ian gillan biography

Gillan's career through the years


This is the thing with rock music! With good rock music anyways... It can not fade away. It can not just drop…. but even if it will shrink down to the limit it will always be remembered! And then it comes back, stronger than ever, always young, always a free spirit!

Talking about good rock music is like talking about Ian Gillan. Widely recognised as one of the most significant and influential musicians of all time. No wonder why he still plays sold out arenas (either fronting Deep Purple or solo) after 40 years on the road…. and take a good look next time you go to a DP or Gillan concert. See the people in the audience…. not many other bands (not to mention musical genres) have such a fanatical audience and such diversity: high school teenagers, workers in their late 50’s, young businessmen and everything in between! It is just amazing how all these (one could say different in each other) people sing every single lyric of every single bloody song with such a passion!!

One could say that Ian Gillan has done it all… but then again he has so much to offer… A career full of successes, always keeping an open mind, many ups, a few downs, always searching, always dreaming, some controversy, loads of fun, loads of drinking… yeah man talking about Ian Gillan is like talking about rock music!

So how did it all started anyway?

Ian was born under the sign of Leo (19th August 1945) in Hounslow, London. His father was from Glasgow, Scotland. Since he was a youngster he was always interested in music. He admired artists such as Little Richard and Elvis Presley and during the 1960’s, at the age of 16 he formed a band with the name The Moonshiners. Shortly after he began singing with The Javelins for about two years up until late 1964. Ian was so exceptional that he was approached by Wainwrights Gentlemen (who later became widely known as Sweet) and spend some time with them. It was summer of 1965 when he was offered the microphone of Episode Six. During those formative years Ian used a range of pseudonyms (Jess Thunder, Jess Gillan, Garth Rockett and others).

The time with Episode Six was highly significant. Extensive tours, many recordings, and generally hard work within a very professional framework. Ian was now very equipped for the years to come. But it was not only the experience on the road and on the studio. It was also the connections with the music industry with some of the pro musicians of the time perhaps most importantly with founder member Roger Glover. Episode Six worked very hard but the success was not equal to their efforts. Eventually Ian was offered a position to replace Rod Evans in Deep Purple.

A great step forward! For the following four years, he is the magnificent voice on four of the most classic hard rock albums ever released! It is now that Deep Purple and Ian are establishing themselves on to the global scene. During this period apart from participating in the recordings of the 1970 Jesus Christ Superstar (he sang the role of Jesus) he also produced albums of other bands most notably for Jerusalem. However, most of his time is dedicated to Deep Purple. Another exceptional landmark of this period is the participation on Jon Lord’s “Concerto for Group and Orchestra”. This was the first time ever for a heavy rock group to perform and record with a Symphonic Orchestra. A monument in music history where two (at first sight diverse) worlds merge to produce an astonishing outcome of extraordinary brilliance and amazing craft! The merging of classical music and heavy metal, more than twenty years after, in the 1990’s, was meant to be a healthy tendency for the genre and everyone who followed it (Rage, Metallica, Y. Malmsteen, Scorpions etc) had that 1970 recording in mind.

It was 1973 when Gillan and Glover decided to part ways with Deep Purple. Ian took some time off to focus on a few businesses: a recording studio, a hotel, and a motorbike engine company. The year 1975 marks the beginning of his solo career. He forms the Ian Gillan Band where many progressive and jazz rock elements come up. In 2 years (until late 1977) he made three studio albums plus the legendary “Live At The Budokan”. Although the reception by the fans and the critics alike is quite worm, Ian feels that there is indeed something missing. Major changes follow: band members come and go, the name shortens to just Gillan and a rockier approach to the music is delivered.

Late 1970’s: under Gillan two records hit the stores: the self titled “Gillan” (aka the “Japanese Album”) and “Mr. Universe”. The reception is now much greater. A new decade is emerging (along with new tendencies in heavy-rock music) and up until 1982 three more albums “Glory Road”, “Future Shock” and “Magic” make the difference! This is a peak time. Ian Gillan is surrounded by some very good musicians and they are widely recognised as a driving force in Europe and Japan. All the albums get major chart success; they tour excessively and headline some of the most important festivals of the era.

1983 marks a beautiful but controversial moment in Gillan’s history. He accepted an offer to join heavy metal giants Black Sabbath after the departure of Ronnie James Dio. He only stayed for a year, recording just one album with them and doing a few shows. Fans and critics are divided. At the time, you either loved it or hated it. Nevertheless, it is a year that will be remembered for the combination of Iommi’s riffing and Gillan’s vocal chords.

