Paul Mann (Jon Lord)

Interview with Paul Mann


DPRP’s John Wenlock-Smith


The name Paul Mann is not necessarily one that most progressive rock fans will be familiar with, he doesn’t play in an band, nor is he a singer or lyricist, rather Paul Mann is a Conductor, on Orchestral Conductor who over the past 13 years has been a close friend of the late Jon Lord, Paul was the conductor for the London Symphony Orchestra when Deep Purple staged their 30th anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1999 for the Concerto for Group and Orchestra, In this interview Paul recounts the events that led to this final recording of Jon’s Concerto and shares his own memories of Jon both as a close friend and as a composer and musician.

You can read John’s review of the re-recording of Concerto for Group and Orchestra here.

John: Good evening Paul, thank you for agreeing to talk with us about the newly released Jon Lord Concerto For Group and Orchestra CD

Paul:  Indeed

John: So how are you

Paul:  It’s been a funny week I’ve been speaking to lots of people I wouldn’t normally get to talk to, a lot of Rock fans and papers from all over the world, it’s been great

John:  That’s good, well I have some questions for you about the whole of the Concerto really and also your impressions, memories and anecdotes about the recording of it, obviously this isn’t the first time that you’ve been involved with Jon this at all

Paul: Jon has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, my uncle was a roadie for Deep Purple in the 70’s and then became their tour manager,  I grew up with the band in the family blood, towards the end of the 90’s Jon and I started to work together formed what was really to be one of the most profound friendships of my life over the past 13 years or so when we started working on what was to make the original revival of the concerto back in 1999 with Deep Purple.

John: Yes I’ve heard that as well, like you I’ve grown up with that whole Deep Purple / Jon Lord thing in my life as well,  I first came across the Concerto when I was about 15  and it made little sense to me in some respects, now I’ve grown older I’ve come to appreciate it more the breadth of Jon’s vision in what he was trying to do and then with the re-visitation in 1999 for the Albert Hall bringing a whole new focus to it really and now this studio recording.

Paul: What happened with me is I think I got it even younger than you, Colin must have brought the album home and it was sitting in my grandmothers record collection alongside all the old Ray Conniff and Black and White Minstrels albums and I think I must have just, because I was fascinated with music and records and used to play them regardless of what it was, because I loved playing records, and amongst them was the Concerto.  I think it made an impression when I was about 7 or 8 years old when Colin was beginning to work with Purple, My ambition to conduct possibly comes from that piece, wanting to conduct that and my mother says she caught me one day conducting it in front of the mirror and when I started to become a professional conductor and it started to become a reality this was something that was very deeply rooted way back in my childhood.  I contacted Jon early in the 90’s to talk about the Concerto, this was coming up to the 25th anniversary in 1994 and it was then that we discovered that no one could find the score, that it had gone missing after the last performance in Los Angeles in 1970, it just disappeared.  Deep Purple’s management weren’t used to working with orchestras and it hadn’t occurred to them that they had to pick up all the music that the orchestra had been using to play the piece, so I guess it got left there and somehow got lost. We gave up, with tried everything , we tried every avenue we could, Jon tried everywhere and it just seemed to have disappeared.  So we gave up and it wasn’t until early 1999 when I got a call from Colin (my Uncle) to say Jon will give you a call later today, it sounds like we’ve found the Concerto.  Of course it wasn’t that they had found the original one, it was that some amazing guy in Holland who, as a pure labour of love and not because anyone had asked him to or for any personal gain he just wrote it out. He sat and listened to the recording and it took him two years to transcribe it from the recording which is an astounding feat, sheer perseverance to undertake such a task.

John: This is Marco (Marco De Goeij) of course

Paul: Yes Marco who is a Dutch composer who somehow lay in wait for Jon in a hotel lobby in Rotterdam along with all the Purple fans

John: Accosted him to give him this score

Paul:  Yes make no mistake about it without him we would never be playing the piece now, Jon would never have got around to writing the whole thing out again it would just have been too much with everything else he was doing, so that really began the whole process that Jon and I spent months on and off working on it and trying to knock it back into shape for the Albert Hall performances in 1999.  So that’s the history of how it was more or less brought back to life, otherwise it would probably have been lost for ever.

