Malcolm Arnold and Jon Lord: 'Concerto for Group and Orchestra' and 'Gemini Suite'
by Vincent Budd
For many lovers of 20th century British music Sir Malcolm Arnold now undoubtedly stands as one of its most pre-eminent and cherished figures: but, although his life and work and all their comic and tragic contrasts are now to some extent being documented, there is a little-known period in his musical sojourn that is usually either totally ignored or, as just recently, incorrectly chronicled. Unfortunately, for some with very specified musical horizons it is no doubt not considered worthy of mention, an almost embarrassing lapse in taste likely to impugn the composer's critical reputation, or at the very least, demanding of an unequivocal and seriously judicious apologia - special historical circumstances though indeed there were.
And yet, for all those willing to listen with open hearts and empathetic minds to Arnold's collaborations with rock musician Jon Lord, the Concerto for Group and Orchestra of 1969 and Gemini Suite in 1970 (live) and 1971 (studio) can still stand as revelatory, quite breathtaking and glorious musical ventures, there to be appreciated by any willing music-lover without the ridiculous encumbrances of critical special pleadings; and, let it be said, entirely characteristic of the composer's willingness and ability to explore and appreciate the different forms and languages of our musical expression. Arnold's film music is now justly much-admired, the inspiration of Louis Armstrong oft-mentioned without excuse, and his and his son's love of The Chieftains happily commended as symptomatic of a still vigorous and youthful spirit. Here was a man who had by the end of the '60s already composed a monumental legacy of music and some of the highlights of contemporary British music, but whose radical spirit and musical vitality and vision could still look forward and beyond, impassioned and unblinkered and unhindered to embrace other musical cultures, not just folksong and jazz, but even rock 'n' roll.
It was the heady days of the late '60s. Musical barriers were being broken. Experiment was in the air. The standard popular music of the day was starting to grow out of the short catchy number fashioned merely for the soundtrack of teenage love and youthful angst. New musical frontiers beckoned as pop musicians of considerable calibre were wanting to exercise their imaginations and abilities. Lennon and McCartney were being compared to Schubert and Schuman (inter alia by Bernstein no less) and Sgt. Pepper was being discussed in The Times in terms of magniloquent phrases such as 'aeolian cadences' (much to Lennon's amusement). A Whiter Shade of Pale had used Bach to marvellous effect and Jimi Hendrix was amazing everyone with his brilliant effects. In the US Frank Zappa was outraging those who wanted to be outraged with his music and his satire. Pop music wanted to make a social statement: it had become politicised and self-conscious to the powers of youthful idealism - for all the embarrassed and reactionary and cynical rhetorics it conjures up 30 years later. Lyrics not only had a message but also had pretensions to poetry. Songs themselves had got longer and had unusual and altering time-signatures and solos had become integral, and often for many, more interesting elements of popular musical creativity. Rock music especially had a need to progress and escape the intrinsic limitations of the three-minute pop song - despite all the musical gems it undoubtedly provided: it wanted to proclaim its own cultural significance, its musicality, its musicianship. Rock musicians started to take on airs of virtuosity and multi-instrumentality and solo for 20 minutes, wrote suites and concept albums, played prestigious concerts halls once reserved for the orchestra and spoke authoritatively (and sometimes stupidly) on their artistry. However spurious some of these musical graces sometimes were, a new musical credibility had become the order of the day. Jazz had gone all respectable and procured the assurances of sophistication and presumptions of profundity - why couldn't rock? Rock music too wanted to acquire a certain air of musical seriousness. It was no longer simply satisfied with providing the apparent musical ephemera of the dance floor or with fulfilling the more immediate 'happening' chart-centred musical fancies of its day. Bands might often still need a hit record to get known, but they also wanted to create what they considered to be more challenging music, music that would last, possess a significance and hold its interest beyond the fast-changing commercial preoccupations of the pop industry. Significantly it not only wanted to look to the vibrant musical world of black culture