Ian Gillan talks Deep Purple and orchestras

Rock gods Deep Purple head to Birmingham's LG Arena with a 38-piece orchestra in tow next month. Ian Harvey talks to lead singer Ian Gillan.

Roger Glover, Ian Gillan and Steve Morse of Deep Purple at the LG Arena in 2009
Roger Glover, Ian Gillan and Steve Morse of Deep Purple at the LG Arena in 2009

Rock gods Deep Purple head to Birmingham's LG Arena with a 38-piece orchestra in tow next month. Ian Harvey talks to lead singer Ian Gillan.

“I haven’t ever had any ambition in my life. I just drift from day to day with a stupid grin on my face. It’s very fulfilling.”

So says Ian Gillan, the singer with Deep Purple, who has toured the world for years, sung on one of the defining rock classics in Smoke On The Water, performed alongside Luciano Pavarotti and appeared on the original Jesus Christ Superstar cast recording.

Deep Purple logoFor a man with no ambition he seems to have achieved rather a lot and there is no sign of that stopping any time soon, with Deep Purple and their 38-piece orchestra descending on Birmingham’s LG Arena on Sunday, November 27, 2011, on their ‘The Songs That Built Rock’ tour.

Gillan winces at the name of the tour: “Don’t get me into that. The title of the tour, well it’s a marketing thing. It just seems a little trite to me but I guess you’ve got to name it something.”

With a history over four decades and counting, it’s not the first time that Deep Purple have worked with orchestras of course, most famously when performing former keyboard player Jon Lord’s  Concerto For Group And Orchestra with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969 at the Royal Albert Hall.

Gillan insists that their 2011 orchestral collaboration with members of the Frankfurt New Philharmonic Orchestra is a whole other beast.

Ian Gillan on stage at the LG Arena in 2009
Ian Gillan on stage at the LG Arena in 2009

“John Lord’s concerto was a piece of work that was based around two great elements of music, the brash, new rock and roll bands of the 60s and the traditional symphony orchestras - this is something entirely different.

“That had its own majesty about it - it was an original piece of work. This is not really symphonic at all, it’s a completely different approach. It’s more like watching a big band, it’s more like the Count Basie Orchestra. It’s actually very funky, it swings like crazy and it works like a dream.”

Gillan admits though that he took some persuading when the idea was first proposed.

“I wasn’t thrilled with the idea when it first came up. But when we started tinkering round with the kind of material we’re using we realised how well it works.

“We go back to the roots of the band, the different nature of the influences of all the guys that came into it over the years; Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Paice.

“Jon Lord with his orchestra composition, brought all of those elements. Ian Paice, big band swing, of course. Ritchie with his studio experience, rock and roll and all that sort of thing.  I had my soul music and blues. So there’s a great deal of structure in these songs that lend themselves to different interpretations. This is a new interpretation for us and it’s very exciting.

Gillan continues: “The orchestra is very much integrated into the band. We don’t actually use them on every song. There are some songs where there’s no validity for having an orchestra, which makes it even more dynamically interesting during the show.

“It’s fantastic, when you hear something like Perfect Strangers, the orchestra gives such power to the riffs and to the structure of the song. And then you hear them swing like a train on songs like Lazy. It’s incredible, it’s quite an experience.

“It’s totally different to an ordinary Deep Purple show.  It’s edgy, very edgy . . . with lots of mistakes!”

Talk turns to the question of when fans might get to enjoy a new Deep Purple album. It’s been six years now since the release of Rapture of The Deep.

“The fact is that we’ve been touring flat out,” says Gillan. “We did 48 countries last year. We’re getting so much off on that we just don’t feel the drive at the moment for writing.”

Ian Gillan at the LG Arena in 2009
Ian Gillan at the LG Arena

He reveals though that the group did convene for a mini writing session earlier in the year.

“We were in Spain for a little while and we had a week off. We spent most of the time in the bar to be honest with you. It was a good session but nothing absolutely dynamic came out of it.

“I think to get some progress as far as an album’s concerned you’ve got to have a target, you’ve got to work to a date, and that gives you pressure. If you’ve got the pressure you get stuff done. We don’t have a plan to be honest.

“Things have always been chaos, certainly since I joined, and we’ve never been able to plan anything. If we’d been able to make plans we’d probably have retired by now!”

He does hold out an olive branch though when he says: “People like to do stuff that they’re good at, that they enjoy, that they get something out of. So while it’s fun and we’re all getting older and bits are dropping off here and there, it’s still great. I think there probably will be another album.

“And because we’re not doing an album (right now) doesn’t mean I don’t write every day. It’s a day off today and for me it’s a full day at the office. This morning is interviews and this afternoon I’ve got two or three interesting pieces I’m working on at the moment.”

Many such musings make their way onto Gillan’s website www.gillan.com

“I write every day and so when I do come round to making an album there’s never a shortage of what I call colour material.”

But a new Deep Purple album will have to wait a little while longer, it seems.

“This performing thing is just so fulfilling at the moment. It’s challenging, it’s dangerous and I still get the butterflies in the bottom of my stomach on show days.”

Deep Purple play Birmingham’s LG Arena on Sunday, November 27, 2011.

Tickets cost £45 plus booking fees. See www.lgarena.co.uk/whatson/deep-purple

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