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20 Jun 2017

Deep Purple

On the other side of the line is Don Airey, a musician with zillion contributions to albums, projects and bands and for the last 15 years a permanent member of the mighty Deep Purple. We talk about the British band’s last album, life after Purple, Rainbow’s reunion, his personal career and the bleak –in his own opinion- future of our favourite music. Interview: Yiannis Dolas

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Rockpages.gr: Are you still in the snow, as the artwork of the new album suggests? I guess not…

Don Airey: Hahaha! No, we are in Luxembourg, it’s sunny at 18 degrees… it’s a beautiful summer’s day!

Rockpages.gr: First question about the album has to do with the title. What’s the meaning of “Infinite”?

Don Airey: Ahhm, you know I really don’t know. You know the Latin thing “ars longa vita brevis”… art lasts but life is short. It’s something to do with that. That the music will outlast the band I think. It’s got a double meaning, it’s got a capital “f” in there so it’s “finite”, so this may very well be the last album.

Rockpages.gr: Also, maybe there is an underlying message in the cover’s concept with the ice-breaking ship. Would you suggest that this is the course of the band so far? Breaking the ice, or pointing towards the future?

Don Airey: Hahah, I don’t know… I haven’t thought about it, I just thought it was a brilliant graphic idea. There is the infinity symbol, but it also says DP… it’s quite clever. Really, it’s there for people to read into it whatever they want.

Rockpages.gr: I have to say that this is one of the best Deep Purple covers of all time…

Don Airey: Yeah… it’s pretty good, I liked it very much. We had a great photo session with the dogs all dressed up in arctic explorers gear… it looks great, it’s something that will last I think.

Rockpages.gr: I think that the album “Infinite” is better than your previous one “Now What?!”…

Don Airey: Yeah, you think so?

Rockpages.gr: Maybe, it’s the best album since “Perpendicular” in my opinion…

Don Airey: “Purpendicular”? Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion. I probably have a different one.

Rockpages.gr: Do you want to share it?

Don Airey: Well, most of the reviews have been saying that it’s the best Purple album since “Prefect Strangers” and I agree with that, yeah!

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Rockpages.gr: What helped you make such a good album? Was it that you already had a good chemistry with Bob Ezrin from “Now What?!”?

Don Airey: In two words: Bob Ezrin… hahaha… he played a great part. When a group has been together that long you can become very dysfunctional as an entity and I think that we had become very dysfunctional as a band. And Bob Ezrin put that right. He saw that there was a big problem as soon as he started to work with us and he absolutely put it right. He brought the enthusiasm back, team work, laughter, hard work… he really worked us hard. He was just brilliant. I can’t speak to highly about him.

Rockpages.gr: When you are making an album that might be your last one, what is your mentality? What are you thinking about? Do you think that if that’s your last one then it should be a great one?

Don Airey: I am thinking… B flat to D and there’s 8 bars in A… hehehe… A Major… I’ve got to play this part with Steve… how are we going to end this track? That’s what you think about. You don’t think big picture, you think small picture. Young groups ask me for advice… what should we do? And I say: “just make sure that the bridge is really the best on you can do and the ending is good and that it hangs together as a piece of music”… that’s what you concern about. Because the hardest part in being is the music business is music. Trying to get that right. If you get the music right then the rest comes out easy.

Rockpages.gr: How hard, or easy would you say that it is to come up with stuff on album no.20?

Don Airey: I have never taken part to a recording session that it was easy. No matter with whom. If you go out to help a young band it’s the same. It’s always difficult. It’s challenging. And you get used to that, you can’t just sit around and hope that something will come up. You really have to work hard for it. So, this being the second album with Bob Ezrin we did have a standard operating procedure. We’ve taken the path before, so it was a little bit easier this time. But, it was still a lot of hard work. Two separate writing sessions, one that appeared in two weeks rehearsal with Bob before we went into the studio. They made a film of it. Have you seen it? My wife watched it and she was shocked! She was very shocked. She said “well, it’s hard making an album”, I said “yeah”… she thought we all just sat around jamming…

Rockpages.gr: Actually, I think there is one song in the film where Bob Ezrin doesn’t like it and he doesn’t want to put it in the album, but still you put it in the album!

