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When I arrived in Budapest, I had no idea… After a couple days, I received an e-mail, whose only text was in the subject area: “Nick Simper will come in Budapest”. He would perform with an Austrian band a tribute on the Mk I of Deep Purple, playing songs from this, underrated actually, era for the band. After the relative phone calls and e-mails, there I am, the next day, sitting in the hotel with Jerry Bloom – author of the book Ritchie Blackmore, Black Knight –, the sound engineer who would record the show and, of course, the original bass player of Deep Purple, Nick Simper.

Interview to George Anasontzis.

 

Rockpages.gr: So, Nick, tell me what you are doing now. You have the Good Old Boys…

Nick Simper: Yeah, the Good Old Boys… for a long time. Since 1979 (laughs). We used to play with the name Flying Fox. We’d been through quite a few personal changes. We like it the way it is now, with this line-up, I mean Richard Hudson from the Strawbs and Hudson Ford, and Pete Parks, who was in Warhorse, and great guitarist Simon Bishop - we work together really well -, Alan Barratt from Jo-Jo Gunne, and we just play wherever whenever we can, it’s as simple as that. Has been fun now, but you know how age is… (loud laughs). We were doing some shows in Vienna, about three shows in Vienna where the Nasty Habits were the support band, and we were very impressed with them, and each time they ask me if I would get to do a Deep Purple number with them, and of course, I hardly even know any, cause it’s been a long long time since we did play them… Anyway, we did, each time I did a Deep Purple number with them, trying to get the chords together, people seemed to like it, they stuck it in youtube, and it’s been fun really, Peter Brkusic, who’s the drummer, phoned me up and said to me ‘Would you consider doing a whole show’, and the first thought was “Nah…” I got to learn all that stuff again, after 40 years (laughs), and then I thought “Why not, it would be good fun”, because apart from the instrumental “Wring that Neck” and  “Hush”, there was nothing from the original Deep Purple that is still being played by the current Deep Purple, which is… what’s the current Deep Purple, about Mk. 25, ain’t it? (loud laughs and Jerry Bloom agrees). So, I thought why not, cause the audience that heard these songs originally are as old as me, and the people that have bought ever since, never had the opportunity to hear those things. So, we did it in Vienna and it was a sell out, we did Graz, we went to Poland a couple of times, and a couple of weeks ago we did one in Vienna and one in Spielberg, and then we went to Pratteln, and it has been so a success, so [if] someone wants us to play, we come and play. It’s all about having fun, really. But the staff is quite demanding to play, it’s not as easy as it sounds on the records (laughs).

Rockpages.gr: So, you have to practice a lot…

Nick Simper: Yes yes, I had to practice a lot. People think that if you make a record, and then gets forgotten… I mean, most musicians don’t play their own stuff and you become unfamiliar with it and it’s easy to say “Oh, I’ll just listen to those records, spend a few hours and I’ll be out playing this stuff”, but sometimes you listen to a totally stranger playing in it, because your technique is totally different, forty years later, and some things you are doing better and some things you can’t do at all, so you have to compromise…

Rockpages.gr: What happens most of the times?

Nick Simper: Ah, I usually just change the style, (laughs) because a lot of that stuff is quite difficult. Today, my bass playing style is totally different. In those days, I had to prove something but now I play in what I think it’s the best way to play, which is to make a good rhythm section with the drummer. These guys [Nasty Habits], they are terrific players and we had a lot of fun doing it, and as long as there are people who wanna hear it, we’ll carry on doing it. We are gonna record it hopefully and get it out on a cd, a live cd.

Rockpages.gr: Jerry (Bloom) was telling me that you’ll probably release today’s show on a live album…

Nick Simper: Yes, hopefully, if it comes out ok. We did it with the Good Old Boys, we did the Deep Purple convention, and that was quite successful. That’s what I like about live albums, you got the feel of the show, the excitement, the ambience of the whole night and that’s a good way to do it.

Rockpages.gr: Some bands sell the same night’s show on a cd, right after the show…

Nick Simper: Yeah, most people do that. Actually, it’s quite common, actually, especially in the old days, with the video tapes, they used to have a maiden in the lobby before the band came off stage. That’s kinda awful… (laughs). People like that, they like to buy something on the night.

