The Malcolm Arnold
by Vincent Budd© Vincent Budd July 1997
NOTE: This is a large file
'It's an act of friendship, a sharing. To be hostile or high-minded negates it as far as I'm concerned.
Malcolm Arnold, 1969.
For many lovers of 20th century British music Sir Malcolm Arnold undoubtedly now stands as one of the nation's most pre-eminent and cherished figures: but, although his life and work, with all their comic and tragic contrasts, are now to some extent being documented, there is a little-known period in his musical sojourn that is usually either totally ignored or, as in a recent highly entertaining biography, incorrectly chronicled. Unfortunately, perhaps for some, especially those of more specified horizons of musical appreciation, it is not considered worthy of proper and considered mention, an almost embarrassing lapse in taste likely to impugn the composer's critical reputation, or at the very least, demanding of an unequivocal and seriously judicious apologia - special historical circumstances though indeed there were. And yet, for all those willing to listen with open hearts and empathetic minds to Arnold's collaborations with Jon Lord, the Concerto for Group and Orchestra of 1969 and Gemini Suite in 1970 (live) and 1971 (studio) still stand as revelatory, quite breathtaking and glorious musical ventures, there to be appreciated by any willing music-lover without the ridiculous encumbrances of critical special pleadings; and, let it be said, entirely characteristic of the composer's willingness and ability to explore and embrace the different forms and languages of our musical expression. Along with the nine symphonies, the numerous concertos and overtures, the outstanding body of chamber work, and sundry other commissions, Arnold's film music is now also justly much-admired, and the inspiration of Louis Armstrong is oft-mentioned without excuse and his and his son's love of The Chieftains happily commended as symptomatic of a vigorous and eclectic spirit. Here was a man who had by the end of the '60s composed an important and enthralling legacy of music and some of the highlights of contemporary British music, but whose radical spirit and musical vitality and vision could still look forward and beyond, impassioned and unblinkered and unhindered to embrace other musical cultures; not just folksong and jazz, but even rock 'n' roll. Perhaps it is first worth at least touching upon the historical, and indeed geographical, circumstances that spawned the three works which resulted from Jon Lord's collaboration with Malcolm Arnold.
When you consider the stylistic changes and developments that took place in popular music between say 1939 and 1969 and then compare them with those experienced over the past thirty years, it is quite remarkable how the musical upheavals of the second half of the '60s and the early '70s still very much ring down the years and continue to have a certain hold over so many contemporary musical styles and tastes. In many ways - for all the plain demographies, the invention of the CD, the effects of the heightened commercialism of popular music over the ensuing decades, etc. - the cultural longevity of rock music and of so many of the idioms founded then simply reflects nothing less than the sheer depth and range of so much of the music being created during that period. The intervening years of world-weary cynicism and the dark and pitiful age of Thatcherism have of course cast their own shadow over a period of undoubted musical idealism, and naturally enough there are the inevitable temptations of rose-tinted nostalgia. And of course, much of the music created beyond the critical world of the narrow and now pathetically blinkered pantheon of accepted great artists and 'classic' albums has its detractors amidst many of the more influential arbiters of musical taste; certainly some of the more 'progressive' and hard-edged rock music of the early '70s in particular is much derided in some quarters. Yet for all the obvious affectations, naivities and downright silliness of some too youthful ways, these were exciting and inspiring and undoubtedly extra-special musical days: and it is perhaps hard for music fans of a younger generation to appreciate precisely - without descending into simple caricature and the beclouding hegemonic received wisdoms of critical post-rationalisations - the vibrant mood of the era, and especially just quite what an impact popular music was having on all aspects of our musical culture during that blossoming era and which affected almost every genre of western music-making - not just and perhaps more obviously folk, jazz, blues, and country, but also classical music.
The late '60s were indeed heady days. Musical boundaries were being extended and erstwhile barriers being broken. Experiment and cultural cross-fertilisation were conspicuously in the air. The standard popular music of the day was starting to grow out of the short catchy number fashioned merely for the soundtrack of teenage love and youthful angst. New musical frontiers beckoned as pop musicians of considerable calibre and of growing self-confidence were wanting to exercise their imaginations and abilities beyond the limits of their own youthful musical enthusiasms. Lennon and McCartney's songwriting was soon being compared to such musical luminaries as Schubert and Schuman (inter alia by Bernstein no less) and Sgt. Pepper was famously being discussed in The Times in musicological terms using unfamiliarly magniloquent phrases such as 'aeolian cadences' (much to Lennon's amusement). A Whiter Shade of Pale used baroque musical modes to marvellous effect and Jimi Hendrix was amazing everyone with his virtuosic effects. In the US Frank Zappa was outraging those who wanted to be outraged with his music and his satirical displays, whilst Dylan was being ordained both poet and prophet. Pop music wanted to make a social statement: it had become politicised and self-conscious to the powers of youthful idealism - for all the embarrassed, reactionary, and cynical rhetorics it conjures up over 30 years later. Lyrics not only had a message but also had pretensions to serious and meaningful verse. Songs themselves had got longer and had unusual and altering time-signatures; solos and a more significant instrumentation (harking back to the days of the big band) had become integral, and for some, more interesting elements of popular musical creativity. Rock music especially seemed to have a need to enhance its musical language, refine and escape the intrinsic limitations of the three-minute pop song - despite all the musical gems it undoubtedly provided and continues to provide amidst all the concomitant trash: it wanted to proclaim its own cultural significance, its musicality, its musicianship. Rock musicians started to take on airs of virtuosity and, often bogus, multi-instumentality and solo, and sometimes doodle, for 20 minutes: they began to string songs together as suites and embark on 'concept' albums; play prestigious music halls once reserved for the orchestra or 'concert' jazz; and speak authoritatively and intelligently, and occasionally stupidly and pretentiously, on their artistry. However spurious some of these musical graces sometimes were, a new musical credibility had become the order of the day. Jazz had gone all respectable and procured the assurances of sophistication, the presumptions of profundity - why couldn't rock 'n' roll also confidently proclaim and make free with the delights of its musicality? For all its underlying primitivism, rock music too wanted to acquire a certain air of musical sophistication, take on a degree of seriousness about its endeavours, and enrich its own stylistic vocabulary; in short progress. Very few things fail to outgrow themselves, and some were no longer simply satisfied with providing the apparent musical ephemera of the dance floor or with fulfilling the more immediate 'happening' chart-centred musical fancies of their day. British bands may often still have needed a hit record and an appearance on 'Top of the Pops' to become really known (and usually then rubbished and accused of 'selling out' for doing so - such became the 'right-on' mythic 'divide'): but some of the more talented musicians also wanted to extend themselves further, stretch the notion of the pop 'song' and deliver an 'album', create what they considered to be more challenging music; music that was somehow fashionably unfashionable and commercially anti-commercial, and which might possess a certain significance and hold its interest beyond the fast-changing commercial preoccupations of the pop industry. Significantly it wanted not only to look to the vibrant musical world of black culture for its essential inspiration, but also to explore and enlarge its musical idiom in terms of the primed dominantly white, if you will, self-elevating and often saturnine classical musical experience. In turn respected classical (and jazz) composers and musicians were willing to experiment, expand their own musical horizons, flex their musical muscles and play music outside the normal orbit of their own often stifling and more solemn and self-important cultural worlds: music students trained fresh from college too wanted to play pop and felt comfortable doing so. In effect the established class-ridden barriers which had for so long infected the universal spirit of music were seen for a moment to be dissolving - and there was a radical political agenda at play here too. If jazz and blues had become a universal and commercial musical language of the 20th century and earned the respect of all but the most narrow-minded of music lovers, rock too wanted to show the liberality of its cultural intent, embrace all and show a hand to those willing to take it. Musical snobbery had become 'bad form'. This was music for anybody: music with a bit of 'attitude'; music with a certain common touch to ruffle the tethers of musical decorum and transcend the still abiding social strictures of musical respectability without too much disrespect - popularly unpopulist or, as for some, unpopularly populist. This was music that wanted 'to cut through the crap' of musical pigeon-holing, that was imbued with an impulse for cultural union rather than division, that wanted not only to respect the enticing cultural heritage of its own musical language (and what music lover could really ignore the all-embracing influence of pop and rock music growing up through the '60s and '70s), but also to embrace other musical influences as well: that wanted to explore a certain sophistication of musicality yet still remain accessible to the apparent popular sensibilities and contemporary appreciations of all.
Amid these new, diversifying and diverting cultural circumstances, one particular musical hybrid, what is sometimes called (and labels often obscure more than they name) a classical/rock fusion, became - at least for some, especially those ostensibly brought up in the sovereign world of classical music - one of the more enthralling musical fascinations of their youthful musical experience. Of course, despite its current commercial repackaging and high profile, so-called 'crossover' music is and was then nothing new - it is indeed an integral strain in the whole history of modern western music-making. Moreover, a number of conspicuous 20th century musicians and composers had managed to achieve success in both jazz and classical genres, and of course jazz itself had had a major effect on the musical output of a number of major composers. Yet, for a significant number of young people, this particular musical exploration was something different; an apparently fresh and impressive departure. This really did seem to be blowing away some of the reactionary snobberies, the old and fusty musical proprieties which then so infested and belaboured all our musical culture. Despite a prevalent underlying air of awkward ardency as naturally becomes so much youthful music, these new aspirations still appeared to constitute a gripping and forceful and fundamentally liberating musical confluence. For all their own brief fashionableness (probably in all amounting to about two wet Wednesday afternoons in late 1969), their rapid fall from critical grace, and, with the odd exception, their lack of any real relevance to the pop world today (certainly to the journalistic junk that passes for pop musical criticism in music magazines), this was indeed a taste of 'the best of both worlds'. Recognising some of the exasperating cultural gracelessness that might also be said to have come to pass in their wake, these ambitious enterprises of musical reciprocation did in fact have an untold and a quite wonderful and liberating effect on the musical landscape of the times; an effect that reverberates to this day. Notwithstanding the occasionally embarrassing vision of indulgent, humourless, and self-serious musicians at work on stage, the sometimes wincing mediocrity masquerading as virtuosity, the forgotten grandiloquence and seriously affected earnestness, and the many failed musical ventures, rock's dalliance with orchestral forms and forces also produced at times quite enthralling and spine-tingling, and, to be sure on occasion and at its best, some of the most exciting musical moments of its generation.
None came better than the work that a classically-trained rock musician from Leicester by the name of Jon Lord (b. 9th June 1941) - still in his late 20s, but more equipped than most to take part in this musical movement - managed to produce in conjunction with one of Northampton's most famous musical sons, no less a figure than, Malcolm Arnold, and subsequently with a young German conductor and composer by the name of Eberhard Schoener. Despite all the scorn now ignorantly cast upon such musical efforts, of all the 'serious' musical projects involving rock musicians and orchestral forces during the late '60s and first half of the '70s, the three rock/orchestral works Lord produced in association with Malcolm Arnold (and the two with Schoener) have to be amongst the finest and most successful of all.