And then came perhaps the most successful comeback in rock history! “Perfect Strangers” was a massive triumph both in terms of sales and in terms of artistic value. Every single song is master hit on its own right! Every single Deep Purple fan is ecstatic! The band’s most recognisable line up (Gillan, Glover, Blackmore, Lord, Paice) at the top of their career! There are countless articles and essays on this cornerstone. No need to add more, just play the record for one more time!

Another great record followed, “The House Of Blue Light”, although not of equal success but with strong material too. It is 1989 when the relations between the band members and most notably between Blackmore and everybody else start to shake big time and Gillan is fired. The first six months of 1989 he resurrects the name of his first band (The Moonshiners) and under the moniker Garth Rockett he goes on touring. A year before that Ian and Roger Glover spend some quality time in Bahamas to record the joint effort “Accidentally On Purpose”, yet another flower on both their discographies.

The 1990’s saw Gillan striking back as a solo artist. “Naked Thunder” and “Toolbox” proved the wide scope of his productive ideas. Once more, while new emerging tendencies in heavy & rock music are sweeping the charts, Gillan delivers well balanced albums preserving the classic rock values which are now enhanced with a variety of fresh ideas. The Deep Purple management and their label, recognised the mistake to suck Gillan and got him back to the band against the wish of Blackmore. The controversial 1993 album “The Battle Rages On” reflects the fragile relationships between Blackmore and the rest of the members. This is also evident on the video material that was recorded during the tour that followed. Shortly after, Blackmore left the band and the remaining members with Steve Morse on guitar continue to the present day.

During the 1990’s Ian Gillan was also involved in a variety of interesting projects. Along with names such as Bruce Dickinson, Bryan Adams, Keith Emerson, Dave Gilmour, John Paul Jones, Tony Iommi, Jon Lord, Brian May, Paul Rodgers, Roger Taylor and Ritchie Blackmore he re-recorded ‘Smoke On The Water’ for a charity album to benefit the victims of the 1988 earthquake in Armenia. As a guest he sang with the Danish heavy metal band Pretty Maids in their ‘In Santa's Claws’ single. He participated on The Bolland Project’s recording "Darwin The Evolution". He was the guest of Greek pop/rock artist Michalis Rakintzis on his “Etsi M’ Aresei” record and also shared the stage with him in Greece. In 1994 he gathered his friends from The Javelins and they recorded the album "Sole Agency And Representation". Two years later he recorded a rap version of ‘Smoke On The Water’ with the 2 Unlimited rapper Ray Slijngaard. In 1999, thirty years after the first performance, Jon Lord’s “Concerto for Group and Orchestra” was delivered again with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Mann. Ian along with Lord, Morse, Glover and Paice as well as a few other well known artists made this a truly great concert!

Of course towards the end of the 1990’s Ian released his solo ‘Dreamcatcher’ yet another distinctive work with a variety of influences.

The new millennium found Ian Gillan involved in many interesting things again. A restless spirit, so unique and so diverse! He sang twice (2001 & 2003) in a duet with Luciano Pavarotti the aria ‘Nessun Dorma’ (check our videos). In 2004 he performed some guest vocals on Dean Howard’s album “Volume One”. On September 11th, 2006 he shared the stage with Lars Ulrich from Metallica for ‘Smoke On The Water’. In 2006 we can find Ian singing on the track ‘Eternity’ which was included in the soundtrack of the video game Blue Dragon. The music was written by Nobuo Uematsu. Also he appeared in the 2007 album “Danger. White Men Dancing“ by the Hoochie Coochie Men & Jon Lord.

Significant recording of this period is “Gillan’s Inn” (2006) which is a CD/multimedia project and features current re-recordings of Ian’s Purple, Sabbath and solo material. It was made to celebrate his 40 – year recording career and one will find very interesting appearances from many past and present musicians who have worked with him and not only (Iommi, Santriani, Lord, Glover, Paice etc).

2009 saw the release of his solo “One Eye To Morocco”. Twelve years after his last full length album. But you know… the years do not really matter. Some things will always be the same… Like a naked thunder of a child in time down the glory road… the magic of his toolbox, a true dreamcather that has one eye to Morocco…. cheers Ian!