Rockpages.gr: It’s a way to gain an advantage over the bootleg releases…

Nick Simper: Yeah (laughs).

Rockpages.gr: How does it feel to play again the Deep Purple stuff?

Nick Simper: Well, it’s a bit strange, a bit strange, but it’s good. As it’s really demanding, you have to concentrate a lot on it and these guys in the Nasty Habits, they put their marks on the songs, but I think they capture the sound that was Deep Purple in those days. It’s quite amazing how they studied it and they got it right and they added their own nuances to it, made them their own songs, really. I’m very impressed with them and being Austrian guys, they are very methodical and get it right. They work on it till they get it right.

Nick Simper with Nasty HabitsRockpages.gr: How’s the guitarist?

Nick Simper: Ah, he’s a great player, they are all great players. They don’t just do what is necessary, they add a bit of extra to it, I love it… I enjoy it. I heard them doing their own shows, cause some people would think of them as tribute bands, but they are not at all. They write their own songs and they have their own albums and they do their own set, which features a lot of their own songs and it just so happens that they like the Deep Purple stuff, and they used to do one or two of the early one. It has developed to this… thing we have today, which is not a tribute band, they are a great band in their own right. And the singer, Christian, he’s also the bass player… That made it easy cause he gives me the bass and just sings, so, no problems set on anybody (laughs).

Rockpages.gr: And how is his singing? Is it close to Evans at all?

Nick Simper: Well, Rod Evans is very difficult to sing. He’s got an amazing range, which is quite the opposite in most modern singers. Most modern singers strive to hit notes very high and Rod Evans could hit notes very very low, a baritone voice. It’s not the easiest vocal tune to do. Christian is coming off very well and he’s done it in his own style. You can’t copy Rod Evans, really, so by trying to sing like him is like Elvis singing. Evans is a fantastic singer and a unique voice. But what Christian does, is equally as good, in my opinion. He copes fine… so far, he’s pretty good.

Rockpages.gr: You told me before that the Good Old Boys is a continuation of the Flying Fox. So, you mean that you dropped Fandango to pick up a touring band?

Nick Simper: Yes, well, I was off the road for quite a long time and doing such work like writing songs in the studio, while I could tour so little in over so many years… so little touring, and I just thought it would be nice to get off a bit and sit back off the work in the studio. Α friend of mine I worked a lot, a drummer called Carlo Little, phoned me up and said, “I got some guys together; we are just having some fun, could you come and play bass?” “Ah, I’m too busy…” “Could you recommend me a guitarist?” And I said the guy I’m writing songs with, might be interested. So Carlo got together with Pete and then Pete phoned me up and said “This is great fun, you got to come and join us”. So, I came and joined them and then the singer, Frankie Reid, left for Australia, only a matter of few months after we started the band. So, then we got another singer, James Royal, an amazing vocalist, but he also left for Australia (laughs). Then we went through two or three other singers and finally we arrived to Alan Barratt. We changed drummers as well, we had session drummers, the drummer of Micky Moody band, Chris Hunt, Gary Harvey, Terry Sullivan… occasionally Mac Poole, from Warhorse… It was quite a loose arrangement.

Rockpages.gr: But always a live band…

Nick Simper: Yes, always live, always live. We recorded some things, just to sell them at gigs. But in the time of Flying Fox and Fandango, it was a time when rock music and metal music were really having a struggle, because punk had become the big thing and record companies didn’t want to talk to us, because we were guys thirty years old and we were already considered dinosaurs. We were too old, they wanted sixteen years old kids, going out and doing the punk stuff and this is why we had to go to Germany to get a deal with Fandango. But we did the two Fandango albums, which they still sell today, they were really successful, but…

Rockpages.gr: They are really good albums…

Nick Simper: Yeah, I was particularly pleased with the first one, the second ones we had problems, because the record companies were in trouble and they had to cut the budget down, so we had to do a lot of stuff, we had to let some things go, that we wouldn’t normally let go, but overall people seemed to like it. And it’s still available today, through Angel Air.