Jon Lord and Malcolm Arnold
Concerto for Group and Orchestra and Gemini Suite
'... so many of the things which are so well worth doing are decidedly 'not done''
Malcolm Arnold, 1956
Jon Lord was born into a musical family - his father was a local jazz musician - and he began playing on his paternal grandfather's piano at the age of five. After two years of lessons from a local music teacher, Philip Lang, Jon was then taught by Frederick Alt (whom some older readers may recall from the radio as a piano recitalist in the '50s), who not only taught him well technically but also and equally importantly, he says, imparted a genuine love of the art of music-making itself: later he also apparently managed to have lessons from the jazz pianist, John Palmer. Examinations completed he was all set to enter the Royal College of Music, the famous musical establishment in South Kensington to which Arnold himself had won a scholarship in 1937 and first attended the following year: but with the rebelliousness and independence of spirit that so often characterises the youthful aspirations of the talented, Lord chose not to go - much to his parents' disappointment. Though his first musical interests had been classical and jazz, the advent of rock 'n' roll had irrevocably altered and extended the inclinations of his musical appreciations and aspirations. According to Jon, Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On did not sound quite the same on his family's upright: 'That's when I realised there was more to rock and roll than meets the ear'. Jon was a Sunday School teacher for a while, and there was also a more lasting infatuation with the theatre. It began with a spell of acting at Leicester's Little Theatre before he moved to London to enter the Central School of Speech and Drama in 1960: he transferred to the London Drama Centre in 1962. However, by this time, in order to make both those yearly ends meet, he had joined a jazz outfit called The Bill Ashton Combo (whose leader went on to front and later direct the National Youth Jazz Orchestra). Jon and fellow group member Derek Griffiths then became involved with The Don Wilson Combo, later called Red Blood and his Bluesicians, which itself, on the arrival of Arthur Wood (elder brother of Ronnie of The Rolling Stones), transmuted into The Artwoods, a little known but fondly remembered R 'n' B cum fledgling rock outfit. They averaged around 300 gigs a year during their existence and became quite a popular act at the time, especially in the capital where they had a Tuesday residency at the 100 Club for a while: but even though they released seven singles and one album, Art Gallery, they never really broke through commercially on disc - though they did have a minor hit single in Britain, I Take What I Want, and a six-week number one in Denmark under another name! As with a number of bands their music did not transfer all that well onto disc: nonetheless as a live attraction they built up a considerable following and a certain reputation for instrumental capability with Jon's Hammond organ introducing an impressively and characteristically jazzy feel to their performances - Brubeck and Jimmy Smith being most obviously influential, along with Graham Bond. Jon now also began to be sort after as a session musician for pop bands needing a bit of keyboard expertise, for jingles, and even for one of those cheap cover albums of chart toppers. After the collapse of The Artwoods there was a short-lived band called Santa Barbara Machine Head, but by 1968 Jon found himself touring with and arranging for The Flowerpot Men, though he does not feature on any of their recordings.
It was at about this time that musical personalities began to merge together by word of reputation in the London music-scene around a former member of The Searchers, Chris Curtis, who had come to live in the same house as Jon in Fulham. Eventually, after many false-starts and changing circumstances (in which the eccentric Curtis himself soon fell by the waste-side, never to be heard of again) the first incarnation of Deep Purple, initially called Roundabout, was formed centred upon the musical personalities of Jon and a gifted but infuriatingly volatile guitarist by the name of Ritchie Blackmore - it was his grandmother's favourite song that eventually provided the band's name. This line-up with Nick Simper on bass, Rod Evans vocals, and the marvellous Ian Paice on drums (who like Jon was to remain a member of the band in every one of its forms) recorded three worthy albums.
Listening to these platters today produces a finer sense of their merit than was probably possible at the time: they contain marvellously expanded interpretations of unoriginal material alongside their own cleverly crafted songs, brilliant instrumental work from Jon and Ritchie which still delight, a quality of musicality that often belies some of the actual material, and, more significantly, a gradually widening musical palette. The first album, Shades of Deep Purple (dedicated to 'Bobby, Chris, Dave and Ravel'!), is a delightful period-piece, but perhaps one which would hardly stand the impatient scrutiny of many younger ears, especially with its often perhaps somewhat over-used atmospheric intros and occasionally self-conscious, wishing-to-impress arrangements, including a quote from Falla's ballet The Three Cornered Hat: but through the fledgling musical voice and the faded musical language of the time, there is an obvious musical and instrumental brilliance for all to hear, such as on stand-out tracks like And the Address and Mandrake Root. Generally critically well-received, the album was largely ignored in Britain, but successful in the U.S.; and a single taken from the album, the enjoyable and catchy cover of Joe South's Hush (with Jon's organ wonderfully dominant), was a No. 4 hit there, and also charted on the Continent and in New Zealand! The Book of Taliesyn, which followed in 1968, was along similar structural lines (including more classical references) with Jon and Ritchie again outstanding, especially on such tracks as the instrumental Wring that Neck, the marvellously musical Anthem (with its Baroque interlude and use of strings), and the great version of Neil Diamond's Kentucky Woman. By the third album, imaginatively entitled, Deep Purple, and taped in early 1969, Jon's organ and Ritchie's guitar were particularly evident as integral elements of the Deep Purple sound and appeal: there were stunning rock tracks with outstanding work from Jon and from Ritchie, whose impressive but slightly gauche instrumentality had by this time developed into a marvellously free-flowing and dashing style, and also from Ian Paice, who was also beginning to show why he was soon to become one of the most respected and influential drummers of his generation. There were too a beautiful harpsichord-based song penned by Jon called Blind and a lovely cover of Donovan's Lalena: but Jon's classical leanings were particularly evident on April, a three section suite with another baroque, Vivaldi-like, string middle section, which concluded this fine album.
By the time of the recording of the third album, however, Jon, Ritchie, and Ian had become somewhat dissatisfied with the structure of the band, and especially with Rod Evans, whose voice seemed unsuited to their now progressing musical style. After some searching (and a certain inevitable acrimony, with Simper, the obviously fine bass player that he was, in particular seemingly very unjustly treated) they recruited two new members from a band called Episode Six: Ian Gillan on vocals and Roger Glover on bass. It was this second incarnation of the band that was to prove to be its classic early line-up and the one that was to provide the matured musical alchemy that would make Deep Purple one of the most exciting, influential, and commercially successful rock acts of the '70s. For all the obvious instrumental talent evidenced in the first three albums, up to this time Deep Purple's sound was still highly derivative (the influence of such bands as Vanilla Fudge could be mentioned for example) and had not really acquired its individual and matured musical voice. Moreover, because of their chart hit in the US, they were still regarded by many as just a 'pop' band and somewhat out of tune with the fast-changing times - and according to Roger, what with their hairstyles, they were! As if to confirm all this, the first recording of the new band was in fact a pleasant but somewhat oddly and unwisely choiced and unsuccessful pop single called Hallelujah, written by the Greenaway-Cooke pop songwriting team. None the less, with the addition of a charismatic, handsome, and distinctive singer and at times brilliantly clever lyricist, and a marvellous bassist and writer to a trio of outstanding musicians, Deep Purple now had all the essential ingredients to throw down the gauntlet, ride the tide, and become one of the leading, dare-we-say, progressive rock acts of the time. But it was still clear that the band needed a boost of some sort if it was reveal its true potential, and strangely it was its next musical venture, not a straight rock album, that was to propel the group into the musical spotlight of the time - Jon Lord's Concerto for Group and Orchestra.
Concerto for Group and Orchestra
Apparently Lord had mooted ideas for a classical/rock work as far back as the mid-60s when he was with The Artwoods and had been particularly impressed by an album called Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein. According to Simon Robinson, the group had plans to record with the New Jazz Orchestra in 1966; and it was also invited by a conductor to perform with an orchestra in Germany, but St. Valentines' Day Massacre (as they had renamed themselves during their last few months together - you may recall the film Bonny and Clyde) split before plans could be finalised, and, as has happened far too frequently during Jon's career, it came to nothing. It was to be sure a time of ambitious and mould-breaking musical experiment and the idea of an 'electric' concerto involving an orchestra was indeed part of a growing and significant movement in rock music, with other musicians, also taking up the challenge. Most notable amongst these were Keith Emerson and the Nice who embraced a whole gamut of diverse influences in their short but amazingly fertile existence: their most successful work in the orchestral sphere, the outstanding Five Bridges album, which featured Joe Egar and the Sinfonia of London on the title work and included a quite stunning rock version of the Intermezzo from Karelia Suite (including one sublime organ solo), was recorded a month after the Concerto. Over the next few years a number of other British rock bands and musicians - including Procul Harum, Caravan, Barclay James Harvest, and perhaps most 'notoriously', Rick Wakeman - were also to record work with orchestras, though generally more to accompany and enhance their own songs rather than in the context of specially composed large-scale pieces.
The Concerto Commissioned
Meanwhile back at the range, Jon was still mentioning the idea of a work using orchestral forces with a rock band when in April 1969 Deep Purple's manager, Tony Edwards, called his bluff and simply went ahead and booked the Albert Hall for 24th September, forcing Jon to put his music where his mouth was duly spouting forth from. Although he had apparently engaged in writing for orchestra and rock group in his spare time, he then had less than six months to complete a full score to be performed. Yet despite all the personnel changes and the musical metamorphosis taking place within the band, plus the writing, touring, and recording, Jon amazingly managed to complete the Concerto in time. 'I used to come home from a gig anytime between one and four in the morning and sit down with the manuscript and a huge pot of coffee and write until dawn. The time schedule was very short, especially as it was my first stab at this kind of thing', he later remarked. Indeed, after Jon had begun work on the Concerto on the first day of June, Deep Purple toured and performed well over thirty times through June, July (during which the Mark ll band made their first performance on 10th), August, and September, taking in a brief tour of Scandinavia (3-9th) as well as appearing on BBC TV's 'Line Up' just two days prior to the Concerto.
Enter Malcolm Arnold
As luck doth thus sometimes shine, Deep Purple's publisher was Ben Nisbet who just happened to be a friend of Malcolm Arnold. According to Malcolm, Nisbet phoned him one day saying that he had got 'an enthusiast of his' in his office who wanted him to conduct a piece of music he had written. Malcolm had to come up to London from his then home in St. Merryn, near Padstow to conduct a concert soon after and whilst there the two met at his hotel to have a look over Jon's few pages of score. Impressed by even the little he saw and was able to hear in his head - to his eternal credit and to Tony Edward's surprise - he agreed to take part in the project then and there: 'I met Jon Lord, listened to what he had written so far, and knew right away that it was extraordinarily good'. Always a radical with an instinctive attraction for the 'underdog' and the culturally marginalised, Arnold had recently become more politicised (his Peterloo Overture was published in 1967) and the notion of getting involved with a rock band obviously appealed not merely to the populist side of his musical character, but also to his democratic and plurialistic spirit.
Contrariwise, the rest of the group were not quite so smitten with the prospect: not surprisingly, amidst its new-found ambition and its insipient, more clear-cut hard-rock musical direction, the band was somewhat wary about branching out to take part in Jon's orchestral venture. Nonetheless, professionals they were and the members of the group practised their parts for a week and on the 21st went into rehearsals with the RPO. Initially they did not go smoothly by any means. When the group entered the hall, the orchestra was already irritated - necessitating Malcolm's becalming words - at having to wait around after rehearsing Arnold's 6th Symphony and welcomingly treated it to a chorus of derisory wolf-whistles, and obviously remained to be impressed by this bunch of long-haired popsters. According to Jon, he was himself almost in tears within ten minutes of the musical meeting it sounded so awful; and both producer and manager were equally in despair, sitting in the auditorium with their heads in their hands. But if Deep Purple was immediately confronted with an orchestra only all-too-ready to pour scorn on its musical ambitions, there were to boot the more obvious basic technical difficulties inherent in staging such a work. One major problem was the sheer volume of the group compared to the 110 piece orchestra - indeed the concert had to be carefully mixed for commercial release, and it is clear from the video that some orchestral accompaniment was all but lost in some passages. Secondly, there were the complexities of timing and co-ordinating the two hitherto unknown concerto subjects into one musical force in such a short time - apparently due to the costs there was only time for two full sessions of rehearsals. With these pressing musical priorities and the continued haughty disinterest of the orchestra itself, Arnold was eventually forced to act and assert his authority. Ian Gillan, who initially was not himself over-enthusiastic about the event (and word has it only wrote the lyrics to be sung in the second movement on a serviette over a couple of bottles of Chianti on the afternoon of the concert), vividly recalls the strains of the moment: 'The first rehearsal with orchestra and band ended with emotions running high ... There was another very lacklustre effort by the RPO, which prompted our conductor to stop all resentment in a no-nonsense manner that quite shocked us. Increasingly irritated by their attitude, half-way through the first movement, he rapped his baton furiously, raised his hands in the air and said words to the effect of, 'I don't know what you think you're doing. You're supposed to be the finest orchestra in Britain, and you're playing like a bunch of cunts. Quite frankly, with the way its going, you're not fit to be on stage with these guys, so pick yourself up and let's hear some bollocks ... We're going to make history tonight, so we might as well make music while we're doing it'. Only to add to the fraught atmosphere, a female cellist even stormed out at one of the rehearsals proclaiming she had not joined the orchestra to play with 'a second-rate Beatles'. Praise indeed! Fortunately Malcolm again eventually managed to soothe her musical sensibilities and indeed she later apologised to Jon, even going as far as to say at the end of the night of the actual concert that she had in fact enjoyed the experience. Indeed, slowly things began to improve and the orchestra gradually warmed to its task under Malcolm Arnold's persuasive and obviously patient direction, and when the lights went down in the Albert Hall at about 7.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 24th September, 1969 none of the initial, intimidating, and worrying problems that had so belaboured the days of rehearsal were to be apparent to the approving and grateful audience that awaited them.
