Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Is not everyday that one gets to talk to a legendary rock icon. I’ve pondered that question every time we are fortunate enough to get inside the minds of some of today’s’, and yesterday’s legendary rock heroes. On this day in between his morning coffee and he’s sagacious rock star aura; Mr Ian Gillan the legendary front man of Deep Purple took a few minutes to answer some questions from our own Mark Dean. What do you ask a person who has survived the changing of the tides in the rock business? The turning of the page? A figure who has inspired and been part of a musical legacy now for over 45 years, that has swayed and influenced so many? Well good question read on and indulge yourself into the lore that is this pragmatic and not so mundane rock vocalist.
The first single I bought was Gillan’s “New Orleans” when I was 15 yrs old. It was therefore a huge honor for me to recently have the chance to interview Deep Purple vocalist and legend Ian Gillan. Deep Purple are always touring, and was no surprise to have to catch up with Ian via an international call to his hotel room in Belgium.
Myglobalmind: Hi Ian, it’s Mark from Myglobalmind.
Ian”You are a little early, I was just having my coffee but its no problem”
Myglobalmind: Today you are in Belgium on yet another tour. What drives you? How do you still remain focused, enthusiastic and passionate about touring and playing music?
Ian”Well I have been touring since I got my first band in 1962, so there is no problem there. We are basically performing musicians so that’s what we do. It’s really, really exciting up there every night. I get to look forward to it from about lunchtime on show days five days a week. There is no problem maintaining enthusiasm. There is a big challenge up there, you never know quite what is going to happen during a show. It’s is fresh every day, and I am lucky. I am with a bunch of fine musicians and the band is hot, so its a natural state of enthusiasm.”
Myglobalmind: With the sad demise of Jon Lord did you and the rest of the band ever contemplate quitting the music business out of a sense of tragedy and great personal loss?
Why? hasn’t been in the band for over ten years. I think the history of the band pretty much explains that. It didn’t even cross any ones mind.
Myglobalmind: I mean from a personal point of view as Ian Paice,s and Jon’s wife were sisters?
Ian”We were recording at the time, when we heard about Jon. As you say Jon and Ian Paice were married to twin sisters.
It would have been the last thing that Jon would have wanted for us to split up. Jon has been out of the band for a long, long time..No you don’t think about things like that, you just carry on”
Myglobalmind: How do you attempt to explain the high global chart positions of latest album”Who Cares”It has achieved astonishing success all around the globe. Was there anything different song wise or production wise that could possibly account for that?
Ian “I can never ever explain anything that happens in the commercial world. I have no grasp of it or understanding of it, and I have never ever worked in that area. If we have commercial success there is only one explanation that we are in tune with something or other but we don’t know what. We certainly don’t plan it that way, I think people probably take an interest or make an effort. I don’t know.”
Myglobalmind: With the increasing reliance of people on the Internet, is there any misconception that you have read about yourself?
Ian”No, not really. I have heard that my Wikipedia entry is completely incorrect but there again so is everyone else s. I haven’t bothered about that. Internet is a good and convenient device for us for easy communication.It has lots of values. I don’t know really, how relevant it is in terms of making music. Now a days it is very important as far as selling music is concerned. It has two different aspects one of which is very important and one of which is not important at all. That is the side and part of the business that I never really took much interest in, as I mentioned before about commercial values and that sort of thing. We just do what we feel is good. An album represents an artist, or a band, or a group of musicians at any given moment in time. You just produce the music that you feel good about,and hope that the audience shows some interest in it.”
Myglobalmind: Looking back what are you most proud of? A business venture, something musical or your charity work?
Ian”I don’t know, it’s all relative isn’t it? It’s a question of your own perception or how other people see it. I don’t know if pride comes into my life very much, mostly pride is personal to stuff I guess. I haven’t really thought about that. Mm feel good factor? I don’t know there’s a lot of stuff. I think that when you are a kid, you have stuff that is your favorite. You have your favorite, your favorite color…I remember filling in all the questionnaires when I was a young musician. They wanted to know an anecdote and I didn’t have any because I had no experience. They wanted to know your favorite car, your favorite football club, pet, color..actors, favorite musicians…It was quite easy to say who it was but as time goes on you have a more balanced perspective. I am not trying to be evasive but pride..I don’t know.”
Myglobalmind: Have you ever considered reprising your role as Jesus Christ Superstar perhaps on a stage? Or to do something else in theater?
Ian “I have never been on the stage, I have never been in the theater. The only thing that I had to do with Jesus Christ Superstar was the studio album. I played the part of Jesus Christ on the original recording. I was offered the film but I turned it down. I never did the stage performance because quite frankly I am a musician. I have never had any interest in acting at all, if that answer your question. I am not an actor I am a musician. I never liked the idea of being in one place for weeks and weeks maybe months on end.”