Rockpages.gr: I think it’s a double cd now,

Nick Simper: Yeah, yeah, it’s a double cd. The vinyl of course is very collectable, as usual. But the point when we thought we would take it on the road, I mean, the logistics funding the whole, going back in the old days, over a big truck, PA and road crew. It was so expensive and that was in the time when the situation on the road in England was really shut down. A lot of things we used were disappearing, even small clubs, the circuit on the universities, that was all changing. It was quite getting difficult to find places to play, so, we decided not to try and take it on the road. So, we just carried on with Flying Fox, which was later changed to Good Old Boys…

Nick SimperRockpages.gr: You couldn’t take Fandango on the road the same way you were taking Flying Fox?

Nick Simper: Nah… no, no, because Flying Fox was aimed at much smaller audiences, purely a fan thing. The guys in Fandango… two of the guys looked quite a long way away and I think we felt that if we took it on the road, we had to be aimed at a higher level than just having fun. It would have to be a business, whereas Flying Fox never was a business. It was just good fun. And the reason it’s still going as the Good Old Boys is because luckily, people seem to like it. That’s what it’s all about. Having fun. Once the realms of big business and record sales come into it, it spoils everything… (laughs) Where was I stuck in the past… hehe… But I can’t complain. I’ve done reasonably well. I got to the point now that I don’t have any ambitions to try… and make a best selling album or sell out a stadium or anything like that because that’s something in the past, you know.

Rockpages.gr: But what are your ambitions now? You must have something…

Nick Simper: Well, they don’t really have to do with music… haha.

Rockpages.gr: So, music is just a way of making a living?

Nick Simper: Well, I’ve been doing it for fifty years now, and now I just take what it comes. As I say to the guys in Nasty Habits, if people wanna come and see the show, fine. And if more people wanna see, we’ll do it, whenever anyone wants to hear it, we’ll do it. If people don’t want it, it will just disappear. Same as Fandango did. I’m more aged now, I don’t get too excited with the thought of touring too much or trying to sell records. That’s in the past. Through this, we met so many people all over Europe, made a lot of new friends. It’s very humbling to see so many people coming along with Warhorse albums, Fandango albums, Purple album. You know, people that are younger than my children are going out and buy them, that’s very humbling, very rewarding, that people still appreciate this stuff. Because, if you do some work and somebody says to you that “People will still appreciate what you have done fourty years from now”, you’d say “No, they won’t, nobody will even remember”.

Rockpages.gr: But they do…

Nick Simper: Obviously we did something right. We were lucky as well, luck comes into it a lot. So many great bands out there, people that made terrific stuff but never saw the light of day, never got the luck they deserved, so, yeah, I’ve been lucky, I’ve been with some great acts in England, before Deep Purple… and even after, the Warhorse were pretty good…

Rockpages.gr: What happened with Quatermass?

Nick Simper: Oh, there again, it’s too expensive to take it on the road… I met with Micky Underwood. It was at a record company, Christmas get together, it was one of these Christmas parties, and I said “What are you doing?” and he said “I’m not playing at the moment. What are you doing?” I said “I’m not doing much”, I was only doing bits with the Good Old Boys. “We should be doing something”. “Yeah, let’s do something”. It was Quatermass and we were lucky that the boss of Angel Air came along and said, “I’ll fund whatever you guys wanna do”. But there again, when it came to doing venues, to put on the kind of show that we wanted to put on… you know, when you play that kind of music, you want to be competent with Deep Purple and all the other big bands that are out there, you got to put on the type of show that costs a lot of money. But if you don’t have the hit records to demand that kind of money, you… can’t go up or down really and you are just stuck in the middle. We decided to disband after a few good gigs. There was great fun. And Mick is a great drummer, he’s also one of my favourites. So, that fulfilled an ambition, to actually do something with him. And it’s there on the vinyl… oh it wasn’t a vinyl. It’s Quatermass, it’s there on the CD (laughs), for posterity. You do something and then you move on. That’s how it has always been.

Rockpages.gr: Well, you move on, but you went back again, by doing the Warhorse reunion…

Nick Simper: Yeah, there was a lot of pressure to do that, a lot of people wanted to see it. We did it and it was very successful. We had a lot of offers to tour, we all got very excited. We did the two shows, that were about to sell out and we recorded it. The recording sound was pretty good, although we have yet to release it, but we probably will. But at the time, when all this happened, we decided let’s go on the road and do it again, cause we felt we had planned it better than we had done all those years ago. It was sounding really good, and then Mac Poole, the drummer, he contracted cancer and he was very very ill, we thought he was going to die actually. We couldn’t do it without him, so, we just abandoned the idea. We had a new record deal, we were gonna do a new album, but we did it (abandoned the idea). That’s the way it goes.