The Concerto Concert
The night was billed as a 'Gala Charity Concert in aid of Task Force' and had achieved considerable and valuable prior publicity, resulting in a full hall, including a liberal sprinkling of celebrities - few might credit it now, but it certainly seemed to be the place to be seen that night.
The first half of the evening's music was taken up with Arnold's brilliant and exciting, and unaccountably under-rated three-movement 'Bird' Symphony No.6, which had been completed two years earlier in St. Merryn and premiered in the City Hall, Sheffield in 1968 with the composer conducting. With its musical eclecticism, its off-beat and marvellously climactic first movement, its enticingly jagged but superbly crafted and at times mournful middle movement (including its wonderfully subversive Gil Evans-like jazzy interlude, which according to the composer - ever the dissident - 'pays tribute ... to a style of Pop music which will be dead by the time the work is performed'), and finally its contrastingly exuberant, almost jolly Con Fuoco third movement, it undoubtedly provided the perfect orchestral setting for what was to follow. Unfortunately, as far as is known, this performance of the 6th Symphony was not recorded for posterity.
Arnold's delightful contribution to the evening's music was followed by a short set from the group on their own. This comprised of an unsurpassed version, at least recording-wise, of their US hit, Hush, with Jon's Hammond brilliantly echoing around the Albert Hall; the instrumental Wring that Neck, during which Jon and Ritchie showed off their instrumental prowess (with the guitarist at one point becoming unduly infatuated with his tremelo); and an intriguing early version of their just recorded but yet to be released rock classic, Child In Time.
The stage was now set. The Concerto is conventionally cast in three movements with traditional post-Bach concerto characteristics: but the work does contain certain obvious departures from usual solo-tutti patterns. Whilst the first movement undoubtedly lays stress on musical difference, in some ways Lord's Group Concerto may be said at times to hark back to earlier 'concerted' intentions to combine contrasting musical forces; but equally, though each movement cleverly has its own underlying musical priorities, a distinct almost Lisztian-type instrumental rivalry between the group and the orchestra certainly infuses the last movement.
First Movement: Moderato - Allegro Moderato
The work begins with an utterly adorable and memorable melody played on the clarinet (somewhat reminiscent of the opening gambit of Rite of Spring) over humming strings, followed by a delightful five-note semi-quaver motif, both of which provide the thematic material for the movement. After a climax the trumpets then repeat the clarinet tune before an enticing merging with variants on the second theme and a lovely passage on plucked strings. Fanfare-like figures based on the first tune intersperse pastoral passages as the strings begin to increase the tension. There is a short lull until an utterly delicious all-too-short dance-like tune, based on the second subject, appears and the group finally, after over seven minutes and surely one of the longest orchestral openings in any concerto, comes crashing in and casts the orchestra aside. Ritchie then plays the opening clarinet tune over a primitive 4/4 rock beat before the group settle into their own absorbing rock groove based on the same tune with the guitarist soloing his variations at length over Roger and Ian's catchy rhythm. The guitar eventually repeats the original melody as the orchestra triumphantly proclaims its return on the French horns followed by an enchanting orchestra interlude. The group soon interrupts once again and Jon plays a brief but lovely solo which is soon gradually and beautifully accompanied by the strings. A short guitar cadenza follows until the orchestra once more reasserts itself and climaxes with trumpet figures interrupted by the group. There is a marvellously jazzy clarinet solo before the orchestra builds up once again, and, as the group joins, the two musical forces come together in aggressive dispute for dominance during the vibrant and climactic closing passages. The ending is pure Holst and perhaps intended as a musical joke - the war of the presented antagonists being finally battled-out and ready to begin dialogue. As the 'duel' of the opening movement dramatically comes to its close many of the audience cannot contain themselves and, some of them, possibly thinking that was it, burst into spontaneous applause, no doubt much to the tut-tutting annoyance of some of the musical cognoscenti who had also come to cast their uncompromising critical eye on the proceedings.
Second Movement: Andante
If the first movement presents the group and orchestra as more or less incompatible musical protagonists or at least reluctant musical bedfellows, then the melodiousness of the slow middle movement sees them beautifully crafted together in an utterly harmonious interplay, to 'magical spell-binding effect', as Arnold himself rightly put it. There is a quiet beating orchestral opening accompanying a seductive little tune on the cor anglais leading into another even more enticing and more dominant melody played by the flutes, both of which obviously provide the essential material of the movement and are, in Jon's own words, soon treated be the group and the orchestra in various ways. The orchestra at first magically muses for a while on the two themes until the strings and flutes delicately begin to introduce the group and Ian's charming first vocal section, superbly sung, with the group and the orchestra. The strings emerge out of the inspired versed passages and are accompanied quietly by the group, before the strings take over again and the orchestra rises to a gorgeous musical romance which would not be out of place on an epic Rosza or Korngold Hollywood film. The mood subsides and the organ finally enters to climax once again with the re-introduction of the band and a graceful guitar passage. This preludes the second vocal section leading to a sensational and rapturous group/orchestra culmination. Ian closes his lyrical lament on the whole proceedings with more optimistic sentiments and the guitar returns to be taken over by the organ, timpani, and Ian's drums until percussion gives way to Jon's Hammond and the splendidly inventive organ cadenza. This is followed by an enchanting pastoral string quartet section - a passage from Howells's' Elegy for Solo Viola, String Quartet, and String Orchestra springs to mind - before the orchestra quietly brings this quite majestic movement to an end, and more applause.
Third Movement: Allegro Vivace-Presto
The third movement is a magnificent visceral conflagration as the once musical combatants of the first movement now come together to glorious and spine-tingling effect in the Vivace-Presto finale. It is nothing less than stunning, reminiscent in its rhythmic vitality of the 3rd movement of Shostakovitch's 6th Symphony or Walton's Johannesburg Festival Overture, as the music sensationally and dramatically ebbs and flows under Malcolm Arnold's enthusiastic and energetic generalship. Foot-stomping rock rhythms and free-wheeling jazzy passages, including tremendous work from Blackmore and Paice, combine with an orchestra in full flow, roused to heights of consorted and absorbing sound with brilliant use of the brass and percussion in particular. If ever there was a rock group/orchestra musical fusion then this is it and with this it is easy here to see why Arnold could have been so immediately taken with the possibilities of the score. A dynamic and majestic fanfare of brass chords with percussion heralds the orchestra's vibrant intentions as it leads into an attractive and full-blooded 6/8 rhythm repeatedly punctuated by the brass. The timpani join in and percussion cleverly begins to dominate the energetic phrasing before the opening brass figures return. After another percussive flurry the band joins finally propelling the returning orchestra into another brilliant dance-like frolic. There is a short guitar passage until the orchestra and the group now bind together in rhythmic partnership, continually exchanging and weaving in and out in flurries of dynamic high-tension, the two instrumental forces no longer incompatible but interlocked in an orgy of high-energy musical exuberance. As the orchestra delightfully chugs along, Ritchie's guitar really starts to let loose in a flowing lyrical display, followed by Jon's Hammond organ swirling around the hall over Ian's drums and Roger's pleasing bass phrasing, with the lilting strings now just barely audible. The exciting rhythms rise up and fall away with winds and percussion in unison against the strings. The orchestra then once again builds up into a climax before the group briefly takes over only to give way to Ian Paice and the lengthy but compulsive drum cadenza. The rest of the percussion gallery finally join with the drummer over the audience's applause and the brass once again announces the return to the vibrant 6/8 rhythm. The movement is now enveloped in absorbing and ebullient musical invention as the orchestra begins to race along at breathtaking pace impelled by the percussion and brilliant brass phrases until the powerful intervention of the amplified instrumentalists during which the guitar has a brief passage of joyous prevalence and the strings swirl and the orchestra begins to rise to a fever pitch with the drums, timpani, and the piccolos. The music at full stretch, the group arrives to join the orchestra in one headlong and dynamic build-up to a final crescendo. The horns brilliantly proclaim the end and the group and orchestra combine toward one final thundering chord.
A thrill from start to finish. The largely young audience showed there undoubted appreciation applauding for a quarter of an hour. Indeed such was the understandable rapture of the moment that Arnold was forced to lead the group and orchestra into a repeat of the last passages of the 3rd movement - very sadly this was not recorded. Arnold's instincts and trust in Jon's abilities had proved well-founded, for Jon's orchestral writing revealed a genuine flair for the medium and with a premier orchestra (however recalcitrant) set alongside the brilliant instrumental capabilities of the group and with a sympathetic and experienced conductor at the helm, it resulted in a quite glorious musical entertainment, filled with some wonderful instrumental interplay, and containing some matchless musical moments. In some ways, for all the inevitable strains of critical odium that such works have come to acquire over the years, the Concerto represents one of the culminating moments in the enterprising and 'progressive' musical developments which characterised the cusp years of the '60s and '70s. Fallibilities, naiveties, and obvious influences might be found by more high-minded souls ready to find fault, especially say in the somewhat starkly, though intentionally, counterpoised construction of the first movement: but, for all the possible incidental musical scholium, it remains an absolute wonder. The overwhelming power and profusion of brilliant musical ideas integrated into the classic frame of the concerto, with a beautiful Andante and a rip-roaring final movement, make it a work of enduring pleasure and inspiration, and of such endearing quality that surely only the most miserable and more malicious of music lovers and those who prefer to judge rather than enjoy would wish to find fault.
When Two Worlds Meet
This glorious musical exploration of the two musical worlds was happily captured live on record as Deep Purple's fourth album and the first with the classic line-up, as well as, thankfully for us, on camera. The film of the concerto's performance called When Two Worlds Meet! was broadcast soon after on BBC 2's Omnibus programme and in several other countries. It was released on video in the early '80s, but is now once again available (Connoisseur CCV 1003) with original documentary material narrated by Ned Sherrin, along with pictures, film of rehearsals, and Lord and Arnold in conversation during a break in rehearsals. Unfortunately, it also contains two substantial cuts, which probably ended up on the editor's floor, never to be seen again: the long orchestral opening is reduced to just over 3 minutes, whilst the drum solo is cut from 4¼ minutes to a mere 2¼ minutes. Nonetheless it perhaps manages to capture more clearly than the recording, the sheer excitement and euphoria of the evening's events. Indeed, it provides intriguing viewing, not least for the eye-opening and contrasting reactions in the hall: from the joyless and haughty solemnity of the severe concert-goer and some sour-faced elderly members of the RPO to the more pleasing sight of ecstatic youngsters and whole families smiling and applauding together. Yet, at the end even many of the orchestra are engulfed in broad smiles, and watching now 30 years on it remains a quite thrilling, quite glorious musical experience for anyone wishing to enjoy it.
