By Alan Fairley: Edinburgh, March 2021
My co-contributor, Russ Stewart, offered advice in a previous article along the lines that you should never meet your heroes, a sentiment which no doubt many will relate to as the experience can often be something of a let down when you realise that the hero you’ve just met is flesh and blood like everyone else and not necessarily the mystical figure you’ve idolised, whether it be on stage, cinema screen, television or in some sporting arena.
During the years I spent in sports journalism I have been fortunate to have come face to face with a number of those that I would describe as heroes. Some have left me feeling disappointed (step forward, Chic Charnley) but, in the main, those that I have met have been pleasant, courteous individuals ie Denis Law, Joe Jordan, Henry Cooper, Jim Watt, Alex Arthur and of course the legend that is Jimmy Bone (sorry Russ), all of whom who have left me feeling that it had been a pleasure to have enjoyed a few brief moments in their company.
Moving away from sport to the other great passion in my life, I feel privileged to have established a genuine friendship over a period of many years with one of rock music’s most influential exponents.
This being a 1970s website, I will rewind to where it all began – Green’s Playhouse, Glasgow, 24th September 1971.
Deep Purple, arguably the highest profile band on the planet at the time (certainly the loudest as noted within the Guinness Book of Records) were riding high on the back of hit singles Black Night and Strange Kinda Woman and were playing in my home city, a gig which I attended along with my now departed schoolmate Nicky Mawbey.
It was our first ‘big’ concert (seeing Mungo Jerry at Kilmardinny Riding Stables a couple of months earlier was good but this was an altogether different ballpark) and my attention was drawn throughout to the charismatic stage presence of the band’s lead singer Ian Gillan.
I couldn’t take my eyes off him but, for the record, this was no man-crush. I didn’t fancy him, I wanted to be him. I wanted to be on that stage screaming into the mic and basking in the adulation of the fans below.
Long brown hair tumbling around his shoulders, his multi-range vocals alternating between screams and whispers, he had the audience, and a 16 year old me, in the palm of his hands throughout.
I no longer wanted to chase the unlikely dream of being a professional footballer. I wanted to be a rock star.
I was a wannabe years before the word was even invented.
(As it happened I did become a professional footballer of sorts, playing a couple of trials for semi-pro junior side Glasgow Perthshire and receiving a brown envelope with a crisp one pound note inside after each game before hearing the dreaded words, “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.)
Fast forward 20-odd years and the company I worked for at that time handed me a list of key clients, responsibility for whom had been assigned to myself. (For reasons of confidentiality I can’t disclose the nature of the work involved).
The list comprised roughly 50 names along with each individual’s profession and one particular entry jumped right off the page – Ian Gillan, Recording Artist.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune. After all these years of wanting to be him, I was actually going to be in direct contact with him….or so I thought. Key figures within the music industry tend to delegate their day to day personal affairs to a manager and, after working my way through the list and trying to make contact with the singer I had idolised as a starry eyed teenager, I found myself dealing with his representative, a genial chap by the name of Phil Banfield, who also represented other members of the rock glitterati such as Tony Iommi and Sting.
Phil was delighted when I tentatively advised him of my long time admiration for Ian and before long he was sending me demo CDs and other items of memorabilia, the likes of which very few fans would ever have got their hands on.
One day I was preparing for a family holiday with the wife and kids to Orlando and made a quick courtesy call to advise Phil I would be away from the office for a couple of weeks.
‘Where are you off to?’ he asked
‘Orlando’ I replied
‘Really?- Ian’s out there just now with the rest of the band recording the new Purple album. Tell me where you’re staying and I’ll get him to call you.’
So, off to the land of the free I went, and on arriving in my hotel room, noticed a light on the phone saying there was a voicemail.
I dialled in and heard the magic opening words ‘Hi Alan, this is Ian Gillan…..’
I was invited to the studio at Altamonte Springs in central Florida where the band were recording the Purpendicular Album and found myself in the company of legends Gillan, Morse, Glover, Lord and Paice while they were working on a track called The Aviator.
It was an eye opener.
I sat in for about two hours and all that was being recorded was Ian Paice’s 10 second drum break between two of the verses.
‘He’s a real perfectionist’ whispered Roger Glover to me after about 12 takes, and only then did I realise how important a 10 second drum break could be (think of In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins with its iconic drum break which was immortalised by the Cadbury’s gorilla and you’ll get the gist.)
After two hours Paicey still wasn’t happy and left the studios frowning.
‘He’ll worry about that all night’ remarked Roger.
Afterwards I adjourned with Mr Gillan to a nearby bar along with some of the band members and road crew in the expectation of hearing lurid tour-related stories concerning naked groupies, outrageous imbibing of alcohol, excessive intake of Class A drugs and the old rock’n’roll favourite, destruction of hotel rooms.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. All were respectable married men in their 50s with kids and grandkids and as such the bar room banter circled around families, schools, gardens, finances, football and the other staple conversation topics of middle aged men sharing a beer after work.
Since then, Ian’s always fixed me up with tickets and backstage passes whenever Deep Purple have ventured north of the border. After a gig at the Armadillo he introduced me to his wife, a lovely lady called Bron to whom he’s been happily married for 37 years and with whom he has a daughter named Grace.
He gave me a signed copy of his autobiography Child In Time and demo copies of both Purpendicular and his solo album Dreamcatcher.
Although I haven’t seen him for some time we remain on each other’s Christmas Card lists and he did send me a particularly comforting message after my wife passed away.
You should never meet your heroes? – I’m thankful that I did