John:  It’s a fascinating thing that a guy could be so captivated by it to go to so much effort for really no personal gain, because he was so entranced by it

Paul:  Even though and after the fact, when we all realised what it meant, what he’d done, then we could do the Albert Hall, then we could do the tour.  It gave the piece it’s new life, Marco has never, it’s always been enough for him that he was known as the person who made it all possible, It’s an amazing story.

John: I think we all owe him a debt of gratitude really for doing that it’s astounding

Paul:  Absolutely. He was with us for the sessions in Liverpool when we were recording, we just thought it was good to have him around, he wasn’t there for any particular reason or purpose during the recording, we just felt it was right to have him there and it was great seeing him again I hadn’t seen him since the Albert Hall shows

John: Yes there is a picture in the booklet of the three of you

Paul:  When the so called “Deluxe” version comes out this November there’s a lot more pictures in that and there’s a documentary that we’ve made

John: A DVD

Paul: Yes a DVD Documentary about the making of the whole thing that’s out in November

John: I’ll have to look out for that

Paul:  It’s well worth watching, It brings a tear to the eyes as well, because we shot it all, filmed everything and finished it before Jon died and in fact the last time I spoke to Jon was five days before he died, to the day  finished shooting the interviews for the documentary film.

John: So Poignant as well, I must get a copy of that and watch that as that will be interesting because I’ll tell you an anecdote from me Paul. I never met Jon Lord and I’m really sad that I didn’t but his music, I presume you know the album Pictured Within ?

Paul: Yes

John: Well that song (Pictured Within) I bought that CD the day after my father died and I was astonished to read the notes in the booklet as that whole CD really helped me through a very difficult time in my life, so I really feel that I owe Jon a debt of gratitude for his music on a personal level

Paul:  Absolutely,  He touched so many people, a lot of people have said that about that album which was of course is a very personal one for Jon.  It let out a lot of things that were in him that needed to be let out, and in some ways that album sowed the seed for the beginning of the thinking about leaving Deep Purple, that the composition was becoming more and more dominant and I think you can, if you look for it, trace it back to where it began with that album.

John: It is a great album.  Let’s talk about this recording, this is the first time in 43 years that it’s actually been recorded in a studio, until now it’s a real milestone recording, and it’s also a very fitting legacy for Jon’s work as I feel he ends his life, sadly ends his life leaving us with a new fresh and very exciting version of the Concerto.

Paul: Yes

John: How do you feel it differs from the other versions that preceded it?

Paul: I think there were various reasons for us wanting to do it, I suppose three years ago we were sitting with Jon round the kitchen table one day after a few glasses of wine and started to talk about, wouldn’t it be great if we could get a studio recording of the Concerto and almost immediately we started to talk about it.  Jon said I know what would be great, we should not do it with a band but let’s pick people to do the first movement, lets pick someone else to do the second movements and the same with the third, pick horses for courses basically and of course for me this made the whole piece feel very different because we’d done it so many times with Deep Purple, Jon had done it so many times with Deep Purple.  I think what it does is it makes this recording about Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra rather than Deep Purple.  Filtering through the personality of a huge band like Deep Purple,  obviously was a dream come true for anyone writing a piece like this because so much of the piece is improvised and therefore so much of the performance is about the personality of the band and with a band like Deep Purple the personality is so strongly rooted in improvisation, that was something that brought everything to this piece, to the extent that some people thought of it not as a piece written by Jon Lord but kind of a group effort like a lot of other Deep Purple songs were a group effort.  It was important to me, and I think it was important to Jon, to say thank you to Deep Purple for everything they did for the piece but to take it away from them and to give the piece its own life as a composition of Jon’s. I think the way we have done that is by choosing the individuals and also by tipping our hat to the Deep Purple involvement by having Steve (Morse) on there and of course Jon himself.  Originally the idea was not to use anyone from Deep Purple, but Steve so much owned that music that we felt there was nobody who could replace him and no one could do it better so we ended up with Steve and I’m very glad about that. So from that point of view it’s something new, it’s something different, a look at the piece beyond Deep Purple and I think also from a sound point of view, this is something that was important to me, although I’m very proud of the live recording that we made at the Albert Hall in 1999 with LSO (London Symphony Orchestra) where the atmosphere at that show was so special and it was captured on that recording and on the film really well.  There is an element of compromise in the sound because it was such a huge thing and you’re trying to balance a huge band like Deep Purple with a symphony orchestra its fairly complicated even with technology the way it is now God knows in ’69 what it was like, From what I was told they just turned the band as low as they possibly could so you could hear the orchestra, there was no way to do in a more sophisticated way.  What we were able to do was to balance it more naturally but still it was an element of compromise, but with the studio recording you could get right inside that and I’m sure when Jon wrote the piece there was some sound in his imagination which was not possible to really realise until now, getting into a studio where you can make it sound natural this unnatural balance between an amplified roar and the symphony orchestra.

