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There was no sandstorm!

Don Airey; photo: DPCZ

Our friends from the Czech fan club Deep Purple CZ did another excellent interview with Don Airey and graciously offered us the original English version for publication.

DP CZ: So, back on tour after what’s been precisely a year. You have a very busy schedule yet again; there’s even been a big trip from Russia to Germany in a single night, so you’ve been to a lot of places. How’s the tour gone so far and how have you been accepted by the fans in all the different places?
Don Airey: “Oh, it’s been amazing! But it’s been quite exhausting, actually, I mean, going to Russia was a big deal. The second gig was in Ufa and there was two feet of snow. But it was a good gig, though, all gigs went really well in fact.”

DP CZ: You played two shows with Nick Simper in Russia – how was that and was this your first time meeting him?
Don Airey: “I’ve met him before because we did a show together about three years ago in Vienna, so I knew Nick. He’s a nice man, you know, and Ian Paice always speaks very highly of him. If Paicey likes someone, then it must be a really great musician. We got on great and his band was bloody good, actually. So we enjoyed their show and then Nick came on and did Black Night with us, it was all great.”

DP CZ: The concept of the recent tour is different compared to the previous one – it’s not a tour to support a new record, it’s more of a celebration of being in the classic rock music for forty years. Forty years means a lot of material, so how hard was it to put the set list together? And do you put it together or were there pieces that guys in the band wanted to play?
Don Airey: “I make the set list because there is so little time to prepare anything. And getting everybody together is really difficult because we’re not really a band, we just get together for one tour or maybe to make an album, so I just picked what I wanted to play. I think Carl (Sentance) wanted to play Still of the Night by Whitesnake but I said: “Do we have to?” (laughs) Because it’s so difficult to play and I don’t like it all that much. But he also likes Is This Love and we do that. But I really wanted to do some tracks from Down to Earth because I haven’t played them since I left Rainbow. They’re such great songs, you know, No Time to Lose, for instance. Carl said: “Oh, I don’t think I can learn this” but I said: “You have to!” (laughs) “Oh, alright, then…” he said… and it works great!”

DP CZ: Another difference is that there’s a new banjo player in the band. Could you introduce Simon to us a little bit and tell us how your cooperation began?
Don Airey: “I run a charity festival every two years in Cambridge where I live and my good friend who’s a dealer for Paul Reed Smith in Europe tells me about this amazing guy who they sponsor, so I said: “Okay, we’ll put him on.” I’d never heard him, so he came and he just blew me away! I told him: “I’m making an album, would you play a bit of guitar on it?” So, he just came in, heard it once and started playing straight away, I was amazed! But it was him who said to me: “If you go on a tour and you need a guitar player, give me a call.” “Wow, are you serious?” “Sure.” I don’t know, whether he regrets it now, though. (laughs) But he’s just been great, it’s been a revelation to me – great tone, very fast, he can play anything and he’s very musical. I mean, he’s the nearest thing to Gary (Moore) I’ve played with for a long time!”

DP CZ: Everyone in the band has many other commitments but we guess you still had to prepare for this tour. Could you explain what happens from the first call with Manni (the tour manager) right until the first show of the tour?
Don Airey: “Well, I do a lot of putting the shows together, actually. Manni does a bit but I have to book the flights, the rehearsals… You know, I’m the guy paying for it, so I have to book the coach, make sure that we have the right gear, get all the gear prepared, so it’s a big lesson for me having to that as I’m used to having it done. But it’s all been great. I’m always surprised when I phone Laurence up. He’s so busy and I expect him to say: “Sorry. I can’t do it because I’m playing with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” or “I’m off to America.” But he just goes: “I’ll see if I can make it work somehow” and he really wants to do it, and he always makes space to do it in the end as well. It’s a good laugh, too. We’ve had great fun doing this tour.”

DP CZ: What does a regular day of yours on a tour look like? And is there a difference between a day on tour with Purple and a day on a solo tour?
Don Airey: “You see, with Purple, we don’t go on a tour bus, they don’t like that, they prefer to fly. But I don’t like to fly, so this tour is a little treat for me. I love living on the tour bus, it’s a great part of rock ‘n’ roll life, you know, to finish a gig, get on the bus, sit down with a beer, get on the motorway… It’s a fantastic feeling! And that’s how I like to do things, I like to drive to the gig. But of course, having said that, at my age, I’m feeling quite exhausted (laughs).”

