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Loudest thing since El Alamein

Don Airey, Prague March 21 2014; photo © Deep Purple CZ

Being on tour with his other band, Don Airey was interviewed in Prague by Jan Krempl and Petr Cejka from Deep Purple CZ, who graciously offered us the original text for publication here on THS.

You’ve already done a number of shows on this tour. How have things gone so far?

We’ve got eleven shows on this tour in eleven days, so I’m a bit tired, the afternoons before the sound check are the worst but I’m alright.

You’ve got a brilliant band to back you up. Could you describe the musical background of your band mates and how you met and started working together?

The guitar player is called Rob Harris, he plays with Jamiroquai and I’ve known him since he was sixteen. He lives near me and he once knocked on my door and said: “I’m Rob Harris, I live two miles away, I’m a guitar player.” So I said: “You’d better come in, then!” (laughs) So, we started writing from that moment, I still have the first track we did with him. We always keep in touch and he’s just a great musician. Laurence Cottle is the bass player, a world-renowned jazz bass player, master of a fretless but I met him through Cozy Powell 25 years ago on a session and he played on K2 actually, so he’s been on all of my solo albums. He’s a great guy and he likes to play a little bit of rock n roll every now and then, so if I call him, he just says: “I’ll be there, I’ll be there!!!” The drummer is Darrin Mooney, I’ve known Darren for 25 years, too. And I recommended him to Gary Moore. It’s just that getting everyone together is very difficult but we’ve managed it for this tour, Darrin was free, Laurence was free, Rob was free. And the singer is Carl Sentance, who was in the band called Persian Risk and they were fantastic. We write the songs together, we have a very good partnership. And he’s a great singer.

How do you enjoy a smaller tour which is the exact opposite of touring with Purple? You get way closer to the fans; you even hang out with them after the shows…

It reminds me of the days when I started playing with Colosseum II. And this is where the music comes from, rock n roll comes from clubs, jazz comes from clubs. You get a great sound that you don’t get in arenas. And you’re close up to everyone and that’s great. You know, there’s a great difference between this and a Purple tour but in reality it’s the same deal. You gotta play your music right and that’s it.

Keyed Up is quite difficult to define in terms of genre, it’s very diverse. Could you describe what was the goal of the recording and what were you going for production-wise, because it sounds very interesting?

We just did it as quickly as possible. I didn’t have much time, so the backing tracks were done with Laurence and Darrin and Hammond live, we were all in the same room, so you have a bit of drums on the Leslies, you have a bit of organ on the bass and that gives you a bit of an edge. I didn’t overdub any solos, the solos are live. And there are constraints on time, it was 3 tracks a day that we had to finish, no choice. We had another rhythm section in there Alex Meadows and Tim Goodyer. And I’ve known Alex for 25 years, too, he wasn’t available for this tour, so… good chance to have Laurence.

There are some very interesting guest appearances on the record, so could you shortly describe the part these people played in creation of Keyed Up?

Graham Bonnet’s one of my greatest friends, you know, and I love the guy to death, he’s an amazing bloke. While we were recording in Lincolnshire, he was back from LA visiting his family, who live near there. So, he phoned me up and says: “I’m on my way to Lincolnshire” and i replied: “Call in, I’ve got some work for you to do!” And he called in and I played him the song and he was like “Oh, that’s beautiful!” It was a bit early for him because he never sings before six and it was eleven in the morning. “But, for you…” So, he was in for an hour, put on amazing backing vocals and it was great seeing him, he’s crazy!

With Gary, Adagio was supposed to be on All Out. And he came for a session, we went to a studio between where he lives and where we were (recording) and it didn’t work out, so we never finished the track, he said: “We’ll do this another time, we’ll finish it off.” And I said: “There’s no hurry.” Of course, the terrible thing happened with him and I didn’t know what to do with the track but at the studio, Ewan Davies said that they had a demo which Rob had done for Gary to show him how it went and they mixed it like a duet, bit of Rob, bit of Gary, all done in fifteen minutes.

Deep Purple also have a relatively recent release out and the response and reviews have been exceptionally good. How does the band perceive Now What?!’s success?

It took us by surprise, it was a big surprise and a very nice one, you know. Seeing the audience singing along to Vincent Price, All the Time in the World

Production-wise and in terms of general feel, Now What?! is very different to the previous releases. It’s heavier and has a progressive touch. Was it some sort of objective or did it just happen organically?