Don Airey: “I am not liking this” that’s what went through the headphones…

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Rockpages.gr: One of my favourite songs in the album is “All I Got Is You”, can you tell us a bit about this?

Don Airey: Ahhm, it’s something Ian Paice always says to people… put it this way (making Ian Paice’s voice) “you’ve got me, but I’ve got you”… you know he is a very funny guy Paicey, and that’s one of his catch-phrases. We’ve turned it into a song. It came out very different than I expected it. I thought it was going to be quite a heavy piece, but it’s got a very wistful nostalgic air about it. When I heard the mix I thought “wow, it sounds like a mountain stream”, you know coming down the mountain side…

Rockpages.gr: Also, you have a cover, which is something not very usual for Deep Purple, of “Roadhouse Blues”. How did this come up?

Don Airey: Well, I think that we recorded fifteen songs and there was a bit of time left. There was a couple of hours and Bob said “aaah, what should we do, what should we do? Let’s do a cover”. Paicey said “Roadhouse Blues”. So, off we went. It was as quick as that. It was done in a couple of hours. I was surprised by it, it turned out very authentic.

Rockpages.gr: It’s totally different than the original…

Don Airey: Yeah, it’s different and it sounds… it came up on my iTunes and I thought “who is that? Is this the Allman brothers or something? Oh, it’s us.”

Rockpages.gr: Also, you are already in what looks likes to be your last tour with Deep Purple , how is the feeling about that? Maybe those are the last shows for the band…

Don Airey: Eehhmm, I don’t know actually… the tour is going to last for another 8 months, so this is a long time. I don’t know what we’ll do after it. I don’t think there will be much more to be said, but we’ll see. To be fair to the band it wasn’t us who called the tour like that. It came from another source, the promoters.

Rockpages.gr: So, there might be more Deep Purple shows and an album?

Don Airey: Well, I don’t think we’ll be doing another 8-month tour again, but I would say a few one-off gigs.

Rockpages.gr: What about you? Have you thought about life after Deep Purple?

Don Airey: It’s all I think about!

Rockpages.gr: And?

Don Airey: You know, it’s a natural process, retiring. You can’t do what you used to do. And there is other priorities in life, but I am going to keep making music, I just won’t travel so much… and spend more time with the family… you know I have grandchildren and I’d love to see them growing up, that’s one of the greatest things in life…

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Rockpages.gr: A lot of people, including me, had made some thoughts about Ritchie Blackmore’s return to hard rock with a reunion that wasn’t exactly a reunion of Rainbow last summer. Have you thought about this, since you were a member of Rainbow in 1980?

Don Airey: Well, I think it was a good thing for Ritchie to do… I don’t think it proved as easy as he thought it would be. Because it’s been a long time since he’s been in that environment. And it’s not so easy to find players, people who can play that music. It sounds easy, but it’s not. It takes time to put a band together and get it to sound good. I wish him luck, I hope he is having some fun.

Rockpages.gr: But, don’t you think that it would have been easier if he got some of his older players to play these songs? If not all of them, just a couple…DeepPurple07

Don Airey: Well… you know Cozy is gone, Ronnie is gone… I think Ritchie likes running a band, he is very good at it. He likes to get fresh people in, he doesn’t like to have people who’s been through it all before. I don’t know… I’ve only seen him once in 20 years. So, I don’t know how his mind works these days.

Rockpages.gr: Maybe you are the best person to answer the next question because you haven’t been in Deep Purple during the ‘70s, or the ‘80s, you’ve been in the band since the ‘00s...

Don Airey: Yeah, in the “naughties”!
Rockpages.gr: Exactly, and I guess that this a question a lot of fans ask themselves, or even dream about… do you think that will ever be a chance that the guys would bury the hatchet and Ritchie of course and play all of them together? Even if it’s for one show?