DP CZ: When there’s a free day on the tour, what do you like to do?
Don Airey: “We travel! (laughs) Well, we had a day off in Vienna. So, I met up with an old friend for lunch and I did some sightseeing. Then, I came back to an apartment which we had supplied by the promoter, so we had these five rooms on the top of the building, met up with the band, we took the U-Bahn into the centre of Vienna, we found a restaurant, had dinner, saw The Opera House, the Stephansdom… You know, because Simon has never seen all that before. And then, we just went back to the club where we played, had a drink and did the show, so it was a nice day, very nice.”

DP CZ: As we’ve said, this is not a tour to support a new record but it’s said that you’re planning to release a new solo record. We’ve heard it might be heading more in the jazzy direction this time. Can you tell us anything more about this? How far is the project right now, who’s involved, what can we look forward to?
Don Airey: “I’ve done a piano album. It’s all nearly done, actually. It’s six solo pieces and six pieces for a trio that we’ve done with Laurence and Darrin. I want to re-record three of the solo pieces before I release it. But yes, it’s jazzy, it’s kind of Bill Evans, Chick Corea… all my influences. And the solo pieces are different to anything I’ve ever done before, they’re quite classical. So, I’m going to finish this off and put it out. I don’t know how it will do but we’ll see. And Carl and I are also writing some more songs for another project, too.”

DP CZ: Also, there’s a lot of talking going around about a new Deep Purple record. We understand that you can’t give out everything but can you at least hint, how far have you got so far?
Don Airey: “Well, we’ve made a start, the base is there for an album but I don’t think that we’re going to record it this year because we start touring again in May. So, I think it’ll come out next year.”

DP CZ: Not so long ago, you also made a guest appearance on the Hollywood Monsters‘ Big Trouble record. There were quite a few guest appearances like this in your career. But do you actually get to record with the people in studio while doing these cooperations or does it work out differently nowadays?
Don Airey: “Sometimes, but usually they just send me the stuff to my studio and we do it that way. I don’t like doing it that way very much but I employ an engineer at my studio, so it pays his bills and keeps my studio going. But I mean, there’s only one proper way to record for me – you gotta be in the studio together, see and hear what the others are doing.”

DP CZ: Talking of guest appearances, in 2008, you recorded keyboards for Judas Priest’s Nostradamus. Rob Halford mentioned that they offered you to join the band. Is that true?
Don Airey: “Well, they’re old friends, I’ve worked with them a lot and I’m kind of their honorary keyboard player and that’s something I’m very proud of, they’re lovely people, very talented, you know – Glenn (Tipton) is a real riff master and so is Kenny (Downing) but with Nostradamus, I only went in for three days and they were just throwing tracks at me, it was crazy! And they tried to talk me into leaving Deep Purple and joining Priest but I said “I can’t do that!” (laughs). Don’t get me wrong, I was very flattered, especially because they sent Rob to do the talking since he’s very persuasive (laughs). But Nostradamus was an absolutely amazing project.”

DP CZ: After forty years in the business, you must have all sorts of interesting experiences, even Purple say that it gets dangerous on the stage. You play all sorts of instruments, old and new, do you remember any major problems with an instrument during a show that meant you needed to improvise a bit for instance?
Don Airey: “You bet! Yeah, twice with Purple the organ has failed. Once was in Tokyo. You know, my son Mike is my keyboard tech and ten minutes before the show, I saw him coming into my dressing room door which is not a good sign because once there’s half an hour to go, he’s supposed to be getting everything ready on stage. I saw the look on his face and thought: “Oooh, this does not look good!” There were five thousand people waiting, a solid crowd, and Mike said: “The organ’s stopped working. I’ve tried everything, it’s gone.” So, I told the band that the organ was gone and the band went: “Aaaand? It’s time to go on!” And I thought: “Oh, shit, we’re really gonna do it!” So I just played it all on keyboards. I don’t remember much about it! (laughs)”

DP CZ: It got a bit dangerous a year and half ago at Deep Purple’s show in Slavkov here in the Czech Republic where the show had to be cancelled and then postponed to the next day. For fans, it was dancing among falling trees, wading through the mud…
Don Airey: “Oh yeah, we had the weather forecast, somebody had an app and we could see this storm going other way and suddenly: “Oooh, shit, it’s coming for us!”, we knew it was because Deep Purple have this reputation: They’re not only rock gods, they’re rain gods! (laughs) It’s true, we had this sort of thing a lot during the festival season for some reason.”

