Ian Gillan isn’t prone to comparing and contrasting performers from Deep Purple’s long history, but he’s quick to tell you what newest member Don Airey brings to the table. He says Airey — who succeeded the legendary Jon Lord after joining as a touring member in 2001 — has played a key role in a resurgence that led to last year’s return-to-form Now What?!
“He wasn’t a replacement for Jon, or some sort of clone,” Gillan said in a pre-concert news conference. “It was Don joining, and he brought an awful lot with him — a hell of a lot.”
Lord, at that point, had seen a number of Deep Purple incarnations come and go since its late-1960s genesis — and Gillan says Lord was ready to try new things. “At the time when Jon left,” Gillan said, “he was tired. He had been wanting to leave for a year. He wasn’t really interested in doing much on stage, because he didn’t have it in his heart anymore. He wasn’t really playing any solos; he was just going through the motions. And once he left the band, he was extremely happy — because then he could fulfill his long-held desire to work on some orchestral music.”
Enter Don Airey, who’d earlier worked with Ozzy Osbourne, Jethro Tull, Whitesnake, Gary Moore, Ozzy Osbourne and Rainbow — the latter of which found him recording 1979’s Down to Earth as part of a lineup that included current Deep Purple bandmate Roger Glover.
“His energy was unbelievable,” Gillan says of Airey. “Everyone knows his musical skills, but his energy and personal chemistry and stagecraft was absolutely unbelievable. And so it gave us another lift, at the time when we really needed it.”
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