There is of course no pleasing some people. And if you desperately want to find fault and shoot the organist you undoubtedly will. A few of the pop critics did not quite know what to make of it all, but on the whole showed a remarkable and worthy reticence of judgement: and even though, as is to be expected, a few grunted their irritation and own implicated inverted snobberies with the inevitable and feeble-headed intimations of pretentiousness and the like, they generally seemed to enjoy the experience. Not so a number of the other more 'serious' commentators who certainly were not going to let any youthful headiness over the night's music confuse or colour their narrow and puritan critical faculties - some clearly, as evidenced by the severe expressions of a few conspicuous members of the audience, would have little truck with this kind of thing whatever its quality. Indeed some of the patronising and antipathetic comment which followed the concert revealed more about the self-importance and inbred phobias and wearisome blinkers of the critic than any worthwhile exegesis of the work itself. But whether the reviews were favourable or not (and at this stage they were in fact generally positive), and if sadly, but hardly unsurprisingly, it did not significantly capture the public's imagination as a whole (nor did it chart in Britain), the Group Concerto certainly did cause 'a bit of a stir'. The composer himself seemed a little bemused by all the needless controversy and mindless opinion he had instigated. Although it is hard to understand why a composer should have to defend such a courageous, dramatically enjoyable musical work, Jon was legitimately led to remark on the sleeve: 'What puzzles me, is that an evening which was intended to be, and in fact (as witnessed by a very large and glorious audience) turned out to be, FUN, should be treated by some with such long-faced seriousness'. However, at least Malcolm's daughter and her friends and the honoured guests invited along by the conductor, Sir William and Lady Walton and the Boulting brothers, were more than happy with what they had heard: Malcolm later told Jon that Walton said he had enjoyed every minute of it, which must have pleased the composer immensely - Malcolm says he was a bit afraid of pop musicians to tell Jon himself! Malcolm had no such worries and got on well with the group exchanging cigars and the occasional alcoholic beverage, and says that he very much enjoyed working with the band and thought very highly of their musicianship. Ian, he says, 'sang beautifully', adding 'unusual for a pop singer', and was impressed too by the work of the guitarist; but he seems to have been particularly taken with little Ian's drumming - he played the longest drum roll Malcolm has ever heard for the National Anthem! He describes Jon as 'a bloody fine musician', and the Concerto as 'a piece of great ability', and was quoted at the time as saying: 'I have never heard before of a pop musician who could compose and score a work like this. Mr. Lord's Concerto is witty and lively'. Indeed it was and the vital contribution of the evening's conductor to its undoubted success would be hard to underestimate and Lord himself says as much on the record sleeve. Arnold's conductive alchemy and commitment to the event undoubtedly helped to realise a project that in lesser hands could well have been a disaster, especially amidst all the technical difficulties and before an initially antipathetic orchestra. Ian Gillan too remarks in his recent book that 'it was only Malcolm's enthusiasm and energy that kept the whole thing alive'. Not merely did Arnold help the young composer with some of the revisions of the score (and more than once the orchestral phrasing certainly seems to bear his mark, especially in the third movement), but he also performed the work with a vigorous vitality and positive creativity that undoubtedly provided the central medium through which the group and the orchestra were able to come together: the brilliant performance of the RPO brass section, for instance, was I am sure in part due to the presence of Arnold, who had started his own musical career as an outstanding trumpeter with the LPO - it was Malcolm who had insisted on a full quota of brass. For the group to perform with such undoubted confidence and tightness in front of a sceptical and seasoned orchestra must have had something to do with the open and encouraging character of the maestro. The fact that the work was completed within just three months during which the group was still regularly on the road and had seen a change of personnel as well, only adds to the amplitude of the composer's achievement. Unlike the live Gemini, there are few signs of jagged edges, and though there are obvious mistakes and imprecisions especially in the final movement, it sounds as if the orchestra and the group had been playing together for a whole season - though perhaps in the end the tensions of the rehearsals only helped to create an even more intense and more vibrant syncretism of ostensibly alien musical forces.
Although undoubtedly a success and a musical experience of lifetime-impression to savour - at least as far as many of those who were privileged enough to witness the event were concerned - and the rest of the group were at first more than pleased with the outcome of the concert (and it had certainly enhanced the band's reputation), the Concerto did, in its aftermath, cause a good few dilemmas, ructions and frictions within the group, some of whom became distinctly annoyed at Jon's raised profile as touted founder, leader, and main writer within an essentially (at the time) democratic band. Moreover, the rest of the band were worried that it had confused people's image of them as first and foremost a rock band. 'It got us labelled as a group who'd jumped on the classical/rock bandwagon', Jon was to remark later: 'It drew attention to us at a time when we needed it, but ... it was never intended to be part of the direction of the group, it was merely an experiment. But it caused a rift in the group ... The group felt I was neglecting them. They got frightened that we'd get railroaded into playing hundreds of concertos. They thought I didn't want to play rock 'n' roll''. Although Blackmore was and still is a great fan of classical music, the guitarist wanted the band to be a 'hard rock' outfit and was concerned that people might get confused. Some were. When a few weeks later Deep Purple arrived at the Leas Cliff in Folkestone they were greeted by a promoter who wanted to know where the orchestra was. A club owner in Stoke even hired a local brass band to play with them as he had been unable to book an orchestra - whether it was used on the night I do not know! After a period of anguish and some internal accusation during which the keyboard player was all set to leave the band at one point - for there was even a feeling that Jon had used the Concerto merely to further his own career - a meeting was arranged and a compromise was eventually reached. Lord committed himself to the group's new album, destined to become a rock classic, whilst the rest of the band grudgingly agreed to perform the Concerto in the US in August 1970 at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra. Secondly, impressed by the success of the Concerto, just a month after its performance the BBC commissioned another work to involve the group and orchestral forces, and thus committed, the band also consented to take part in Lord's next project back in England the following September. However, from then on in Lord's classical inclinations were to be his own affair, not Deep Purple's. But if the air had been cleared and a split thankfully avoided, by the time of the American concert even Jon was to have lost much of his enthusiasm for another outing of his work, and by the time of the actual premiere of his new composition Jon's own impulses for such ambitious projects had been all but been exhausted amid all the resultant personal hassles and changed commercial circumstances.
Gemini Suite Live
The Concerto was released in Britain on the Harvest label in January 1970 (and on Warner Brothers in the US). Despite all the ensuing internal ructions following the Concerto project and his own waning creative impulses for such events, in the same month Jon set down to his new work for rock instrumentalists and orchestra, and the score for Gemini Suite was completed six months later. It was a hectic period for Deep Purple: it toured at home and abroad almost constantly through 1970, its busiest year thus far; and with increasing appearances on TV and Radio as well, Jon found himself scoring Gemini by himself in motel bedrooms whilst the band supported The Faces around America. The music was composed and sectioned around the musical character and capabilities of the five members of the band - presumably attempting in some way to reflect the nature of their astrological signs (Jon is a Gemini) and perhaps too hoping to engage the fellow members of the band more fully in the project - with a Grand Finale involving the whole band with the orchestra. Happily for Jon, Malcolm Arnold once again agreed to take part in the performance, this time conducting the Orchestra of the Light Music Society. The concert took place on 17th September at the Royal Festival Hall and was scheduled as part of the 'South Bank Pops' and broadcast soon after on Radio 2 and Danish Radio.
However, when it came to the time of the Gemini concert itself, it was hardly the most opportune time for the group to embark on another orchestral performance: for to add to the resultant somewhat inauspicious circumstances within the band, Deep Purple's standing in the pop world had seen a dramatic change since the Concerto - the band having achieved a major critical and commercial breakthrough in the pop world. It was in a vastly different position to the one it had occupied the previous year, and this further venture into the orchestral world now came as an almost unwelcome intrusion into its new high-riding success. With Deep Purple having made the charts both with its seminal In Rock album and an irresistible throw-away single, Black Night, and obviously in world-wide demand, its latest concert with orchestra accordingly took place with as little fuss as possible, and certainly without any of the media anticipation or furore that had accompanied the Concerto, and it managed to pass relatively unnoticed amid all the new-found clamour for the band. Indeed, astonishingly, the concert only received brief reviews in two of the nation's weeklies - quite a contrast to the critical fallout from the Concerto.
The Gemini Suite Concert
The first part of the concert was taken up with a performance of Rhapsody in Blue, but it was not recorded. The central, genial and smiling figure of Malcolm Arnold then took the stage again, this time with the featured instrumentalists for a quite breathtaking concert. There is at times a restive and ragged almost volatile edge to the instrumental dramas, and a definite hint of the under-rehearsed: according to Malcolm, the concert was not well-prepared at all as there was little or no time to get the orchestral players accustomed to the score and working with the band; as he also stressed the orchestra was not quite in the same class as the RPO and he remembers that on a couple of occasions he was called upon for a smart bit of conductorship to get proceedings back together - very evident during Ian's Vocal movement for example. Yet in some ways these otherwise difficult circumstances only seem to increase the exhilarating effect of the musical experience which unfolds and, for all the special efforts required and the obvious slips and flaws, Sir Malcolm recalls it as a very enjoyable experience.
The work opens with the guitar movement, and Blackmore, with his Gibson 335 on one of its last outings, pulls off a tremendous tinder-like performance, though it is not without mistakes. The music kicks off with what appears to be a quote from Vaughan Williams's Job, which introduces a delightful orchestral flourish involving brass, winds, timpani, and pizzicato strings, until the guitar, brass and percussion take over. The movement is dominated by a simple riffy figure soon somewhat haphazardly introduced by the guitar on its own. The winds and strings interrupt and after a lovely contrasting melodic variation played on the oboes, the strings take up the theme for a march in triple time, in almost dirge-like fashion, and with the strings contrastingly delightfully skipping along beside, a radiant guitar and the group join to dominate briefly on their own. The timpani continue the beat as the catchy oboe tune is played once again with additional winds and strings, eventually joined by the brass. There is climax and the rhythm speeds up as Ian's drums drive the beat along and the winds, strings, and guitar and eventually brass engage in some marvellous interplay. There is a short, attacking, but somewhat wildish guitar cadenza comprising mainly of two- and three-note flurries before quietening down to re-introduce the riff. The strings return and the music builds to another climax with brass, as another Paicey drum pattern begins to take hold once more. The orchestra engages with the guitar which overlays a lovely solo until the assembled musical combatants take part in one wee final boisterous romp together. The music then once more subsides and the guitar quietly and beautifully plays out.
The composer himself is the soloist in the next movement. It is a somewhat obtuse though still intriguing affair. It more than repays the considered attention of the ears, but it sits uncomfortably alone amongst the six movements - the phrases 'stood out like' and 'sore thumb' spring to mind - and at times seems to be composed with defiantly perplexing musical priorities in mind: it is reminiscent sometimes of Copland's youthful Organ Concerto, with the playful agitations of The Miraculous Mandarin contrasting with the more elegiac idioms of a Virgil Thomson, as Jon's organ meanders in and out of the music, seemingly almost at odds with the orchestra, as if it were refusing to become a musical friend, remaining difficult and obtuse, with punctuating dissonances. Indeed whilst the orchestration is cleverly juxtaposed to an uncompromising soloist it perhaps has an unfinished quality and it was the only movement to be completely overhauled for the studio version. There is another lovely orchestral opening before the organ begins to dominant in harsh tones clashing with its orchestra, which seems to try to compete with the obdurate keyboard as well as flirt in a more pleasing lyricism. There are great passages of musical engagement with Jon almost playing a veritable musical devil's advocate. The organ cadenza has Jon switching from violent attacks upon his instrument to quick-passing poetic touches and his characteristic runs. A soothing orchestra briefly returns before more musical sham-fighting and rapidly altering musical interplay, with the orchestra again seemingly trying to plicate the belligerent instrumentalist. The sharp musical dialogue continues before the movement gradually begins to take on a more coherent shape and the moody agitations cease. The orchestra's tuneful dance over a vibrant rhythm then dominates and the music builds to a very Shostakovich-like climax. The brass display over vibrant strings and winds to lead to the exciting final passages. The soloist, after a brief flourish accompanied by a gradually more vigorous orchestra, seems to mellow in unison, and the orchestra celebrates its triumph in a glorious section before Jon suddenly intrudes for a series of rapid runs until the orchestra briefly returns and the organ finally winds down with whirling strings as if all washed up.
