Deep Purple "smoke" on the water at Montreux

Ian Gillan (left) with guitarist Steve Morse Keystone

The 40th Montreux Jazz Festival ended on Saturday with a concert by Deep Purple. Lead singer Ian Gillan told swissinfo ahead of the gig what it meant to be back lakeside.

This content was published on July 16, 2006 - 14:55

The band, who composed their influential track "Smoke on the Water" in Montreux in 1971, lit up the final night of a festival that was rich in memorable performances.

swissinfo: This year was all about Deep Purple returning to Montreux. You feature on the official poster and you played the final night, which is usually reserved for the giants of jazz...

Ian Gillan: Yes, it's unbelievable. Since the beginning, the ties between the career of Deep Purple, Montreux and Claude Nobs [festival president] really make up quite a story. When we were young, in England, we used to play a residency once a week in a small club where we knew everyone. And today, playing at Montreux, it's a bit like that. And no festival can compare with Montreux.

A lot of people in this business have a bad reputation: people who only think of furthering their careers. But there are also those who love music, and without being musicians themselves get involved in their own way. Claude is one of those people who are passionate and take big risks by putting their name, reputation and money on the line.

swissinfo: Your last studio album, "Rapture of the Deep", has an elegant, poetic sleeve, that seems a world away from hard rock clichés. Are you getting tired of your image?

I.G.: When you are young, you have your favourite colour, your favourite animal, your favourite thing... The world is black or white, you have an answer for everything, you see the world in a very rigid way. As you move through life, you develop a broader philosophy. So you leave behind this view of the world that you need as an adolescent to make up for your lack of experience.

swissinfo: The designer of this year's official Montreux poster, Julian Opie, spoke in an article of the "wild" playing style of Deep Purple...

I.G.: The word "wild" doesn't seem fair to me – everything is under control. I think "adventurous" would be a better choice. Ahead of a concert, I'm always pretty excited but I also spend time every day meditating, having a siesta. I concentrate on being as calm as possible, because I really need to keep a lid on my adrenaline until I go on stage. And then, it's like opening a cage and out leaps a tiger... So, yes, I guess it is a bit wild (laughs)!

But whichever way you look at it, the challenge is that there's no routine with Deep Purple. We often play the same songs, but we never know what's going to happen... and that's extremely difficult.

swissinfo: A few years ago you told me that "Smoke on the Water" was the only song you had sung at all your concerts, with each of your bands, since 1972. Do you still manage to get a buzz out of it?

I.G.: Absolutely! Because it's not just about the band, there's the public as well. It's almost a spiritual experience. The song no longer belongs to us... we just accompany the crowd.

swissinfo: 1971 was the year of the fire at the Montreux casino and the recording of your album "Machine Head". What memories do you have of that time?

I.G.: In fact, as time goes by, the visual elements – the smoke, the fire, the fear – are still there, but what I remember most is the final day of recording at the Grand Hotel.

Martin Birch, our manager, told us: "I've got some bad news: we're missing seven minutes of material. And we only have 24 hours left." He suggested that we listen to the takes made on the first day for the sound check. And that was where we found the roots of what was to become "Smoke on the Water". Roger Glover, the bassist, suggested that we write the words based on what we had just experienced... That was how the most dramatic recording there ever was came about!

swissinfo: You've played the 40th Montreux, you've played the 30th Montreux (a CD and DVD "Live in Montreux have just come out)... Will you be back for the 50th?

I.G.: That would be fantastic!

swissinfo-interview: Bernard Léchot in Montreux

Key facts

Around 100,000 tickets were sold for the 40th Montreux Jazz Festival, compared with 88,000 last year.
Including the free events, the number of visitors should amount to around 230,000 this year.
But the festival's finances remain a matter of concern for Claude Nobs, its president, who has appealed for public support.

End of insertion

Deep Purple formed in 1968 are considered as the founders of hard rock along with Led Zeppelin. But their virtuoso sound also features influences from classical and even jazz music.

Deep Purple composed "Smoke on the Water" in Montreux, following a fire in the casino during a Frank Zappa concert in December 1971.

Since March 2002, the band – now in its eight reincarnation – features Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass), Ian Paice (drums), Steve Morse (guitar) and Don Airey (keyboard).

Deep Purple's most recent albums are "Rapture of the Deep" (Edel Records 2006) and "Live in Montreux" (Eagle Vision – Naïve 2006).

End of insertion
In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Sort by

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Discover our weekly must-reads for free!

Sign up to get our top stories straight into your mailbox.

The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.