pictures.
In fact I hadn’t much idea about anything because my hair obscured my face almost entirely. Another thing about which I had no idea was my nickname at the time. I was known as “The Nose” because — apparently — that’s all of my face that was normally visible.
SFTW: Tell us how you chose the musicians and material for your solo retrospective Gillan’s Inn.
Gillan: Well, the idea was to put together some sort of 40th anniversary album, because my manager said it was about time I did it. And so I made a few phone calls, sent some emails, and got a fantastic response. Within 20 minutes, Joe Elliot came back and said “I’ll be there, count me in, mate”. So Joe Elliot, from Def Leppard, Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath, who I was with for a year, we ended up recording Sabbath’s Trashed with Ian Paice and Roger Glover, so it was a kind of Black Purple version of it!
Joe Satriani was with Purple for a year after Ritchie left in 1993, Janick Gers from Iron Maiden who was in the Gillan Band, so once I got the list of musicians all of the songs became sort of self-selective. And there are selections from most parts of my career.
SFTW: Are Purple planning a follow-up to current album, Rapture Of The Deep?
Gillan: I know it sounds peculiar but no, we don’t have any plans. We never make recording plans, never have done, except at the last minute of course — to book a flight or something. However I’m sure we’ll all turn up at a studio one day at the end of the tour, put on the kettle, then make some polite enquiries about the prospects of Sunderland, QPR and Notts Forest, before going mental for five weeks, by which time we shall have a new record and the basis for another two-year tour. I love it!
SFTW: And, finally, how do Purple now compare with Purple then.
Gillan: I can only give you a subjective comparison. We’ve had some ups and downs but I think we’ve done pretty well; while the personnel has changed a bit, we NOW have the most settled line-up ever — and we still have sixty per cent of the THEN.
Interview © The Sun, 2007. With thanks to Simon Copeland.
Photos © Martin Ashberry & EMI