Gary James' Interview With Ian Gillan Of
Deep Purple




Ian Gillan is the lead singer for one of the most popular bands to ever come out of England, Deep Purple. Deep Purple's latest CD is titled "Now What?!" Ian Gillan spoke with us about that CD and so much more.

Q - I actually saw Deep Purple in concert at the War Memorial in Syracuse, N.Y. in March, 1974. That was the Burn tour. Next day in the Syracuse newspapers the reviewer goes on about the great vocals of Ian Gillan. Problem is, you weren't with the band then. David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes were in the band. That's when I thought, "So much for critics."

A - (Laughs). Exactly. Well, strangely enough we used to have a similar thing. Basically they were the sex, drugs and Rock 'n' Roll of the industry. They used to come to the shows and we noticed a few mistakes in the set lists and things like that. We knew what they were up to. They were just hanging out in the bar, partying with the girls. So, they'd write a review for a show they'd never seen. Then they started getting cheeky and asking for the set list, so we'd start giving them a set full of mistakes. (Laughs). So, I'm ahead of you on that one. I know what you're talking about.

Q - This is an interesting title for your CD, "Now What?!" To me, Deep Purple has achieved everything a Rock group would hope to achieve. So, your plans are what? To tour behind this CD?

A - Well, we really haven't stopped touring. We tour regularly, between 30 and 50 countries every single year. We've never really stopped. Actually, the inflection in your voice was not quite right when you said "Now What?!" It's more "Now WHAT?!" More of a grumpy, didn't want to be interrupted kind of response to constant prodding about making a new record. So yes, touring will be very much on the agenda. We kick off in Morocco, then up into Europe and Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Iceland, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, UK. I think we're doing South America and Japan this year (2013).

Q - Other than that, it's a pretty slow schedule.

A - Yeah. (Laughs) We generally do five cities a week.

Q - You're really on the move! A few years ago I interviewed Pete Agnew of Nazareth and he was talking about playing Russia and the Ukraine. He mentioned that Deep Purple also played there. I take it that's a major market for Deep Purple.

A - Well, it's no more than Germany, Austria, Switzerland or the other countries. It's just that it's come onto the scene in the last ten to fifteen years. I remember playing in the Soviet Union while the so-called Iron Curtain was still up and while it was still an adventurous thing. I didn't go there with Purple. I went with my own band and did some extensive touring there. It's when I first heard of people being arrested for being in possession of Deep Purple records. A guy in Poland and a guy in East Germany both went to jail for being caught. Those are the kinds of things that come out years later. It's quite exciting now that they're back in the open world. That's one of the great things about music, it's great cultural influence. Most of the kids in the Soviet Union learned to speak English, through listening to the lyrics of Rock music.

Q - I didn't know that. Where did they listen to the music?

A - On illicit turntables. Secretly. It was forbidden. You had to get permission in triplicate if you wanted to play them and then they were only allowed under supervision for discussion and to point out the terrible ways of the West. (Laughs)

Q - Do people think Russia is going to Hell because of the influence of Rock music on their culture?

A - No, not really. I think that one of the things that became so open was unrecognized. The kids in the Soviet Union and the Republics in the Warsaw Pact countries of those days realized by listening to this music and understanding the lyrics. To the kids on the outside, we're exactly like them, but hold their politicians in contempt and didn't like at all the way things were being handled. So what happened is, there's a great friendship. Same happened to the world with Germany and the UK. It was this amazing new start. Great friendships were made. I still have wonderful, enduring friendships with people I've bonded with back in the mid-'60s. Quite incredible.

Q - Thank God for that! Where would The Beatles have been if they didn't go to Hamburg, Germany?

A - Well, that's a good point. That's a very good point. Germany was ready to embrace change. Obviously the circumstances were conducive, but they embraced it with all their heart and soul. They wanted to make friends. It's very simple really, but politicians don't get it most of the time.

Q - On this CD, and correct me if I'm wrong, every guy in the group gets songwriting credit.

A - Up until the late '60s, the traditional songwriting credit of publishers was whoever wrote the tune, the melody and whoever wrote the words, the top line and the lyric. That was the only thing that was copyrighted. You couldn't copyright a riff. You couldn't copyright a chord sequence. You couldn't copyright the opening bar for "Smoke On The Water" for example. You could only copyright the tune and whatever the singer did basically. We pioneered. We broke all the rules, Deep Purple, and we included as it was obvious, our band made music first before the songs. So, we included the drummer and the bass player and everyone else and we were the first to do so. The Beatles still credited whoever put pen to paper and top line lyric, but we found it much more inclusive to do it the other way and we included the producer in this one too. But that's how we've always done it. Never a word is written before the band gets into the studio. Nothing is written down. No ideas are brought forward. Everything emerges from jam sessions. We start at noon every day and finish at six, day after day. Little ideas kind of spin out and we sit down and see how they can handle an arrangement or see what key they should be in and try to snatch them up with other ideas and they become pieces of music and then on the back of that maybe a song will get written. Primarily Deep Purple is an instrumental band.

