||One Mann`s Tale||
At which point did the idea of a tour arise?
I remember it already being talked about backstage after the second show at the Albert Hall, although I don’t think at that point anyone really knew whether or not it was a realistic possibility. But such momentum built up behind the idea, from the band, from myself, and from promoters all over the world, that it became irresistible.
What was your experience of the different orchestras you worked with on the tour?
The LSO was a tough act to follow, but all the orchestras followed their lead in bringing total commitment and enthusiasm to the project, and each brought something unique to the concerto. Every orchestra has a ‘personality’, something greater than the sum of its parts, and one of the most interesting aspects of a conductor’s role is to try to discover that and react to it, to get the best out of the musicians. The passionate impulsiveness of the Romanians, or some of the South American musicians, is a very different proposition from the supreme cool-headed professionalism of the LSO, or the more detached formality of the Japanese. Everywhere we went, however, the orchestras seemed to arrive ready motivated, and so my main task was to channel all that positive energy, and, of course, to make sure that everything fitted together properly.
However, at the beginning of the tour, before the first rehearsal in Buenos Aires, I had been warned that the musicians might not be very disciplined. It turned out to be worse than that - every time we stopped playing, the studio turned into the trading floor of the Stock Exchange. Some of the noise was undoubtedly people translating for their non-English speaking colleagues, but a great deal of it seemed to be about football, the weather, or whatever, and the only way to shut them up was to start conducting - miraculously, they always seemed to know where we were starting from. It quickly got to the point where something needed saying, or rather shouting, and after that things improved considerably! It turned out that the musicians had been handpicked from various other orchestras in the city, and so rehearsals couldn’t start until 6pm, after they had already worked the rest of the day. Since, on both days, we finished at midnight, I’m amazed that they had the energy to play as brilliantly as they did, let alone to talk as much.
In Sao Paolo, the orchestra’s regular job was to play traditional popular Brazilian music, and they brought tremendous rhythmic energy to the three performances we gave there. Although parts of the concerto were a real technical challenge for them, they rose to it enthusiastically, and with great seriousness. Incidentally, something curious happened with the audiences there – on the first and third nights, there were many disruptions, especially during the second movement. But on the second night, total silence! It was very strange, but perhaps indicative of the warm and unpredictable Brazilian temperament.
The orchestra in Mexico was the finest of the three. I certainly remember cutting down the rehearsal time – partly because by this stage I had already taught the thing to three orchestras in as many weeks, but also because they worked so quickly and effectively. No discipline problems there, except among the audiences, who were some of the rowdiest of the whole tour. (It was here that, in sheer frustration, Miller Anderson altered the words of Pictured Within: “Here be friends……SHUT THE FUCK UP!…..Here be heroes….”)
Fast-forward to Antwerp, a few weeks later, and the first rehearsal with the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra, that wonderful bunch of human beings, whose incredible musicianship, stamina, fortitude in the face of adversity and ability to get lost on the way to concerts made a huge impression on us all. Over the course of the following five weeks, they travelled thousands upon thousands of miles in buses that seemed to have been designed for discomfort, and stayed in some truly horrendous hotels, yet always managed to play with total commitment and energy. I felt a real rapport with them, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again this September, on their home ground, for a concert in Romania. They were fantastic – no one could have done that tour in quite the same way they did. On the last night of the tour, in Katowice, Poland, they all stood up as one and joined in with the audience sing along in Smoke on the Water. After that show, we threw them a party back at the hotel.
Which brings me to the most recent concerts, in Tokyo. The New Japan Philharmonic, whose name was changed for our concerts for some reason, is one of the finest orchestras in the country. As is often the case in Japan, their behaviour towards us was very formal at first, but, as the week progressed, became increasingly warm and enthusiastic. Their playing was a miracle of polish and sophistication, and provided us with a glowing finale to the tour. I shall always remember those two concerts as one of the true highlights of my whole musical life.
After forty performances, and countless more in rehearsal, our performance of the Concerto had taken on a life of its own. The fact that we had all become so much closer, both as musicians and friends, certainly showed up in the music making, and I felt that my approach to the concerto had become more ‘organic’, with more awareness of its overall structure.
The Concerto for Group and Orchestra really is a fine work - it has repaid with interest all the months of study, and I think all six orchestras really enjoyed getting to grips with its demands.
Did the availability of the RAH concerts on CD and DVD help when it came to rehearsing the orchestras for the tour?
Yes, it did. Just one example: the clarinet cadenza near the end of the first movement. In the score, it remains exactly as it was played on the original, but the principal clarinettist of the LSO asked Jon if he could elaborate on it a little - just how brilliantly he did so is visible on the face of his colleague on the video… (On the CD, just after he finishes, you can also hear a kind of shuffling sound. This is the orchestral musician’s traditional method of showing appreciation to a colleague – shuffling the feet.) Every clarinettist, everywhere else in the world we have played the Concerto, has copied that improvised cadenza, down to the last detail, no doubt thinking it was some kind of authoritative last-minute addition by Jon.
But yes, the CD has proved a very useful reference along the way. The concerto is not easy to play, and I’m sure it was useful for the musicians to hear it in advance, especially in the LSO’s brilliant performance. The Romanian musicians were all given a signed copy of the CD as a memento at the end of the European tour. (We got quite a production line going in the dressing room one night!)