Next up is Ian Gillan's movement. Gillan, with Blackmore, had been more than forthcoming in his opposition to this kind of work and was clearly uncomfortable about the night's event (as his lyrics again made plain). Yet, like the guitarist, he also turned in a spirited performance, though he is reported to have been finalising the words only moments before the performance, and it shows. The movement begins with a lovely sweeping, lyrical orchestral parade dominated by the strings, very reminiscent of Elgar's Sospiri for Strings, until Ian enters encouragingly - 'How I wish that I wasn't here ...'. The orchestra provides a beautiful accompaniment with wistful and delicate touches from the cor anglais during the second verse. There is a gripping crescendo before Ian returns with an exuberant and more optimistic vocal accompanied by the group, simple brass, and finally the rest of the orchestra, which provides some clever touches, as the participants clearly desperately attempt to keep things together for an exhilarating and vibrant passage. Nice bass from Roger too as Ian characteristically 'screams' (one of his vocal trademarks of the time) over the exultant climax ended by the guitar.
The music then proceeds straight into the bass movement, characterised by its vibrant musical interaction between soloist and orchestra with brass providing almost continual repartee. After some lively orchestral playing, the bass enters into an engaging combat with the drums and brass before it is soon left to itself and the instrumentalist plays a warmly affecting solo, with its brief light touch of humour. Roger then sets a vibrant rhythm to exchange patterns with the brass and drums and eventually the rest of the orchestra before he quietly concludes with a delectable accompaniment from the cor anglais. Given the tonal limitations of the instrument it is a most successful and wonderfully musical moment.
The drum movement is a remarkable musical miniature with Ian's drum sound equalling a Sing, Sing, Sing-like Gene Krupa for sheer power and excitement. The movement is musically centred around a vibrant brass/string motif. The opening interplay between the orchestra, with dominating brass, and the drums is thrilling, and really begins to show how ostensibly incompatible or rather unusual musical counterpoises can provide such exhilarating and joyful music in the hands of such a resourceful composer. The drum solo is outstanding. After some more intricate and charmed interaction the music develops into a percussive battle before the orchestral forces rejoin for a lively and enjoyable passage home. Paice's performance was greeted with the most instantaneous appreciation on the night, and earned the applause not only of the audience but also of his fellow band members and the generous conductor himself.
The Finale raises the venture to a triumphant stature and contains some stunning episodes as the instrumental forces engage in a quite thrilling, nigh primal conflict and the different musical styles combine for a hectic display of musical strife with quick changing rhythmic patterns akin to the last movement of the Concerto. It begins with impulsive and racy instrumentality between strings, winds, and brass, punctuated by the organ. There is some really tantalising orchestral writing here. The musical drama then subsides until the tension builds once more between the group and orchestra and the organ announces a stunning climax for the group to dramatically enter the proceedings and the electric nervous energy of the concert really begins to let rip into one of the real high spots of the whole evening. There is a passage of Prokofiev-like friskiness until the music quietens down again and the group and orchestra lead up to a jazzy crescendo and a great leap into another full-blooded group work-out led along by exhilarating drums from Ian and brass riffs. There is a return to the splendid interplay of the opening and another rocky episode where Ritchie lets fly over a high-powered jazzy brass phrasing. The musical proceedings are then suddenly brought to a halt as a stately stringed mélange reminiscent of Ligeti marvellously intrudes upon the unfolding musical sorcery. The brass sing a doleful tune over the 'atmospheres' (2001 again) before another climax and, with accompanying organ, Roger's bass announces a great free-wheeling band passage impelled along by jazzy brass, leading to a false ending. The band are soon galvanised once again by the orchestra and brilliantly dominate as Ritchie produces some eloquent playing. There is yet another grand culmination of musical forces and the orchestra and group engage each other in fast, dramatic, gripping and changeful musicality, with some stupendous brass statements, until another false ending, followed by a brief rising violin, and the climactic finale.
For all the ensuing personal doubts and group difficulties outside the concert hall and the actual practical adversities evident in the performance, Arnold, the group and the orchestra bring off a quite miraculous if highly-strung musical entertainment, with some quite awesome passages of 'concerted' music. Because of the lack of rehearsals, this original concert version of the composition does not have the instrumental cohesiveness of the definitive studio recording or of the Concerto, and there are obvious heart-in-mouth moments when the whole shebang appears almost to be on the verge of chaos and collapse: yet it is some of these very passages that also provide the most exhilarating musical effects during the whole concert. We can only marvel at the mastery of the conductor and the instrumental participants in bringing off such an ill-prepared endeavour with such obvious self-possession - few other rock groups could have scored so skilfully with this kind of musical brinkmanship. Who could wish to indulge themselves in the dubieties of critical fault-finding before such an inspiring musical accomplishment? For all the uneasiness and nervous energy, and errors, evident in the evening's performance, it once again reveals the magical and awe-inspiring confluence that can come from bringing two erstwhile antagonistic cultural worlds into one musical frame in the hands of such a resourceful compositional imagination. If Gemini Suite was at odds with Deep Purple's new-found notoriety and popularity at the time, it still remains a marvellous document of a rock musician genuinely trying to explore new ground and extend his own musical vocabulary.
Gemini Suite Studio
Needless to say, following the premiere of Gemini Suite, the band were far from interested in releasing a recording of the show, especially having by then laboured hard to acquire its own new popular musical identity as above all a hard-hitting rock band and become one of the premier, most gifted and exciting acts of the time. In fact the original live concert version was never released on record and had to wait until 1993 for it to be released commercially on CD by RPM (and since re-issued on Purple Records) to reveal its dazzling qualities and the vibrancy of the evening's events. The composer too at first showed little inclination to pursue the project any further; not surprisingly given some of the outright critical hostility which had come to accompany such 'progressive' musical ambitions - the pop press had soon wearied of such events. Jon was quoted soon after as saying that he would like to record Gemini sometime, but was concentrating on Purple for the time being. Fortunately though, he did eventually find a space to put the work together, not as a group performance, but as a solo album and revising and expanding the work in the process. The recording included three new soloists to replace Gillan and Blackmore who refused to take part. Jon's friend Tony Ashton and a young and at that time virtually unknown, beautiful Hawaiian singer by the name of Yvonne Elliman (soon signed to the Purple label), took over the vocal duties, whilst the much-admired and deft-fingered Albert Lee replaced Blackmore on guitar. Apparently Lord did try to get Keith Emerson to guest as a soloist, presumably in the new piano movement, but it came to nothing, and the composer did the duties himself. There was no Finale, much of the music of which was transposed and used to quite glorious effect in the revamped organ section. The additional piano piece was almost wholly new. Guitar again began the work but the other movements were re-ordered so that on the vinyl record release Piano and Drums completed side one and Vocals, Bass Guitar, and Organ took up side two to provide over forty-five minutes of matchless musical pleasure.
Malcolm Arnold was himself experiencing a certain ill-fortune in his personal life around this time, not least the traumatic emotional effects of his young son, Edward, being diagnosed autistic. However, to Jon's good fortune, he agreed to take part, this time conducting the LSO, in this third venture with rock soloists, as well as helping Jon with some of the revisions to the work, especially the recasting of the original Grand Finale. Once again working with an orchestra proved both fulfilling and exasperating for the composer: 'There was the world famous LSO sitting in a studio playing a piece of my music and obviously, to start with, pissed off to be doing so', Jon was later to remark. Clearly, once again without the cordial and galvanising presence of Arnold things might have turned out for the worse. However, Malcolm's memory of the rehearsals is more tempered as he says that on this occasion he had much less trouble with the LSO than with the RPO, plus there was more time for rehearsal with two major sessions at the Abbey Road Studios. If there was any lack of interest on the part of the orchestra it is certainly not evident on the final recording, the first to be released on Deep Purple's own label on 1st October 1971 (but on Capitol in America) - a month prior to the release of Fireball - nicely packaged in a striking gatefold sleeve (which adorned my local Smiths seemingly for years) with pictures of Lord, Arnold, soloists, and orchestral members (some smiling!) laid out inside.
There are fewer of the Shostakovitchian-type dramaturgies, the Arnoldesque vivacities, and the fortissimo group-orchestra work-outs of the Concerto, but the studio Gemini possesses a real exhaustive and eclectic mix of musical styles, containing certain nicely juxtaposed modernistic elements alongside the composer's stunning use of jazzy grooves and a more restrained but equally sparkling rock instrumentality, as well as brilliantly inspired orchestral writing. If ever there was a finer musical integration of the electric universe of rock and the world of the orchestra then we've yet to hear it, for this is simply music at its finest; wide-ranging, fun, entertaining, cultured, and inspired and inspiring throughout. A more thoughtful and less instantaneously visceral experience it may be, but the newly constructed work nonetheless reveals the utterly inspiring and glorious musicality that comes from the interplay of the vitality of the rock soloist and its infectious and ingratiating musical language with the grandest musical instrument humankind has yet managed to devise - the orchestra. What the studio recording of Gemini Suite loses in immediate physical excitement is more than made up for by the sheer polished craftsmanship of the studio performance as the true compositional strength, depth, and variety of the music are brought to bear and the rock and orchestral forces are fused into one majestic musical whole. In one of his more gloomier moments Jon once later described his composition as somewhat contrived, as if it were somehow lacking the genuineness of the Concerto: in fact, with Gemini Suite, he acquires a truly impressive, individual musical voice and the work is by any standards a quite outstanding achievement, a superlative entertainment, and in its own way nothing less a charmed addition to the British musical landscape of the late C20th. Arnold himself described the piece as 'very good indeed' and happily claimed that it was his favourite out of the three he worked on with Jon, and added, quite fairly, that he felt it was much more accomplished than the Concerto. It is a work of supreme quality and to my mind his finest solo album and the most successful composition of its ilk. The performances of the soloists and the orchestra, the rich range of styles, and the sheer relentless brilliance of the music itself all combine to make it an album of real nobility, a truly inspired display and consummate realisation of such worthwhile musical association.
The Gemini Suite Recording
The revised Gemini work again begins with the guitar movement. Although it is based around the same basic musical material as performed in the live concert, Guitar becomes quite a different tin of sardines in the studio. Albert Lee's Guitar is to begin with a much more measured affair than Blackmore's live performance (and after all, he is one of those musicians who can miss as well as hit with equal extreme measure). But though the exhilarating atmosphere and the more improvisatory playing (along with the obvious imprecisions) of the live original are inevitably missing, it is still beautifully played and Lee brings off a superbly executed performance: his lovely and longer cadenza certainly outshines the brief, hurried, and somewhat wildish flurries of the concert solo, even if we also lose the original, delicately constructed and more lengthy closing diminuendo. The movement kicks off with its apparent quote from Job, which signals a delightful orchestral flurry involving brass, timpani, and strings, during which the the guitar enters, before brass and percussion take over by themselves. The piece is dominated by a simple 3-figure motif (sparser even than the Smoke riff), initially stated AAG: this is introduced by the guitar on its own during a brief initial cadenza, but played very contrastingly with Blakmore's original introduction of the thematic material. After a beautiful tune based around the dominant theme played on the oboe accompanied by restrained horns and strings, the orchestra then takes up the riff for a magnificent almost dirge-like march in triple time. The guitar overlays a solo as the rock group briefly takes over on its own. The timpani continue the beat as a clarinet jazzily plays its variations, quickly joined by the strings, until finally the trumpets herald a lovely orchestral climax. As some fine orchestral touches are fenced by the guitar, the rhythm speeds up with plucked strings, and the timpani drive the rhythm along for the strings and brass and timpani to engage in some marvellous interplay. This is followed by Lee's stately and considered cadenza proper, and includes some of his characteristic rapid country runs. The guitarist finally re-introduces the riff and the orchestra returns and the music soon builds to another climax with some great brass before lively drum patterns accompanied by vibrant timpani begin to take hold and the brass and timpani rhythmically engage the guitar. This is halted by another flourish from the brass for a final boisterous orchestral and guitar romp. Following another orchestral flourish with the guitar and more brass, the music then subsides and the guitar quietly plays out over subdued strings.
