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Deep Purple - 1941-2012

  by Nick Dent-Robinson

published: 8 / 8 / 2012

Deep Purple - 1941-2012


Nick Dent-Robinson pays personal tribute to and looks back on the life of Deep Purple organ player and classical composer Jon Lord, who died in July

There have been many tributes paid to Jon Lord, Deep Purple's organ player since he died on 16 July from pancreatic cancer. He was 71. Jon's friend Rick Wakeman, former keyboard player with Yes, described Jon as “a member of rock royalty whose contribution to music and to classic rock was immeasurable.” After training in classical piano from the age of five, Jon left his Leicestershire grammar school to train as an actor at London's Central School of Speech and Drama. But the world of R & B and rock music was a major attraction and he was soon playing piano and organ in clubs to pay the bills. With his classical background he was unusually accomplished and quickly found himself in demand as a session musician (Jon played keyboards on the Kinks' huge 1964 hit ‘You Really Got Me’). After playing with the Artwoods which featured vocalist Art Wood, Jon formed the Santa Barbara Machine Head band with Art's brother and future Rolling Stone, Ronnie Wood. By now Jon was already composing and developing his trademark sound – a fusion of classical style with a blues and rock format. In 1968 Jon co-founded Deep Purple. The band were to tour the world's largest stadiums for the next eight years, recording a series of classic rock albums – like ‘In Rock’ (1970), ‘Fireball’ (1971) and ‘Burn’ (1974) and achieving over 100 million record sales. The key to the band's success was the powerful Hammond organ and guitar-driven formula with organist Jon and lead guitar Ritchie Blackmore each rivalling the other, constantly striving for new highs of virtuosity. Ian Gillan's powerful vocals were crucial too, and drummer Ian Paice and bassists Nick Simper and later Roger Glover provided masterful underpinning. Probably Jon Lord's organ solo on the track ‘Hush’ best showcases his brilliance. Few rock organists could match that performance! From the end of the 1960s possibly only Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones in the UK could operate on as grand a scale as Deep Purple. But Deep Purple were different. Only they took regular time out to indulge in classical projects. These were inspired and directed by Jon Lord and included the ‘Concerto for Group and Orchestra’ (1969), which was recorded with a full symphony orchestra under the direction of conductor Sir Malcolm Arnold. It is hard to imagine now what a hugely radical step this was at the time. The worlds of classical and rock music had never mixed. And die-hard fans from both genres were horrified. Deep Purple broke up in 1976 - though the band were to reform with various line-ups, Jon Lord and Ian Paice remaining the mainstays until Jon finally left in 2002. Jon spent some of the 1970s in Whitesnake but he devoted a lot of his time to solo projects and collaborations. From time to time he worked closely with his Oxfordshire neighbours George Harrison, Cozy Powell and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Plus he wrote and performed film and television soundtracks and composed a wealth of classical piano and orchestral music. Jon Lord's 1982 album ‘Before I Forget ‘included some very English classical piano ballads featuring Oxfordshire-based mother and daughter duo, Vicki Brown and Sam Brown (wife and daughter of rock guitarist Joe Brown). In 1997 Jon Lord's ‘Pictured Within’ album was a touching tribute to his mother who had died in 1995. It includes the beautiful song ‘Wait a While’ (written with Sam Brown), which was later a major Scandinavian hit and which Jon Lord performed with the talented Sam and the London Symphony Orchestra in 1999 at London's Royal Festival Hall. Another collaboration was with ABBA star Frida Lyngstad who toured Europe in 2004 with Jon singing his ‘The Sun Will Shine Again’ (lyrics by Sam Brown). Jon Lord's ‘Durham Concerto’(2008) and his piano concerto ‘Boom of the Tingling Strings’ (also 2008) became major hits in Classic FM's Hall of Fame – achieving the very rare feat for any musician of top selling records in both the classical and rock charts. Jon had been due to play with the Hagen Philharmonic Orchestra in Germany during July but his illness forced him to postpone. In one of the last interviews he gave, Jon reflected that his proudest achievement was probably that he had not only enjoyed major success with Deep Purple but had eventually won some recognition as an accomplished classical composer from people he respected in the world of classical music. Throughout his rock career Jon had always been a little different. He looked like a rock star but had a slightly professorial quality. On tour when the partying was frenzied all around Jon would opt to retire to his room with a good book. The band's joke was that all Jon would ever get arrested for would be speed-reading. In his later years Jon had befriended the writer and creator of ‘Rumpole’, John Mortimer, who was another near neighbour. The two would talk for hours about literature and music, deriving much joy from one another's company. They toured the country together performing ‘Mortimer's Miscellany’. Jon also wrote the wedding march to which John Mortimer walked his daughter, the actress Emily, up the aisle at her wedding. And when John Mortimer died in 2009, Jon Lord composed and played the music at his funeral. From my own meetings with Jon Lord, I can affirm that he was a warm and kindly man who was surprisingly unassuming and with a keen sense of fun. Jon had three daughters and was married to Vicki – the twin sister of Jackie, Ian Paice's wife. He gave every impression of being very content, though always looking ahead to achieve new things. Paul Clerehugh, the owner of one of Jon's favourite local Oxfordshire pub and restaurants, Stoke Row's Crooked Billet, was a good family friend. Perhaps he sums Jon up best. As Paul recalls, “Jon was a beautiful man - charming, kind and considerate. He brought great joy. He always made time for people. He was incredibly funny, brilliant company and, despite being spectacularly clever, Jon never made you feel anything other than his equal. His soul will be in a very happy place.”

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