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Talking Bananas

Ian Gillan, Roger Glover and Steve Morse interviewed by Mark Dorson King in Brussels on August 11, 2003.
Originally published in Le Zine magazine (published in Belgium in French, English & Flemish).

Le Zine: When my wife first heard you sing, she said "Jesus! Who's that?" And I said "Yes, that's right."

Ian Gillan: Ha ha! Not bad.

Roger Glover: He prefers to be known as God these days.

Le Zine: She went on to say, "Singing like that, he won't last long!"

Much laughter, particularly from Roger Glover.

Ian Gillan: If you do something generally a lot, you get better at it.

Le Zine: But seriously, before starting this interview, I went through my record collection and came across a compilation CD of Deep Purple singles on EMI. Amongst those were a number of cover versions and it struck me that you don't do cover versions anymore, whereas on the CD there were superb covers of Hush by Joe South and probably the definitive version of Neil Diamond's Kentucky Woman, one of the few cover versions that beats the original. How come you don't do cover versions anymore?

Ian Gillan: Roger and I weren't in the band at the time, but we were huge fans. We had the first three albums. When they decided that they wanted to be more of a rock band than a pop-rock band, they started looking around for replacements, primarily for a singer and then they asked Roger to join as well because he did a session and they thought he was great. It was a significant moment. It wasn't just a singer and a bass player joining the band, it was a songwriting unit. Roger started writing and inspired me and eventually we started writing together. We played word games and writing games. We joined as a unit and that's what made the radical change in the band. There was a wealth of material that we had at the time and our style arose from our writing and it became a natural vehicle for the way we could start improvising and doing all the other things that the band became famous for.

Le Zine: And the new album, are there any cover versions on it? It is not released until 26 August, so I haven't heard it.

Roger Glover: It's all original songs, except that our producer, Michael Bradford came in with two songs. It's unusual that the band didn't write all of the songs although we all had some input in them. On all our other albums, I can't think of any where the songs didn't come from members of the band. [Too Much Is Not Enough, off Slaves & Master 1991. Rasmus]

Le Zine: Whereas Deep Purple were known to everyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s, many young people are unfamiliar with the band these days.

Ian Gillan: But they've probably never heard of Louis 15th either!

Much laughter all round.

Le Zine: Do you find that it's only people who grew up in the 70s and 80s who are coming to your concerts?

Roger Glover: But there are a lot of young people coming to our concerts not just people who first heard us in the 70's & 80's.

Steve Morse: Definitely not. These days to go to an all-day rock festival, it's only the youngsters who can stand the pace! Only the survivors are those that go and they're not going to be our age. Forty-year-olds don't want to go to rock festivals because they don't want fifteen-year-olds throwing up all over their shoes!

Le Zine: What does your label EMI do to get younger people to buy your records.

Ian Gillan: We've always relied on the Deep Purple fans and our underground movement. We are primarily a live performance band. We've developed this relationship that is all word of mouth. We don't get played on the radio or on MTV. They'll play us on US classic rock stations but they won't play our new stuff, they won't play our records. There's the whole issue of dinosaur rock, wrinkly rockers and ageing rock stars. And yet you get to a point on this new record where everyone's really excited. It's the track called "Haunted" and they've got this song now that they think will get played. And that's what we're trying to do, popping our heads above the parapet and saying "hey, we've got a new record" and we hope it gets played on a lot of radio stations.

Roger Glover: There's something about the thrill of the new and some people don't want to listen to older bands. Kids want their own generation of music and there are a lot of people out there just interested in music and they don't have a lot of preconceptions. It is difficult to get across to them, that we still exist, even to people of our own age. They're more concerned about what you look like. Over the last 20 years, music has become a visual thing. People won't go there because we're old. And yet we sense that the climate is changing and people are interested in coming to see an exciting band. Good is not enough, you must also be exciting. The age thing disappears when they come to a show and most of the response has been wow! and people say it sounds like you could have made this album in the 1970s.

Le Zine: So we're talking about In Rock, Machine Head, Fireball, especially Made in Japan (recorded in 1972) which many consider to be one of the all-time greatest live albums and has certainly stood the test of time.

Roger Glover: It is honest. There is no over-dubbing, no studio trickery. The Japanese record company wanted to do this live album and we said no. You only did a live album if you had nothing else to do. And they said they really wanted to do it and we said we'd only do it if we had complete control and if we didn't like it it would only be released in Japan. We took Martin Birch over there and the record company supplied very basic equipment and we thought nothing much is going to come out of this. So we recorded the three concerts and then came home to England and when the record company played it to us, we were really surprised how good it was. Not just from the performance, but how well it was captured on tape. We wanted it out everywhere because we realised it was a good album. Looking back it captured a moment in the band's history when the band was firing on all cylinders.

Le Zine: It captured the band at its peak…

Roger Glover: But I think Live at Olympia with Steve that we recorded eight years ago was also good and also captured the band at a creative performing peak. It wasn't such a big seller because it's difficult to relive again a period when the band was still new. But it was also honest.

Le Zine: The constant changing of personnel in the band - you are now on version eight…

Roger Glover: It hasn't changed since you came in the room….

