DEEP PURPLE Singer: This Is The Best Line-Up We've Ever Had

DEEP PURPLE frontman Ian Gillan recently spoke to The New Zealand Herald about the group's past lineup changes and the band's present incarnation, which consists of Gillan, bassist Roger Glover, drummer Ian Paice, guitarist Steve Morse, and keyboardist Don Airey.

"We had a conversation about this the other day and I think this is the best line-up there's ever been, without a doubt," Gillan said. "With the level that we're working at, the musicianship is the thing that keeps us going. The greatest challenge is to keep yourself fresh."

According to Gillan, longtime keyboardist Jon Lord's exit has changed DEEP PURPLE for the better. "Jon had been leaving the group for about four to five years and you can tell when someone wants to leave," said Gillan. "You can never criticize a monumental musician like Jon Lord or Richie Blackmore, or the part they played in the group, but life goes on."

DEEP PURPLE are continuing to tour in support of their latest album, 2003's "Bananas". Asked if the group's fans aren't just coming to hear those old riff-monsters like "Smoke On The Water", Gillan said, "The people who come to PURPLE shows are there for the music. They are all aware that all of these songs were new at one time. When we did 'Smoke On The Water' and the 'Machine Head' album in 1972, that was the band's sixth album. When we first introduced those songs, they were brand new and had to be performed among their older brothers and sisters. We'd spread them out amongst older tracks, just like we do now with the songs from 'Bananas'. 'Smoke On The Water' was ignored by everybody to begin with. We only did it in the shows because it was a filler track from 'Machine Head'. But then one radio station picked up on it and Warner Bros. edited it down to about three and a half minutes. It then started getting played by lots of different radio stations."

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