Yes, it’s a lot heavier, Bob Ezrin’s a top producer, you know, he’s the business and he’s just knocked us into shape. He came to rehearsals and was all like: “this works, that doesn’t work, take that bridge out…” We wanted to explore music a bit and if you’re not gonna get any radio play on your singles, you may as well go for it…

In a few interviews, you guys indicated that there may be a successor to Now What?! quite soon. What’s your point of view on this?

Yes, there’s a talk going on about doing a new record. I know Bob would definitely be interested and I’d also be up for it.

Don Airey, Prague, March 21 2014; photo © Deep Purple CZ
Well, but it was a long journey before Purple and you don’t seem to forget about your past. There’s something we’ve always wanted to ask you: One can notice at the shows that there’s a little figurine of Ozzy Osbourne on your Leslie boxes. Is there any specific story connected to this?

Ozzy watches over me! (laughs) It was a present from Steve Morse’s guitar tech. Michael Berger, who, when he was young, was a big Ozzy fan. He loved Ozzy, he loved Mr. Crowley, so he gave me that as a present and Ozzy’s always stood there.

You mentioned Mr. Crowley, which is one of the most iconic motives in rock music. Do you remember anything about recording it?

I was in the control room with my keyboards and the band was sitting along there. And I was playing and they were all “no, not this, not that…” So I said: “GET OUT! Come back in half an hour.” Ozzy came back and asked: “What you’ve got?” So I played him the intro to Mr. Crowley and he told me: “You’ve just plugged into my fuckin’ head!”

Let’s talk about Ozzy for a sec. He has this reputation of drinking way too much, using drugs, being a trouble maker. But is it all true or was it just an image? How did you know Ozzy as a person from close up?

Well, I was with him for four years. And we did five shows a week, 35 weeks a year. And it was a very successful band, you can’t do that if you’re drunk out of your mind. It was just a good publicity angle from him.

Once, we went to Milwaukee and they tried to ban us. The tour bus arrived at two in the afternoon and there was a big demonstration held by Christians, they had banners about Satan, waving with crosses in the air. There may have been 150 of them walking around. I was looking at them with Tommy Aldridge and then he says: “Look, look, it’s funny!” And there’s Ozzy! Ozzy was walking around with them “protesting” and they didn’t spot him!

You also played with Rainbow in this period and it was the times of their main commercial success. How did you enjoy all the popularity?

We got to Japan and it was like being in the Beatles. Interestingly, especially Graham and I were the ones who made the girls go mad, which upset Cozy and Roger. We were at the main station in Tokyo. We were coming up the escalator, just me, Graham and two of the bodyguards. And there were maybe hundred schoolgirls on a school outing coming down the escalator and they spotted me and Graham and they started screaming and yelling and they all turned around and started running up the down-going escalator, one stumbling over another… The escalator stopped and there was this heap of girls out of which were sticking hands and legs. (laughs)

Ritchie Blackmore is said by many to be quite difficult to work with. How did you get along with him both as a musician and as a person?

I got along with him very well in the studio but not so well on the road as he tended to isolate himself from the band but the band and I had a lot of fun anyways. We had a great tour manager called Colin Hart and we enjoyed everything a lot, it was one big laugh.

I saw Joe Lynn Turner recently. We did a show with him in Innsbruck, a Christmas metal show. And I haven’t seen Joe for thirty years but we got together and it was like we haven’t seen for thirty minutes, we just couldn’t stop talking.

There’s a new version of Difficult to Cure on Keyed Up. Why this song?

I just like playing it, it’s a good one to play live. We’ve changed the arrangement a lot and we’ve put some Beethoven back in, especially the double fugue, which isn’t the easiest thing in the world to play. (laughs)

Your CV looks like an encyclopaedia of top quality rock music. Whitesnake were yet another band you worked with when they were on absolute top. What are your memories of David Coverdale and the music you created with Whitesnake?

David is a very talented guy. Whitesnake 1987 was recorded in 85, though. It just took him two years to find the courage to do the vocals, I don’t know why. But sometimes, albums just sit there, they refuse to come out and don’t let you finish them, it’s like they’re waiting for the right time. If that came out in 85, it wouldn’t be a hit but it came out in 87 and it was a huge success, the time was just right.

You were also connected to Gary Moore by long years of cooperation. But he’s said to had had quite a specific personality and not everyone got along great with him. What was your relationship with him like and did he influence you in any way?

I find the world a very hard place to adjust to without him in it. It’s very strange because I suddenly realized that about everything I do, I wonder “what would Gary think of this?” I still keep Gary in mind; he was such an influence on me. He was a perfectionist; he was a wonderful singer, wonderful songwriter and a wonderful lyricist, as well, his lyrics were really poetic. And his guitar playing… amazing, a gift of God.

