Ian Gillan talks exclusively about WhoCares charity project with Tony Iommi
The project also includes members and former members of Iron Maiden, Deep Purple and Metallica.
Joined by Jon Lord, Nicko McBrain, Jason Newsted and HIM guitarist Mikko ‘Linde’ Lindstrom, they’ve recorded a charity single, with all proceeds to go to the rebuilding of a music school in Gyumri, Armenia.
The single, released in digital and CD formats on May 6, is to feature the songs Out Of My Mind and Holy Water. The CD edition will also have the video for the first song, plus a 40-minute documentary chronicling Gillan and Iommi’s work for Armenia. This goes back to 1988, when an earthquake devastated the country and the Purple frontman and Sabbath guitarist launched Rock Aid Armenia.
Gillan talks exclusively about the WhoCares project – and the future of Deep Purple – below.
Interview: Geoff Barton
The original Rock Aid Armenia Project started in 1998. What prompted you to revisit it?
A lot of it went on behind the scenes with managers and Max [Vaccaro] at the record label [Edel], saying: “Why don’t we do a charity compilation of stuff with you and Tony?” So that’s how the WhoCares thing was born, and we immediately started throwing ideas around. Every time you start one of these projects you think: “That’s it, there can’t be a single track left that hasn’t been used or released somewhere.” But there always is.
You’ve dredged up some real gems for the album, some of which we’ll talk about in a minute.
I think the fans will like it. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it and playing it through.
You’ve also recorded two brand new tracks: Out Of My Mind and Holy Water. How did they come together?
It’s amazing what you can do without twisting any arms when people are having fun. I remember when I used to play football in charity games. It was just amazing – I was playing with George Best, Paul Mariner, Bobby Moore and people like that, having a whale of a time, pretending I was a professional footballer. But the thing I noticed was, all the footballers wanted to be musicians and hang out with the bands. So there was no hidden agenda, we just had a damn good time. That’s why people tend to enjoy these benefit things.
It clicked as soon as we got on the plane coming back from Armenia. Tony and I had been back there to receive an award for the original Rock Aid Armenia project. The absolute key to all this is a conversation I had with the mayor of Spitak, which was at the epicentre of this earthquake that killed 25,000 people, and made a quarter of a million homeless. He said: “You know, there’s been no music in the churches, no music at weddings, no music on the radio… even the birds have stopped singing.” It was terrible, really. So I said: “When you’re ready for music again, maybe we can do something.” So that’s how the focus came about. That quote was remembered. The original Rock Aid Armenia wasn’t aimed at a particular project; it was just generally to raise funds and awareness. So anyway, all these years later, at the awards ceremony, a few people commented: “We always remember you said: ‘When you’re ready for the music, let’s do something.’” So that’s when we hooked on to the music school.
Tony and I were very moved and we said: “Let’s get together when we can and write a couple of things.” So I went to Tony’s house in Birmingham, we spent an afternoon and came up with three or four ideas, one of which was Out Of My Mind. Tony did a bit of development work on it, then I went back a couple of weeks later and we recorded it. To get the other guys on board was really just a question of a few phone calls. Nicko, Jon Lord and the rest of them. We went through our address book, basically.
Did you all get together in the studio or was it done in the remote sense, like a lot of stuff is these days?
Mostly remote, but Jon Lord and Nicko were live together in the studio in London, and we took it from there. Nicko flew in from Florida and Jon was on a day break from a concert tour he was on. He flew in from Hungary especially to do this. It was a glorious day; we wasted about three hours catching up on old times.
What sorts of things did you talk about?
It’s funny; people have a misconception about what goes on with musicians. Everybody thinks it’s all about aftershow parties… I might have a couple of drinks, but I’ve never been to an aftershow party in my life. I remember this particular time when Purple got back together after a long break between tours. We pulled into town the night before, checked into the hotel and went to the bar, and it was all… “Hey, how are you doing, how’s the wife, how’s the kids, how’s Sunderland FC doing…” As I went up to bed I realised not one word had been spoken about music or anything like that. It was just sort of buddy talk. So it was great to see Jon and Nicko. We just yattered away for a while and then thought we better crack on because the time’s going by.