John: The other thing I noticed when I listened to the album is, well it’s got a real groove, a real swing to it

Paul:  Yes, Yes I’m glad of that I’m glad it does because it was a little bit strange because as you know we recorded the orchestra and three of the band, Jon the drums (Brett Morgan) and the Bass (Guy Pratt) and all the rest was added later.  It was overdubbed, all the guitars and vocals were overdubbed and it was a challenge for me in a way because I had to try to, normally you know when I conduct this piece I’m vibeing all the time, off the band and hopefully the band are vibeing off the orchestra .  This time that wasn’t possible because Jon’s Leslie was out in the back corridor somewhere, the drummer was in another room.  Guy Pratt was playing almost acoustically, just plugged into an amplifier but they were taking a feed from his amp, so I could hardly hear anything of what the band was doing and I had to kind of imagine how this was going to sound once we got everything put together. So I’m very pleased that it sounds natural, sounds vibrant and alive and as you say has as much of a groove as if we’d recorded everyone there at the same time.

John: I listened to it for the first time on Saturday (five days prior to this interview) and I though this is really good, I really like what they’ve done with this and I love the fact that they’ve used three different guitarists to give it a different feel to each movement and each one bring something really good to their movement, Darin Vasilev fantastic

Paul:  Amazing he for me is the real discovery of this because Jon had worked with him live, he’d done the concerto with him a few times and every time he came back he’d say this guy is amazing, and I’d never heard him. I heard Jon talking about him and a lot of names were banded about for this, some very big names and in the end Jon said I really want to do it with this guy. I think he’s something special and its good because we have the huge names and we have someone who is not such a huge name, but he’s a huge player and he holds his head up absolutely with all those other names without any trouble at all and he’s been a real discovery in this and Joe (Bonamassa) of course, is just a wonderful blues player, so that made him perfect for that second movement. He’d worked with Jon a couple of years before; I think they’d done a couple of little bits and pieces like the Sunflower Jam in London and that sort of thing.  Then as I say, we just tried a few people and we had a few ideas and in the end I started to feel, yeah, but none of it’s as good as Steve Morse, none of it feels as right as Steve, Jon at that stage was really not well and not able to give the time to it and so I called Steve, he was in Germany working on the new Deep Purple album, they were song writing at that stage and he was really incredibly busy as usual but he said “Anything for Jon anything, I’ll do it tonight” and by the next day he’d given us three separate takes of the third movement.

John: Wow!

Paul: It was really hard to choose between them as they were all fantastic, but yeah, three very different guitarists all bringing their own thing to each movement and I think it works really well

John: I do I think the vocalists work really well as well to be honest, Steve Balsamo and Kasia Laska on the first movement and Bruce (Dickinson) doing his part as well, I was really surprised how well Bruce fitted into the whole concept.