How did you deal with those disruptive audiences? Was there ever a night when the audience was so noisy during the Concerto that you just wanted to get the show over and get offstage?
Yes, there was, but I don’t remember where it was. There was so much screaming in the early part of the second movement that, in a fit of frustration, I tore through the ‘big tune’ (the very Tchaikovsky-ish statement of the song tune) at about twice the normal speed. The orchestra was shocked, but to their credit, if not to mine, they followed. It sounded terrible. The audience also wrecked the ending of the movement so badly that I remember virtually putting my foot through the podium as I brought in that last fortissimo string chord. After the show, I couldn’t work out what had bothered me more – the fact that some sections of the audience had been so disruptive, or that I had let them get to me so badly. Ian Gillan had noticed how much faster it had been than usual, and very gently asked me not to do it again. He knew the reasons, of course, but didn’t want to draw attention to them!
I do think that more could have been done to promote the concerto shows in a way that made it clear they were intended to be more than just regular Deep Purple shows with the assistance of a symphony orchestra. None of the posters I saw made any mention of the concerto at all, and I think some people didn’t know what to expect. Having said that, what really got to us on those relatively few bad nights was that the minority who were not prepared to listen didn’t just get up, go to the bar for a few minutes, and let the rest of the audience enjoy the music. It was their airheaded determination to spoil it for everyone else that I really couldn’t understand. Jon had a great way of dealing with this – some of his second movement solos were masterpieces of anger-management!
The cuts we introduced to the second movement were the result of these kinds of experiences. Sometimes before, sometimes during the show, we’d decide whether the second movement would be played in a full or a shortened version, or, occasionally not at all. One of the most common factors was whether the hall was set up for what is known as ‘festival seating’, where there is no seating in the floor-level arena, which is fine for a regular rock show, but not much fun if you have to stand there quietly listening to a string quartet. The quartet episode towards the end of the second movement was an early casualty of some bad experiences in South America, and was reluctantly omitted throughout the European tour, only being reinstated in Japan. We experimented with various other cuts: by leading directly from Jon’s solo into the third movement, or by rounding off Jon’s solo with the final bars of the second movement. There was also the famous night in Murcia, Spain, where the concert took place in a huge bullring, where the audience had spent the hours leading up to the 11pm show time drinking beer and watching a crucial football match on giant screens next to the stage. Not really a second movement audience! We made one or two misjudgements, I think – for example in Rotterdam, towards the end of the tour, where the second movement turned out to have been omitted unnecessarily, but on the whole it was the most practical and flexible way of dealing with a frustrating and, at times, demoralising situation.
I guess the concerto shows were incredibly wide-ranging. Where else could you get everything from the expressive intimacy of Pictured Within, and the various shades of a symphony orchestra in full flight, next to Ronnie James Dio belting out Rainbow in the Dark, together with all the more usual aspects of a Deep Purple show? It may have been a lot to ask everyone to be switched on to it all, but I don’t think it should have been that difficult for them to show a little respect. But we’re still talking about a tiny minority of people out of the hundreds of thousands who heard us on the tour who showed a kind of warmth and enthusiasm that I’m sure none of us will ever forget. They are the ones that count.
How did you choose the new songs, which were added for the tour? Of these, which do you think gained the most from the orchestra’s involvement?
We all pooled ideas, and came up with the Perfect Strangers, and When a Blind Man Cries to add to the repertoire. We also planned to use the orchestra on Fools, which had been added to the setlist in Sao Paolo, and indeed Jon made an orchestration of this during the European tour. It proved impossible to find a suitable copyist on the road, and so this didn’t find its way into the show until Tokyo. No doubt there are plenty of other songs in the DP canon that would have been suitable (rejected suggestions included Anya and Child in Time) but the two we did choose worked out fabulously in the orchestrations by Henk Meutgeert and Rob Horsting.
One of the most important things in the orchestration of the songs was not to make them too overblown, or to introduce elements that were foreign to the music in its original form. For example, I don’t think there’d be much point in orchestral versions of songs like Fireball, Black Night, or Highway Star! Having said that, I think the orchestrations on Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming and Watching the Sky, made for the RAH concerts, were far too cautious and studio-bound, and Graham Preskett did much more fully orchestrated versions for the tour.
There were also problems with Pictures of Home in its Albert Hall orchestration. For whatever reason, probably pressure of time, the arranger managed to fill the orchestra parts with wrong notes, only some of which we had time to correct in the rehearsals. In spite of the formidable intelligence of the LSO musicians, there are some very dodgy chords, especially in the brass near the end. So Graham Preskett also reorchestrated this, to much more brilliant effect, and with all the right notes!
Of all the songs we did with the orchestra, it seems to me that Pictures of Home gained the most. Jon’s (very English!) introduction, which he quickly composed on the afternoon of the arranger’s deadline, sounds to me like something Vaughan Williams would have written if he’d been a Deep Purple fan, and is a perfect foil for the song. There is a kind of symphonic breadth to this song, which gains a whole new dimension with the participation of the orchestra.
Are there any plans to bring the show to any of the territories you have not yet visited, such as the United States/Canada, or Australia?
Not at the moment, although it was talked about at one stage. The sheer distances involved in touring these countries make travelling with the same orchestra prohibitively expensive, and continually rehearsing different ones impractical. There will probably not be another full-scale tour, but I have not yet lost hope that the odd show may take place in the USA, or Australia.