for inspiration but also to explore and enlarge its musical idiom in terms of the primed dominantly white, if you will, self-elevating and often saturnine classical musical experience. In turn classical and jazz composers and musicians were willing to experiment, expand their own musical horizons, flex their musical muscles and play music outside the normal orbit of their own often stifling and solemn cultural world: music students trained fresh from college too wanted to play pop and felt comfortable doing so. In effect the established class-ridden barriers which had so infected the universal spirit of music were seen for a moment to be dissolving. If jazz and blues had become a universal and commercial musical language, rock too wanted to embrace all and show a hand to all willing to take it. Musical snobbery had become 'bad form'. Music for anybody. Music with a bit of 'attitude'. Music with a certain common touch to ruffle the tethers of musical decorum and respectability without too much disrespect. This was music that wanted 'to cut through the crap' of musical pigeon-holing, that was imbued with an impulse for cultural union rather than division, that wanted not only to respect the enticing cultural heritage of its own musical language (and what music lover could really ignore it growing up through the '60s and '70s), but also to embrace other musical influences as well; explore a certain sophistication of musicality yet still remain accessible to the apparent popular sensibilities and appreciations of all.
Amid these new, diversifying and diverting cultural circumstances, a musical hybrid, what is sometimes labelled a classical/rock fusion, became one of the more enthralling musical fascinations of the late '60s and early '70s. Despite its own rapid fall from fashion, and, with the odd exception, its lack of any real relevance to the pop world today, and certainly to the journalistic junk that passes for pop musical criticism in music magazines, it has had (if we may look positively at this - it is easy to be cynical) an untold and a quite wonderful and liberating effect on the musical landscape of our times - for all the exasperating cultural gracelessness that might also be said to have come to pass in its wake. Notwithstanding the occasional embarrassing vision of indulgent, humourless and furrow-browed musicians at work on stage, the forgotten grandiloquence and seriously affected earnestness, and the many failed musical ventures, rock's dalliance with orchestral forms and forces indeed also produced at times quite enthralling and spine-tingling, and indeed occasionally some of the most exciting musical moments of recent times. None better than the work that a classically- trained rock musician from Leicester still in his late 20s managed to produce in conjunction with one of Northampton's most famous musical sons1 Malcolm Arnold in 1969.
Listening to these albums today arguably produces a finer sense of their merit than was possible at the time, containing marvellously expanded interpretations of unoriginal material as well as their own cleverly-crafted songs, brilliant instrumental work from Jon and Ritchie which still delight, and a quality of musicality that often belies some of the actual material. The first album, Shades of Deep Purple (dedicated to 'Bobby, Chris, Dave and Ravel'!) is a delightful album, but one which would hardly stand the impatient scrutiny of many modern ears: but through the fledgling musical voice and the faded musical language of the time there is an obvious musical and instrumental brilliance for all to hear, such as on stand-out tracks And the Address and Mandrake Root. Generally critically well-received but largely ignored in Britain, the album was successful in the U.S. and a single taken from the album, the enjoyable and catchy cover of Joe South's Hush (with Jon's organ wonderfully dominant), was a No. 4 hit there, and also charted on the Continent and in New Zealand! The Book of Taliesyn, which followed in 1968, was along similar lines with Jon and Ritchie again outstanding especially on such tracks as the instrumental Wring that Neck, the marvellously musical Anthem (with its Bach-like interlude and use of strings), and the great version of Neil Diamond's Kentucky Woman. By the third album, simply called Deep Purple, Jon's organ and Ritchie's solos were particularly evident as integral elements of the Deep Purple sound and appeal: there were stunning rock tracks with outstanding work from Jon and from Ritchie, whose impressive but slightly gauche instrumentality had by then developed into a marvellously free-flowing and dashing style, and from Ian Paice, also really beginning to show why he was soon to become one of the most respected and