A PERSONAL TRIBUTE TO JON FOR THE MAESTRO’S 70TH BIRTHDAY.
By Marcin Karski
June 9th, 2011 – despite the Jubilee’s lighthearted attitude about birthdays – will be a very special day. One of the most renowned rock instrumentalists and celebrated composers in Great Britain will (hopefully) celebrate entering into the eighth decade of his life. There will be surely loads of stories and memories to ponder on as for Mr. Lord himself, as for those who were exposed to his art and personality.
Besides sending Jon wholeheartedly inspired wishes of unbreakable health, keeping up a good spirit and maintaining prolific artistic activity for years to come – to celebrate his anniversary I decided to go for an essay. I aim to point out seven magical moments that his art brought to my life – changing my focus on the music and making my musical experience and life in general – a lot richer and happier – both artistically and emotionally. 7 wonderful moments for 70 candles burning on the big birthday cake… Not the most standard present for this type of celebration that you would’ve imagined, but what’s better to spice it all up, than a hefty surprise? J
- 1. 1993 – First exposure to “Deep Purple In Rock”.
Early nineties were strange time for the ex- “behind the curtain” area. With the final regulations in Polish law to cut down the piracy and illegal copying of copyrighted works of music – practically most of it richness disappeared from the music shops. Being exposed to rock for the first time these days were extremely frustrating for a youngster barely having any money. Legal CD’s and MC’s were deadly pricey. All you could do was to find other affiliates who would show up enough generosity to share their tapes or vinyl for you to listen to new stuff. I was lucky enough to find a colleague, who lent me the MC with “In Rock”. I can still remember vividly the scene of sitting in front of my desk in the dark room with small light bulb over it shining down on the player. With the face almost glued to the speakers I was listening to the sounds of the record and felt that my brain was being burned with a fire that was never supposed to disappear from the world of my senses. I was exposed to the sound of Hammond Organ before and I knew I loved it from the very start tips to toes, but hearing Jon Lord play “Bloodsucker”, “Living Wreck” or “Hard Lovin’ Man” was simply out of this world. He knew how to slay the beast and make it ride the rainbow for him with the illimitable palette of colors, tones, noises and sonic experiments. “Made In Japan” followed couple of days later with its keyboard extravaganzas in every track… squashing with grittiness, but extremely virtuosic at the same time. There was no holding back and no return at all. Some people divide the time for the eras before Bach and after him. My division is: before Lord… and ever after.
- 2. 1994 – First exposure to “The Battle Rages On”
The studio albums of Deep Purple tended to be a mixed bag of musical experiences quality wise. With the exception of the most inspired LP’s (like “In Rock”, “Machine Head”, “Burn” or “Perfect Strangers”) – usually there was more controversy going on among critics and fans alike – whether the efforts were good or not. The mentioned album presented the Purple team in pretty fractured shape, with the banjo player in particular being less then interested in the album being a finished milestone. But Deep Purple always featured two key soloists – and where one holds back (or almost literally shows his back off) – the other can freely take over and win the ride to glory. In this context – of saving the band’s sonic integrity – Jon Lord’s input into “Battle…” is more than seminal. His solo parts in “Time To Kill” and possibly even more in “Solitaire” show an astounding level of engagement, driving with force, rage and yet incomparable taste and brilliance. Mr. Lord just on this record proves that rescuing the musical ideas from the shambles of the shelved demo just with taking over the solo spots possibly destined for guitar – doesn’t make the finished result less valuable. This is the Deep Purple album with almost incidental act of pushing the Hammond Organ to the forefront of the leading instrumental role, but the overall effect is mesmerizing. “Solitaire” is in particular destined to leave every listener high ‘n’ dry after every up on the turntable. In the lyrical campaign of loneliness craving for understanding and tolerance – the keyboards are extremely potent voice depicting the track’s dramaturgy and emotions. An insanely brilliant gem, completely overlooked and forgotten amongst most of the listeners.