Rockpages.gr: What was the reason the first Warhorse disbanded?

Nick Simper: It was a combination of problems. We had management problems, we went through a succession of managers, who really weren’t up to the job, and we had a succession of agents and I could tell you a catalogue of horror stories, most bands on the road could tell you about being ripped off. But the situation when you’re with a record company, the A&R man changes year after year and nobody wants to get involved with a band that someone else signs. So, you haven’t got anything behind you. We were signed to Vertigo and they wouldn’t let us record and they wouldn’t let us out of the contracts, so we were stuck in Limbo for a whole year. We toured successfully, we were touring ok, we weren’t making a fortune, we were just breaking it even. We tried to compete the big guys, with a huge PA system, we had a huge truck, roadies, all that stuff, but no backup from the record company. And we finally did find a record company, that wanted to record us, two of the guys were offered to tour with Rick Wakeman, which was kind of ironic, cause Rick Wakeman was the original keyboard player of Warhorse, when we first started. So, he wanted a drummer and a singer to go in tour with him and they thought it was going to be a long term career. I said, why don’t you do the tour with Rick and we can still make this album, cause we can write the songs for a year and we owe it to ourselves, but they decided to make a clean go and go off with Rick and the band collapsed. That was it. We could have brought other people, but as I was saying, that was the point when I’ve been on the road for ten or eleven years and I just thought to come off the road and just write songs, do a few sessions, and generally not work too hard (laughs).

Rockpages.gr: I think I read somewhere that you preferred Deep Purple had remained a solid band, the original band.

Nick Simper: Well, I think the original band is always the best. You look at ZZ Top or AC/DC, they retain the same guys. There was never really the chance for Deep Purple to develop a style, because we were lucky enough or in some ways unlucky enough to have a hit record in America a matter of a couple of months after we formed the band. It was very shortsighted on behalf of everybody involved, the managers, the record company, they just wanted to push us out and earn the money. Nowadays, people look a little more longer term. How many bands made three albums in how many months? Nine months? A year? Three albums in a year, it doesn’t happen today, is it? We did that and we made them on very very small budgets. A lot of the tracks were done almost live, because we ran such tight budgets, we spent all this time working, working, working, touring, there was no chance to really try and develop as writers or even as a proper unit and in the end, after six months of touring in America, everybody’s getting a bit sick of it. We all had different points of view of how the band should go and how the band should be run, what agents we should have and sadly the whole thing imploded. I think if it had been given the chance, if that line up had been given the chance to relax a little bit, if we had had the same opportunities like the Mk II lineup had, I think we would have surprised everybody. Cause we had just started to develop, at the end of the third album, started to find the leash, the direction we were gonna go in, which wasn’t that much different  to what happened when they got the two other guys in.

Rockpages.gr: It was an evolution of the music, generally, after the 60s…

Nick Simper: Yeah, I like to think, I mean I can tell for a fact that the Mk I Purple stuff is much more involved and much more difficult to play than the Mk II stuff.

Rockpages.gr: Mk I was more progressive…

Nick Simper: Yeah, the original line up was more progressive and it was kind of sad, because Ritchie Blackmore and myself came from the same background, we were to rock n roll, we worked with Screaming Lord Sutch and people like that, we both wanted to simplify the music, but it was all no and we kinda deferred to Jon Lord, cause obviously he was a talented man, he got a tremendous knowledge of classical music and he was kind of steering us in that direction. First of all we thought, that’s not a bad thing, because we admired what the Vanilla Fudge had done and we thought we were gonna do the same, they inspired us. But we got to the point where there was no one person in Deep Purple who was a songwriter, there never was, but when we played together, we could create stuff and unfortunately, there was a lot of money at stake and it made the band diversify… Certain people were trying to write all the songs (laughs)… they wanted their way, other people wanted their way, and we weren’t working as a unit. That’s an aspect of it, really. Some bands are lucky. One guy comes and he’s a great songwriter, like Pete Townshend, and you say, ok, you write the stuff, we just play it. There wasn’t a writer in Deep Purple, but between us all, we could all have our bits and create something good, and that wasn’t allowed to develop. I think that’s why there was a lot of dissatisfaction in the band.

