Ian Gillan Interview with Jon Kirkman, March 2006

Hard to believe it but Ian Gillan has been treading the boards professionally for over forty years. In tribute not only to his longevity in the business - an amazing feat in itself - but also as a mark of celebration, Ian Gillan has recorded the album Gillanís Inn. Writer and Rock DJ Jon Kirkman spoke to Ian Gillan while he took a break in between dates on the current Deep Purple Rapture of the Deep tour and has very kindly allowed us to reprint the full interview here.

Gillan's Inn album artJon Kirkman: Gillanís Inn is a good way to celebrate your 40th anniversary in the business doing an album, getting your pals in to help you.

Ian Gillan: It didnít start off that way actually. About eighteen months ago my manager phoned me up and said that I have been singing now for about four hundred years and it is about time that I did an anniversary record. So with that in mind, over the next few days I thought he meant a compilation album of tracks which was the idea I think to start with. I burned a few CDs from my media files and listened to them in the car for a few days and realised it wasnít going to work. The sounds were so different from different eras. I know they can all be re-mastered to give it some kind of cohesion but there was also the problem of Episode Six and The Javelins from the early days and I didnít have anything suitable to put on a compilation that would mix in.

So we started thinking about re-makes, I spoke to my producer and he suggested phoning some people and getting some guests on it. Within twenty minutes I had a reply from Joe Elliot who said, "Count me in mate", and then Joe Satriani and Jon Lord and all the guys in Purple, Tony Iommi and it was just great. We worked on that basis and chose some material. I found an old Episode Six song on an old BBC tape that would be a great basis. It was a Bob Dylan song but at least it was a gesture to the time and the arrangement. It was great fun.

Ian PaiceI told them to imagine that they were coming to the pub, I had a set list and you get up and play two or three songs each and I mix and mingle all the players. We just had a hoot. We are not trying to improve these original versions; weíre just using them as a vehicle to have a good time. Weíre paying them respect and we will see what happens. There was a very particular technique in doing this because obviously these people are scattered all over the world and I couldnít get them all in the studio at the same time in the same place. We recorded in three different locations in the UK, Buffalo, New York, Toronto, Austin, Texas, San Francisco, Los Angeles etc. We kicked off doing the bed tracks, live vocals, and live musicians. I had done this once before and it works really well. When Ian Paice came along in England to do his three or four songs or whatever we just put the cans on him and he would hear everything as if it was live. We just removed the original drummer so he is playing to a live track and therefore plays live. We managed to keep that feeling throughout the whole record. That was the trickiest part about the whole of the recording but it worked very well.

JK: Itís got a very relaxed feel to it as well which I am presuming is the way you wanted it to go. You didnít want it to be too formal I guess.

Joe SatrianiIG: I didnít want to have any songs with complicated arrangements so we left out all of those big production numbers. I wanted it to be like a jam basically. When people come up and jam they are relaxed. There has to be the right sense of urgency though. A lot of these are rock songs so there has to be power and dynamics and texture but at the same time when people are feeling relaxed they tend to be very confident and deliver their best. Satriani was amazing; he had never heard the track before. He set his gear up in the studio and said, "Shall we go out for a bite to eat after this? I know a nice little place round the corner. What would you like me to do?" So I played him Unchain your Brain and he just nailed it solo second take. I said, "Thereís a bit more on the intro Joe if you wouldnít mind, would you like to hear it?" "No," he said, "Just roll it and give me a nod when you want me to come in." This is what we do on stage and the hairs on my arms come up even now! I think it was three choruses back to back building to a climax. Unbelievable, he nailed it first take without having heard it before.

JK: Looking at the material, you mentioned Unchain your Brain, and listening to these songs I can remember the originals. My one criticism, and it is a minute one, is that the production on some of those Gillan albums are very of their time and that is proved by listening to the versions here. I think the songs are incredible particularly something like Men of War which is a great song. I love the fact that you have done these songs and they kick ass.

IG: Well I made a decision early on that this is not going to work, it may have worked with the Gillan stuff as the focal point. But it wouldnít have worked with quite a few of the others. In actual fact it wasnít until later that I realised while talking to my manager what a nightmare it would have been putting together the compilation because we would have had to license these tracks from all the different record labels that we have been with over the years and it would have been a nightmare. So thereís another bonus. The songs are what they are. You can never improve on the originals. I told all the guys that as they came along, "Look, letís start with Smoke right, everyone knows what thatís like. I want every guitar player that comes to the session to take one part in Smoke. We ended up with four on the DVD that you can interact with. There is another one with Steve Morris which is available on a special CD rom. That is what we did; we just had fun and showed respect. None of them are ever going to have the impact that the originals had.