- 3. 1996 – First homecoming to your country by Deep Purple in the real time of your life and being in state of rock awareness.
One makes a couple of mistakes of hesitance every once in a while in life. I was too scared to go to Spodek Sport Hall in Katowice with some friends to see the band promoting “Purpendicular” album in concert, but the TV saved my day. The broadcast of the gig left another incurable mark in my heart. The gig had some bad qualities (especially the low vocal form of the Mr. Frontman), but overall roused with energy, propelled to some higher level with extremely emotional receiving of the band by the Polish audience. As depicted on the “Live Encounters” release a decade later, the absolute height of the spiritual unity between the band and the fans was during Jon Lord’s solo spot, where at some point he decided to go into a piano variation very familiar in style to the natives, closed by quoting Chopin’s “Polonaise As-dur”. The moment when the 8000+ audience in the hall recognizes Jon’s sonic gift with a tumultuous roar – simply sends chills down the spine, causes goose-bumps big as they come and pushes tears of joy to the eyes. This was truly the first encounter of mine with Jon Lord – the hearts sonic conqueror. And it works on me in the same exciting way every single time I stumble on it.
- 4. Mid-year, 2000 – The annual national Deep Purple Fan Club conventions. Experiencing of Jon Lord’s vintage stagecraft.
There will never be a better way to celebrate your own Deep Purple related freakiness – than to do it with other freaks of your sort (who sort you out at times with their own Deep Purple freakiness). The events destined to go Purple frenzy in collective mode used to be the most awaited time of the year. And almost every edition led to new, completely mind-blowing discoveries of the untold glories of 70’s live stagecraft. At the start of the decade the tape with televised Deep Purple’s appearance in Parisian Olympia in late 1970 started to run in trader’s circles. There were already some stunning footages available around – New York 1973’s US tour ABC TV material with one of Jon’s hottest improvisation’s ever captured on video in “Space Truckin’ “ – being the best example. The brutal artistry of re-launching organ’s engine to retain the pumping walk out of his improvisation, with one knee on the B’s bonnet and the hand in the air counting out the bars to indicate a point of whamming the stage into pieces – this was always the most hypnotizing thing to watch. Until 1970’s tapes appeared, apparently… Band in Paris is ON FIRE. Yet in “Wring That Neck” it’s visible that they play their asses off with loads of fine soloing and a sheer dose of fooling around (i.e. Blackmore tingling on the neck of his Gibson with left hand and drinking cheers to the audience with a beer in a right).
And then “Mandrake Root” footage follows. I remember it clearly – we must have watched this with jaws dropped to the floor. After a strong portion of very furious soloing Jon Lord at one point drags the audience member to push the key of the keyboard pulled in for keeping the sustained raw sound. He walks out for Paice’s drum sticks and leans down to the back of the Hammond stall, where all the cables run unhidden by furniture. Starts to mess around in the electric jungle with these sticks to produce the sickest sounds possible (was there no risk of getting electrocuted?). The organ is shrieking, barking, wobbling and sounds overall psychedelically tortured. When enough is enough – Lord moves back behind the set, uses the hand to smash the bonnet up to open it. This gives the sound a sonic crash edge and the hell literally is let off its chain… The final minutes of the footage see the whole five members bashing out to the pumping gallopade of noise, with their heads completely lost in the proto-head banging routine. Simply: Five Riders of The Apocalypse unleashed. With this kind of the visual experience – no booze or sweet leafs were needed to get totally stoned and high. Awesome feeling. Not long after this session, the sustaining whirl of it all in my mind made me go with my pal to record the 23-minute long “Mandrake Root” on our own – where apart from the sound experiments we drove our Hohner keyboard and Stratocaster guitar to some basic material resistance limits.
- 5. Late 2000, “The Concerto For Group And Orchestra Anniversary” European Tour. Lord’s soul slowly breaking out to the pastures of new.
