Half a century of rock history written by Deep Purple
BY ANJA FAHS
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2017)
Who can resist humming along to this iconic verse “Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky...”? It’s by Deep Purple and has made them one of the most popular rock bands since their formation in 1968. Their sound – characterised by the Hammond organ, guitar riffs, driving rhythm and striking vocals – makes them one of hard rock’s premier and most influential representatives.
The band’s history has seen numerous fluctuations in terms of band members, as well as various musical reorientations over the years. But it is above all the 1970s that defined their style with hugely-successful albums such as ‘Deep Purple in Rock’, ‘Machine Head’ and ‘Made in Japan’ – featuring some of their most famous songs, including ‘Black Night’, ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Highway Star’.
However, Deep Purple’s music is also characterised by a truly special joy of improvisation. On the one hand, this is reflected in tracks of extraordinary length such as ‘Child in Time’, for example. On the other hand, the band also loves to considerably extend – compared to the studio version – the odd song during live concerts. With songs such as ‘Fireball’, Deep Purple are considered as pioneers of ‘speed metal’ and – as a result of the influence of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore on songs like ‘Burn’, for instance – as the founders of neoclassical metal. In addition to further influences from jazz, funk and soul, the musical spectrum also comprises ballads such as ‘Soldier of Fortune’. From the very outset, Deep Purple have been one of the greatest live acts in rock history and was also a band that went of tour more than most others.
During the past few years, Deep Purple have – thanks to their progressive stance – tapped into new audiences, addressing people who had not even been born when the quintet was already at its zenith. Their countless masterpieces have catapulted the quintet into the premier league of international album and concert ticket bestsellers, with ‘Smoke on the Water’ meanwhile attaining legendary status. In 2013, the band released a further smash-hit album with ‘Now What?!’, which reached the top ten worldwide and went gold. The album sold in excess of 500,000 copies, adding to a total of more than 120 million Deep Purple records world-wide.
Deep Purple was created back in 1967 when London-based businessmen Tony Edwards and John Coletta decided to invest in a rock band. They asked Jon Lord to form a corresponding rock group. At the time, Jon Lord was in a band called ‘Roundabout’ – which also featured guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, bass player Dave Curtiss, drummer Bobby Woodman and lead singer Chris Curtis. In April 1968, Dave Curtiss, Bobby Woodman and Chris Curtis left the group and were replaced by lead singer Rod Evans, Ian Paice on drums and Nick Simper on bass guitar. It is for this reason that Ian Paice is considered a founding member of Deep Purple,
continuing to be a member of the band to this very day.
Legend has it that the rock band chose the name ‘Deep Purple’ following a tour of Scandinavia. In England, ‘deep purple’ is a slang term for the drug LSD, but is also believed to have its origins in the jazz standard ‘When the Deep Purple Falls’ by Peter DeRose. This seems to be supported by the fact that Jon Lord stated in an interview with New Musical Express back in 1973 that he did not regard the band as a vehicle for social rebellion, but more as one for his quest for musical perfection.
Early April saw the release of a new Deep Purple album. Its title is ‘inFinite’, as is the accompanying series of concerts, subtitled ‘The Long Goodbye Tour’. Eight gigs have been confirmed in Germany throughout May and June, offering the opportunity to see Deep Purple – inducted into the ‘Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’ in April 2016 – live once again. Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums), Steve Morse (guitar) and Don Airey (keyboards) come together once more to sound out hard rock’s depths. On ‘inFinite’, they audibly do so without becoming a facsimile of themselves. Therefore, this studio album – number 20 – must be considered one of the finest examples of rock music among all the band’s releases.
With the exception of ‘Roadhouse Blues’, all tracks were written by Don Airey, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Steve Morse, Ian Paice and Bob Ezrin. ‘Roadhouse Blues’ is a cover version of the Doors song. The album features two singles that were released before the LP’s release date. ‘Time for Bedlam’ was made available via YouTube and Spotify back in December 2016 – with ‘All I Got Is You’ following suit last March. Critics have attested that ‘inFinite’ and its individual tracks are of outstanding quality and – due to its ‘harder’ style compared to its predecessor album ‘Now What?!’ – that it is more reminiscent of Deep Purple’s sound in its earlier years. In the first week following its release, ‘inFinite’ reached number one of the German album charts, thereby making it the eighth number one album for Deep Purple in Germany.
Given the fact that the band’s repertoire includes countless classics, speculation is rife among fans both old and new about which songs the formation will bring to the stage. We talked to Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Roger Glover and Don Airey about the creative process behind their new album, the agony of having to select the tracks for their live set and what we can ultimately expect from ‘inFinite – The Long Goodbye Tour’.
Are the upcoming tour and album going to be the last?
Ian Gillan (IG): A decision hasn’t been made on a final gig. We’ll just carry on and see how it goes.
Roger Glover (RG): We’ll be here for at least another two years. This is the plan for our tour and we have a new album. So, our ‘goodbye’ is a little longer than normal. It’s a bit like getting rid of unwanted guests after Christmas.
What was the easiest, what the hardest part of recording ‘inFinite’?