Paul:  Bruce (Dickinson) is an incredibly, I mean this is in a nice way, is an incredibly intelligent artist, people think of Bruce Dickinson as the front man screamer for Iron Maiden, which he is, brilliant at of course but he’s also, I was really delighted to discover an extremely considerate, thoughtful musician and he came into this. I think he enjoyed it because well what he said on the day was “This is such a pure thing to do musically, very pure thing to do” you know there was no agendas to it, only to make the best music we could.  Bruce is very good at, like all the great vocalists, Ian Gillan,  like Ronnie James Dio, all those people once he understood the lyrics he had it, he lived in them, he brings something out, a feeling like he’s in that, in the meaning of these words and Ian (Gillan) wrote these word as its well known in the afternoon of the concert in 1969, he took himself to an Italian restaurant and order himself a couple of bottles of Chianti and sat at the table and wrote these words about you know, his anxiety about the concert. His fear of standing up in the Albert Hall in front of a symphony orchestra, What shall I do when they stand smiling at me and what shall I do when it all goes wrong? How will I know when to stop how will I know when to start you know what’s going to happen, that anxiety which is something that was very personal to Ian at the time, which Ian very much “Owned” in all the performances that he did with it and Bruce came in and took the sentiment, the ideas behind the words and made it his own, he has the most respect possible for Ian but he did it his own way and that’s what we wanted , we wanted someone to make it their own.  With Kasia and Steve what they do is much more gentle, the early verses are a kind of more gentle approach to the big climatic stuff that Bruce does, they’re also something different because it’s very hard. Something like that with Ian Gillian’s name on it for so many years, with Ian’s style which is completely impossible to approach, to imitate like all great singers he’s a total one off the only thing you can do is to do something new, something different you couldn’t begin to imitate what Ian does and of course that was the thing about having an equally great singer like Bruce because he would always stamp his own personality on it, that’s what he’s done, It’s great.

John: I think it works really well and I think it will stand the test of time, It will stand up and people will discover this disc in 5, 10 however many years and they’ll go “Wow” this is really really something

Paul: It’s a good piece of music.  I’ve done it so many times and have been living with this piece for such a long time now , I don’t get bored of it, I don’t get tired of it and there’s always something new in it and I think the piece stands up so well and one of the things I’m proudest of with this recording is that we’ve done it in a way that I hope will bear repeated listenings, its quite difficult with a piece that contains so much improvised music, so much spontaneity, to get that combination between some that has that much spontaneity and something that will bear repeated listening and if what you say is true, I’m very happy, if that’s the result, because that’s certainly the intention to give this piece something that will establish it on its own two feet and I hope other people will want to play and see what they can make of it as well.

John: How did the orchestra respond to the piece.  Is there an openness amongst orchestra’s to do this sort of thing.  Years ago it was all frowned upon, we’re serious musicians and this isn’t a serious project it’s just somebodies fluff and nonsense, but is there an openness and an awareness among orchestras to do these things

Paul: It’s well known that in ’69 the Royal Philharmonic were not best pleased by this project at the time I think it was very different, for a start Deep Purple weren’t the huge legends that they now are they were a young band  and to the Royal Philharmonic they probably looked like a bunch of young layabouts.  I don’t think the orchestra had any understanding of what level of musicianship they were dealing with at the time and Malcolm Arnold (RPO Conductor) was heroic in pulling it all together and Jon always acknowledged that without Malcolm the thing would have been a total disaster. It was Malcolm’s energy and determination that brought it through.  It’s also pretty well known that Malcolm used some fairly colourful language to get the orchestra to come along with it, but when we did it with the LSO in 1999 it was a different world and we had no such problems , orchestras are used to embracing every possible type of music, many of them of course are rock fans. There were lots of stories of members of the LSO who really threw themselves into that, the percussion section all went to Ian Paice’s dressing room to get his autograph and there was a particularly interesting story from the principal second violinist (the guy who sits at the front of the second violin), a Russian musician who brought one day to the rehearsals a battered old Russian bootleg copy of “In Rock” and he got them all to sign it and he was telling Jon, I had this album in 1971 and I could have gone to jail for having this and now here I am playing this with you, with my orchestra, there were lots of people in the orchestra, just watch the video and you’ll see how into it they are. How much they got from the band and how much the band got from them and that’s really the whole point of this piece you know trying to make two worlds get along with each other and make good music together.