This tour could have been one of the most monumental and exciting ones we were ever honored to participate in ourselves. We all came down to Prague, where first half of the show was literally spent in tears – so strong were the emotions of hearing Jon playing likes of “Fools” and “When A Blind Man Cries” with orchestra. And the work of his life was in a way, couple of quarters later. A sort of experience, truly hard to express in words. It wasn’t a matter of listening to a record with some music conceived three decades ago anymore. Before 3-D medial bonanza came into the picture, “Concerto” was alive, refreshed, fully dimensional, with the musicians and guests giving them all to it. Seeing Ronnie James Dio with your own eyes for the 1st time ever on stage – a longstanding Hero among the heroes – was a feeling numbing the mind with flow of utter excitement. Truly releasing for the spirit, leading the listener in you to the heights of joy. So real, brimming with enthusiasm. Overwhelming with energy.
And then the news that there will be a Polish “Concerto” gig, closing the European tour. An unforgettable November day – surrounded with friends, ornamented with meeting Ronnie, Paicey, Roger and Steve for the first time in person – just being able to express the appreciation and to thank them for all they have done to keep us happy and obliged listeners. The concert itself – packed with energy, emotions and the flow of love for the Purple, the music and the spirit of the best rock experience ever. It was awesome to see the loads of happiness on the faces of the performers – I can still remember Paul Mann and Ian Gillan simply fooling around during the encores, bragging to the audience. The 8+ thousand bunch of maniacs singing out their lungs to the chorus of “Black Night” – the very end for this climbing the sonic mountain on that special night. I’ll have to be buried 10 ft under to be able forget this!
While it may seem that Jon got somewhat drafted into the background of these extraordinary events (I believe that the change of the heart for Purple was already on the cards), I hope that he still was happy these days – seeing it all work and being deeply appreciated by all. He was the Brain and the Conductor of it all. A Wizard, making Magic happen in real time.
- 6. July 2008, Jon Lord – Live In Plock, Poland
- 7. November 2010, Jon Lord – Live In Warsaw, Poland
I decided to do the last two in one mind stream, as about one in fact they are, and have been pretty much in detail discussed by me before. It’s about the Jon Lord coming back with his new, excellent live concept to our country and about seeing him bringing it back with an artistic vengeance. Two events, vastly different from each other.
2008 – A checking of the new ground and basically a successful launch of the new conception that proved fruitful and well crafted for years to come. Very emotional and personal experience – not only due to the fact of meeting the Hero himself. Sure, seeing that the Gentleman is real – a friendly, gentle human being, wonderful manners, great voice (I love just to hear Jon talk, I wish you’d do some radio Jon, Planet Rock maybe, for a choice?), sense of humor and sound of laughter. A renaissance survivor of a high grade. The gig – in comparison to previous encounters – so intimate, close to the spectator – which enriched the experience immensely. Plus the chance to hear all brilliant staples from the solo records (especially gems culled off the “Sarabande” album). A dream merged with reality for a Jon Lord aficionado.
2010 – This was definitely a different kind of affair. The – by then – successful formula, strongly checked on the world stages, hit back Poland with a might. There was an amazing level of self confidence in all of the performers, but still the most important was that on this night Mr. Lord was a star, The Master Of Ceremony. Presenting outstanding physical and mental shape throughout the night, he was awesomely animated during the rock moments, and wonderfully lyrically engaged in the quieter passages. The outburst of the “Perfect Strangers” monstrous train wrecker, with Jon wheeling it up with hands and legs to let the engines of the band and orchestra fire on all cylinders – will be a very difficult sight to forget. I bet most of us would like to retain this kind of fantastic shape when we reach 70 (if only we’re given a chance)! A tough task to achieve indeed, but it seem to come out of the spirit of the kind that Jon Lord, our Dear Jubilee, truly is.
With all the heartfelt thanks to you, Jon, for all what you’ve done for us so far and with deep hope and belief that there is much more of your great art yet for all to witness – THANK YOU AND A VERY MERRY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!
On the behalf of all your Fans and Followers