The piano movement is a glorious addition to the work and contains some of the real highlights of the studio version. It begins with Jon playing a wonderfully laid-back, but exhilarating jazzy, Chick Corea-like solo over Roger's clever bass and Ian's tasty drums, until the orchestra, dominated by trumpet and horn exchanges, interrupt the proceedings. There is then some brief but charmed 'concerto' displays between orchestra and soloist which lead to a brilliant but all-too-short frolic punctuated by brass. A quite stupendous build up with strings, wind, and brass then proceeds into a magnificent skip-along section as Jon plays a quite delectable piano over a four-figure brass riff and percussion - a real high spot this: the music then pauses and the brass gives way to percussive accompaniment as the gallop picks up again, until the accompanying pizzicato strings finally signal the end of this superlative section. More interplay between percussion and piano then leads into Jon's cadenza. Absorbing throughout, it contains some exquisitely skilful but perfectly restrained, graceful, and classy playing: classical modalities frame a jazzy middle section with blues-noted inflections and a possible faint nod to Gershwin. Plucked strings finally return to accompany Jon's play-out. The orchestra then also joins for a brief and wonderful dominance, leading to a crescendo for an organ glissando and a false ending, followed by whirling strings which finally signal the close of this outstanding movement.
Paice's powerful performance was greeted with the most instantaneous appreciation on the night of the original live performance of Gemini Suite. Though less immediate, the excitement of Ian's drum sound remains as powerful as ever, and the movement produces another dashing display of percussive technique. Paice performs with the bravura of a master at his beloved instrument with a finely judged and mature interplay against the orchestral forces: percussion dominates yet does not completely imperialise the affairs, and with it Drums becomes a marvellously engaging seven minute musical miniature. The musical substance is again almost the same as the premiere. The movement is musically centred around a vibrant brass/string fanfare figure soon introduced. The opening and continuing interaction of the orchestra and the drums, with cleverly dominant brass, strings, and timpani, are quite thrilling. Piano and piccolos are briefly heard, as the strings once more also then nicely engage with the drums. Finally the brass motif is once again fully stated to introduce Ian's drum solo - though undeniably a rock drum solo, it sounds almost Art Blakey-like at times. It ends with quietening rolls as the orchestra returns with the fanfare and a flurry from the brass and strings. After more genial musical reciprocity and mournful brass, and a brief pause, the movement then develops into an exhilarating percussive battle until the strings also join and the orchestra indulges in a lively and enjoyable passage home with the drums. Absorbing throughout, this concluded side one of the original vinyl release.
In the original version Ian sang well, but his apparent lack of preparation was in truth evident. Enjoyable and wonderfully exciting though that performance was, in the studio version Vocal becomes a real standout movement with its gloriously emotive lyricism and its hint of the vibrancy of a '60s stage musical finale - with commercial concerns in mind perhaps it should have opened the suite. For this studio version Jon wrote his own lyrics, a familiar and easily mocked, but hardly unworthy paean for tolerance and peace, and the two soloists bring off a marvellous indeed moving vocal display amid the noble orchestral exultation - though Ashton's characterful and offbeat gravely voice might be considered an acquired taste by some more inordinately sensitive musical souls. Revisions to the score are here evident, but Vocal again retains the same content and structure as the concert version The section begins with that lovely sweeping and majestic parade from the strings, reminiscent of Elgar's Sospiri, and in the same mood of the opening of the slow movement of the Concerto. Thus introducing the magnificent melodiousness of the piece, muted horns, winds, and timpani then quietly announce Elliman's opening vocal. She pulls off a marvellously sensuous and spirited performance. The orchestra provides accompaniment, with beautiful delicate touches from the cor anglais during the second verse. A brilliant brass fanfare, accompanied by percussion and Ian's drums and then by the strings, announce Ashton's section and the inimitable voice lays down what has to be one of its finest performances on record. There is a gripping climax and Ashton continues with an exuberant vocal passage over the group, catchy brass fills, and stunning orchestral accompaniment. Elliman then returns to join Ashton in an even more uplifting orchestral finale involving Ian and Roger and finally the climactic and exhilarating 'but to dream, but to dream, is it all a dream?'. Superlative music by any criterion and if you need a starting point then this is it.
The music then once again proceeds straight into the bass movement. Roger - in many ways almost the 'unsung hero' of Deep Purple and possibly the principle pivot of the whole chemistry of the band - repeats his own brilliantly 'concerted' drama with his characteristic rhythmical panache and absorbs with his instrument throughout, belying any of the supposable limitations of the melodic soundscape of his chosen instrument, and provides a worthy and wonderfully musical roundness to the whole proceedings - though clever clever Pastorious-type pyrotechnics this is not. After a short, lively orchestral opening, the bass enters into a continuous combat with the drums, strings, and some fantastic brass before the bass is left to itself and the instrumentalist plays a warmly affecting solo, until a simple but vibrant rhythm is set up for Roger to accompany himself out. The orchestra returns once more with the bass still interchanging its patterns against the brass and drums. A sudden halting of proceedings is followed by the brass motive from Ian's movement which itself heralds the quiet conclusion with delectable accompaniment from the cor anglais. It is an engaging musical moment on its own; but thus placed following the vocal, it also acts as a genial and effective miniature to set up Jon's final movement.
Organ is the longest and the most substantial of the six sections, and using music from the original Finale, some passages from the first Organ section, plus new material, it completes and shapes the work into an opus of quite stunning and enduring quality. Although the interplay of the orchestra and the organ does not have the same rough nervous energy or 'hot' instrumental edginess of the Festival Hall Concert, it is a much more pleasing piece as the dominant and slightly cacophonous indulgences and 'difficult' modulations of the original version are replaced by a packed, free-flowing, and ever-changing musical perambulation of sustained musical interest: different musical styles combine for a sparkling display of musical strife with quick changing rhythmic patterns, and once again it truly begins to reveal what a resounding and sophisticated entertainment can be achieved when the progressive musical language of rock begins to explore and engage other musical horizons to create a musical grandeur all its own. There is a substantial but enchanted orchestral introduction transposed slightly revised from the opening of the Finale. Quiet passages including some delightful almost filmic impressions are contrasted with more racy and impulsive Stravinsky-like instrumental touches involving strings, winds, and brass. After these engaging variously-styled interludes and a few false climaxes punctuated by the organ as in the style of the original version, there is a brief Prokofiev-like passage until the music quietens down. The music then builds up once more for the group and then orchestra to lead into a dramatic and dissonant crescendo with brass rampant for a great leap into a full-blooded free-wheeling group work-out as Jon pulls off a brilliant rock solo over Roger and Ian's driving rhythm. This is soon brought to halt by brass riffs and the strings and then by a fuller orchestral accompaniment until the winds, strings, and the timpani splendidly provide a quick vivacious relief on their own. There is a return to the vibrant interplay of the opening as the organ then begins once more to engage in spirited exchanges with the orchestral forces, including one rocky episode where Jon lets fly over a high-powered jazzy brass phrasing. The organ then thrillingly takes over in brief passages between the trumpet/string riffs accompanied throughout by Ian's drums. After just over six minutes of wonderful musical interplay, this festal musical mood is suddenly brought to a halt by the funereal Ligeti-type stringed passage taken from the original Finale, with the brass cleverly and mournfully counterpoised, singing a doleful tune over the brilliant effects. There are then more brief tantalising orchestral exchanges, and soon galvanised once again by the orchestra, the group enter the proceedings as Roger's exquisite and arresting lilting bass ostinato proceeds into another telling and this time more lengthy jazzy solo from Jon. The soloist finally casts off combating with the brass. Another false ending is sounded on the trumpets only to herald, after a quick orchestral interlude, the return of the stately stringed 'atmospheres' which once again marvellously intrude upon the unfolding musical sorcery. The work now repeats the final passages of the original version with continual and various sportive musical frivolities and soloist, group, and orchestra combat each other in gripping, quick-changing musical tempers. Ian's Drum signature, scrawny strings, and a brief pastoral oboe all then quickly pass amidst the exciting organ-orchestral exchanges until another build-up involving Roger and Ian and brass leads to another false ending, a solo violin ascending, and the fabulous close.
Organ is superior bewitching stuff indeed and puts the seal on an utterly outstanding and inimitable piece of compositional workmanship: Gemini Suite is a genuine masterstroke, thoroughly entertaining, overflowing with winning musical ideas, and filled with a sparkling array of consummate rock instrumentality superlatively integrated into the sovereign world of the orchestra to produce of work of stunning musicality. An unmatched divertissement of its type. Who could possibly concern themselves with feigning a harrowed artistic sensibility before the unholy joy of such hallowed musical amenity? The catalytic baton of the chef d'orchestre had certainly managed to distil the best out of the orchestra however unenthused its members might have behaved: if the orchestral players were unable to give it the full welly, heart and soul, they still managed to pull off a quite historic musical achievement on behalf of the composer. Elsewhere orchestras may have laid down some lacklustre if not to say downright mediocre, jobbing performances in other projects, but not here.
Sadly, the studio recording of Gemini Suite marked the end of Jon Lord's collaboration with Malcolm Arnold, and Jon's musical association, which had revealed and promised so much, ceased. In 1972, despite his love of Cornwall and its people, the composer of The Padstow Lifeboat and Four Cornish Dances decided to leave the West Country and move to Ireland to renew his own creative urge - though Malcolm says he did also invite the group to come and play in Ireland. Gemini Suite also signalled the close of Jon's '70s relationship with British orchestras. Despite their undeniable superiority and thrilling musicality, Jon's orchestral works, like other projects of associated artistic intent, had in the main never really been overwhelmed with critical approval in Britain: they had certainly never been able to sustain a really conspicuous niche in the pop world and had over the years, for reasons quite irrelated to the actual quality of the music, suffered somewhat beneath the noses of the inverted sniffiness of the more blinkered and fashion-conscious music critics. Indeed it could be said that it was figures from the world of jazz and classical music, outside the limitary but influential circles of the rock cognoscenti, who tended to listen to these cultural exchanges with less prejudice and a more open and sympathetic ear, and to understand and appreciate their musical merit. Given the general lack of critical appreciation, and ignorant and sometimes downright unwarranted enmity from the rock critics in his own country, Jon decided to re-locate his musical habitude to pursue his intermittent extra-curricula musical ambitions; this time to Germany where his orchestral works had proved a considerable success and critical circumstances were considerably more favourable than in his home country.
Here he began an association with another similarly enterprising, radical, if not seemingly happily maverick, musical figure, the German composer/conductor, Eberhard Schoener. Following two repeat performances of Gemini Suite, German TV commissioned a concert of original compositions from Jon and Eberhard to be performed as part of the 1974 Munich Prix Jeunesse, a festival of the works of young composers. This in the end produced two pieces, Continuo on B.A.C.H. and Window, which in fact included a revised version of the vocal movement from Gemini Suite. Recorded live to become the 1974 album, Windows, they were performed on 1st June at the Herkulessaal of the Munich Residenz, and broadcast live around Europe. Schoener once again conducted the Munich Chamber Opera Orchestra. Schoener then worked with Lord on one other project. Sarabande, often regarded as his most winning achievement - and not without reason - was recorded in September 1975 at the Stadt Halle Oererckenschwick near Dusseldorf with Schoener conducting the Philharmonic Hungarica, and released over a year later. Nicely packaged once again, it certainly stands alongside the studio Gemini Suite, as a major work, a composition of outstanding quality and more than puts the seal on his reputation as a figure of genuine musical achievement, completing a body of work which must remain one of the most unfairly maligned and sadly unsung bodies of quality musicianship and composition in the whole pantheon of '70s rock.