Tell us about some of the stuff on the WhoCares album, beginning with the Repo Depo track.
Repo Depo dates back to 1991 or 1992. It was a three-piece – well, four, including me – very hard rocking band. We had Brett Bloomfield on bass, Leonard Haze (Y&T) on drums, and Dean Howard was the guitar player. Dean was in various incarnations of my touring bands over the years. I suppose you could call Repo Depo a kind of offshoot of the Gillan band. There are various bits and pieces of Repo Depo on YouTube, I believe. I haven’t seen them myself but Brett keeps sending me messages saying: “You must watch this, it’s awesome, man.” We must have been together a year or more. They were all staying at my house when I lived in Buckinghamshire, between tours. But then I decided to return to Deep Purple for The Battle Rages On album. I was unable to resist the clarion call.
What about Dick Pimple?
Dick Pimple was a gift to a Deep Purple fan convention, which was supposed to be taking place at Sheffield City Hall around about the time we were recording Purpendicular, which would be 18, 20 years ago. When we’re in the studio we jam every day to warm up, and Dick Pimple was a result of one of those jams. I don’t know how long it is – 10 minutes, maybe longer. I played it the other day, I haven’t heard it since it was recorded, never gave it any thought. And wow, it’s got that drive to it. It’s completely relaxed and yet it’s got ferocious energy. There’s some great solos by Jon Lord and Steve Morse. It was good fun. Dick Pimple was an old name that Ritchie Blackmore used to have for Deep Purple. That was one of Ritchie’s favourites, along with the Steel Erectors.
You’ve included Zero The Hero, a track from Born Again, the controversial album you recorded when you were a member of Black Sabbath. Have you finally come to terms with that record?
You know what? I think a lot of that was misunderstood. The thing that I really didn’t like about the Born Again album was the production.
And the album cover!
No, I’ve grown to love it! I was quite frankly shocked at the time. I thought it [the album cover] was a little bit overstated in terms of shock value. But on reflection it’s exactly what Sabbath should have done at the time. I loved my time with the band and my experiences were fantastic. It was a hoot a day. I’m still very close to Tony, of course. I enjoyed the album; it wasn’t Black Sabbath, it wasn’t Deep Purple… I don’t know what you’d call it, actually. It was just a bunch of guys having fun… very spontaneous. I think the music was alright; it just didn’t have any clear identity. But yes, I have come to terms with it. I did that very shortly after rejoining Purple [in 1984], in fact. The music was great, I just hated the production. That was the Spinal Tap quote: ‘It’s unplayable on the radio.’ Except our budget was a lot bigger than Spinal Tap’s – we had the full-size Stonehenge, after all! When I heard the mixes [of Born Again] I just put my hands over my ears and thought “My God…” However, that was in the days on vinyl. I suppose when it was remastered for CD it sounded better. I’m not sure, I haven’t heard it for a while.
And Garth Rockett?
Garth! The yang to my yin. Garth, dear Garth. My alter ego. I’ve forgotten which particular track they’re using?
It’s No Laughing In Heaven, live.
Yes, now there’s a song. I enjoyed that.
Explain who Garth Rockett was/is, for anyone who doesn’t know.
It was so I could go out and play, basically, without using my perhaps better-known name. When I was 17 years old I had all these silly names. I was Jess Thunder at one time! Then I became Garth Rockett And The Moonshiners. Two ‘t’s in Rockett, if you don’t mind. It was an early stage name that I used and it kind of stuck. A lot of my friends used it mockingly. It was back in the days when everyone had silly stage names. You’d change your name weekly as much as you’d change your band weekly. Your name didn’t matter because no one knew you anyway.
Talking about the early days, there’s a Javelins track on there as well.