Nick Simper with Deep PurpleRockpages.gr: So, that was the problem in your case…

Nick Simper: Yeah, it was a problem. It was a problem, certain people didn’t agree, they didn’t like the fact that the guy that wrote the lyrics got as much money as the guy that writes the music. My point of view is the guy that writes the lyrics is the star of the show, because that’s the most important of the songs and I think Rod Evans was a genius. His lyrics were far better than anything, anything, has ever been written in other line ups, in Deep Purple. The guy was a great and if he had been allowed to develop at it, he would have been really good. There you go. That’s the way it is. That’s rock n roll. Once Warhorse started, we were able to do what I thought as more progressive stuff. But then again, it’s very difficult to play and maybe when you look in retrospect, a lot of it was clever for its own sake (laughs)… You know, you do something clever just because you can. I don’t think like that anymore. Now I like it just as simple to move you away, no clever stuff (laughs).

Rockpages.gr: There is something I wanted to ask since I first listened to the Fandango song “Time Will Tell” and I was so much curious to find out what was behind it…

Nick Simper: Nothing really. Pete Parks came up with the lyrics and it just happened, there was nothing biographical about it at all (laughs). Few people have written songs in that vein, that sort of a life story thing, we just jumped on that bandwagon and did it. No particular reason. It didn’t relate to anybody, living or dead (laughs). Just came out that way I suppose.

Rockpages.gr: I remember when I was reading the lyrics; I couldn’t stop relating them with Deep Purple…

Nick Simper: No, no, it’s just the case of hearing other people doing this kind of things and we said, we’ll do it. Some story, something like that. Pete Parks wrote most of the lyrics… If I had written them, people could say “It was your story”. I was quite pleased with that one. I liked that.

Rockpages.gr: It was a great song anyway…

Nick Simper: Yeah, yeah… thank you.

Rockpages.gr: Tell me one of the moments that have remained deep in your memory… let’s restrain ourselves to the Deep Purple period. Like the most hilarious…

(Live classic music started playing loudly in the hotel lobby, but due to the gathered people, there was no direct vision with the source of the sound)

Nick Simper: (Laughs) Lots of funny stories, we had a lot of fun times on the road and it was a band that loved to play practical jokes, so, you never knew, you were never safe. You never knew whether your room was going to be booby trapped…

Rockpages.gr: Was Ritchie behind all these jokes?

Nick Simper: We all were really, everybody liked a joke, mainly me, Ritchie and Rod Evans. Rod Evans had then bought his book in a junkshop and he had a big title on his book, it was the “female” and we used to leave it around in dressing rooms and we’d see the other bands would come and look at it, pretend not to know and when nobody was looking they would go, cause they were curious about this book. So, they were opening it. Of course inside, there were lots of batteries and wires, it was electric and there was a big shock “Oooohhh!”. We were regularly used to hear somebody scream… those were the funny times. Rod Evans once, he lied down in the shallow in the swimming pool and then he’d say to pick me up and I crept up on him and jumped off him, because I thought that he was in the deep end, ended up breaking one of my toes (laughs) on the floor of the swimming pool. It was non stop, lots of funny times I guess. That was a long time ago. Bands always do that kind of things on the road… cigarettes full of explosives, could be a match in your sandwich… you had to check everything. There was constant fun! I can’t pick a specific one…

Rockpages.gr: It was the age as well…

Nick Simper: Yeah, it was the age as well. One of the funniest moments for me was when we were playing with some guys at Los Angeles, it was a big crowd, but mostly men, and they weren’t very interested in us, we were quite well paid for the show, but nobody seemed to be paying much attention. So, Ritchie just got over his guitar and suddenly it went through the ceiling, and there were these big ceiling tiles, and of course, lots of them fell down, and immediately the crowd went wild. “Hey, stop”, cause Ritchie continued destroying most of the ceiling above the stage… That was a funny time, cause I had never seen him doing anything like that before. I mean, he had a guitar especially to be abused, bang it on the stage, but I had never seen him smash it though the ceiling before. That was a funny time.

Rockpages.gr: For a short period you had a band with Marsha Hunt?

