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About Paul Mann and other music

©Bruce Payne

When did you decide you should be a musician?

I can’t remember a time in my life without music, so I guess it all must have started at a very early age. The piano was always my instrument – occasional attempts to learn others never got very far!

There was a time when I harboured fantasies of becoming a rock keyboard player, although close proximity to Jon over the last few years has shown that I would never have had what it takes. But from the impressionable age of about 11 or 12, I was taken to see Rainbow whenever they played in the UK.  At those gigs, I was often sat on a flight case next to the keyboard player, and this obviously made a great impression on me. Don Airey showed me round that wall of stuff he used to carry around with him, and I do remember him telling me that not one of those expensive synthesisers was as good as a grand piano. Ultimately, I suppose, I must have decided he was right.  Even now that I spend most of my time conducting, the piano remains like a first love that I can never quite stay away from. 

The first prerequisite of a great player, particularly in the rock and jazz fields, is the ability to improvise.  Classical musicians nowadays, unlike in the time of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, are rarely gifted improvisers, and I’m no exception to this.  Deep Purple’s mastery of this liberating and hugely demanding discipline is what makes them the great live band they are. The realisation that this gift is lacking at a sufficiently high level in my own musical make-up was, I think, a factor in directing me down the road I’m on now. 

Have you ever collaborated with any other rock musicians? Do you have any thoughts about the genre of ‘classical rock’? Would you describe it as a trend, or a fad?

I haven’t worked with any other bands, although there is a possibility that I may collaborate with Keith Emerson on his Second Piano Concerto, which he is currently writing. 

I don’t think that ‘classical rock’ amounts either to a trend or a fad, and especially not to something that says anything profound about the development of music.  It’s just that, once in a while, the two styles can get together and have some fun. If we’d tried to say anything more serious than that about the ‘relationship’ between rock and classical music, we’d rightly have been called pretentious.

Any band that calls upon the resources of a symphony orchestra must in some way be reaching for the big statement, and should, I think, have a very clear idea of what they’re trying to achieve by it. If the orchestra is just used as a kind of luxury backing group, it’s really little more than a status symbol, and just looks like a severe case of ‘importantitis’. What counts, for me, is whether the material gives rise to the forces used, and not the other way round.  In this respect, the Concerto for Group and Orchestra explores the possibilities more interestingly than in some of the recent symphonic collaborations of bands such as Metallica, or The Scorpions.  

In my view, the concept of ‘symphonic rock’ is fine as long as it doesn’t start considering itself a ‘genre’.  In our case, it was just a special occasion, a chance to make music in the place where the best of both worlds meet. 

Are there any plans for you and Jon Lord, or Deep Purple, to work together again?

Maybe there will be the odd further outing for the concerto at some point, but there are no plans at the moment. The priority for Deep Purple, I am sure, is to get the new album done. If there’s any place for an orchestra on this, they know where to find me! 

Jon himself has recently been hard at work on new compositions - the London Symphony Orchestra and myself will hopefully soon record these.  In any case, I have no doubt that we’ll continue to work together at every available opportunity.  I believe that he is entering an enormously creative period, both as a composer, and as a member of Deep Purple, and I look forward to being a part of this in any way I can.

How to sum all this up?  Well, I think the last word goes to Roger Glover, who, sometime near the beginning of the tour in South America said to me “You’re part of the band now”. This still means more to me than I can say.

They are certainly part of me. 


16 August 2001

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