DP CZ: …But how was it from the band’s point of view, when it had to change plans so quickly, deal with soaking wet stage equipment and instruments and still try to satisfy the fans?
Don Airey: “It was all very frightening, actually. Big storm, lightning, we couldn’t get the equipment off stage… So, when we finally got the gear off stage, all my keyboards were full of water, so we had to get the water out, Mike and the guys had to dismantle the keyboards and spent the whole night drying the gear with hairdryers. It’s dangerous, you know, if you get a belt off a Hammond, it will kill you. It’s 110 volts, that’s twice the amps, so you’d better think twice when it starts to rain. Anyway, I think there were fifteen thousand people on the first night and the next night when we did the gig, there was twenty two thousand! So it turned out to be a wonderful gig in the end!”

DP CZ: Talking of instruments, do you remember your first instrument? What was it? And how many instruments did you collect through your career?
Don Airey: “I think it was a Wurlitzer piano. I have no idea how many instruments I’ve got. I’ve got a lot of gear. I don’t have that Wurlitzer piano anymore but I’ve still got my old Fender Rhodes. And I’ve just bought another Wurlitzer an old one, just like the one that Ian McLagan used to play with Small Faces, a beautiful, beautiful thing!”

DP CZ: Do you have any instrument or any musical equipment that a real rarity and that you’re really proud of?
Don Airey: “Apart from this Wurlitzer, I’ve got five old Moog synthesizers: Two Minimoogs, a Memory Moog, Moog Prodigy and… Oh, I can’t even think of the name of the last one! But they’re wonderful things and I still use them, I don’t take them on the road but I keep them going and play them in the studio.”

DP CZ: Crazy fans sometimes throw all sorts of stuff on stage: presents, flowers… But do you recall some really unusual or shocking things landing on stage during a show?
Don Airey: “Oh, back in the day with Ozzy, we used to get all kinds of things. A cow’s head… somebody threw a snake on stage, too… and then, the story about the bat. Somebody threw a bat on stage, Ozzy picked it up, he thought it was plastic, so he put it in his mouth but its wings were still flapping and he bit its head off… Yeah, those were the days! (laughs)”

DP CZ: For a touring musician it’s very important to travel light, so it can be a bit on issue it you’re given gifts by fans. Have you ever got a present from a fan that threw you off balance or made you absolutely speechless?
Don Airey: “Yeah, a piece of granite, it was carving of me, it was somebody in Italy who gave me this huge thing, you could hardly lift it! So I said: “That will go in my studio, thank you very much.” I don’t know where it went. I couldn’t take it with me obviously, so I just left it there. I mean, what can you do? If you’re travelling on a plane for instance… But people are very generous, they give you all kinds of things!”

DP CZ: Music brings one to new places and meeting new people and new cultures. Can you recall any situation in which facing new culture got you into a somewhat strange situation?
Don Airey: “I think the only place where something like this happened was China. The people are really different there, it’s a different mindset. It’s the only place we’ve been to with Purple where we didn’t do so well. Nobody enjoyed it and we’ve never been back actually. It was the time in China when the economy was going up and up, everybody tried to make as much money as possible… and in general, it wasn’t a nice place to be. But… (chuckles) we were on a plane flying to China and I just looked out of the window, and suddenly, I saw another plane, right beneath us! We were so close that I could see the people inside! And then it was gone. So, I called a stewardess and told her: “I’ve just seen a plane!” “No, no plane.”, she said. “No, I saw a plane, we’ve just had a near miss!” “No, no near miss!” So, then, even the captain came to speak to me. “There was no near miss!” “I saw a plane!” “No, you did not!” Horrible, you know. The next flight, we flew over the Gobi desert and there’s a sandstorm, so I just thought: “Shit, we’re flying through a sandstorm!” And the stewardesses sat down and they were kind of white all of the sudden, strapped themselves in and they played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, you know: “Tah-dah-dah-dah-tahdah-dah…”. I thought: “This doesn’t sound good at all”. Very frightening. And when we got to the end of it, I asked: “Were we in danger?” “No danger!” “So what about the sandstorm?” “There was no sandstorm!” I found that very odd.”

