By Brian Harrigan (submitted by Damian Phelan)

John Lord tells Brian Harrigan why he wasn’t too unhappy when Ritchie Blackmore quit Deep Purple.

Jon Lord keyboardist with Deep Purple, has the aura of a paid up member of the Deep Purple international rock circus. He misses a plane from Paris and displays as much emotion as a factory worker missing a bus. He strolls into a plush Parisian hotel, the sort where even the porters wear dinner jackets and bow-ties, in faded denims, his fine brown hair curling around his shoulders, and he’s greeted by name, even though he was last there in April.

He does the same thing in an exclusive night-spot, which apart from his party is filled only by solid-looking Americans. Within minutes the rest of the clubs patrons find themselves calling in vain for more champaign. Lord is surrounded by the owner, the head waiter, the wine waiter and an entire troupe of Hungarian and Russian émigré musicians.

He was here last April, too, and made his impact by spending half a grand in one evening. He was treating his parents to their first trip abroad.

Jon Lord is a tax exile. He lives in California and Nice where he is holidaying, Paris is where the Purple People — the men behind the front men — hold their annual accounting conference.

Purple have continually had to remake and remodel since 1968 and their single success “Hush.” Almost before the band had started Rod Evens and Nick Simper were replaced by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover. Two years ago, they in turn were replaced by David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes.

And this year came the blockbuster — Ritchie Blackmore, founder member with Lord and Ian Paice was quitting. Surely even Deep Purple, a band, that had endured more personal differences than the Arabs and Israelis in the Six-Day War, this was the end.

“I remember vividly when Ritchie left,” recalls Lord. The states of mind in the band. “We decided we would finish, there was nothing else to do, and we all agreed. Then David said, quite simply, ‘Listen, Ritchie is a great guitarist, but there are others.’ I wasn’t too sure. In fact I was the one who wanted to leave. Ritchie and I had started the band and if he left surely that would have been my cue to say ‘forget it.’

“So when Dave came up with his suggestion I replied ‘Okay but who?’ Tommy Bolin, he said. ‘Tommy who?’ We had other names on our list replacement guitarists and one of them was Dave Clempson.

“He played with us in Los Angeles, but there was no chemistry — no detriment meant to Dave. I was ready to quit there and then, but David Coverdale got Tommy Bolin together. We tried him and he was just f****** marvelous. He made the band sound so fresh and new I just had to play with this guy. He made the band sound so different and exiting. He wrote most of the songs on the new album.”

Lord is enthusiastic about Bolin — understandably — but somehow dragging a stranger into an established set up and allowing him — no, positively inviting him — to write all the songs on the band’s next album sounds suspiciously like a recipe for disaster. Or a drastic and irrevocable change at least akin to taking the latest recruit to the Labour Party and making him Chancellor of the Exchequer with a couple of days.

“I don’t see it like that. Tommy can’t be so bad for us with so many good ideas. All I can say is when you hear the album you’ll change your mind. Whether you like the music or not, you’ll have to realize that Deep Purple now have an excitement in their playing that they haven’t had in a long time. I’ve always thought that Purple were a band that which people saw as ‘well yes a big band, but I wish they would do more.’”

Nevertheless the difference that Bolin has made to Purple must stand as an indictment of what the band has become?. “Indictment? You used the word, but I’ll subscribe to that. We got stale, tired and old. We became an institution if you like. In fact we had started to believe our own publicity. They always say that is the prime thing not to do.

“Ritchie comes in here very strongly. I’m not going to try to make a scapegoat out of him, but the point had been reached where if Ritchie didn’t like it, we didn’t do it. We all respected him and so we allowed him that freedom, We began to feel if he didn’t get his way he would pick up his guitar and go.

“When he did I was broken hearted for all of four and a half hours. A flippant remark, but based on fact. The younger element in the band (Coverdale and Hughes) thought f*** it, why do we have to break up just because Ritchie’s left and eventually I was caught by their enthusiasm. And that’s where Tommy comes in.

“When I say we got old, stale and tired, that’s not an apology, and there’s not an apology and there’s no abject humility in it. I was very proud of everything we put out at the time, so it’s not a cop out. I know how you felt about Stormbringer — too laid back and a bit disappointing right? But it wouldn’t have went out if I hadn’t been pleased with it.

“But you go to a different standpoint as time goes by. Still there’s one album only that came out and I will say was bad. Who Do We Think We Are was a bunch of crap because nobody was committed and because there were two giant conflicts in the band. Ian and Ritchie were almost on fighting terms, and Ritchie… well I won’t go into the reasons for that.

“God it was a bull**** album apart from two tracks ‘Woman From Tokyo’ and ‘Smooth Dancer.’ They were rather fun. The rest of the album was pretty crappy.

“Understand one thing: no matter how big you are, you have signed a contact with a record company and they will make you release albums come what may. The whole band would have liked to have stopped that album and start again. The album wasn’t tongue in cheek by the way. It was trying to say something about the album.”

Despite the emotional problems he went through with Blackmore, Lord is not inclined to slam his former colleague.

“A lot of people have wanted a damning phrase from me about Ritchie, but they aren’t gonna get it. The truth of the matter doesn’t contain anything about him that would make anything but boring reading.

“I’ll say this, though. I’m disappointed with his new band because I though he could do so much better. I like the guy to be honest, but to be equally be honest. I thought the Rainbow album was nothing more than average Deep Purple. I know Ritchie is capable of 50 times better than that.

“The natural question to ask as a follow on is ‘how much are Deep Purple capable of?’ The old Purple took a giant revitalizing shot in the arm with Glenn and Dave, although unfortunately got caught up in time with Stormbringer. With Tommy in the band now we’re capable of a lot more, but that’s all a matter of time isn’t it? Time and other people’s judgements.

“I’m a little bit annoyed — a lot annoyed, actually — that not many people realize how big we are. In print it’s gonna sound ridiculous. Methinks the organist doth protest to much. I can hear it now, ‘Okay, they are big, Jon so what?’ I’ve got happiness out of it and I’ve got my plaques on the wall. Still I know what we’ve done in 1973 and 1974 and that’s just history, but I just wanted to put it on the record.

“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t want people to say Purple are the biggest band in the world. I said that out of frustration. Recognition of that sort isn’t what I’m after. I’m after people enjoying Deep Purple. I don’t have any highfaluting ideas about a rock band and what a musician is. He is an entertainer and he only fulfills the role when he fulfills the function.

“I’m very worried about some of the people who take it too seriously. I don’t mean you should gull the public, but for Christ’s sake it has to be enjoyable. If there are people like Bob Dylan who can write about politics and do it well, fair enough. But don’t tell me I have to make comments about my political beliefs if I don’t want to.”

Despite these obviously held beliefs, Lord surely is guilty, if that’s not too strong a word, of trying to intellectualize rock through such things as Concerto For Group And Orchestra and his own Gemini Suite. Isn’t this desire to combine rock with classical music a striving after respectability?

“With all due respect, that’s the biggest bunch of bull**** I’ve ever heard. That has nothing to do with what I’m trying to do. Music is music and that’s it for me. What I’ve tried to do over the years is not to say ‘here is rock with an orchestra.’ All I’m doing is trying to write an alternative form of music to the sort I’m involved with Deep Purple. I’m a classically trained musician and I’m a rock musician. Thus it’s only natural to me. I do it because I think of myself as a musician, as complete as I can be under my own limitations. Mind you, I can see your suggestion applying to one or two I could think of in the past, but maybe I’m wrong about them.”