RG: It came out of three or four writing sessions, in which we had a lot of fun. Sometimes, we create a bit of music in these sessions that we think has the potential to become a song.
Ian Paice (IP): The most difficult thing is when you start the writing process, you have lots of ideas. And the first two or three days you ‘bang-bang-bang-bang’. If you have lots of strong ideas, then it gets a little more difficult. Sometimes you accept ideas just because you came up with them, not that they’re particularly good. The hard part is filtering things out at the end. But it’s fun to create music together and to look at each other and laugh. That’s great.
After completing your new album, are there things that you would have done differently looking back?
RG: In a way, whatever we do becomes us – becomes Deep Purple. There’s no specific formula or sound that we’re aiming for. We’re just aiming to please ourselves musically.
IG: It’s all about hearing the chemistry really. When you get a bunch of guys together that have been together as long as us, there’s no category other than Deep Purple for us. It’s like a bunch of guys that meet together in a pub or in the office. You talk about this and you talk about that and it’s always a fresh conversation, even though the theme may be vaguely continuous or connected with the past.
What is the idea behind the title of your current album?
IG: Well, Stephen Hawking once said there was nothing before the ‘Big Bang’. Well, he was obviously wrong, because there obviously was something before the ‘Big Bang’, even though it wasn’t in our understanding. It was metaphysical, which means ‘infinity’ is based on a series of bubbles or whatever. And if this ‘infinity’ does exist, then there is also no beginning. And if there’s no beginning, then we’re not here. People can therefore read whatever they like into the word ‘inFinite’. Especially as it’s broken up into two series of letters.
What do you think: are you more focused today than you were when you started out?
IP: I think when you’re enjoying creating something new you do find a different spirit in it. If the guys in the studio enjoy this new thing, there is also a good chance that the listener will enjoy it, too. It’s simply about being able to connect with people. If I express something artistically but you don’t understand what I am saying, then there’s no connection or communication. But if you understand what I have to say, even if there are no words, then communication works and the artist is successful.
Tell us something about the recording process of ‘inFinite’
Don Airey (DA): We rehearsed long and hard in Nashville for two weeks with Bob Ezrin and a lot of the solos were live. We had a lot of momentum and I think that’s what comes across on the album.
Is Deep Purple more than a band to you?
RG: For me, the band is my family, but one that is ever-changing. Everything changes in some way.
IP: I just recently looked at a list of all the gigs we’ve ever done. The list offers reading material for several days. It is in moments like this that you realise you’re looking at your life. It’s a very fortunate life, but it does require a great deal of sacrifice from your family and your freedom. But on the other hand, it’s a kind of destiny. It feels like you didn’t choose that life, it chose you. And you end up being where you are, having experienced a series of minor miracles, but also scrapes and fights. And somehow all these experiences roll into one. It’s all part of what you’ve become. All this flows into our music and lyrics.
Let’s talk about the difficulty of simplicity in music.
IP: The hardest thing to do is to create a piece of music like ‘Smoke on the Water’. Simplicity is difficult, getting to the heart of something in a simple way. That is simultaneously the nonsense of it. In contrast, complexity is easy, because you’re unconditionally free and can do whatever you want.
What makes a song great?
RG: A good song to me is something that surprises me. There’s so much music out there, even some great music. But once you’ve heard a verse and the corresponding chorus and you know what’s coming next, it kind of loses its interest for me. Which is why I don’t listen to a lot of, you know, current pop or hard rock. Above all, I listen to a lot of diverse, different kinds of music, because I want to be stimulated by music, not just entertained.
DA: I think Ray Charles hit the nail on the head by saying: “It’s something that, from the first two or three bars, you know it.” It’s striking a chord, a common chord with people. I mean that’s what The Beatles did. Although I don’t really understand how they did it, it’s what they did. They connected with every single person with their music.
Is there something left from the ‘wild 1970s’ in Deep Purple?
RG: It’s a different world now and we are also not what we used to be. For us, back then it was just life. In contrast, the bands of the 1980s and 1990s partially imitated life. As a result, life became a kind of stereotypical lifestyle choice. We just did what we wanted to do. However, looking back you realise that it was a magic time – not wild in that sense.
IP: The great thing about that time was we had no machines or special technology. And we had a lot more time to do fun stuff.
And 2017 is now the start of ‘The Long Goodbye Tour’?
IP: That’s the interesting thing now, finding out which one of these new songs works in a stage environment.
IG: I think probably of all the things that we do, I think that the most challenging is putting together a good stage set, to ensure it remains attractive for the audience. We never used to do what we thought people wanted us to do, on the contrary. We always did what pleased us and what made us feel good. If you do something with all your heart and soul, really think you’ve got a good set and you’re happy about it, then that transmits itself to the audience. Hopefully it always has done and I hope it will continue to go that way.
DA: If you’re a new band it’s really easy: you play your album. This is going to be our twentieth. The pressure’s different, we have to select very carefully, and that’s tough.
IG: And there’s also the ‘magic ingredients’, where suddenly two songs just blend together. And then you get the flow and the dynamics are created. Because you’ve also got to have dynamics in a show.
Picture credits © earMUSIC, credit Jim Rakete