Nick Simper: Yes, yes…

Rockpages.gr: That was the time she was with Mick Jagger, isn’t it?

Nick Simper: Yeah.

Rockpages.gr: Did you ever meet him?

Nick Simper: No, no, never met with Jagger. It was supposed to be a costly guarded secret, and I think everybody knew, but we never talked about it much. I think Marsha was feeling that way but she was great to work for. I mean, she was a tribute band leader, she paid us very well. I don’t know what could have happened if she hadn’t got pregnant. I imagine, she would kept on, on the road for a while, but she came to us one night saying she’s pregnant with Mick Jagger’s baby, and I’m gonna give the band up. She was very generous. She paid us like six weeks wages, as a bonus on the top, and luckily, the nucleus of the band were Warhorse. Ged Peck was in Marsha’s band, Mac Poole as well, and myself. The time was just right and within weeks of leaving Marsha, we had a record deal with Warhorse and we were on the road. The timing was wonderful…

Rockpages.gr: and it was the same band, basically.

Nick Simper: Yeah, three of the guys. Also, we had Rick Wakeman originally but that didn’t work out and then we had Frank Wilson joined. It was a very good timing and very good times. And Vertigo was a new type of progressive label. We had some great stable mates, like Graham Bonds, May Blitz, Budgie, it was great. We used to go out on the tour together. The Vertigo tour… We didn’t make any money, but it was good fun.

Rockpages.gr: That’s more important sometimes…

Nick Simper: Oh yeah, yeah.

Rockpages.gr: I’d like you to give me your first thought on the names that I’ll mention.

Nick Simper: Ok…

Nick Simper with Nasty HabitsRockpages.gr: The first thing, good or bad…

Nick Simper: (Laughs loudly) yeah… I wouldn’t say a bad really…

Rockpages.gr: Ok, let’s start with Ritchie Blackmore.

Nick Simper: Great player.

Rockpages.gr: But? (Jerry Bloom laughs)

Nick Simper: I never had problems with Ritchie Blackmore, I never saw the side of Ritchie Blackmore that everyone seems to be talking about now. I knew him when he had no money, I knew him for a few years before we actually worked together and he was just a regular guy. He used to get a little intolerant on the road, of some things that were upsetting, but it was never anything that you could brand him a monster. So, from my point of view, he was fine. I had some great times with Ritchie and obviously, all the changes in Purple I think they had been engineered by Ritchie, (concerto in the hotel ends and people are clapping) but that was past my time. I don’t know. He was always my favourite player.

Rockpages.gr: I guess that at the very first member change, it wasn’t Ritchie’s decision solely. The management or maybe the style and voice of Rod Evans…

Nick Simper: Yes… Rod Evans, I think, he was losing interest in it. He had married a girl from Hollywood and I think he was moving in circles, he believed he had a chance to do something as an actor. So, I think his mind was going somewhere else anyway. It’s kind of ironic that they asked Ian Gillan to join, because I offered the job to Ian Gillan in the first place when we started, cause I knew him before these guys… but although some people will say it’s rubbish, what really happened is that Ian Gillan would join only with Roger Glover. So, in the end it was like “if we want to take this guy, we got to take his buddy”. That’s what they did. That’s rock’n’roll.

Rockpages.gr: Your first thought on Roger Glover?

Nick Simper: Oh, he’s a lovely guy. I met him a few times, a great guy. Nothing to do with him. He’s offered the gig, he takes it. Absolutely nothing to do with him. I was a bit disappointed with Ian Gillan, because I did offer him the job in the beginning, and he said “Oh, you never gonna get anywhere, I’m gonna stay where I am, with Episode Six, cause we gonna make it big”. Well, there you go. That was a long time ago. I don’t even think about it.

Rockpages.gr: Ian Paice?

Nick Simper: Great drummer. He had never lot to say. If ever there was any discussion or argument, he would say “Don’t ask me. I just play the drums”. That was his attitude. “I don’t wanna get involved in any arguments”.

Rockpages.gr: Thank you very much for your time.

Nick Simper: Thank you very much for your time.

(People applaud for the end of the interview… or maybe – just maybe – for the end of the short concerto that was performed live, in the hotel lobby)

The live album of Nick Simper & Nasty Habits, entitled The Deep Purple MkI Songbook is released by Wymer UK.

 



 
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