[% META title = 'Ian Gillan, Interviews' %]
From Kerrang #22 Aug 12-25 1982 entitled "If I Were A Carpenter" (cont.)
The day after our conversation Gillan the man and Gillan the band were heading eastwards to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Manila. The plan was simple enough in theory: to play a couple of shows in each place in venues ranging from six to 40,000 seaters, the largest being the hall in Manila which housed one of the Ali/Frazier confrontations ('the thriller in...'), but in practice it resulted in much protracted, often bizarre negotiation.
"First of all you have to submit the programme you're going to do to the Ministry Of Culture who check all the lyrics to make sure you haven't got any subversive traits. Then you have to send over press clippings, both domestic and international, and they have them translated as well, and when they've okayed all that they look at your picture. We got this message back saying that we'd been approved for Kuala Lumpur and that they were going to rubber-stamp our visas, but just one last thing and that's *'none of the band boys' hair must fall on their shoulders though they will be allowed to pass through customs if they tie it up or wear a hat to conceal it'."
This regulation, stringent though it may be, was of little concern to gloss-top John McCoy but Ian, feeling that he might *just* have a problem, has his moves already plotted.
"As soon as we land I'm gonna freak out my hair and have it going straight up in the air," he confides, determined not to suffer the fate of manager Phil Banfield who decided that a Samson special was the only sure way to gain entry. Drastic stuff, you'll agree.
This initial rigmarole aside, however, the more obscure Eastern countries can prove something of a haven for rock 'n' roll bands. The poverty, reflected in the fact that 75 per cent of the tickets for the shows are virtual giveaways at 35 pence each, is a none too pleasant reality but the prevailing attitude to rock music, a good deal less cynical and blase than in the West, does something to balance this out.
"There's a wonderful sense of innocence about the whole thing," says Ian, "it's highly motivating. You don't have to be too guarded with what you say. You can talk to people and tell them honestly how you feel, which is what I try to do anyway, but half the time with Western media people you feel there's a kind of entrapment thing going on. There's this deep suspicion of the music business as a whole."
It's not surprising, therefore, that Ian hasn't picked up a music paper in well over a year. He used to leaf through them at one point but, harking back to the aforementioned cynicism, he feels that they're no longer doing enough to support and nurture British rock bands. As far as he's concerned the latter are the best in the world, though he's less complimentary about British jazz and, in particular, British brass and string sections on the general session circuit. Having had a great many in his Kingsway studio over the past 10 years they've become something of a personal bete-noire.
"They're highly unionised and highly boring; their attitude is *pathetic.* They turn up, sit down, open their *Playboys,* wait for the MD to arrive then run through it. They eventually get it, it's in time *just,* in key *just,* but it's done with not an ounce of feeling. Atrocious..."
By the time you read this the band should have completed their Eastern dates and Ian will either be attending business meetings in the States (his albums have still to be released there though he's toured the country a handful of times with Gillan and 32 times overall!), or ensconced at his studio producing a Finnish group called Zero Nine. That should keep him busy until August 21 and Gillan's debut Donington appearance, a second on the bill slot to Quo though it's likely that his name will lure as many into the festival mire as the headliners, after which he's off to Europe for 15 shows in Italy -- under canvas.
"The Italians go completely apeshit," he says, with a hint of relish. "When they walk out they leave the halls completely bare, they go crazy, so the promoters find the best way to keep the damage down is to hold the gigs in circus tents. I love playing them, I suppose it's a romantic thing in a way."
Boisterous ebullience isn't the sole preserve of fiery-veined Latins, however. Following John McCoy's production activities with a Yugoslavian band of unpronounceable title, the country has elevated him to folk hero status and far from sedate 'Slavs roar Gillan on with a manic, if somewhat passe, fervour. Ian recounts his exploits there with an air of disbelief.
"The time before last we were playing to some 8-9,000 people in an indoor Wembley-type arena, it was a televised gig, and there was one group of kids down the front who'd obviously just received the 1976 *Melody Maker* and learnt that spitting was the latest thing. They were standing there gobbing all over me and I don't like being spat at under any circumstances. They were laughing and joking but I was going 'watch it, I'm gonna have you', cos there was phlegm flying everywhere, it was foul.
"Anyway, there was about a six foot gap between the stage and the barrier and in the end I just leapt across and into the audience. I got the fellow responsible but the next thing I know the music's stopped and there's this big punch-up going on down the front -- we're all slugging away, the crowd's cheering and the cameras are zooming in. It was ridiculous. It turned from a rock concert into a brawl, and just that very evening someone had asked us if we ever have any trouble at our concerts and we'd say: 'no we get no fights at all'...just the ones I start!"