Q - The only other group that I recall shared songwriting credit was Led Zeppelin. They of course followed you.

A - Yes. That was the mood at the time. Zeppelin, Purple, Sabbath, Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake And Palmer, we used to drink together. (Laughs). All of these ideas were talked over a few beers.

Q - I don't see any bands coming up that have the musicianship of Deep Purple. Having decades of seeing classic bands go before them and all the technology bands enjoy today, where are today's Deep Purples?

A - That's a very good point. It's a very interesting point. I think the answer to it is quite simply circumstances. The circumstances are not conducive to it at the moment. Let me give an example. When I joined the band in '69, the influences coming in just at the end of our formative years individually, we found that we had a voice and that was Deep Purple. We had a sound and we had a style that was made out of the chemical reaction of the personalities that got together in the rehearsal room. Into that room were brought influences of orchestral composition, Jazz, Blues, Big Band, Swing Folk music, Rock 'n' Roll, Soul, etc. Now a generation or two went by. I heard a lot of bands saying their biggest influences were Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath. Well, it's like homeopathy. It comes to that point what we were having was further dilutions and weren't going to produce much. You don't hear people talking today about being influenced by Marlowe, Chopin and Mozart and Ella Fitzgerald and Fats Domino, the early Delta Blues. All of those things probably aren't high on the learning list of young musicians who probably want to learn how to play by listening to Joe Satriani or Ritchie Blackmore or Steve Morse or Jimi Hendrix. People like that. You're not going to get the depth or the diversity of influences into any combos that get together today or very rarely anyway. But, because it's so genre driven, they would have to be called a Jazz band or a Soul band or a Prongo Rock. What the hell is that? I don't know. Anything more than three chords I guess. People are so freaky on definitions now. It's very hard. There's no lack of talent. It's certainly not that. (There's) much more of it. There is so little of it when we were in our formative years. I remember a kid about 20 years ago, one of the first guitar players I had ever heard. His name was Dave Charmin. He was recommended to me by a DJ in England called Tommy Vance, who died recently. He was kind of a Rock guru on the BBC. I had this guy to my house. I was writing some songs. I said, "Why don't you come over?" He never interacted with another musician. He just sat on his bed listening to his guitar solo heroes and learning how to shred and play virtuoso guitar. I saw him on stage at the Night Of The Guitars. He was a guest. He had never played with a band and it was embarrassing. But, you see he had no lack of talent. He was a master of his instrument, absolutely. But, there's more to it than that.

Q - What do you think of Deep Purple tribute groups? Do you encourage that kind of thing?

A - Well, we don't discourage it, put it that way. We certainly don't encourage it either. It just is. It's the age of "cover" bands and they are all over the place. It's quite amazing who you see the "cover" bands of the bands that actually don't go out, particularly ABBA and Queen 'cause those guys aren't on the road. The "cover" bands are doing major, major gigs. Really big concert halls because I guess people want to get up and see it 'live'. It's a different kind of thing to what we do. It's fascinating. But, we don't encourage it or don't discourage it anymore then I encourage or discourage fan clubs or things like that. We just say thank you very much and you get on with it.

Q - Have you ever seen a Deep Purple tribute act?

A - No.

Q - Back in 1972, Deep Purple did something like six tours of America. Was there anyone around in those days saying, "Hey, this is just too much pressure and too much stress to put on this band?"

A - I don't think it was too much pressure. I don't think it was too much pressure at all. We do much more touring now than we did then. Much more. It's not the touring for sure, because it's the only time you get to be yourself. There's no record company people around. No agents. No managers. No lawyers. No accountants. You're on stage with the audience. That's the only honest time you have. There is a great transition in life to be made psychologically between the day when you're in a semi-pro band and you're managed by someone's uncle and you chose the bass player not because of his musical skills but because he owns a van and this kind of thing. Then you've got a manager who has got a very avuncular way and loves you and takes care of you and protects you. The next minute professionally you're with a band that has some greedy ferret managing the band and cheating you from money and all that sort of thing, and those are the pressures that come into play. You have got to learn to grow up and deal with a voracious industry. But the touring is really a relief, if you're a professional musician. If you are a Pop Star, a recording star and you do TV with the occasional tour, that's a different story. But for a performer you want to be on the road as much as possible.


© Gary James. All rights reserved.


Deep Purple
Photo from Gary James' Press Kit Collection


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