Let The Music Do The Talking #6 : Ian Gillan

#interviews #deep-purple #black-sabbath

"The only thing I get from the lyrics is the pleasure of writing them"

Let's back-forward a bit: when you started, did you model your singing style on anyone in particular? Was there any influence on your style other than other rock singers?

Back-forward a bit eh? I like that; it's how I walk when I'm on my way home from the pub. In my formative years from '62 to '69, I copied everyone I liked. That ranged from the young Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, through to Howling Wolf, Dusty Springfield, Brook Benton, Solomon Burke, Marvin Gaye and then some of the more eclectic West Coast groups on the Elektra label and pretty much any artist on the Chess label. Add in the influence of every musician I've ever worked with and you'll see I finally found my own voice in '69 when I joined Deep Purple. It was good schooling.

On the whole, has your approach to singing changed at all? Or do you more or less tackle a new song the same way as you would have ten, twenty or thirty years ago?

I think it changed when I started to write my own material, and then again it changes every time I work with different groups of musicians or writers; the chemistry is forever changing and I try to deliver what seems right for the mood of the moment.

I've always thought that your spectacular voice obscured your skills as a writer - I'm thinking about the humorous, picaresque "Anyone's Daughter", the comical, innuendo-encrusted "Mitzi Dupree", and the caustic and vindictive "MTV", to name just a few. Do you feel that your lyrics usually don't get the attention they deserve?

I am humbled by your observations but really the only thing I get from the lyrics is the pleasure of writing them, and I think a job well done if they are good to sing. For example the percussive value of the syllables is very important rhythmically. And I do get off on the enigmatic nature of a tricky subject where the true meaning is deeply buried - particularly with Deep Purple - when I can't claim to 'speak' on behalf of the whole band through the lyrics; we all have such disparate views on almost every subject.

After you left Deep Purple, you retired from performing to pursue business ventures (if I'm not mistaken). We all know that "you musta made a million the night that Frank Zappa caught on fire", but - on a more serious note - did you really want to retire from the whole music business then or were you simply exhausted?

It was a long time ago but I seem to remember it was mostly disillusionment with the 'business' part of the music business; it was shockingly brutal to this callow youth. That was the one element for which there can be no preparation during the years of 'paying your dues'. Paradoxically it is called success. And no, the other 'businesses' were really just stuff I'd drifted into. I'd been living in hotels for so long I couldn't do without one... that was The Springs Hotel. The old De Lane Lea studio - where we had recorded so many early Deep Purple songs was closing down, so I was persuaded by Martin Birch to buy it, and he was going to run it. But around about opening day he left me to it and joined Deep Purple on the road - duh! And I helped a buddy of mine, Mike Eglington, to develop his motorcycle racing team and design a new bike. That was Mantis Motorcycles. All of these were brilliant from a design point of view but I was far too enthusiastic to be a good businessman. Then music came calling again.

A bit about the period between 1975 and 78 if you will. The Ian Gillan Band still had some hard rock grooves but also had a pronounced jazz fusion direction - some cuts like "Clear Air Turbulence" almost sounded like Weather Report with an incredible voice on top. Did you simply want to try something new for a change, to be experimental, or was this style a passion of yours?

The guys in that band were fabulous players and well into fusion. And you're right, Weather Report was an influence with them - er, but not me... I like a backbeat with my rock 'n' roll. I was learning all this new stuff, but it didn't go down at all well and so the situation deteriorated and I left my own band. It still sounds pretty good to me but call it a passing phase.

As billions of viewers know, Caramba TV is the best TV channel in the world. Is it true that you've been nominated for the Best International Investigative Reporter Award for your work?

Well thank you Nicolas, my proudest achievement is actually the little known fact that I invented 'air Hammond', but I do like to get out the camera when something takes my eye from a tangent.

Many thanks for your time!

You're more than welcome - I couldn't sleep anyway. Cheers.

Ian Gillan's official website : www.gillan.com