Myglobalmind: I read that you agreed to join Black Sabbath after a heavy night out with Tony Iommi. Looking back how do you view the period that you spent with Black Sabbath?
Ian”That was the longest party that I ever went to. That lasted about a year the recording and the tour. I was at a loose end, I had no band and they had no singer. It worked out pretty conveniently for all of us really. Yeah we went out and got smashed one night, Tony, Geezer Butler and I. We ended up under the table and had to be swept out. My manager called me the next day and said if you are going to make career decisions maybe you should give me a call first. I said that I don’t know what you are talking about but apparently I had agreed to join Black Sabbath the night before. It was one of those things and I had a fantastic time. I have great memories of it and I am still in touch with Tony. We do a few bits and pieces together. I’m just following his progress on tour in America at the moment.”
Myglobalmind: Have you had any brushes with death over the years? Any rock and roll stories to tell?
Ian”Not so much on tour, I have written about them on my website a lot. Just the normal things that happen, but not on tour. A few near misses with planes, and have been in a few car crashes and things like that. Nothing to write home about really.”
Myglobalmind: Have you any ambitions as yet unfulfilled?
Ian”Well I can tell you the truth , I never had any ambitions in the first place. All of this has been a joy, it’s been a life of absolute luck and fortune. I have enjoyed every minute of it. Things that have happened have been mostly opportunist. Something has come along and I have made a decision and I have always liked to take the scenic route in life. I am not so keen on the rock+roll highway. If I see something interesting I generally would wander off and take a look, and life’s been good to me. So…ambitions no-I never had any ambitions in the first place. I am just a lucky guy.”
Myglobalmind: How do you attempt to explain the longevity of Deep Purple, and the enduring appeal of the band?
Ian”Basically I think it was the ethos that was laid down by Jon, Ritchie and Ian Paice, and to a certain extent Rod and Nick. Though their style changed back in sixty eight. I think the fact is that it wasn’t just drawn from one source the inspiration of the band. It was the chemistry of the guys that brought into the equation a Jimmy Smith keyboard jazz, orchestral composition, big band swing, country guitar playing and all of those sort of things. Later Roger and I brought in folk music, rock+roll, soul and blues as a combination of influences. It happened during the formative years of the constituent members. I think what happened when they all came together was just that the chemistry was perfect. Don’t forget that the timing was right as well. If that had happened a year earlier or a year later, it might never have happened, because of the other contiguous factors. Like the fact that Jim Marshall was by now building bloody great amplifiers, and the fact that pirate radio had stimulated every ones interest in music instead of the stuffy BBC. They were pompously deciding what everyone could listen to ,and what they couldn’t listen to. The break for freedom, what the Beatles did in terms of giving bands freedom to write their own music. All of those things plus the fact that Pye International started importing American Blues records, rhythm and blues like Chuck Berry. Everything from the Delta Blues up to Chicago that we got our hands on before the Americans did. They had radio apartheid in America. Only white people would listen to white radio stations, and black people would listen to black radio stations. We didn’t even think about that, and we just listened to the music. All of those factors gave a perfect fertile ground for everything that happened in the sixties, the late sixties and early seventies. I think that all of those factors together, along with the chemistry of the human beings in Deep Purple laid some pretty solid foundations or roots that have kept the band going through good times and bad over the years. We have had some bad times too, but it’s kept the band very strong because of those roots that as I say were planted deep.”
Myglobalmind: When you are sitting with the rest of the band to compile a set list before the start of a tour, do you ever feel like dropping some of the songs that you have played many, many times? Tunes like “Space Truckin” or dare I say even “Smoke”, in favor of some others which haven’t featured live for quite some time?