DP CZ: And can you recall any situation during playing live that you found really embarrassing when it happened but looking back, you can laugh about it?
Don Airey: “Oh, there’s a been a few times with Purple, for instance. I use Kurzweil keyboards and at one point, Kurzweil went bust, so I couldn’t get spares for anything, it was very difficult. And I had this keyboard, the one I used to do the explosion on, it was the K2000 Kurzweil. So I’m just playing and then, I jump up and hit the keyboard, the K2000 has the best explosion you’ll ever hear from a synthesizer, it’s amazing! But then… me jumping up or something must has triggered this… as instead of going “Hiroshima”, you know “BAAAANG”, it just went “click”. And that was it! (laughs)”

DP CZ: Playing live shows demands absolute concentration but do you find a moment for a quick silly joke while playing? Who of your colleagues is or was the comedian?
Don Airey: “Gary Moore was pretty funny, actually, when he wanted to be. But I don’t know, it’s mostly serious, you know, you don’t get a lot of joking around on stage, actually. It’s usually afterwards and before when you lighten the mood but on stage it’s pretty serious and the bigger the band, the more serious it is. You know, people sometimes ask about what’s the hardest thing about being in the music business and they think your answer will be travelling, getting on with people… But the hardest part is music. I’ve always thought that the most difficult stuff is to cope with is music as you’ve got to be on your toes all the time! If you’re not, you’ve had it. (laughs)”

DP CZ: Musicians are quite a superstitious bunch of people. Do you have any personal ritual or is there anything that you absolutely need to have to feel good while playing?
Don Airey: “Well, I always put my clothes on in the same order. I always have a towel before I go on stage, I have to hang onto something, so if I don’t have a towel, I feel naked! (laughs) And I like to have a brandy before gig, if it’s a rock show, you know, not a big a one, just a sip half an hour before to get you in the mood. I mean, everyone thinks that rock is easy to play but it’s not. It’s got a feel to it that not many people can get and it’s very easy to slip out of the groove. And this comes from English musicians, that’s where it started. It didn’t start in America, it started in England. And you know, a bit of beer plays a big part with the English, it’s how we socialize, you know. Pubs… It’s part of the culture. Nearly every band I’ve been with drinks but not heavily. But it just plays part in the music, I can’t explain it. I’ve seen cover bands from other countries playing our music and it was, well… Actually, I was playing with this band in Italy and we were doing Highway Star. It was a Christmas show and I just thought: “Yeah, why not” and flew across to play with them. And we did a rehearsal and they just went “TAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH!” you know, all very loud, big smiles. And I just said: “STOP!” But then again, the same thing: “TAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH!!!” “STOP! Shut up! Listen! You’re playing it wrong!” “We’re playing it right!” “No, you’re playing it wrong.” So I started with the drummer, you know: “TAH-DAH-DAH-D…” “No, no! Relax, relax!” And the bass player, the same thing, playing way too much. And to get that groove, it is so difficult. Joe Satriani said that he only knows one band that can play that song and that’s Purple. And if you listen to Satriani’s version with Chad Smith, it’s really not good. (laughs) Yeah, I almost got this band in Italy to play it at the rehearsal, it was really getting there but then came the night and again… “TAH-DAH-DAH-DAH-DAH…!” It’s a weird thing.Paicey says a great thing, he says: “Don’t go on the stage and give everything, you gotta hold something back.” That’s a great advice!”

DP CZ: How about your practise routine and rehearsing? How much do you practice and rehearse nowadays?
Don Airey: “Well, it’s funny… I was working with Graham Bonnet a few years ago, we put a band together and I said: “Look, we’re gonna rehearse for two days” And he went: “Uhm, what?” “I said we’re gonna rehearse” And he said: “Grown men? Rehearsing?!” He was horrified! (laughs) I remember when Bananas was released, we had a rehearsal because we had a showcase in Berlin, so we rehearsed for three hours before the show and Paicey said: ”That’s more than Deep Purple have rehearsed in thirty years!!!” and he meant that. But I like rehearsing. You can’t rehearse like we used to, though, because it costs so much money to do it. When I was in Colosseum II, we’d rehearse for a week before a tour, we were just so tight!As for practising, I practise a lot, quite a bit, yeah. I play the piano, my Steinway, every day for a couple of hours. And I’ve got a Hammond set up at home and my Moogs, so I always try to play with the Moogs for a bit, too, so sometimes, it turns out to be more than just a couple of hours. Well, I call it practising, my son calls it “having a fiddle”! (laughs)”