Ian Gillan: I don't know - we don't keep track. I think it's something that the accountants use to keep track of who is in the band and who to send the cheques to. People retire, people get married, move away. Steve has been with us for ten years now, since Ritchie (Blackmore) left and it's been a period of great stability. For the last five years since the last record, there came a moment when Jon [Lord] was becoming less enthusiastic and he realised he wanted to do orchestral things and he retired. But we wanted to get back to our rock period. Don was touring with us during Jon's period of disenchantment and he just naturally fitted in.

Roger Glover: I mean the band's been going since 1968, so either the band goes through changes or ceases to be.

Le Zine: In 1967, the Beatles wrote "When I'm 64". In 1968, present company excluded, Deep Purple began their career, there are bands that go on, do one or two tours and then fold. Will you all keep going until you're 64 and what has kept you going, given that in the coming months you'll be playing with Uriah Heap and Cheap Trick?

Ian Gillan: We're not in the slightest bit fragile because we don't rely on the media for our future. We decide what we want to do and we have established phenomenal support all over the world and that's kept us going. The fashionable world is very fickle and we learn't a long time ago, if you're fashionable today, you're unfashionable tomorrow.

Roger Glover: I get insulted if people say I'm too old for this. You wouldn't say that to a jazz musician or a blues musician. They assume that if it's rock it's a young person's thing. Well it was when I started out and I was young then and now I've grown and it's grown up with me. Personal dignity will tell me when to retire.

Ian Gillan: You learn a lot as you get older.

Steve Morse: It is easier for young people to listen to us. They tell me and they write to me and tell me how amazed they are that they like us and can get into our music. They can't figure it out as they're not told to like this music, in fact they're told not to like this music and yet they are telling me over and over again, 'how do you guys do that? Where do you come from? How did this all happen?' and they are all really confused by all of this.

Ian Gillan: I'd just like to add that I haven't changed. My views have changed as I got older but I still lead the rebel life, once I was a gay young blade and now I'm a dirty old man. Actually I was a dirty young man.

Le Zine: Your record label has been re-releasing all of your back catalogue in remixed format with additional tracks and you Roger have been deeply involved in all of this…

Roger Glover: The Anniversary Series.

Le Zine: Yes, and I wondered if there were anymore upcoming.

Roger Glover: Yes, we've made a lot of albums and I think that they all should receive the same treatment although I will not be personally involved in the next three re-releases, Strombringer, Burn and Come Taste The Band as I was no longer in the band at that time, but then I heard a track from Burn on the radio and I thought what a lousy mix that is so I thought maybe I should get involved, maybe I can bring something to the table. So I did go into the studios to mess around with the tapes but after a day I told the engineers that it didn't feel right and I can't put my name to this as I wasn't in the band.

Le Zine: But all of the rest of the CD's will be re-released?

Roger Glover: Well, EMI said that they will all be re-released and they eventually will get round to all of our back catalogue, even some day our new album Bananas. Actually I plan on doing that one in the year ummm 2049.

All laugh.

Roger Glover: I'm only doing it as when I first heard CDs of our old material they sounded so bad, so shallow, thin so tinny and not anything like I remember them that I started writing to the record label saying how can you do this, what tapes are you taking these from? Maybe it was just that CD technology was not very good at the time, it certainly has improved a lot and although our music will always survive on vinyl…

Ian Gillan: Not if global warming continues they won't.

All laugh.

Roger Glover: But it must be done properly and not by people that run record companies because record companies, especially when it come to back product are not run by musicians…

Steve Morse: They're all accountants.

Roger Glover: And someone, somewhere along the line has got to care for the music and so I was very happy when EMI came along and asked me to do it.

Le Zine: Do you have a fixed song list every night or is it subject to change?

Ian Gillan: Every tour has its basic set list and we generally work out by three or four dates into the tour whether they're working or not as it is more than just a string of numbers. You have to create a series of highs and lows, dynamics and atmosphere, and they have to run in such a way as they lift the audience. The essence, basically of the set list is that it is decided by whatever new songs we bring in and then we tend to shuffle around the classics. We were talking the other day about dropping Smoke On The Water as we used to close with that and then we moved it into the middle of the set and it worked brilliantly. The classics become a kind of springboard for introducing the new songs. We wondered if we dropped Smoke On The Water would the audience notice, probably yes but it is nice to have a song like that up your sleeve for the encore.

Le Zine: Speaking of Smoke On The Water, I read recently that it is one of the ten most recognised rock songs ever and also one of the very first songs that anyone learning guitar tries to play. That must make you feel good.

Roger Glover: Yes, definitely.

Ian Gillan: It is a constant reminder that simplicity touches people, I mean when I was growing up, every family that had kids, everyone of them on the council estate was in a band and once you had mastered the basics of an E chord an A chord and a B7 chord then you can make music. It is that simple. We had a wonderful thing recently when we were in Australia when they linked up TV and radio stations all over the country and I think to this day, it was the biggest jam session ever of Smoke on the Water. And they even had people in the studio, old guys, young kids all playing along. Yeah, something like that really touches us.

And with that the interview comes to an end. Deep Purple's new album will be released all across the world during the last week of August. May they continue to rock on until, oh at least 2049.

Thanks to Mark Dorson King

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