Ian Gillan Biography

19 August 1945, Hounslow, Middlesex, England. Heavily influenced by Elvis Presley, vocalist Gillan formed his first band at the age of 16. In 1962 he was invited to join local semi-professional R&B band the Javelins, who eventually disbanded in March 1964. Gillan next formed the Hickies, but abandoned the project to join established soul band Wainwright’s Gentlemen. He quickly became unhappy with this group and readily accepted an invitation to join the fully professional outfit Episode Six, in May 1965. A succession of tours and singles failed to produce any domestic chart placings, however, and by early 1969 the band was beginning to disintegrate. In August of the same year, Gillan and Roger Glover were recruited to join Deep Purple, forming the legendary ‘Mk II’ line-up with Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord and Ian Paice. Deep Purple gradually established themselves as a major rock band, helped by their dynamic live show and an aggressive sound, characterized by a mix of long instrumentals and Gillan’s powerful vocals. The latter part of 1972 saw Deep Purple, acknowledged as the biggest-selling rock band in the world, enter the Guinness Book Of Records as the loudest pop group of their day.

Their status was consolidated with the release of the live album Made In Japan. In August 1972 Gillan decided to leave the band, but was persuaded to remain with them until June 1973. By the time of his last show with Deep Purple on 28 June, he had already purchased the De Lane Lea studio in London, and it was on this venture that he concentrated after leaving the band, forming Kingsway Studios. He recorded a solo album in 1974 for the Purple label, to whom he was still signed, but it was rejected as being too radical a musical departure, and has never been released. After a brief attempt to launch Ian Gillan’s Shand Grenade, which included Glover, in late 1975, it was the Ian Gillan Band that began recording Child In Time in the first days of 1976. The line-up was Gillan, Ray Fenwick (guitar), Mike Moran (keyboards), Mark Nauseef (drums; ex-Elf) and John Gustafson (bass). This first album was much lighter in tone than Deep Purple, but included some excellent songs. The next two albums, now with Colin Towns (b. 1949, London, England) on keyboards, demonstrated a notable jazz rock influence, particularly on Clear Air Turbulence, which was also distinguished by its striking Chris Foss-designed cover. None of these albums was particularly successful commercially, and after a disappointing tour in spring 1978, Gillan disbanded the group.

Within just a few months of dissolving the Ian Gillan Band, he was back in the studio with a new outfit, inspired by a Towns song, ‘Fighting Man’. New members Liam Genockey (drums), Steve Byrd (guitar) and John McCoy (bass) joined Ian Gillan and Towns to record Gillan in summer 1978. The lack of a record contract meant that this excellent album was never released in the UK, although several of the tracks did appear on the next album, Mr. Universe, recorded early in 1979 with Pete Barnacle on drums. The title track was based on a song of the same name that Ian Gillan had recorded with Episode Six. The album as a whole marked the return of the imposing frontman to solid rock music. In so doing, this collection was instrumental in developing the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, a label even more applicable to Gillan’s subsequent album, Glory Road. Now with Bernie Torme on guitar and former Episode Six drummer Mick Underwood, Gillan produced one of his finest albums, the first copies of which contained a second, free album, For Gillan Fans Only. After the slightly disappointing Future Shock, Torme left to be replaced by guitarist Janick Gers of White Spirit, who featured on Double Trouble, a double album comprising one studio and one live album, recorded mainly at the 1981 Reading Rock Festival, at which the band appeared for the third consecutive year, a testimony to their popularity. Summer 1982 saw the release of Magic, another album of quality, although sadly also the group’s last.

After many years of speculation and rumour, a Deep Purple re-formation seemed imminent and Gillan wound up his band amid a certain amount of acrimony and uncertainty, early in 1983. Finding that he had ended Gillan somewhat prematurely, he joined Black Sabbath, a move he claims was motivated by financial necessity. Artistically, the time he spent with this band is deplored by both Gillan and Sabbath fans. After one album and a tour with Sabbath, the much discussed Deep Purple reunion took off and Gillan had his opportunity to escape. After 11 years apart, and all with successful, if turbulent careers during that time, the essential question remained as to whether the various band members would be able to co-operate. A successful tour and a sell-out British concert at the 1985 Knebworth Festival seemed to suggest the reunion had worked, but by the time of the next album, House Of The Blue Light, it was clear that the latent tensions within the band were beginning to reappear. Between Deep Purple tours, and adding to the speculation about a break-up, Gillan and Glover recorded an album together; a curious but thoroughly enjoyable collection of material, it seemed to fulfil a need in both musicians to escape from the confines of the parent band.

The 1988/9 Deep Purple tour revealed the true extent of the rift between the members, and Gillan’s departure was formally announced in May 1989. The collaboration had been effectively finished since January, when Gillan was informed not to attend rehearsals for the next album. Gillan’s response was to perform a short tour as his alter ego, Garth Rockett, in spring 1989, before recording vocals for the Rock Aid Armenia version of ‘Smoke On The Water’, in July. By the end of 1989 Gillan had assembled a band to record a solo album, which he financed himself to escape record company pressures, and recorded under his own name to avoid the politics of group decisions. The line-up featured Steve Morris (guitar), from the Garth Rockett tour, Chris Glen (bass) and Ted McKenna (drums), both formerly of the Michael Schenker Group, Tommy Eyre (keyboards), Mick O’Donoghue (ex-Grand Prix; rhythm guitar) and Dave Lloyd (ex-Nutz, Rage and 2am; backing vocals, percussion). The album, Naked Thunder, released in July 1990, was labelled middle-of-the-road by some critics, while Gillan himself described it as ‘hard rock with a funky blues feel.’ After touring in support of it, Gillan returned to the studio to prepare a second solo album. Now formulating a highly productive partnership with Steve Morris, he recruited Brett Bloomfield (bass) and Leonard Haze (ex-Y&T; drums) and produced an excellent album as a four-piece rock band, blending straightforward music with Gillan’s often bizarre sense of humour and offbeat lyrics. Toolbox was released in October 1991 to critical acclaim.

Gillan rejoined Deep Purple in 1992, undertaking new recording sessions with the band and touring, before yet again quitting. However, the career decision taken in 1994 was indeed a strange one, seeing him reunited with his very first band, the Javelins, for a moribund collection of 60s cover versions. His third solo album, 1997’s Dreamcatcher, was a poor attempt at a more acoustic style. However, Gillan’s durability alone makes him a central player in the British rock tradition, despite occasional lapses.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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