This page last updated January 24, 2003

January 21st 2003
Sydney Opera House, Drama Theatre (spoken word)


Photo: Drew Thompson

Jon Lord "Talking Culture" - Part One
(Interview transcribed by Tom Bradbury)

The presentation consisted of a DJ from FM radio station 2JJJ interviewing Mr Lord in front of a small crowd numbering no more than 60 people.

The interview was conducted somewhat 'Parkinson-style' [BBC talkshow host], with the on-stage decor basic, comprising only a fold-up table with two fold-up chairs, a carafe of water and two glasses. An imitation dead tree lay at the rear of the stage to one side, giving the set a distinctly 'Aussie' flavour. The mode was 'intimate' due to this on-stage simplicity, the relatively small theatre size, and the lack of a PA system. However, Jon did wear a clip-on microphone, which presumably operated as a radio link to a remote sound recorder. In the side aisle next to the audience stood a gentleman operating a very large hand-held video camera.

Although the atmosphere was a little tense and 'nervy' at first, Jon soon loosened up the softly-spoken but articulate interviewer, as well as the audience, with his warmness, openness and candor, plus a few wise-cracks thrown in along the way.

The interview itself went for about 20 minutes, followed by an audience question-time lasting about 30 minutes.

I have written the transcripts in this review as accurately and as unbiasedly as possible (and as well as my ears allow me). Any errors or misquotes are totally unintentional, and if any do exist, then I sincerely apologise. Here we go:

PART 1: THE INTERVIEW (jump to Part 2, Q&A session)

The interview contained about 10 main subjects of discussion. Presumably through good question planning by the interviewer along with Jon's articulate storytelling, the resulting presentation was fascinating, and provided an entertaining and light-hearted chronological insight into the Concerto's history.

a) 1967-1969 – The Sowing of the Seed

The interviewer began by asking Jon what inspired him to write the Concerto. Jon explained: "My idea would have come from a vinyl LP a couple years before – a British group, Dave Brubeck Quartet and the New York Philharmonic… the jazz band… and I thought that was a pretty good idea… and at the time I'd write loads of material - I'd write in a band - I would do that. And in 1969, after everybody became really well known [as Deep Purple], I said 'we'll do that.' So I approached the rest of the guys and they sort of said that 'are you having me on?' and I said 'probably, but then let's have a go.'"

When the interviewer asked him if he had to work for long on the band in order to talk them into it, Jon replied "a couple of jars did it, I think."

"I just mooted an idea, and our manager at the time came to me a few months later and said 'are you serious about that Concerto for Group and Orchestra?'. I said 'yeah, I'm working on it.' [He said] 'well you'd better work harder, 'cause I've booked the Albert Hall!'"

b) May 1969 - The Albert Hall

Jon described the Albert Hall: "It's a beautiful place. It's accoustically not brilliant. They've done as much as they could with it. There are arms of giant inverted mushrooms in the ceiling. They're beautiful ceilings... When you walk on the stage, the knowledge of who's stood there before you is exciting."

"He [Deep Purple's manager] booked the Royal Albert Hall and he booked the orchestra . This was May I guess, 1969, when the performance was September. [Their manager said] 'Are you out of your mind? Haven't you started working on it? You've got an orchestration to do man!' Everyone was called 'man'."

c) 1969: The Overall Concept of the Concerto

On the overall concept of the Concerto, Jon explained: "I started off as a pianist. I started piano at the age of five... and very quickly moved to large orchestral music. And then I heard Little Richard and Elvis and WOW!, I just felt incredibly lucky because my intense love of that didn't dry out the previous development I had felt. And the idea was to put two things together and to see if I could in some sort of fairly graphic way pay homage to both."

Jon explained that the Concerto's overall concept is quite simplistic, although the piece has a clear sub-story, with the 1st Movement being one of "conflict". He went on: "The 1st Movement is the antagonism between the two. In fact, when the group first enters after about six minutes of build-up from the orchestra the orchestra seems to get a little cocky. [The orchestra says] 'We'll get hold of this. We'll just go to the front anyway'. And then they come up with this really rather cynical tune."

Jon said that the band then plays three big chords. "And then you hear the orchestra scurrying away. It's quite simplistic."

The 2nd Movement is "some kind of conflict, a pointover and a [more] calm, quiet overall ending than the 1st."

The 3rd Movement is "a pure rave up [because] we've worked out how to play together, so 'let's have a bash at it.'"

d) Malcolm Arnold – Bridging the Chasm of Attitudes

In response to the interviewer's question 'That initial tension between you and the orchestra- where did that come from? [Was it] just a fear of new competition or something?'

Jon, after a long period of thought, answered "1969."

Comparing the wide 'chasm' in opposing attitudes which existed between rock music and orchestral music in 1969, with the attitudes of today, Jon remarked: "Music has become much more a single entity now – the people on one side of the musical spectrum are more open to the other side now. Much, much more. I mean, there were guys in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969 who had been in it since 1869!"