influential drummers of his generation. There were too a beautiful harpsichord- based song penned by Jon called Blind and a lovely cover of Donovan's Lalena: but Jon's classical leanings were particularly evident on April a three section suite with another baroque orchestral middle section, which concluded this fine album. By the time of the recording of the third album, however, Jon, Ritchie, and Ian had become somewhat dissatisfied with the other two members of the band. After some searching (and a certain acrimony) they recruited two new members from a band called Episode Six, Ian Gillan on vocals and Roger Glover on bass, and it was this second incarnation of the band that would prove to be its classic line-up and the one that was to make Deep Purple one of the most exciting, influential, and commercially successful rock acts of the '70s. For all the obvious musical talent evidenced in the first three albums, up to this time Deep Purple's sound was still to a degree derivative (the influence of such bands as Vanilla Fudge could be mentioned for example) and had not acquired its own mature musical voice. Moreover, because of their hit in the US, they were still regarded by many as just a 'pop' band and somewhat out of tune with the times. As if to affirm all this the first recording of the new band was in fact a pleasant but somewhat oddly-choiced and unsuccessful pop single called Hallelujah, written by the Greenaway/Cooke song-writing team: however it was the next musical venture that was to really propel the group into the musical spotlight of the time - the Concerto for Group and Orchestra. With the addition of a charismatic, handsome, and distinctive singer and at times brilliantly clever lyricist, plus a marvellous bassist and songwriter to a trio of outstanding musicians Deep Purple now had all the essential ingredients to throw down the gauntlet, ride the tide, and become one of the leading progressive rock bands of the era.
Concerto for Group and Orchestra
The group's publisher was Ben Nisbet who fortunately just happened to be a friend of Malcolm Arnold. After Lord had completed some drafts of the score, according to Malcolm5, Nisbet phoned him one day telling him that he had got 'an enthusiast of his' in his office who wanted him to conduct a piece of music he had written. Malcolm had to come up to London from his then home in St. Merryn, near Padstow to conduct a concert soon after and whilst there the two met at his hotel to have a look over the work. Impressed by what he saw - to his eternal credit and to Tony Edward's surprise - Malcolm agreed to take part in the project then and there. The group enthusiastically practised their parts for a week and on 21st went into rehearsals with the LPO. Initially they did not go smoothly by any means. When the group entered the hall the orchestra - already irritated at having to wait around, necessitating Malcolm's becalming words - treated it to a chorus of wolf-whistles and obviously remained to be impressed by this bunch of long-haired popsters. According to Jon he was almost in tears within ten minutes of the musical meeting it sounded so awful, and both producer and manager were equally in despair, sitting in the auditorium with their heads in their hands. One major problem was the sheer volume of the group compared to the 110 piece orchestra6. Ian Gillan, who initially was not himself over-enthusiastic about the event (and word has it only wrote the lyrics to be sung in the second movement on a serviette over a couple of bottles of Chianti on the afternoon of the concert), vividly recalls the strains of the moment: 'The first rehearsal with orchestra and band ended with emotions running high ... There was another very lacklustre effort by the RPO, which prompted our conductor to stop all resentment in a no-nonsense manner that quite shocked us. Increasingly irritated by their attitude, half-way through the first movement, he rapped his baton furiously, raised his hands in the air and said words to the effect of, 'I don't know what you think you're doing. You're supposed to be the finest orchestra in Britain, and you're playing like a bunch of cunts. Quite frankly, with the way its going, you're not fit to be on stage with these guys, so pick yourself up and let's hear some bollocks ... We're going to make history tonight, so we might as well make music while we're doing it'. A female cellist even stormed out at one of the rehearsals proclaiming she had not joined the orchestra to play with 'a second-rate Beatles'. Praise indeed! Fortunately Malcolm again eventually managed to soothe her musical sensibilities and indeed she later apologised to Jon, even going as far as to say that she had in fact enjoyed the experience. There was