Sure, Deep Purple released their Concerto For Group And Orchestra in 1969, but that’s not what this is about. For the first time, the legendary British rockers are bringing their vast, hit-filled catalog to the U.S. with full 38-piece orchestral accompaniment.
Hard to believe they’ve never done it before, right? One would think that Deep Purple—Ian Gillan on vocals, Ian Paice on drums, Roger Glover on bass, Steve Morse on guitar and Don Airey on keys—would have complete string and horn sections following them around the grocery store, let alone on North American tours. But nope, a search through their extensive tour archive proves it: What they’re doing in 2011 has never been done before.
They’re calling it—appropriately enough—the Songs That Built Rock Tour, and with a setlist that promises new adaptations of the band’s many staple cuts, the anticipation is high for what Deep Purple are going to be able to do with their catalog for the their first Stateside tour in four years.
In the following Q&A, Glover (with no small amount of dry British humor behind him) discusses the groundwork for the tour and—perhaps most importantly—the progress Deep Purple have made on their long-awaited new album, due out next year.
What goes into preparing for a tour like this? Do you guys all rehearse with the orchestra?
Oh, it takes a long—minutes, it takes. As a matter of fact, this is kind of a new venture for us, because although we’ve worked with orchestras a lot, we usually work with the same orchestra.
This is a tour where there’s going to be a lot of different orchestras, so actually not that much rehearsal’s going to go into it. The rehearsal really is all in the preparation, because the basis for the whole idea is the songs that we normally perform.
It’s not an orchestra concert, per se, like the Concerto. It’s basically our songs, but a slightly different setting. Good gimmick.
What brought the idea about?
Desperation (laughs). No, we’ve been touring, touring, touring, constantly, for a long time now, and it’s much more difficult to get a tour in the States. Europe is very hot for us, in fact, all around the world, and the States, I’ve found over the years, is like a seesaw balance. You’re big in the States, and you’re not so big anywhere else, and it sort of goes back and forth.
And we haven’t toured America for quite some time, so we’re eager to break back in and do some American touring. Do something slightly different, not just another tour.
Do you guys have to rearrange any of the songs on your end, or is it basically added parts for the orchestra?
It’s all being added and orchestrated and arranged by some chap whose name I don’t know. You’re talking to the wrong person if you want information (laughs). All I know is he’s a friend of a friend, if that’s any good. Very highly qualified and has done this kind of thing before. I’m sure he’s excellent.
And it’s all different orchestras, you said. So it’s not like you’re on the road with an orchestra.
That’s right. Like most of our shows, it’s going to be a little hairy. Sometimes it gets to be a bit on the edge, and basically, I think the parts are going to be written out for the orchestra, and orchestras play parts, so I think probably the modus operandi is, we’re going to get to wherever we’re doing the concert first, then have a good old soundcheck with them, then we may do a couple of songs to soundcheck with us, and that would be it. If we’re lucky. Or maybe if we’re unlucky, I don’t know (laughs).
We’re not a rehearsing-type band. We tend to sort of… play, rather than rehearse. It’s a boring process, rehearsing, and we all know what we’re doing. It’s not like we have to rehearse how to play, it’s just what to play, and we kind of make it up as we go along all the time.
What is the setlist going to consist of?
Pretty much the songs that people know. There’ll be some new stuff in there.
New new stuff?
Not new new stuff. This day and age, you can’t afford to put new stuff out, because it belongs to everyone before you even get the chance to release it. We’ve been working, actually. We’ve been having a writing session. But you won’t hear any of that this tour. That’ll be the next tour.
How is the writing going? When did you start?
In March, we all convened in Spain, at a studio in Spain, up in the mountains. Quite idyllic. We spent about nine days, just jammed every day and got a whole bunch of ideas down.
And we’ll continue working on it later this year, probably—September, October—and it’ll be out next year. I can see into the future.
I hope the world doesn’t end before it comes out.
No, no, no. I know the date the world will end and it’s not the one they say. But I’m not telling you.
That’s fine. I’d rather not know anyway. Are you writing all the time still? It seems kind of strange to get together once, then tour and go back to writing. Is that just everyone’s schedule, or do you prefer to work that way?
Well, a lot of bands kind of write on the road. They actually work as a band. We don’t actually do that. We work as five individuals, most of the time, and writing sessions have to be orchestrated almost as closely as a tour. We all have to fly in somewhere, we’ve all got to stay somewhere, etc.
We all live in different parts of the world, so you can’t exactly call someone up and say, “I’ve got a few ideas, come on over tonight.” It’s got to be a different way. So writing tends to get done in small batches as far as the band’s concerned, but individually, we’re all writing all the time anyway. That’s what we do.
I just finished a solo album that’s coming out in June. But it’s nothing like Deep Purple. The whole point of my solo albums is just to stretch out a bit and have some fun. Not that Deep Purple isn’t fun, but you know what I mean.
You let your whimsy go wherever it will. My whimsy goes a lot further than it should sometimes.
In writing, do you guys find you have the freedom to do whatever you want, or do you feel expectations from fans?
It’s kind of hard not to do anything without imagining how someone else is gonna take it, but at the same time, we’re not the kind of band that worries too much about what people think. We tend to just have fun, really.
Yeah, there’s a kind of Purple ethic about the music, and it’s very difficult to define, because when Steve came into the band, he said, “Well, what do you want from me?” and I said, “What we don’t want is a carbon copy of Ritchie [Blackmore].” Ritchie was great, but to be in a band, you have to be yourself. You can’t be someone else.
He said, “So I can just bring in ideas?” and I said, “Yeah, we’re all open to ideas,” and Purpendicular, that first album with him, is just full of stuff that we’d never written before. And that’s great to do.
It’s not like we have to be formulaic, although there’s a kind of sensibility of what makes a Deep Purple song a Deep Purple song—maybe other people’s opinions differ. But if it passes the test of all of us going, “Yeah, I like it,” then it’s a Purple song, whatever it sounds like, even if it’s a soft ballad or whatever.
So yeah, we use our freedom, and that’s been wonderful. It was always thus. No one ever told us what to do or how to do it, and my own expectations—when we did Perfect Strangers, the first album we’d done in 11 years—I did wonder about how people would take that. But in the end, when we actually started doing it, we spent more time in the pub than the studio.
The business just took care of itself, and whatever it was, it was. We’re a very democratic band. It’s difficult for one person to say it should be in this direction or that direction.
We’re not very producible. I speak from experience. We’re a wild bunch of musical characters, really, that somehow we get conjoined together under this banner called Deep Purple.
The new material, has it taken any specific direction yet? Other than idyllic, what were the jam sessions like?
The direction was southeast (laughs). What makes the Purple sound is, I guess, the orchestration of the instruments. That twin organ/guitar balance and Paice and me being the rhythm section and Gillan over the top. If there’s a formula, that’s it. And it’s how we play that counts.
Deep Purple’s Songs That Built Rock Tour hits PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on June 10, the Tropicana in Atlantic City on June 11, and NYC’s Beacon Theater June 14-15. More info at deeppurple.com.