And after all those years, you came to Purple… Was there anything that, despite your remarkable experience, surprised you about the way Purple had worked either on stage or in studio?

They surprise me every day! Every day is a new adventure! (laughs)

You’ve really worked with an incredible amount of musicians but can you think of anyone (either from present or past) with whom you’d love to make a record?

(Tour manager walks in, pointing at himself vigorously) Oh this band right here! With Manni (the tour manager) managing it!

It’s hard to believe how many shows you gave in such a small country like the Czech Republic, either on your own or with Purple. Do you have any memories of our country? And how come that we get not one but two shows on this tour?

I remember playing in Prague for the first time and in my solo I did a bit of Vltava. I burned the house down, it was like they’ve won the world cup at football, it was amazing! And when I came off the stage into the dressing room, nobody in the band mentioned it (laughs).

If none of what we’ve talked about during this interview happened and you’d never become a musician. Can you imagine a different career? Where would you be, what would you do?

Without music? I don’t know. A road sweeper, maybe? I wanted to be a professional cricketer but I had no talent for it at all but that’s what I dreamed of doing, that’s the only other thing I ever wanted to do.

It was difficult when I was young. When you wanted to be a musician, it was impossible. You know, I used to say to my father: “I wanna be a musician!” And he’d tell me: “Oh, don’t be silly Donald, there’s no money in it!” So, he eventually came to a Rainbow gig at the Newcastle city hall when we were at the top of the charts. And he came back to me afterwards and I could see in his eyes that he was impressed. I said: “So? What did you think, dad?” He said: “It’s the loudest, most impressive thing I’ve experienced since El Alamein!”

14 Comments to “Loudest thing since El Alamein”:

  1. 1
    Ljubisa Raimovic says:

    awesome read

  2. 2
    Alessandro França says:

    Master Don Airey.

  3. 3
    kraatzy says:

    Dear Don…

    You are the one and only ………… real (kind of) replacement of JON.
    Does not mean as a joke – it means it sincerely !!

    I have had said this, when you were in Rainbow
    and now YOU ARE … member of the Best of the BEST ROCK GROUP ever !!




  4. 4
    Mike Eriksson says:

    Don is always interesting in interviews. I think his dads remark about Rainbow and El Alamein is one of the best quotes I have seen in years. Thank you for charing. MIKE

  5. 5
    Mike says:

    Don Ariey is now the absolute highlight of the current purple line up.

  6. 6
    Elprupdeep says:

    We are so lucky ( fans) to have guys like Don and Steve.
    They keep us alive, they keep Deep Purple alive, and they keep Rock.n.roll alive.
    Thank you Mr Airey.

    Long live DP.


  7. 7
    Clive Everill says:

    Great interview 🙂 Some good stories (Ozzy with the protesters, and others), and an enjoyable read. Well done! I still play my Colosseum II stuff now & then 🙂

  8. 8
    stoffer says:

    Good questions and even better answers, covering a lot of material and artists?! Thanks…………………

  9. 9
    Peter says:

    As one of “authors” of this interview I have to add few comments here. 🙂 First – thank you for publishing it here on THS! 🙂

    We´re very sorry for couple of “mistakes” which happened. So please allow me to do a little correction. 😉
    First one: “Keyed Up‘ is quite difficult to define in terms of genre, it’s very diverse.” is beginning of the question…
    Second one: “How did you Ozzy as person from close up?” we forgot the obvious word – know!

    We also have to thank Don – because it´s him who made this interview very interesting, we just gave him a couple of questions which we thought that they could be interesting for us – as fans. The atmosphere of interview was very friendly, there was a lot of laughter during Don´s storytelling. 🙂

    Thanks everyone for reading and we are really happy because of your comments here!

  10. 10
    Tracy(Zero the Hero)Heyder says:

    Don, I totally concur with your remarks about the world being hard to deal with without Gary Moore. He by far is my most missed musician whom has passed into the ‘other side’. As the song says that he wrote and that I dedicated to my father when he passed…. “Nothing’s the Same without you”…….

    Nice interview. Great answers. Don Airey is First Class!!!!


  11. 11
    Nick Soveiko says:

    Peter @9:

    The pleasure is all ours. i’ve corrected the mistakes you pointed out as well as couple of others that were my fault.

  12. 12
    purplepriest1965 says:

    @ 10

    I m so glad you did not mention that The Loner story again.

  13. 13
    Tracy(Zero the Hero)Heyder says:

    # 12,

    Which story? Please enlighten us all…..

  14. 14
    JohnH says:

    Great interview, thanks!

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