at least one enthusiastic RPO member however - their brilliant percussionist Tristan Fry, who, as some readers may know, went on to take part in a number of similar projects, play on numerous rock albums of the '70s, and later join the group Sky with John Williams. Indeed slowly things began to improve and the orchestra gradually warmed to their task under Malcolm Arnold's persuasive and obviously patient direction, and when the lights went down in the Albert Hall on Wednesday, 7.30 p.m., 24th September, 1969 none of the initial, intimidating and worrying problems which had so belaboured the days of rehearsals were to be apparent to the approving and grateful audience that awaited them. The concert was billed as a 'Gala Charity Concert in aid of Task Force' and had achieved considerable and valuable prior publicity, resulting in a full hall. The first half of the evening's music was taken up with Arnold's brilliant and exciting, and unaccountably under-rated, three-movement 'Bird' Symphony No.6, which had been completed two years earlier in St. Merryn and premiered in the City Hall, Sheffield in 1968. With its musical eclecticism, its off-beat and marvellously climactic first movement, its enticingly jagged but superbly crafted at times mournful middle movement (including its wonderfully subversive Gil Evans-like jazzy interlude, which according to the composer - ever the dissident musical genius - 'pays tribute ... to a style of Pop music which will be dead by the time the work is performed'), and finally its contrastingly exuberant, almost jolly Con Fuoco third movement, it undoubtedly provided the perfect orchestral setting for what was to follow. Unfortunately, this performance of the 6th Symphony was not recorded for posterity. Arnold's delightful contribution to the evening's music was followed by a short set from the group on their own and comprised of an unsurpassed version, at least recording-wise, of their US hit Hush with Jon's Hammond brilliantly echoing around the Albert Hall, the instrumental Wring that Neck in which Jon and Ritchie showed off their instrumental prowess, and an intriguing early version of their just recorded rock classic Child In Time.7
The stage was now set. The Concerto is conventionally cast three movements with in traditional post-Bach concerto characteristics, but the work does contain certain obvious departures solo-tutti patterns. Whilst from usual the first movement undoubtedly stress on lays the musical difference, in some ways Lord's Group Concertomight be said at times to hark back to earlier 'concerted' combine intentions to contrasting musical forces, though a distinct almost Lisztian-type instrumental rivalry between the group and the certainly dominates orchestra the work. It opens with an adorable and memorable melody played on the clarinet over humming strings, followed by a delightful five-note semi-quaver motif. After a climax the trumpets then repeat the clarinet tune before an enticing merging with variants on the second theme and a lovely passage on plucked strings. Fanfare-like figures based on the first tune intersperse pastoral passages as the strings begin to increase the tension. There is a short lull until an utterly delightful all-too short dance-like tune appears and the group finally, after over 7 minutes, come crashing in and cast the orchestra aside. Ritchie then plays the opening clarinet tune over a primitive rock beat before the group settle into their own absorbing rock groove based on the same tune with the guitarist brilliantly soloing his variations over Roger and Ian's catchy rhythm. The guitar eventually repeats the original melody as the orchestra triumphantly proclaims its return on the French horns followed by an enchanting orchestra interlude. The group soon interrupt once again and Jon plays a brief but lovely solo which is gradually and beautifully soon accompanied by the strings. A short guitar cadenza follows until the orchestra once more reasserts itself leading to an orchestral climax with trumpet figures interrupted by the group. There is a marvellously jazzy clarinet solo before the orchestra builds up once again, and as the group join in the two musical forces come together in aggressive dispute for dominance during the vibrant and climactic closing passages. The ending is pure Holst - whether it is intended as a musical joke of the war of the presented antagonists being finally battled-out and ready to begin dialogue is hard to say. As the first movement dramatically comes to its close the audience cannot contain itself and burst into spontaneous applause, no doubt much to the tut-tutting annoyance of the musical cognoscenti who had also come to cast there uncompromising, critical eye on the proceedings.