Ian”Well a set list is something that people get interested in who have never seen the show. It’s something that they have to talk about on the Internet. That’s one of the bad things about the Internet people gossip about things that they know nothing about. Unless you are at the show you don’t realize the value of what is going on. Set list is something that evolves over many, many years. On an average night you are playing between ten and twenty thousand people. A large number of those people want to hear certain bits of material. Having said that if I can say this without you getting the wrong end of the stick. We don’t actually think about the audience when we are putting together our show. We don’t think about the audience when we are writing records, or writing songs. That doesn’t mean to say that we don’t respect them. It means that we are not trying to second guess what they want to hear. We play what we want to play, and we write the songs that we like to write and hear. Then we keep our fingers crossed and hope that the audience which is the most important thing actually like them. On the evidence so far we are getting it right as far as the live shows are concerned. It’s very important to get the balance right between material that people have come along to hear especially. For the vast majority of people, many of whom especially at festivals don’t regularly go to concerts and stuff like that. We also like to keep it contemporary so that you have got new material as well. You have also got old obscure material and of course the most important element of all is the improvisation that holds it all together. That changes everything every night. I sang with Pavarotti a couple of times and he said to me one night “Ian I am so jealous of you because I have heard you sing “Smoke on the Water” about six times now (“he came to a couple of shows) and we played it when I was singing with him. He said and “its different every night, if I did that to one of the famous arias that I am known for.”He said that if “I change one syllable or one technical aspect in the slightest they would crucify me”He said but you have got the freedom the tempo changes slightly. Sometimes you are driving it, sometimes you are laid back. The inflections are all different, it depends on the circumstances. We have changed these old songs regularly, at the same time in a story I like to tell. A friend of mine came to two shows, in Frankfurt and Hamburg last year. He said well you did the same set list tonight that you did last night and the show was great. I went to the production manager to give me the timings for the shows last night in Frankfurt it was one hour forty seven minutes, tonight in Hamburg it was two hours thirteen minutes. Now how do you account for the difference if it is the same set list?. It is the music right, it is the improvisation and the stuff that goes on on stage. It is a long answer to your question but it is not as simple as just reading the set list. I never get sick of them or tired of them. Some of them are a real challenge and they always have been very very difficult. So that in itself you feel quite isolated from everything else that is going on for those particular songs that are so difficult and so demanding. You feel a sense of achievement with those anyway almost like an athletic event than the rest of it if it slots into the show. The moment anyone gets fed up, and it does happen and the moment anyone is weary with a song and says”lets change that “it happens. Particularly with the opener that is a very important part of the show, that could be “Fireball” it could be “Highway Star” it could be “Pictures of Home”- it could be anything….”
Myglobalmind: Just a couple of questions to finish off Ian , if I may? With the current modern trend of old bands reforming with original members, would a Gillan reformation be something that you have ever considered-or would even be interested in?
Ian”No , I don’t think so-it is an interesting thought. It hasn’t crossed my mind to be honest because I have a job. I understand what you are saying and I have had a few letters along those lines. The fact is it was a thing of its time and you can never really go back. I enjoyed it thoroughly at the time, it was fantastic but it is good memories.”
Myglobalmind: With Deep Purple, your solo gigs and the Who Cares project is music all encompassing in your life or do you have any outside hobbies or interests?
Ian”Well the glue that holds it all together is the writing of course, and I do spend a lot of time writing. I write every single day. In fact I have my computer set up on the desk by the bed in this hotel room. I was up when it was still dark this morning writing a piece. Just developing ideas and things like that most of the time. That holds it all together. Other things? Well I have a private life of course, not that I see a lot of my family because I am on the road most of the time. I think it works out pretty well. I used to have a workshop full of tools, and I used to like making furniture, I have got a lot of interest in working with wood, but I haven’t done any of that since my daughter grew up. My workshop filled up with all of her stuff, and I cant even get to my bench now (laughs). Apart from that I just like to get out and walk and do a bit of swimming that’s it. I have a keen interest in most kinds of sports. I keep up with current affairs and cultural interests. As we travel so much there is a lot of stimulation from different cultures.”
Myglobalmind: Final question Ian Gillan, what has been the biggest lesson that being in the rock and roll business for so long has taught you?
Ian”Well one of the most important things, that I enjoy because we love performing live, is the touring and the travelling. I was just talking about different cultures, and the effect that has had. We have been lucky people. I remember absorbing all these things and thinking “my god we don’t do this back home like this..”These people believe in doing it that way and this way. You learn very quickly first of all to try not to offend people by behaving in a crass way. Just because you don’t know about it ,is no excuse. There are a lot of things that are offensive to other people that we take for granted., that is just normal behavior. You learn about the more subtle things too, like humility and respect and those sort of things. Just a quick example, you know what people think about bowing. I have heard people saying I would not bow to any man. I have heard Americans say that and I have heard English people say that. Yet when you understand what bowing means to Japanese people. It’s not a question of subservience, or anything to do with that its all about personal dignity and self respect. The fact that you bow to somebody develops your own sense of humility. I have found that to be an absolutely fantastic quality to develop. If you put humility into your life it takes away so many of the other things, I have been struggling with through meditation and other things. I used to be a pretty wild kid before I got into music, and I realized that I could not continue that way if I wanted to be a musician. My early attempts to break free from my rage and my anger was meditation and that worked to a certain extent. When I saw a lot of these other cultures, I realized what humility could bring to you in terms of equilibrium and balance. It was just a fantastic thing. I would say travel and absorbing other cultures. That is just one in a long list of influences that has affected me over my life. I would say that the travel has been the single most important aspect of rock and roll life”
Myglobalmind: I’m over my time, so enjoy your coffee and the rest of your day. Thanks Ian for chatting to me today for Myglobalmind
Ian”OK, nice talking to you. Bye”
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