John: I think they’ve done that

Paul: Yes all that’s completely changed now and Liverpool, where we did this recording, they’d already worked with Jon before having made two other recordings with Jon and they’d already played the concerto with another conductor, with Jon the year before, so they knew the piece and knew what to expect from it, so the atmosphere was great even before we’d started and I think you can hear the energy and the precision.  This piece takes a lot of precision, particularly in that last movement you have to be very, it calls for a virtuoso orchestra, I think this is what a lot of the Orchestra’s we worked with soon realised if they had any scepticism of Jon, they soon got rid of it when they saw the score,  saw the piece and realised what they were in for, this was not just lots of long string note accompanying a rock band, It’s a big serious symphonic piece that they had to take seriously if they are going to play it well.  This was something that always impressed me about the way that orchestra’s always reacted to Jon because they realised very quickly when they saw him, when they met him and when they worked with him, they saw how serious he was, how musically literate he was, he knew exactly what he was doing, he was very well schooled in all that, he understood orchestras and they enjoyed working with him for that reason, he understood their world and he spoke their language and that’s extremely rare, that’s unique.  I don’t know of any other rock musicians of Jon’s stature who would be equally at home in handling musicians from leading symphony orchestras. He vindicated that little vision that he had back in 69 in writing this piece some 43 years later because he just continued living it, he believed in it against a lot of odds and against a lot of people’s preconceptions he made it work This recording is our proof of that, it’s really the final vindication of that vision.

John: I agree, it’s come full circle hasn’t it

Paul:  Yes, I wish he was here to see this, I miss him every day, he was my closest friend my the past 13 years of my life. I didn’t take a single step without talking to him, for all those years and when they sent the recording, they sent a box of discs to me a few weeks ago and it was a great moment to open the box and see these discs after all the work that had been done, it was a lovely moment I wish he’d been here to share it, that’s my only regret, he heard the masters the final masters just a few weeks before he left us, but he didn’t quite make it to see the finished product it’s very sad, but we’re keeping him alive with this and that’s the main thing.

John: I think when people hear this, his memory will live on, obviously for the Deep Purple stuff and the solo stuff and everybody who has met him or has been touched by his music, Jon’s not going to be a forgotten footnote on the page of music, Jon will be a figure that remains in people’s hearts, minds and lives for many years to come.

Paul: I think so,  and there is still a lot of music that we want to work to get out there.  One of the things that I’m doing now is working with Jon’s family.  Jon was composing new music right up to the end and there were a number of unfinished pieces that were looking into to see what there is and what still might yet be heard, there are other pieces he wrote that didn’t get the recognition that they deserved and one of the things I’m doing now is to edit all the scores and put them into good shape so they can be used. Anyone who is interested can play this music now, and these type of composers they live on in the music and I’m sure Jon will do that.

John: I’m pleased to hear that Paul, obviously we don’t want to raid the vaults and get everything and things that should never be released but anything more that can be heard that deserves a voice is a good thing

Paul: He was writing two or three symphonic pieces at the time of his death, we know what there is, it’s just a case of sticking it together and seeing what it adds up to, whether it’s something that he would have wanted out there or whether it’s too embryonic for us to use and that’s a judgement I have to make musically and a judgement his family have to make also about how they feel whether they want to allow everyone else to hear it. He was incredibly busy and he worked very hard and I think that’s one of the ways he dealt with his illness to keep working as much as he could. Jon took a very positive attitude to life, it was one of his great qualities and when he got sick once he’d dealt with the shock and the trauma of the treatment, the treatment can often be worse than the knowledge he had, sometimes it was extremely challenging for him but none the less he kept working, he kept writing and certainly we’ve not heard the last of him.  I’m keeping Jon’s website  updated.  What we’re trying to do, is use it and provide all the information about Jon’s music so that anyone who is interested in Jon’s music can go there and get all the information, everything there is to know about the music and together with his publishers to make the scores available so that people can play them and I hope that will become a living resource for Jon’s music.

John: We will put a link from this transcribe to that website

Paul: We’re keeping it updated, regularly updated now and over the next few months as I make my way through the scores, editing them and bringing them all up to date all the information will go up there. Jon was an inveterate reviver of his music, every time he played it he’d make little alterations but he didn’t always put them into the scores and one of my jobs now is to collect together those bits of information and make sure the scores are updated to reflect the changes, getting the music into an organised way so that what you have is Jon’s last wishes

John: OK, Paul on that note I’m going to let you go thank you for explaining to us the background history to the concerto and for your anecdotes as well it’s been great talking to you

Paul:  Thank you too, bye