If the first movement presents the group and orchestra as more or less incompatible musical protagonists or at least reluctant musical bedfellows, then the melodiousness of the slow middle movement sees them beautifully crafted together in an utterly harmonious interplay. There is a quiet beating orchestral opening accompanying a seductive little tune on the cor anglais leading into another even more enticing and more dominant melody played by the flutes, both of which are to be treated be the group and the orchestra in various ways. The orchestra at first magically muses for a while on the two themes until the strings and flutes delicately begin to introduce the group and Ian's charming first vocal section, superbly sung with the group and the orchestra. The strings merge out of the inspired versed passages accompanied quietly by the group, before the strings take over again and the orchestra rises to a gorgeous musical romance that would not be out of place on an epic Rosza or Korngold Hollywood film. The mood subsides and the organ finally enters to climax once again with the re-introduction of the band as a toneful and graceful guitar passage preludes the second vocal section leading to a sensational and rapturous group/orchestra culmination. Ian closes his lyrical lament on the whole proceedings and the guitar returns to be taken over by the organ and timpani and Ian's drums until the percussion gives way to Jon's Hammond and the splendidly inventive organ cadenza. This is followed by an enchanting pastoral string quartet section - a passage from Howells' Elegy for Solo Viola, String Quartet, and String Orchestra springs to mind - before the orchestra quietly brings this quite majestic movement to an end, and more applause.
The third movement is a magnificent visceral conflagration as the once musical combatants of the first movement now come together to glorious and spine-tingling effect in the Vivace-Presto finale. It is nothing less than stunning, reminiscent in its rhythmic vitality of the 3rd movement of Shostakovich's 6th Symphony or Walton's Johannesburg Festival Overture, as the music sensationally and dramatically ebbs and flows under Malcolm Arnold's enthusiastic and energetic generalship. Foot-stomping rock rhythms and free-wheeling jazzy passages, including tremendous work from Blackmore and Paice, combine with an orchestra in full flow, roused to heights of consorted and absorbing sound with brilliant use of the brass and percussion in particular. If ever there was a group/orchestra musical fusion then this is it and it is easy here to see why Arnold was so immediately taken with score. A dynamic and majestic fanfare of brass chords with percussion herald the orchestra's vibrant intentions as it leads into an attractive and full-blooded 6/8 rhythm repeatedly punctuated by the brass. The timpani join in and percussion cleverly begins to dominate the energetic phrasing before the opening brass figures return. After another percussive flurry the band joins in finally propelling the returning orchestra into a brilliant dance-like frolic. There is a short guitar passage before the orchestra and the group now bind together in rhythmic partnership, continually exchanging and weaving in and out in flurries of dynamic high-tension and 'earthy cadences', the two instrumental forces no longer incompatible but interlocked in an orgy of high-energy musical exuberance. As the orchestra delightfully chugs along the guitar really starts to let loose in a flowing lyrical display, followed by Jon's Hammond organ swirling around the hall over Ian drums and Roger's pleasing bass phrasing, the lilting strings now barely audible. The exciting rhythms rise up and fall away with winds and percussion in unison against the strings. The orchestra then once again builds itself up into a climax until the group briefly takes over only to give way to Ian Paice and the lengthy but compulsive drum cadenza. The rest of the percussion gallery finally join with the drummer over the audience's applause and the brass once again announces the return to the energetic 6/8 rhythm. The movement is now enveloped in absorbing and ebullient musical invention as the orchestra begins to run along at breathtaking pace impelled by the percussion and brilliant brass phrases until the powerful intervention of the amplified instrumentalists during which the guitar has a brief passage of joyous prevalence before the strings swirl and the orchestra begins to rise to a fever pitch with the drums, timpani, and the piccolos. The music at full stretch, the group arrive to join the orchestra in one headlong and dynamic build-up to a climax. The horns brilliantly proclaim the end and the group and orchestra combine toward one final thundering chord.
