July 16, 2006

The 40th Montreux Jazz Festival ended on Saturday (July 15) with a concert by DEEP PURPLE. Lead singer Ian Gillan told Bernard Léchot of Swissinfo ahead of the gig what it meant to be back lakeside.

The band, who composed their influential track "Smoke on the Water" in Montreux in 1971, lit up the final night of a festival that was rich in memorable performances.

Swissinfo: This year was all about DEEP PURPLE returning to Montreux. You feature on the official poster and you played the final night, which is usually reserved to the giants of jazz...

Ian Gillan: Yes, it's unbelievable. Since the beginning, the ties between the career of DEEP PURPLE, Montreux and Claude Nobs [festival president] really make up quite a story. When we were young, in England, we used to play once a week as 'residents' in a small club where we knew everyone. And today, playing at Montreux, it's a bit like that. And no festival can compare with Montreux.

"A lot of people in this business have a bad reputation: people who only think of furthering their careers. But there are also those who love music, and without being musicians themselves, get involved in their own way. Claude is one of those who are passionate and take big risks in putting their name, reputation and money on the line."

Swissinfo: Your last studio album, "Rapture of the Deep", has an elegant, poetic sleeve that seems far removed from the clichés of hard rock. Are you getting tired of your image?

Ian Gillan: "When you are young, you have your favorite colour, your favourite animal, your favorite thing... The world is black or white, you have an answer for everything, you see the world in a very rigid way. As you move through life, you develop a broader philosophy. So this view of the world that you need as an adolescent to make up for your lack of experience, you leave behind."

Swissinfo: The designer of this year's official Montreux poster, Julian Opie, spoke in an article of the "wild" playing style of DEEP PURPLE...

Ian Gillan: "The word 'wild' doesn't seem fair to me — everything is under control. I think 'adventurous' would be a better choice. Ahead of a concert, I'm always pretty excited but I also spend time every day meditating, having a siesta. I concentrate on being as calm as possible, because I really need to keep a lid on my adrenaline until I go stage. And then, it's like opening the door to a cage and out leaps a tiger... So, yes, I guess it is a bit wild (laughs)! But whichever way you look at it, the challenge is that there's no routine with DEEP PURPLE. We often play the same songs, but we never know what's going to happen... and that's extremely difficult."

Swissinfo: A few years ago you told me that "Smoke on the Water" was the only song you had sung at all your concerts, with each of your bands, since 1972. Do you still manage to get a buzz out of it?

Ian Gillan: "Absolutely! Because it's not just about the band, there's the public as well. It's almost a spiritual experience. The song no longer belongs to us... we just accompany the crowd."

Swissinfo: 1971 was the year of the fire at the Montreux casino and the recording of your album "Machine Head". What memories do you have of that time?

Ian Gillan: In fact, as time goes by, the visual elements — the smoke, the fire, the fear — are still there, but what I remember most is the final day of recording in the Grand Hotel. Martin Birch, our manager, told us: 'I've got some bad news: we're missing seven minutes of material. And we only have 24 hours left.' He suggested that we listen to the takes made on the first day for the sound check. And that was where we found the roots of what was to become 'Smoke on the Water'. Roger Glover, the bassist, suggested that we write the words based on what we had just experienced... That was how the most dramatic recording there ever was came about!"

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