Clearly there was nothing amiss with the Gillan constitution on that occasion but there've been times when his performance onstage has been blighted by illness. At the start of the last British tour, for example, he was struck so low that he could barely remember the lyrics.
"Well, you can pick up various bugs in your system which lie dormant until they're triggered off either by 10 nights of debauchery or a simple thing like a cold, but I've just had a complete check-up and been passed fully fit; even my hearing's grade one, believe it or not."
This finding is actually something of a vindication for Ian, giving him the chance to say 'I told you so', to one of the top ear specialists in the country. The latter assured him some time ago that prolonged exposure to a full-tilt Marshall blaze would inevitably make lip-reading a necessity and, while the aural efficiency of Lemmy and Ted (what?) Nugent would seem to bear him out, Ian remains unmoved.
"I can hear things only dogs should hear," he claims proudly. "I think rock music might damage your ears if you don't listen to it regularly because sometimes it's brutal, when everyone's whacking it out it's like a body blow. But I've got this theory that if you know when it's gonna happen there's probably some kind of muscle in the ear that tends to move it about. After playing with consistently loud groups -- I mean they're consistently quiet as well but when they're loud they're *very* loud -- I can hear everything."
While 'Smoke On The Water' looks sure to hold its place in the Gillan set ("I can't imagine doing a show without singing 'Smoke'"), it's clear that following the release of 'Magic' some of the older songs will have to be eased out to make way for the new material. The set could, of course, be extended but as far as Ian's concerned 90 minutes is the optimum length of time for a band to be onstage.
"I've thought about this for years," he says. "Any less and you're not doing it properly and any more...it's all very well that American fellow playing for four hours, I forget his name..."
"Yeah, that's the one, but rock music for me is so physical it's not true. And I don't mean jumping up and down, I just mean pushing everything outside from the inside. That's the delivery required of rock music from my point of view. If I'm not crawling away on my hands and knees after a gig then I haven't done it right."
Early in his career, with Episode Six, Ian found himself playing stints of four and seven minutes on a Dusty Springfield/Alan Price 'package show', but with Deep Purple it was almost always an hour and a half onstage.
Today, a reunion on the boards for a similar length of time would certainly provide the Mk II personnel with a good deal more than their early seventies income and, while the thought has often crossed Ian's mind, there are no plans he's aware of to get the band back together.
"If it did happen, it would have to be a totally spontaneous thing decided by the guys in the band. It's not something business men or record companies could put together because then it would be garbage, rubbish. And it would have to be brilliant -- the pride alone would see to that. If everyone got together and thought 'bloody hell, what's going on here, he's changed, look at the state of him', then I think we'd quietly shrink off somewhere and carry on with what we were doing. Who's to say, it might happen one day, I don't know."
In the meantime, however, the Purple name, or rather legend, continues to be milked for all it's worth. Compilations, re-releases and a great deal of material rejected by the band has already been nudged onto the market and another LP, 'Live In London', a BBC recording from 1974, is already on the way.
"Those things are put together by a bunch of prats who have no idea what it meant to us all. It's terrible, though I wouldn't mind quite so much if they sent me a cheque now and again. I haven't had a penny from the Deep Purple organisation since 1973 -- no, that's not strictly true, I've had £70 a month which is a life insurance thing."
Despite this tight-fisted attitude, though, Ian's managed to keep his bones fairly well covered (a touchy subject not to be entered into here), and build a post-Purple career that continues to go from strength to strength.
"Money's always just come to me as a result of something I've done," he explains, "If I didn't enjoy what I was doing then I'd be a carpenter. I love working with wood, I love the feel of it, and I make a lot of my own furniture and things like that."
Though certainly not the only reason, money, or rather lack of it, was clearly an important factor in the departure of Bernie Torme who, along with his band, The Electric Gypsies, will play below Gillan at a one-day festival in Belgrade in early September. "Yeah, I think that probably was one of the reasons he left," admits Ian, "but we were making a loss so it would have been unreasonable to pay anybody any more. We all get the same in every respect, we're on a five-way split, and basically we were showing a loss individually though we were gradually moving into the profit area. "Now Bernie's running his own band, though, he can see where all the money goes. I know he said that to Phil Banfield. It's the realities of life, y'see. We don't deal in beads, we deal in cash -- or credit cards -- and over the last few years it's been hard to survive." One way to make it easier, of course, would be for Ian to sell his house in Pangbourne, near Reading, and head for the warmer, wallet-sparing climes of the nearest tax haven. It's a proposition that brings the wryest laugh of the afternoon. "The track record speaks for itself. The most damaging thing you can do as an artist is move out of your natural environment and into a false, artificial one which is what most tax havens are -- totally non-creative and totally crippling." He downs the remains of a third pint. "The real wealth, not the riches, lies in the satisfaction of your art.