The official history of DEEP PURPLE often starts with the advent of IAN GILLAN and ROGER GLOVER into the band and their massive In Rock calling card (we can forget the classical album). But the band had cranked out very quickly three studio albums before that, each featuring Rod Evans on vocals and Nick Simper on bass.
And Nick is very much back in the spotlight these days, or at least out of hiding, given new musical projects and an action-packed new website that offers a wealth of information on Nick’s long pre-Purple rise through the ranks of the swingin’ London rock scene, as well as the whirlwind (and surprisingly successful) days with the Purps, who at that point were a sort of doomy, dark psych band not without prog and even classical pretensions.
“We’re playing away with the GOOD OL’ BOYS,” begins the highly likeable and easygoing Simper, asked as to the state of things here in the summer of ‘08. “Isn’t anything new, I guess. We did a show for the 40th anniversary of Deep Purple, in Bedford, in England, and that was recorded, so that’s going to come out as a CD in the future. Apart from that, more of the same. We’ve been working with a girl singer called PATTI BOULAYE who was very, very well known a few years ago, and she’s making a bit of a comeback. We’ve done a few things with her.”
What songs did you get up to with Deep Purple for that 40th anniversary thing?
“On the anniversary gig? We only did one Purple one and that’s ‘Hush’ (laughs). The other ones were a different bunch of stuff that the Good Ol’ Boys do. For Purple, it’s just a case of playing stuff that everybody likes, really. It’s a bit of fun, but it’s gotten a bit more serious now. More people seem to want to hear it and I’m not quite sure what they expect. They come mainly from Europe to see us, the Purple fans, but I think a lot of what they hear… I might be doing some of the Mark I stuff with an Austrian band. There are some talks in the pipeline for that. They are quite keen to do some of that stuff. We’ve had some interest from promoters in Germany and Austria, and if it’s viable, I might do that.”
For his part, Simper mate Mick Underwood of GILLAN fame puts in a good word on The Good Ol’ Boy and the rest of the Good Ol’ Boys… “My take on Nick is that he’s the most down to earth guy you could ever wish to meet. Very, very down to earth guy. I've got nothing bad to say about him. Super bass player, one of the smoothest I've ever heard. Super to play with, absolutely great. The Good Ol’ Boys, they're a band that is doing… not hard rock. I don't know how I would describe it, really, two guitars, excellent guitarist, a guy called Richard Hudson on drums who used to play with The Strawbs, great drummer, and Nick is playing and singing. They do DELBERT MCCLINTON stuff and things like that, you know what I mean? It's brilliant, great band to watch, quite a good time, superb band.”
Indeed, scoot over to Nick’s site, and you’ll see a video of Nick and a band called NASTY HABITS doing a stomping version of ‘Emmaretta’, marking the first time Simper had played the tune in 40 years. I asked Nick which tracks he’d think about pulling from his Purple records (Shades Of, The Book Of Taliesyn and Deep Purple) for this possible Austrian jaunt.
“I guess we’ll cull about a dozen songs that I’m still capable of playing (laughs). I haven’t thought about it too deeply.”
Are you saying that some of that stuff was a bit daunting, that it was quite hard to play?
“Well, when I try to play it now, yes (laughs). Over the years, it can be. Yeah, it was pretty good for the time, I think. I don’t take much notice of anything once I do it. It’s done and it’s gone and I move on to the next thing. But I find that the music I’ve done since then is not quite as complex. WARHORSE (two killer albums – Warhorse in ’70 and Red Sea in ’72 – seek them out) was a bit more complex and a bit more musical. And we got together, it might be five years ago now, did a couple of gigs just for fun, and I found it very hard to play the stuff (laughs). When you are on the road playing it, it’s second nature, but when you haven’t played it for 30 years, we all tend to be a little bit lazy. ‘Oh, we played that stuff for years; we’ve only got to kind of refresh our memory.’ But when you actually attempt some of the stuff you played then, it’s not that easy now. I suppose your technique changes over the years.”
I wondered just what kind of band Deep Purple thought they were trying to be back then in 1968. “Just something different,” begins Nick. “Different to what had gone before. It was kind of a peculiar time, because pop bands still dominated, and there was kind of a sea change. For me, I mean, the band in England that did it for me, which changed everything was the GRAHAM BOND ORGANIZATION. Graham was a bit into black magic and stuff. But the actual Graham Bond Organization, I mean, the music was just so far out, and I think it would be termed sort of heavy rock now, which it wasn’t at the time. But the band itself, with JACK BRUCE and GINGER BAKER, kind of changed the way everybody thought. It was just a different tack. And I was really getting into that stuff. And then along came VANILLA FUDGE, which sort of compounded it, really (laughs). Wow, these guys are playing so far out and so different, the way they attack their instruments, the way they play, the volume and everything else about it. It was so different, and I think whoever came into contact with that realized that it was something very new. So when we got together with Purple, when the guys got together, we knew we didn’t want to do what had been done before, and we all kind of vaguely had liked Graham Bond and The Fudge as our, how would you say it… we didn’t exactly want to copy that, but they kind of inspired us. So when Purple first started, we got billed a few times in America as the English Vanilla Fudge, which we weren’t really trying to be. We weren’t trying to do the amazing vocal harmonies that they had because we couldn’t sing that good. But they were an influence, without a doubt.”
“But we really didn’t have time to think about trying something special. What we knew was that we wanted to do something that was different from what had been done before. We had all been on a bit of a treadmill, backing different people, sidemen to people, where you collect your wages for doing the job you’re paid for. Jon Lord came up to me one day when we were working with a band called THE FLOWERPOT MEN, who were an enormously big outfit at the time, and he said, ‘Would you give all this up, all the money, to do your own thing?’ And I said, ‘Yes, you bet your life I would!’ (laughs). We went from sort of, well, we were earning hilarious money for the time, and we went to about 10% of that to start Deep Purple, but it was worth it. There comes a time in your life where you think well, if you don’t do it, you’ll be kicking yourself forever. So when someone offers you an opportunity, if there isn’t much finance in it, at least if it didn’t come off, you could say, well, at least we gave it a shot. Someone else picked up the tab, and we had a damn good go, and that was half the battle, that all we had to worry about was the music and someone else was picking up the bills (laughs).”
“There are a lot of people who still remember us,” muses Nick in closing. “It’s quite gratifying really that people still remember you. I didn’t think anybody would remember who I was from 40 years ago (laughs). The last couple of years we’ve been over to Austria and it’s just been amazing reception. They must be starved for some decent rock ‘n’ roll. Just lovely, it really is. So yes, a lot of people still want to know about it, talk about it, but it’s not always easy. I forgot a lot of it. But yes, it was good at the time, and I suppose people are interested because it was commercially one of the bigger things. I certainly think I’ve done a lot better since, but it won’t stop people asking for it. You’ve got to go with it and give them what they want (laughs).”
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