"There's a wonderful bit in the film of the event where you can actually see one old gentleman who [had been playing in] the violas for about 40 years, and you can actually see he's almost in pain!" Jon added that "You could see lots of physical evidence [so could you imagine the] mental evidence?"

"It took the strength and commitment and friendship of the conductor, a remarkable man Sir Malcolm Arnold, and 81 I think now to shout at them."

"Some of the things he [the old gentleman] said to Malcolm, I couldn't actually tell you, because they were prolific and rather startling."

Jon remembered one example of Malcolm Arnold's commitment, during rehearsals, where he stopped the orchestra in mid-performance, rapping his batton hard on the note stand, and said 'no no no no no no NO! This won't do. THIS WON'T DO!! If we're gonna make history tomorrow, we might as well make BLOODY MUSIC at the same time! The rock band are playing like heroes. You're playing like... Anglo Saxonists! And it sort of brought them up short because he was one of them. He actually started his career as a trumpet player on the London Symphony – principal trumpet, and a very fine one too."

Jon concluded by saying that had it not been for Malcolm Arnold, the Concerto "could have fallen to bits."

e) 1970: Losing the Concerto;

In response to the question of how the original Concerto score came to be lost, Jon explained: "Well, we did it in America in 1970 - we did it at the Hollywood Bowl - and I think someone just forgot [to take it with them as they walked off stage], it's easily done! And really, we were never gonna play it again I thought. So I never bothered to make sure that the music would come back. I thought it would be in the office, so 20 years later when somebody said it's the 20th birthday of the Concerto and we should do it again, I said 'Yeah! But I don't know where it is!'"

f) 1997: Trying to Write it Out Again

In 1997 when the 30th anniversary was coming up, the rest of the band told Jon that they wanted to play it. After Jon wired his "jaw back up from the floor," he was concerned that in order to do it famously and have the press loving it, the band would have to refer to it as 'Jon's classical tune', when everyone actually wanted to see a rock band. Then Steve Morse told him 'It's OK to do more than one thing. It's really alright.' So when asked 'can't you write it out again?' by the London Symphony Orchestra in 1997, Jon replied 'OK, so long as I'm allowed to have it ready in 2050!'

So Jon had a go at rewriting the Concerto and realized what a mammoth task it was. "My wife heard me screaming as I tore out my hair saying 'I can't make it. It's impossible!'"

When asked by a member of the audience how far into rewriting it he actually got, Jon joked "bar seven."

g) 1997-1999: Marco De Goeij – Reconstructing the Concerto

Jon explained: "In February of 1999 I was getting out of a car in a very rain-swept Rotterdam after being driven from Germany, and I was ragged. This young man [Marco de Goeij] got out of the car and came up to me and said 'It's about your Concerto, I think I've managed to recreate it.'"

"He was a Dutch music student and he wanted to write his thesis on the Concerto for Group and Orchestra. It was something that had fascinated him for years – Yeehaaa! And he found out that the score had been lost, so he bought the video - the film of the event – and he bought the CD, and he just played it, and played it. He was actually pausing the video to see where the players' fingers were."

h) 1999: Composer and Concerto Reunited

"And of course, looking at it again, it was such a wonderful moment. It almost brought tears to my eyes 'cause there were those notes you know, laying on the floor. And I was so confident in 1969 that I landed a story in INK! And there it was. I was so happy to see it."

"So I was able then to take it back to England and he'd done the 1st Movement and most of the 2nd, but had had trouble with the 3rd Movement, because it's so fast - it's ready to go, so I had to rescore quite a bit of the last Movement. And a lot of it came back, I remember. And I took the opportunity to correct a few things."

i) 2002-03: The New Generation - Australian band 'george'

Jon noted that george first played the Concerto in 2002 in Brisbane, Australia.

"I love them. They've done a totally different take on it. I mean, very different. Anybody who knows the one by Deep Purple will have a lovely surprise. They've taken a more gentle attitude."

Jon noted that the 1st Movement is the most different: "It's interesting now because in the 1st Movement where it's very much the orchestra, then the band, then the orchestra, then the band - the idea is, one keeps trying to supercede the other. It's a kind of 'naa na na naa naaaa.' But now, it's george playing and saying 'it's okay, we'll take it outside, but we'll be cool, you know'. I love it."

"But when we get to the last Movement, there's still plenty of stab and fury."

j) Jon Lord – A Musician and Composer

Jon noted that he's always very anxious not to make himself out to be some kind of "evangelist of Deep Purple" or a teacher. When asked what he does, he prefers to be known as a musician and composer and, finally, one with confidence.

"I'm a musician. That's what I do. And I was able to do this because I taught myself to orchestrate, and by the skin of my teeth I got away with it. And I've gotten better at it as the years have gone by. And now I feel confident. If someone says what do I do, I'm confident to say I'm a composer, because I've worked at it and got myself to that point. But in 1969 I was, er, well, Al Capone. I was just trying hard to figure out how to put what was in here [points to his heart] onto paper."

Part Two - Q&A session

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