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Deep Purple celebrate 50 years of a classic: “It’s a shock”

A good 50 years ago, Deep Purple released their legendary album "Machine Head", which is now being reissued. It includes their most famous song "Smoke On The Water" - which was actually just a stopgap.

It's a guitar riff for eternity. "Dam, dam, daaaam. Dam, dam, da-daaaaam!" The intro to the Deep Purple hit "Smoke On The Water" tempts even people who aren't much for hard rock to play the air guitar. More than 50 years after the song was released, Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan reminisces. "The song was just a stopgap," the 78-year-old tells the German Press Agency in an interview in London. "Our album was too short."

"Machine Head" is the name of the album, which was recorded in 1971 under special circumstances in Montreux, Switzerland. The song "Smoke On The Water" tells the story. Deep Purple's sixth studio album is now regarded as an absolute classic in rock history. To mark its 50th anniversary, "Machine Head" has been re-released on a grand scale after a slight delay. The "Anniversary Deluxe Edition" with new mixes and lots of bonus material will be released on Friday.

"It's a real shock," says Gillan over tea in a London recording studio, referring to the fact that the recordings were made over 50 years ago. "Because we still play some of the songs live, of course, the album is still alive for us." In addition to "Smoke On The Water", which Deep Purple always play as the last song before the encores at their concerts, "Pictures Of Home", "Highway Star" and "Lazy" are usually in the set. "That's why the album never faded. It was never gone. There's something alive about it."

Brand als Inspiration

Deep Purple had originally wanted to record in a concert hall at the Montreux Casino using a mobile recording studio. The band had already performed there. But before the recording session, a catastrophic incident occurred at the casino during a Frank Zappa concert when an audience member caused a fire. "But some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground", sings Gillan in "Smoke On The Water". "We ended up at the Grand Hotel."

For several weeks, Gillan and his then colleagues from the so-called Mark II line-up - bassist Roger Glover, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, organist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice - stayed at the Grand Hotel, which was closed for the winter. There they set up the "Rolling Stones Mobile Studio", which had once belonged to Mick Jagger and Co. Their plan was to capture the live atmosphere better than in a classic recording studio.

They were not aware that they would create a milestone in their career with "Machine Head". "Did we know it would be important? No!" says Gillan. "Did we enjoy it? Yes, it was fantastic!" Never again had the group worked together so harmoniously. "The difficulties only started later, when we made (the album) 'Who Do We Think We Are'."

At seven minutes long, the now iconic rock song about prehistory was not really suitable as a single. "Our fans liked it at the concerts, but the general public didn't know it unless they bought the album. It certainly wasn't heard on the radio." Until a representative of the record company experienced the enthusiastic reaction of the audience at a concert in the USA and cut the song to three minutes. "Boom! Suddenly it was playing non-stop on the radio because it fitted the format," says Gillan. "It was just a stroke of luck that he was there that night and made that decision."

Newly mixed album

The "Machine Head - Deluxe Anniversary Edition" contains a completely new mix of the album, for which Dweezil Zappa, son of Frank Zappa, who died in 1993, was responsible. It was the record company's idea. "When I heard that, I thought: Oh yes, what a great idea!" says Gillan, amused. The new mix sounds "totally different", says the greying singer. "I don't understand much about it, but I have absolute respect for it."

The box with LP, 3 CDs, Blu-Ray, booklet and various memorabilia also includes a remastered version of the original mix, a 1972 concert recording from London and a previously unreleased recording from 1971 from the Casino Montreux, which later burned down, in limited sound quality. "Because of its historical relevance", it says on the back of the box. In fact, the rough recording is an exciting contemporary testimony worth listening to.

Despite all the nostalgia and entertaining stories from the past, Ian Gillan is already looking ahead again. He has long been working on the next studio album with his long-time band colleagues Roger Glover and Ian Paice, keyboardist Don Airey, who joined later, and new guitarist Simon McBride. It will be Deep Purple's 23rd. The next tour is also planned. From October, the rock veterans will also be coming to Germany for several concerts.

©Keystone/SDA

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