DP CZ: You mentioned that you consider writing an autobiography with your own pictures that you took during all those years on the road. Do you think this will happen one day?
Don Airey: “Yeah, next month, I’m seeing a publisher who likes it and they want to see a lot more, so I’m going to put it together a bit better and I should finish it this year. It’s funny, looking back, though. Jeez! How did all that happen? You wonder…”

DP CZ: If someone told you forty years ago that you’d be playing with Deep Purple in 2015, selling out arenas around the world and apart from completing an anniversary tour also working on new records, what would you tell them?
Don Airey: “I’d tell them they were daft, yeah. I mean, who would have thought it! I remember when I got to my 30s, I thought: “I’m getting old, now” as being a musician back then, it was like being a footballer. We didn’t think it would last. But now, it’s amazing. I think that there’s no one more amazed than Deep Purple themselves that it’s still going on and doing so well, you know. Because when I joined the band, it was a kind a bit… Well, it wasn’t going that well but it just picked up and picked up, so that’s been a great thing to be part of and we just keep on playing.Buddy Guy said: “Bluesmen don’t retire, they drop.” But I want to retire, I don’t want to drop! (laughs)”

11 Comments to “There was no sandstorm!”:

  1. 1
    Stoffer says:

    Fantastic interview great job CZ DP!!

  2. 2
    Bob says:

    l cracked up laughing at the China experience..”NO nothing going on here” what a beauty..and Paicey..3 hours the most we’ve ever rehearsed..Good stuff, thank you for the interview.

  3. 3
    Jeff Summers says:

    Great questions. Don obviously enjoyed this chat. It’s nice when interviewers do there research and understand what makes the artist
    Open up 🙂

  4. 4
    George Martin says:

    He said Paice thinks highly of Simper. I wonder if they will ever appear on the same stage again?

  5. 5
    kraatzy says:

    Great interview …

    Very amazing:
    … we rehearsed for three hours before the show and Paicey said: ”That’s more than Deep Purple have rehearsed in thirty years!!!” and he meant that….

    Very very very nice … 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂



  6. 6
    Scott W. says:

    A masterclass of an interview! Great original/different questions!

  7. 7
    Scoot says:

    Reading an interview like this one seems to drive home the point that Don was the right choice when Jon left the band. Like Jon, Don is down to eart, humble, and knows that he is among the lucky to be able to make a living with music. Jon always came across the same way. This is wonderful interview. Favorite revelation? Nick Simper joining Don’s band to play Black Night. That’s just the best.

    I do have one question though. How do you sneak a cows head into an arena and get it to the stage?

  8. 8
    Ivan says:

    What a great interview…the China experience was hilarious!!

  9. 9
    martin says:

    Good interview, funny part with the chinese airline 🙂

  10. 10
    Labruna222 says:

    Fantastic interview. Don is such a gentleman and so entertaining. I very briefly met him once in Sao Paulo at the Hyatt Hotel.
    Keep up Don!

  11. 11
    Tracy(Zero the Hero)Heyder says:

    Well this follows suit with what he told me last year in Biloxi about doing a piano/classical album. Sounds like a winner. The rest of the interview also shows yet again the reason he was selected to take the reigns at the Hammond in this band. Not just due to his prowess on the ivories but due to being the class act that Purple has centered themselves around, more so than not… (except for a couple of obvious unnamed here). 😉

    Also noticed again his obvious affection towards the Late Great Gary Moore. Seems to really miss the Irish Bloke and harboring quite an emotional hole in his life due his passing. I remember bringing him up during our conversation in Biloxi and he actually just sort of switched the subject and it got a little awkward and I noticed his being somewhat saddened. I have to admit… I share his sentiment from a fan standpoint. Must be really tough on him as he not only was a friend but a fan of Gary’s playing also. “Nothing’s the Same Without him”.


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