That’s fantastic. That was my first proper band and we never went into the recording studio, we just didn’t reach that level. We were all still learning; we were all still in our formative years, just gigging in clubs. So we never made a record but we stayed in touch. I was talking to Tony Tacon, the rhythm guitar player, and about 15 years ago we decided to have a reunion. And then I thought, why don’t we do it in a recording studio and then we’ll have a genuine album after all this time. So we had a long weekend. All the other guys took time off work and we went and recorded a whole album on the Saturday and Sunday, and mixed it on the Monday. Most of them hadn’t picked up an instrument for ages. It makes people very happy when they listen to that. There’s a load of old songs, Fats Domino stuff… I think they’re using Can I Get A Witness by Marvin Gaye and Holland-Dozier-Holland, aren’t they? Unbelievable stuff. I still play the album a lot.
To close, we simply must talk about Deep Purple. It’s true that Bob Ezrin is producing your new album?
It looks that way. I’m not sure I’m allowed to say anything until contracts are signed but it seems… let’s put it this way, I’m booking a flight out to Nashville on June 23. So I’m sure he will be [producing], yes.
June 23 is when you’re going to kick off the recording?
The whole thing, the writing and everything, yes. We’ve got six weeks to do it.
Bob Ezrin is an interesting choice…
I think it’s great to work with different producers and Bob Ezrin has got an amazing track record. No pun intended. He came up to see us to talk it through and everyone fell in love with him. I think the idea of working with somebody you’ve got respect for professionally and personally… it’s going to make it easy. To be honest, what I think we’re looking for is one of those old-pro type approaches where you have guidance and a great sound. That’s what we want. To cut out the rubbish, which we always recognise too late. We need an objective ear, I think that’s really important. I’m looking forward to it very much.
If you look at the history of Purple, you’ve self-produced more often than not.
Generally, yes. We’ve used Martin Birch as a kind of engineer and sixth ear… a sixth pair of ears, I should say. But generally self-produced. This time I think we’re a little more focused than we have been in the past. We never make plans; we just turn up with nothing and crack on from there. But I think Bob Ezrin will help us focus. I thought Bananas [2003, produced by Michael Bradford] was a fantastic-sounding record… in complete contrast to Rapture Of The Deep [2005, also produced by Bradford]. Bradford’s first album with us was brilliant. We’re all a bit long in the tooth and as life goes on you do need someone to give you that cutting edge, which I’m sure Bob Ezrin will provide.
When will new album be released?
Well, I don’t know. There used to be a long lapse between finishing the recording, then the post-production, the artwork and everything… it used to take ages. It’s much quicker these days. I’ve done three or four albums since the last Purple album. Once the music’s sorted, the rest of it takes no time at all. So, when’s it coming out? I don’t know. How do you sell records these days anyway?
* The WhoCares single, featuring the songs Out Of My Mind and Holy Water, is out on May 6.
An album is to follow with the following tracklisting:
WhoCares – Out Of My Mind (from the CD single of the same title)
Ian Gillan feat, Iommi, Paice and Glover –Trashed (from Gillan’s Inn)
Black Sabbath – Zero The Hero (from Born Again)
Deep Purple – Dick Pimple (unreleased Deep Purple studio out-take from Purpendicular)
WhoCares – Holy Water (from the WhoCares single)
Black Sabbath – Anno Mundi (from Tyr)
Ian Gillan – She Thinks It’s A Crime (first time on CD or digital)
Tony Iommi feat. Glenn Hughes – Slip Away (previously only available digitally)
Ian Gillan – When A Blind Man Cries (live acoustic at Absolute Radio, unreleased)
Garth Rockett aka Ian Gillan – No Laughing In Heaven (live)
Ian Gillan feat. Mikhalis Ratzinkis – Getaway (available only on deleted vinyl LP)
Tony Iommi feat. Glenn Hughes – Let It Down Easy (Japanese bonus track of the album Fused)
Ian Gillan And The Javelins – Can I Get A Witness (rare)
Repo Depo – Easy Come Easy Go (unreleased, the band Gillan started before rejoining Deep Purple)
Deep Purple feat. Ronnie James Dio – Smoke On The Water
Gillan/Glover – Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave Me
Gillan – Don’t Hold Me Back
Listen to the track Holy Water by clicking on the image above.