JK: You have been very lucky though havenít you in terms of the great musicians? If we concentrate on one little aspect like guitarists, you have worked with some of the best. On this album, if you listen to the song When a Blind Man Cries I just love the way Jeff Healey plays on that.

IG: Isnít that beautiful?

JK: Itís great.

Jon LordIG: Shuffling around with all the bits of paper choosing the different guests and who is going to be on what, I wanted a guitar player who was really a blues player. We had already put Jon Lord down for that one and the producer suggested Jeff Healey because he lives right here in Toronto. I asked for his number and called him up. Jeff had worked with us some years ago. I told him about project and asked him to come along and play on a song called When a Blind Man Cried and I thought, oh fuck, heís blind but he didnít see the irony in that whatsoever. I love that song and it is all about us moaning and groaning about life when a blind man cried he really has something to cry about. So yes you are right. I remember having the hand held camera in the studio because his style of playing is on his lap.

JK: Have you twigged how he does that yet?

IG: He must be self taught. It is just incredible. I did a gig with him on the way out to do the Rapture of the Deep album and stopped off in Toronto, went to Healeyís and did a set with him. It was great, it was hot. He is a great musician. He had a tumour removed from his leg a couple of months ago, he has always struggled through but wow what a great guy. That solo on When a Blind Man Cries was fabulous.

JK: What are your expectations for the album; you are obviously tied up currently in the middle of a world tour with Deep Purple promoting the Rapture of the Deep album.

Roger GloverIG: I think my expectations were very simple to start with and that was to have a musical document that was an anniversary thing to mark forty years of hard work. Thatís not counting the semi Ėpro years before that. However, when this thing developed it turned into something entirely different because I was talking to the record company 5.1 in Los Angeles and John Trickett who is the CEO. He asked me if I had any ideas for the production and I said that since the days on vinyl when I used to sit with a new record, open it up and flick through the pages of the gate fold and look at all the candid photographs and the anecdotes and lyrics and pictures and all the design extensions of the artist in the studio come out.

There has been none of that since we have CDs. The artwork has really gone so I want to write a book. I have got it all here and I want to put the CD in the book or give the book away with the CD that contains all the extra bits of information etc. He said it could be a problem because they wouldnít rack it in the shops and said about selling it in bookshops but he said that he had the answer. He said we would do it all electronically and do a dual disc. He said that we could do everything we want on the B side of the record. They have had a team working on this night and day since the very beginning collecting stuff. I had the hand held camera in the studio and we had other bits and pieces. They got me to handwrite all the lyrics, to do introductions to the songs and there is an awful lot on there. I have only been through about 50% of it.

JK: There is so much on there.

IG: Exactly. I was watching it with my daughter when I got back from the first leg of the European tour when it arrived. We were going through the brick by brick and some of the making of the candid stuff inside the studio. We were both rolling on the floor laughing at some of these things. It is a real insight into what goes on behind the scenes. I donít know what people think goes on in a recording studio but basically we just have fun.

JK: I always thought most musicians do what they do because they didnít fancy clocking on at the factory and if it was like you are no better off are you?

Ronnie DioIG: Thatís true. I had a day job. I was still at school actually when I was in my first band. They came around my house on a Saturday morning and there would be five guys with acoustic guitars, biscuit tins and knitting needles and we were just making a racket. I remember the looks on our faces when we got through our first couple of songs. It was just incredible. Thank God for the blues because it gave us simple structures and the idea of telling a story over a song. It was great days and I think it is that way now. It is better than clocking on although having said that the discipline involved in what we do that makes it seem effortless is actually quite an insight. On the tour bus they practise for six hours every day even on show days. We canít be late for things; we have to be on time and there are other responsibilities as well. That was all the professionalism we learned in the early days that keeps you in good stead but youíre right itís not like clocking on (Laughs).

JK: Well the album is great and I think people are going to be knocked out by the DVD. The track listing is very diverse but it does hang together very well. Well done for that.

IG: I appreciate that very much.

JK: Choosing the material and tracking it must be an art in itself.

IG: It is, I mean I havenít done this sort of thing very often. Normally you go into the studio, you write your material and it is an encapsulation of that period in time that goes onto the record. All the songs are compatible because it is all the same musicians and same writing source. I had a lot of help in this with my team.

JK: It has turned out wonderfully and it is great to speak to you.

IG: Thank you very much.

© Jon Kirkman, www.Rockahead.net 2006
(the screenshots are taken from the Gillan's Inn DVD 'Making of..' documentary

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