Don Airey: No! I doubt it. I don’t think it will ever happen. Not because of any ranker… it’s just the practicalities of it. I mean we’ve got a band here that’s called Deep Purple and that’s the band. It takes enough to put all that together and having to deal with getting other guys involved, having a lot of musicians on stage. I mean there is nothing worst! It’s awful! Hahaha! When you do it… it just becomes an ordeal. Think that being in a band is the band. It takes a lot of hard work to make a band sounding good and that’s what you wanna do. We had a wonderful tour with an orchestra and the band four years ago. It really was ground breaking. The orchestra was great, the show was great, everybody had a great time, but at the end of it they were all so glad to get back to the band, just to hear how the band played. And other people coming in, no matter what connection or history they have it tends not to work. It tends to become… something you do for the wrong reasons.

Rockpages.gr: You’ve been in Deep Purple for the longest time you’ve been in a band ever…

Don Airey: That’s right… normally, I stay with a band three years and I move on, but they allowed me to stay in this band… hehehe. Didn’t get kicked out!

Rockpages.gr: So, can you give me just a couple of snapshots from the time you’ve been in Deep Purple?

Don Airey: Eeehhm, one of the tours that I enjoyed the very best was the first one when I stood in for Jon. You know I had no thought that he was going to leave and it was an absolute delight. It was a Deep Purple summer tour, when you get to go to Monaco… we played a marvelous gig in Athens actually, that I will never forget in the amphitheater you know with the big rock and it was a full moon… I will never forget it! It was such a beautiful occasion. And I think I played “Zorba the Greek” in my keyboard solo and everybody went crazy. That was a great feeling!

Rockpages.gr: Any chance that you guys come back to Greece on this tour, or a next leg?

Don Airey: Well, I hope we come back next year. You know, Greece is one of my favourite countries I must say!    

Rockpages.gr: My last question is about big bands, the greatest bands, like Deep Purple that maybe in a couple of years will eventually call it a day. Black Sabbath did it, Aerosmith will do it, even Motley Crue did it. What do you think and how do you think that our favourite rock and hard rock music will cope with this when all of those heroes are not around anymore?   

Don Airey: Well, you would like to think that someone else will emerge, but I don’t think so. I think you see the last of it actually. Because nobody is learning how to play the guitar anymore. You hear a lot of keyboards in modern music, but nobody is actually playing. So, I think that the old, great tradition that was put upon the world by the British it is going to go… I thought when I went to see Sabbath’s last concert at Birmingham that I was very aware that I wasn’t going to see anything like that anymore in my life. Because, somebody like Tony Iommi makes it look easy and Geezer… they make it look very easy, but it’s really very difficult. I think people have changed, they are so obsessed with themselves. They are not bothered about other people and one of the things about being in a band is care about the people you are playing with and what they are playing. I see it a lot when I go to jam sessions. People, young players are getting up and they just playing without any regard about the people around them. They are into their own little world kind of thing. Ozzy said “music is dead”. He doesn’t think there is anything any good anymore.

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Rockpages.gr: Do you think so yourself?

Don Airey: I try to listen to the new stuff. You know Adele, Ed Sheeran… and it’s all right. But, I don’t get it! I think it’s a part of getting older, but I just find myself listening to old stuff all the time. You know, Hendrix, I’ve been listening to Robin Trower, Keith Emerson with the Nice… something has gone terribly wrong somewhere… You hear about what’s going on in the music business… a lot of people are not playing live, they are miming. A lot of people… some 70-80% are faking it.

Rockpages.gr: Yeah, but you are referring to pop music and definitely not hard rock, although there is a minority of rockers who have pre-recorded stuff…

Don Airey: I am sorry for being so depressing!

Rockpages.gr: Well, I thought you make another solo album, because your solo work is very good…

Don Airey: Ah, yeah, I have on half-mixed and hopefully it will come out before the end of the year.

Rockpages.gr: There you go, you didn’t say anything about that!

Don Airey: You didn’t ask!

Rockpages.gr: Well, I did ask you about life after Deep Purple…

Don Airey: Oh, that’s what you mean… well, yeah I am still making music. I’ve got a band album coming out, a piano album coming out.

Rockpages.gr: Anybody who is going to work with you or play with you that’s worth mentioning?

Don Airey: Oh, the band album is my own band, I tour with these guys every year for two weeks in March usually. Carl Sentence on vocals, a great young guitar player called Simon McBride. That should be out before the end of the year hopefully.

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