pic: Fin Costello
Ian Gillan interview
by James Ellis, Metro, August 18th, 2003
As frontman with the seminal Deep Purple, Ian Gillan is
the father of hard rock vocals. He left the band because of differences with
guitarist Richie Blackmore (after which he said: 'I'd rather slit my throat
than work with them again') and rejoined in 1992 when Blackmore left. Bananas,
the band's first studio album in five years, is out now. It's
nice to speak to a legend.
I'm not really a legend. King Arthur is a legend, give it a couple of hundred
years and we'll see.
You once said you felt 300 years old.
I might have said that once, but that was when I was a kid.
How come it took five years to come up with a new album?
Yes, it's been five years. It was fantastic getting back into the studio because
all the elements were right: the chemistry was right, and the circumstances
were right. We were reluctant to press on with it at the time because [keyboardist]
Jon Lord's been leaving for five years - I mean, bless him, he's a monument
in the band but that was kind of unsettling. We didn't know whether to include
him in the writing as he had his mind on other things. When Jon finally made
the decision, it was a bit of a relief - we could all focus.
We were in Australia four years ago and we saw a picture of this Vietnamese
guy wheeling a bicycle and he had an absolute mountain of bananas. The picture
was very evocative. It said to me: 'Exploitation, exploitation, exploitation.'
I don't know why - he probably wasn't being exploited. My train of thought then
shifted to: 'Hmm... probably none of those bananas will find its way into the
EU. What do we get? Chiquita? Mmm. Yummy.' Then I started researching the EU
regulations that are prescribed by the idiocracy, saying what size of banana
we are allowed to eat and how much bend they must have. I thought: 'Who are
the only people who can fulfil these requirements?' and the answer is those
who deal in genetically controlled food and so really the only bananas we get
are grey, rubbery, seedless and infertile. And my mind started twisting onto
other things and I'm thinking of my freedoms being eroded. And I am so completely
totally anti-EU and anti-Euro and as you can see the train of thought goes on
and on and on. I'm not anti-Europe of course, I've got friends in every country,
and I adore the culture and I respect 'vive la difference' but these rules aren't
what the Treaty of Rome was about. I haven't chosen to use it as an ideogram,
as a cheap trick: 'Bananas means we're all crazy, ha ha ha.' It starts off with
that but it develops into many things.
Thank God I didn't ask about lyrics if it takes that time
to do the title. Is it still all sex, drugs and rock'n'roll?
It was really sex, booze and rock'n'roll in our case. I didn't smoke my first
spliff until I was 40.
How do you remain so energetic?
It's a state of mind. We are all in very good physical shape. You have to be
to do that kind of show - it's not only music, it's a very physical show two
hours every night, different cities and the travelling. When I'm at home, I
do a lot of physical work - I walk for miles and do loads of swimming. None
of us ever really had any ambition to be a celebrity, so we lead fairly normal
lives. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that in order to be happy as
a human being, you need two things: a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.
What do you do to take care of your voice?
The only thing I do is sing naturally. I don't strain my voice. I don't go for
notes that I can't reach. It's quite natural. I never warm up before a show.
Mind you, there are certain physical things you have to do. I never drink before
a show, I never have a cigarette until 11pm. I only smoke when I'm drinking.
So that's my training.
Crikey! Well, we got through a lot of beer and whisky.
The sex thing sounds very crude when you put it into a cliché like that.
In actual fact, it was just the sort of thing that everyone does, given the
opportunity. It's an exciting life. You are on the move all the time and there's
a big buzz going on. Then you hit town and, well, you know. We finish work at
11pm and friends ask why I don't go to bed until 4am. I say: 'What do you do?
Come home from the office and go straight to bed?' I can't go to bed at half
past eleven. I've gotta come down. So we hit the bar and party.
Are you and Richie speaking?
No. I haven't spoken to him since he left. By then, a year had gone by when
we were on the road and in the studio when I'd say: 'Hello Richie. How you doing?
Nice one, mate, great solo tonight,' and he'd never utter a word to me. He'd
turn his back. He basically could not cope with the fact that he was not in
complete control. So it caused him to become a little unsettled. When I think
of Richie now, I think of a brilliant guitar player. A wonderfully inventive
riff-meister and a great performer. I used to room with him in the early days
You couldn't imagine that now, could you?
No. Richie lost control for a bit - he once smashed a plate of spaghetti in
my face. He's an odd guy but I have respect for him. I have respect for all
the good things he's done. I wouldn't work with him again because it couldn't
happen right after what's gone down. I really wish him well - I think he must
be happy 'cos he's doing what he's doing. Dressing up in medieval stuff and
playing that music very well. And why would I want Richie when we've got Steve
A slightly barbed comment?
No, not really. I just think that Steve is a 100 per cent band player and he's
now the same as everyone else in the band. We put in more than we take out and
that way there is always something in the pot. I'm talking emotionally and creatively.
Do you feel paternalistic towards nu-metal?
No, not really. I don't like the word 'metal' to start with and I think probably
the concept of our kind of rock'n'roll - Zeppelin, Sabbath, Jethro Tull and
all those other bands - as we saw it, has been taken and reinterpreted through
the years, and instead of people having heroes and taking a bit from this and
a bit from that, you tend to get people who become obsessed by one artist or
one style or one format of music. So they are closed and their attitude on stage
and their general ethos tends to be a bit artificial.
Do you look at the charts and despair when you see what's
in them at the moment?
I haven't looked at the charts ever since I realised they weren't reflective
at all of people's purchasing. Not in the slightest. I realised that when the
NME excluded an American ballad singer, even though he would have been number
one, because it wasn't the kind of music they wanted in their newspaper. If
you are going to have a chart that reflects sales, you should have a chart that
reflects sales and I don't care whether you've got Pavarotti at No.1 or Eminem
at No.1. I really don't care. I would like to know the truth.
Ever regretted anything?
Everyone has said something in their life that they regret. I did actually once
say that I'd rather slit my throat then ever work with the band again. But that
was basically to do with how the band was at the time. Since then, the house
has been redecorated, we've mowed the lawn and it's all fine.
Do you still cut your hair every three years?
I cut it all off a couple of years ago. And it's going to stay that way. I looked
in the mirror and thought: 'You're going to be one of those sad buggers: 60
years old with a pony tail.' It just looks silly. Anyway, it was getting in
my beer and I was getting fed up with it.
Thanks to Keith
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