Since then, there have been a good number of plans for concerts and projects involving Lord's rock/orchestral music, nearly all of which have sadly never come to fruition. Harlech TV had plans for a concert to be performed at Carnarvon Castle back in the '70s and Gemini Suite was nearly performed again in London in the early '80s. Arrangements for a tour of Europe with the Czechoslovakian Radio Orchestra and rock soloists were all but completed in 1991 before ultimately had to be cancelled. The quite tantalising prospect of a concert with the great Jacques Loussier was heard a while back but very sadly this never took place either. A few years ago a conductor in northern England began pursuing plans for a repeat performance of the Concerto. This looked unlikely to take place as the score had been lost. However a young Dutch composer had in the meantime scored the work from the record and the video and this work of dedication has enable the 30th anniversary of the original concert to be marked by a musical evening containing a restaging of a slightly revised version of the work. This took place on 25th and 26th September at the Albert Hall with Charles Mann and the LSO. The new score is dedicated to Sir Malcolm Arnold and the concert opened with a performance of the Four Scottish Dances. Sadly Sir Malcolm was unable to attend due to illness. Just prior to this Jon released a new orchestral work - Pictured Within, another majestic and elative work rivalling anything he has ever written. But, given this long wait and all the disappointments over the years, Lord's collaboration with Malcolm Arnold still retains its treasured musical eminence, and perhaps we should be thankful for what we have got.
'There is no possible justification for the arrogant, high-minded way in which British music critics treat musicians. These critics are a standing joke throughout the world ... Let us say down, down, down with the music critics before they make our music the arid and joyless music of the concentration camp'
Malcolm Arnold, The Guardian, 3rd June 1971
Over the years Arnold has himself been the butt of some worthless critical abuse and undergone periods of unfashionableness, not least for his own contumacious eclecticism - a characteristic invariably a bit scary for the more insecure and blinkered critic who must make verdict rather than simply enjoy. Indeed the critical flack he began to receive during the '60s and '70s clearly came to cause him a good deal of distress, and in no small way probably contributed to his eventual 'breakdown' towards the end of the '70s. During the last 30 years Lord's orchestral works too have been the victim of an over-abundance of rude and ignorant verbosity and it is perhaps, finally, worth having a look at the attitude of the 'arid and joyless' world of the critic to his orchestral works.
'I'm proud of it', Lord once remarked about the Concerto, but added, 'I react to some parts, because it might sound overly pompous and perhaps a bit naive'. Indeed sadly, Jon appears to have gone through periods of disillusionment with orchestral composition. Although his rock career has rarely been less than busy, the possible reasons why he has subsequently so rarely indulged in the fulfilment of his ex curricula classical ambitions are not unduly beyond the unfathomable. To begin with, as the number of failed projects itself indicates, there are the simple logistics involved in putting on orchestral performances which consume such vast amounts of time and money. Secondly, amid such a dominant critical scepticism about rock music's involvement in classical forms of composition, especially in Britain, it takes a lot of personal courage and belligerence for a creative artist, belaboured with such unappreciated musical skills, to engage in projects that have little chance of ever being properly appreciated and require little empathy from the puny-minded and small-hearted fashion-laden opinionists of cultural esteem. Lord himself was ruefully led to remark after Gemini Suite: 'I don't particularly want to do another classical album for two reasons. First, it's very time-consuming and it's also questionable if it's enjoyable to people'. Yet when all is said and done beyond all the attendant critical bunkum, Jon's solo work must constitute one the most satisfying, but most unsung, musical achievements of its kind; and given all the critical adversity, we can only admire him for continuing as much as he did. Though any canonical hierarchy of human musical endeavour is a loathsome critical artifice, his orchestral albums surely have to be the finest and most charmed and resplendent of those produced during the short-lived musical ascendance of rock music's integration with classical forms.
The undoubted quality of Jon Lord's orchestral compositions stands for all to hear. Yet, despite the obvious musical enjoyments to be had, the karmic quirks of our one-dimensional cultural treadmills seem to have left Jon's solo oeuvre, not altogether unastonishingly, in a strange limbo of fabled ingloriousness, wilfully ignored, persistently ridiculed, loathed even. To be sure, rock's dalliances with orchestral forces have never been a particularly trendy pursuit to fillip the self-image of the vogue-conscious (except those by a few 'accepted' artists). They are not 'musically correct' or 'cool' certainly; and the prejudices against, and more often than not animosities to, such musical experiments are still all-pervading, especially in the journalistic junk that so often passes for critical opinion in the blinkered world of the metropolitan pop punster. Moreover, Jon's work has often even gone unnoticed in the few occasionally sympathetic critical considerations of the whole wide-ranging musical shebang that constitutes the enterprising cultural hybrid. Not surprisingly, it has over the years come to command the admiration of only a relatively small body of advocates. The audience Jon's works have acquired is no doubt in large measure confined to fans of Deep Purple or to those interested in that much maligned genre of 'progressive' rock so conspicuous in the first half of the '70s - but still happily ploughing its own furrow beyond the fringes of mainstream rock music. The Concerto, a seminal work, which received an immense amount of publicity at the time, has probably only really remained in the catalogue over all these years by virtue of the fact that it is classified as part of the overall Deep Purple story: the studio Gemini Suite, Windows, and Sarabande in contrast had only been available on CD, until their recent re-issue, on import from Germany on Line Records, and the live Gemini Suite had to wait until 1993 for it to be issued.
But if the winds of cultural credulity and the gravities of pop mythologising have marginalised Lord's orchestral endeavours to an unwarranted realm of unjust ignominy - critical victimisation easily transfigured into musical fault in the shallow doctrines of accepted rock historiography - then this in no way reflects the stature of the music itself: its critical depreciation has little or nothing to do with the qualitative content of the music itself, and much more to do with the warped psychologies and sociologies of cultural opiniatry. That a leviathan of extraneous petty presumptions and censurous crack-brained encumbrances should have come to so plague the uniquely liberating force of human music making hardly baffles the human mind: but it remains a quite interesting statement about the self-deceiving cultural credulities and spiritual inadequacies of our species; and certainly an indictment of so much hype-fuelled and fashion-conscious music criticism and the inability of so many critics to listen and comprehend with what Robert Simpson eloquently called 'the innocent ear'. Zappa once wrote: 'There are several reasons why my music has never really been 'explained' in the press. For one thing, the people who write the articles don't really care how it works or why it works. I think this applies in a general way to rock criticism of every group'. It certainly does. Whilst Deep Purple achieved and in bundles of measure have sustained a musical excellence way beyond their subsequent popularly perceived classification in the rock world, for many easily prejudiced souls the 'stigma' of this pre-conceived (un)critical appraisal undoubtedly also lays doubly heavy on Lord's own work outside the band. This is perhaps understandable, but such superior music as Jon has produced properly deserves a wider and more considered critical appreciation.
It would be a banal truism to say that the genres in which Jon works are not to everyone's taste: but it still begs the question why his positive, worthwhile, and thoroughly entertaining orchestral musical projects should so automatically acquire such an unwarranted and disproportionate degree of negative and dull-minded comment, and certainly brings into doubt the whole attitude of the notoriously vicious British critical establishment. Perhaps understandably, some may fight shy of the more acquired delights of the Windows album; but the Concerto for Group and Orchestra, Gemini Suite (studio), and Sarabande constitute major and cultured achievements far beyond the critical depreciations they have received. For those who subscribe to the clearly erroneous theory that anything of real merit inevitably and eventually rises to the top, then his work requires scant attention. In fact nothing more disproves the falsehood of this empty and sloppy supposition than Lord's series of orchestral albums; attitudes to which just go to illustrate the kind of crude and debilitating dictates that so bedevil our musical joys. The derisory rubbish that has been written over the years about the Concerto, for example, reveals nothing more than the ignorance of the all-too-received opinions of our popular culture and of judgements based on little, and often quite obviously absolutely no, acquaintance with the music itself. And, indeed, let's be honest, some of the most opinionated of pop critics wouldn't know shit from shite when it comes to actual musical content and are often more likely to judge an album on the basis of dress, hairstyle, and 'attitude' rather than any considered understanding of or feeling for the music itself. For those who like to use the superficialities of musical taste more as a fashion accessory and ego enhancement and who like to belittle other people's musical enjoyments and to specify the musical horizons of the human temperament, Lord's compositions are easy meat, potato, and two veg. Indeed all the attendant mythologies of our musical connoisseurship seem to have conspired to create a modish inverted snobbery and to make it a sign of personal elevation and the height of social sophistication to demean these kind of musical endeavours with the facile and now wearisome nomenclatures of pompousness and pretentiousness - easily dismissed and, incidentally, affectations for which, like Sir Malcolm Arnold, Jon has a distinct and obvious antipathy, despite even his own previously quoted intimations about his work. If truth be known, whilst other more 'street'-creditable artists are permitted to spout forth the direst of mouthy, self-important, and illiberal claptrap, Jon Lord is in fact one who has persistently tried to stay clear of musical moralising and shunned any didactic airs, and more than once refuted any conscious pursuit of 'respectability'. As Jon once remarked in an interview: 'All I'm doing is trying to write an alternative form of music to the sort I'm involved in with Deep Purple. I'm a classically-trained musician and I'm a rock musician. Thus it's only natural to me': like any self-worthy musician, he simply has the natural desire to express himself as completely and as powerfully as is possible within his own limitations. Things have to some extent altered since 1969 with many different kinds of 'crossover' music now at play: but perhaps, for too many, the particular forms of Jon's orchestral work just stir the prejudices of a cultural divide that still refuses to be connected - such are the limits of critical human imagination. Stranded between two still well-boarded cultural barriers, Lord, and indeed Arnold, are accused on the one hand of trying to intellectualise popular music and on the other of degrading the art of serious music composition - as if popular music were necessarily without intellectual substance and classical music always serious. If not everyone's jar of milk, his work is simply music with alternative aspirations; and few other enterprises, which have stepped beyond the conceived boundaries of our musical culture and attempted to integrate the pluralistic popular language of our time with orchestral forces into one musical expression have done so with such obvious success and authority. There seems no legitimate argument on earth why rock music cannot have a more adventurous scope of styles and instrumental content, and embrace fuller means of musical involvement using more formal modes without automatically being considered, as so often, an affront to the familiar allure of the music's basic inheritance - or an insult to the practitioners of the orchestral arts for that matter. Though Jon's classical/rock works undoubtedly do breach accepted and established musical verges, they can hardly be accused either of being self-consciously 'populist' or of indulging in symphonic posturing: his music was certainly never blatantly commercial and always stood somewhat astride most of the other rock/orchestral musical projects with which it is often associated. There is no real reason to doubt the superiority of his compositions in this area and, as works of superlative quality, they are clearly worthy of a well-earned reappraisal, even from those who are still all too ready to dismiss them.
Of course Lord is far far from alone in all this kind of critical myopia and cultural folly, and the history of British music is littered with forgotten and ignored composers and musicians quickly cast aside before the whims of popular appreciation, dodgy critical musical creeds, and the specifying hegemonic dictates of the new vogue. And, naturally enough, the different cases for the untold number of unacknowledged artists of quality beyond the restricted beau monde of our hegemonic cultural wisdoms are all too easily and often caricatured as the obdurate grudge of the crusading musical crank or inveterate protester. This is a common fact of human life, well beyond the motley virtues and vices of the pop world and the commercial priorities which now consume the music world. Of course, each generation must have its own music: but the shallow-souled and promiscuous attitudes of so much of the music press, now so conspicuously bound up with such a market-orientated industry, only serve to help produce an all-too narrow world of musical appreciation, and have in consequence a restrictive and less than constructive impulse upon our musical expression and the joys of music making, and certainly do little to enhance and encourage the diversity and profusion of our musical landscape. Beyond all these types of plaguing, superficial, and unradical critical shenanigans, Jon's work remains a potent symbol of what can be achieved when an artist is prepared to step beyond the shackling cultural pigeon-holing of traditional music-making and to embrace the fullest expression of his own wide-ranging capabilities and open-hearted musical ideas.
In our so-called post-modern age, there are of course certain quarters of pluralistic appreciation: indeed some infantile critical bum-baylies are naturally getting their knickers in a twist over our apparent cultural shoddiness with furrow-browed incantations of 'relativism' and 'dumbing-down'. Yet these supposedly rustic and unsmart stigmas upon our common cultural proprieties could hardly begin to lay a brick before the towering babelism that constitutes the guff, the dour, tedious, and forever predictable stipulating adjudications of so many emotionally handicapped journalists which so becloud the immediacies of our musical bliss and indeed which have done so much to create the pretentiousness and intellectual folly that surrounds our music making: viz. the restrictive worlds of the 'in' and the 'out', of the trendy and the unfashionable, of the 'happening' and the marginalised; the crippling infatuation with the notions of masterpiece and genius; the demented necessities of ranking and filing; the obsession with airs of seriousness and the disparagement of musical humour; the idolisation of virtuosity and cleverness over musical effect, the grotesque pretensions of intellectuality over sheer mental and physical delight, and the pomposities of solemn judgement over experience; the equally specious exaltation of the simple and the popular over considered musicality and the adulations of 'attitude' and dress over musical content; the hype of credibility and the mythic contrivances of incorrect taste, the tyranny of the 'repertoire', and the cultisms of the esoteric and the little known; and so on and so on - all of which merely becloud the purity and simplicity of the musical experience. It is as if the possible spiritual power or the personal emotional attachments of our music temperaments necessarily has anything to do either with some designated quality of musical technique and sophistication or with the cultural elevation of pop's dernier cri, let alone with some modish notion of 'style'. Let seriously pretentious music, whatever its pretensions, indulge the seriously pretentious. Of course, we all have our own righteous musical predilections and preferences, and naturally all music is inevitably an ethical, social, political, and spiritual effectuation which inevitably impinges on the forms of our musical empathies: but the fundamental liberating anarchy and joy of music is also its overwhelming ability to transcend difference in its particularity and unite humankind in its very abstractness; and surely it helps at least to have a musical heart that can appreciate the full spiritual experiences of the different musical languages of our disparate species - white and black, west and east, city and country, popular and serious, street and study, dance and contemplative, abstract and impressionistic, heavy and light, simple and virtuosic, learned and untutored, privileged and poor, etc. Music is always more than simply music, but it is still also just music; and it's more fun to try to like than dislike, empathize than estrange, love than hate. And such music that is imbued with such a far-reaching and fundamentally untethering and humane musical voice surely deserves respect, if not laudation.
As far as Sir Malcolm Arnold's involvement in this musical interface is concerned, if some see this episode of his life as merely the inevitable occasional folly of an essentially maverick spirit taken up with the 'fad of the time' - as has sometimes been glibly and ignorantly assumed - then they have surely failed to recognise the utterly wholesome, joyful, and anarchic musical animus that so obviously possesses the great composer. There is no fallible human temperament or wayward artistic ethos that needs to be explained away. There are no musical contradictions or personal idiosyncrasies that need to be understood except those of the petty and mean critical prejudices of the bumptious and the chauvinistic. In an interview for a hospital radio in Huddersfield in 1970 Malcolm Arnold struck a benevolent, estimable, and perfectly proper tone to the nature of the musical proceedings.
Interviewer: I don't know how familiar our listeners are with a pop group called Deep Purple, but you have been involved with them too.
MA: Yes. What strikes me about this pop group is their tremendous musical integrity. This is so refreshing in a commercial world. I loved working with them. They're thorough musicians.
Interviewer: Do you think then that the blending of classical and pop music comes off?
MA: It does in their case. They're not trying to prove anything. They just like to play now and again with a Symphony Orchestra. They're not trying to prove any deep philosophical problem. They just want to write music that's enjoyable.20
Though there is nothing more laughable than the inevitable monumental indignance of criticised critics, Arnold himself felt the need to give vent to his feelings in an infamous article which appeared in the Guardian, 3rd June 1971, and said much of what needs to be worded about the lazy, bone-headed and cold-hearted, and so often, utterly spiritless attitudes that prevail over so music criticism in Britain. In the October just prior to the release of the studio Gemini Suite Arnold also wrote: 'One of the great curses of the present day is our apparent need to be regimented, and I would suggest that we could use the freedom that the arts give for a wide variety of expression in a wide variety of styles, as an antidote to our narrow lives'. Here was a humanitarian and democratic spirit ready to embrace rather than exclude the different temperaments of the human soul from the musical panoramas of our all too bounded cultural vision. For what it's worth, Sir Malcolm has very fond memories of his work with Jon and the 'marvellous group' and rates the music highly - there is certainly no hint of regret as soom would no doubt wish and would like to assume. Indeed it is this positiveness of spirit as much as the far-ranging emotional appeal, vitality, humour, and uncandid charm of Arnold's muse that goes to constitute the supreme achievement of Arnold's own orchestral oeuvre; and it would be hard to underestimate how much the success of the Concerto and the Gemini Suites owes to Arnold's fraternal and hospitable musical spirit and his entirely characteristic willingness to explore the different forms and languages of our musical expression. It was certainly an artistic fellowship that bore great fruit. In their own way the Concerto and the Gemini Suites along with Lord's (now) three other part-orchestral works constitute a unique and utterly worthy contribution to the history of British music.
'I have never been in fashion, so I can never be out of fashion. This is not a witticism, it is a stoic truth', Arnold once remarked. Lord would probably like to say much the same: but as the landscape of popular music has ever more fractionalised into reductionist images and stereotypical classifications, the conventional mythic sooth of pop historiography has confined Deep Purple to a critical categorisation totally irrelated to and quite unworthy of the canvas of their near 30 year musical legacy - occasional lapses of quality over a long career notwithstanding. The snobberies, grandiosities, and wayward virtues of pop critics - who have long-since needed to listen to the band's music with any degree of interest - can outclass any of those associated with the elevated pretensions of classical music lovers and sour-faced jazz aficionados put together. Jon Lord has apparently been happy to remain first and foremost a rock musician and, his 'legendary' band, despite having fallen off the pop conveyer belt many years ago, continue to strive and sell records throughout the world despite all the changes. However, if critical opinion still remains prejudiced against the music of Lord's band, there can be little or no reason with undue consequence to malign his own work. Just as so much brilliant British orchestral music has managed to conquer and outlive the stinging cultural epithet of the 'cowpat' and to override some of the awful musical disparagement with which it has had to live over the years; and indeed just as Sir Malcolm Arnold's music is itself finally being accorded a critical recognition that matches the scale of his musical achievements, so perhaps the best of the rock-orchestral musical détente, which was so conspicuous in the late '60s and early '70s, will in time acquire an appreciation that goes in some way to reflect the impressive magnitude of its finest musical achievements. Life's too short. As Jon once remarked, the wider apart the different branches of music get, 'the less the chance there is of it becoming what it is - a world saver'. Let us, like Arnold, be large-minded and full-hearted and unite and liberate the world with music wherever and whenever we can and not use it merely to separate and alienate. Jon Lord's collaborations with Malcolm Arnold, and later with Eberhard Schoener, in their own way show what sheer musical delights can be achieved when musicians are brave enough to attempt to unshackle the conditioning cultural manacles with which humankind has managed to bridle the soundscape of its earthly life. The Concerto, Gemini Suite, Windows, and Sarabande are works of lasting value and of supreme and exquisite force. A number of other rock groups and musicians have also taken up this rich vein of musical exploration, enhancing their musical language with the premier medium of orchestra, often to great effect, and, yes, occasionally, less so. However, the series of albums that Jon produced between 1969 through to the 1976 has few rivals, and constitutes a peerless body of musical entertainment, there to be enjoyed by any real music-lover ready and willing to enjoy it with a gladdened and less hardened heart. Hopefully the release on CD in Britain on Purple Records of Lord's orchestral albums (the Concerto has always remained available) will now help to produce a more well-founded opinion of his work and give a new and unjaundiced insight into its supreme merits, and above all, into the sheer pleasure of the music itself. Perhaps, it ain't either 'classical' or straight good-time rock 'n' roll, but it is sure goddam great music. In life there can be no last word in music so let us enjoy rather than judge, and at the very least recognise liberating musical goodness and grace when we see it.
© Vincent Budd
The Isle of South Uist, Outer Hebrides
The author wishes to thank Sir Malcolm Arnold for kindly agreeing to being interviewed for this article on the phone and in person and to Anthony Day for his friendliness, enthusiasm, and kind hospitality. Thanks are also due to the editor of Beckus, Keith Llewelyn, who supplied the extract from the hospital radio interview that Malcolm did in the early 1970s in which he refers to his work with Jon Lord. Finally, very little could be written on Deep Purple and any member thereof without the guiding knowledge of Simon Robinson and his input to this article is obvious and gratefully acknowledged.
Bibliographical and Discographical Note
As intimated in the article, the books on Sir Malcolm Arnold provide little or no information on his collaboration with Jon Lord. There is only one book on Deep Purple, written by Chris Charlesworth (Omnibus Press), which has long since been out of print: it contains some interesting details of the Concerto concert and includes pictures and publicity shots of Malcolm and the group, but only a passing reference to the Gemini Suite concert. Ian Gillan recently published an entertaining scan of his own career entitled Child in Time: the Life Story of the Singer of Deep Purple, which contains some straightforward and lively comments on the Concerto and the Gemini Suite concert, some of which are quoted in the article. Simon Robinson's original sleeve notes to the CD of the live concert of Gemini Suite are also very useful. Simon's two Deep Purple discographies and his Jon Lord Scrapbook, mainly containing magazine interviews, provided important and valuable information too.
Concerto for Group and Orchestra, Deep Purple/RPO/Arnold (Connoisseur Collection Video CCV 1003)
Lord/Arnold CD Discography
Concerto for Group and Orchestra, Deep Purple/RPO/Arnold (EMI CDP 7 94886 2)
Gemini Suite, Deep Purple/The Orchestra of the Light Music Society/Arnold (First CD release on RPM, RPM 1, but now re-issued on Purple Records PUR 304)
Gemini Suite, Various soloists/LSO/Arnold (First brought out on CD in Germany on Line LICD 9.00122 0, but soon to be re-released on Purple Records)
For those wishing to investigate even further:
Lord/Schoener CD Discography
Windows, Various soloists/Orchestra of the Munich Chamber Opera/Eberhard Schoener (First issued on CD in Germany on Line 9.00117 0, but now re-released on Purple Records)
Sarabande, Various soloists/Philharmonia Hungarica/Eberhard Schoener (First available on CD in Germany on Line 9.00124 0, it has now been re-released on Purple Records PUR 305)
Jon Lord also contributed six delightful orchestral miniatures to the soundtrack of the Central Independent Television series Dairy of an Edwardian Lady, The Central Concert Orchestra/Alfred Ralston. The rest of the music, some of which is based upon Jon's original themes, was composed by veteran composer and conductor, Alfred Ralston (best known perhaps for Oh! What a Lovely War). This extremely rare and long since deleted LP recording (Safari DIARY 1), released virtually unnoticed even in 1984, is not, and very unlikely ever to be, available on CD. Simon's first DP discography also lists another soundtrack, released on Epic in 1971, which Jon wrote with Tony Ashton for the cowboy film called The Last Rebel but listed as an Ashton, Gardener, And Dyke album. Sadly, I have never heard it, and is no doubt very rare indeed. As previously mentioned Jon also provided a couple of string arrangements for the same band and worked with Ashton on the album First of the Big Bands, on which, inter alia, Ian Paice and George Harrison also performed.
Before I Forget (Originally released on RPM 126, it has now been re-issued on Purple Records) It is a fine and varied but more mainstream collection of songs and instrumentals, but includes a rollicking workover of Bach's famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor called Back onto This and a brilliant track based on Thomas Tallis's Tender Babes, alongside some soulful ballads and other quieter pieces which in mood anticipate some of the material on Picture Within; though there is also a pleasant but somewhat uninspired version of Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess (credited to Lord!) which was not included on the original 1982 LP. It also contains an interview Jon did with Phil Easton.
Pictured Within (Virgin Classics 7243 4 93704 2 5) was released in 1999. This is an outstanding work and is scored for chamber orchestra, horn, cor anglais, oboe, kora, flute, soprano sax, bass, light percussion, and occasional vocals. It received some excellent notices, especially in the classical press, and is a must for all admirers of such works.
Arnold Main Page
Classical Music on the Web