A thrill from start to finish. The mind seems unable to wander, transfixed by the unfolding musical dramas, and listening to it today on CD, it all seems over much too quickly. The largely young audience showed there undoubted appreciation applauding for a quarter of an hour. Indeed such was the rapture of the moment that Malcolm was forced to lead the group and orchestra into a repeat of the last passages of the 3rd movement, once again to tumultuous applause.
The film of the concerto's performance called Best of Both Worlds was broadcast soon after on BBC 2's Omnibus programme and in several other countries. It was released on video in the early '80s, but is now once again available on video with original documentary material narrated by Ned Sherrin, along with pictures, film of rehearsals, and Lord and Arnold in conversation. Unfortunately it also contains two substantial cuts, probably ending up on the editor's floor and never to be seen again: the long orchestral opening is reduced to just over 3 minutes, while the drum cadenza is cut from 4¼ minutes to a mere 2¼ minutes. Nonetheless it perhaps manages to capture more clearly than the recording, the sheer excitement and euphoria of the evening's events. Indeed it provides intriguing viewing, not least for the eye-opening and contrasting reactions in the hall; from the joyless and haughty solemnity of the severe concert-goer and some sour-faced elderly members of the RPO to the more pleasing sight of ecstatic youngsters and whole families smiling and applauding together. At the end even many of the orchestra are engulfed in broad smiles, and watching now over 25 years on it remains a quite thrilling, quite glorious musical experience for anyone wishing to enjoy it.
There is of course no pleasing some people. And if you desperately want to find faults and shoot the organist you undoubtedly will. Some of the pop critics did not know quite what to make of it all but on the whole showed a remarkable and worthy reticence of judgement, and even though, as is to be expected, a few grunted their irritation and own inverted snobberies with the inevitable and feeble-headed accusations of pretentiousness, generally seemed to enjoy the experience. Not so a number of the other more 'serious' commentators who certainly were not going to let any youthful headiness over the night's music confuse or colour their self-important and puritan critical faculties. But whether the reviews were favourable or not and if sadly, though hardly unsurprisingly, it did not significantly capture the public's imagination as a whole (nor did it chart in Britain, though it did reach 149 on the US Billboard charts) the Group Concerto certainly did cause 'a bit of a stir'. The composer himself seemed a little bemused by all the needless controversy and mindless opinion he had instigated. The album of the concert was released in December and, although it is hard to understand why a composer should have to defend such a dramatically enjoyable and exciting musical work, Jon was led to remark on the sleeve: 'What puzzles me, is that an evening which was intended to be, and in fact (as witnessed by a very large and glorious audience) turned out to be, FUN, should be treated by some with such long-faced seriousness'. However, at least Malcolm's daughter and her friends and the honoured guests invited along by Malcolm, Sir William and Lady Walton and the Boulting brothers were more than happy with what they had heard; indeed Malcolm later told Jon that Walton had said that he had enjoyed every minute of it, which must have pleased the composer immensely - Malcolm says he was a bit afraid of pop musicians to tell Jon himself!8 Malcolm had no such worries and says that he very much enjoyed working with the band and thought very highly of their musicianship: Ian, he says, 'sang beautifully', adding 'unusual for a pop singer', and was impressed too by the work of the guitarist; but he seems to have been particularly taken with little Ian's drumming - he played the longest drum roll Malcolm has ever heard for the National Anthem! He describes Jon as 'a bloody fine musician'9, and was quoted at the time as saying: 'I have never heard before of a pop musician who could compose and score a work like this. Mr.Lord's Concerto is witty and lively'. Indeed it was and the vital contribution of the evening's conductor to its undoubted success would be hard to underestimate and Lord himself says as much on the record sleeve: and Ian Gillan too remarks in his recent book that 'it was only Malcolm's enthusiasm and energy that kept the whole thing alive'. Not merely did Arnold help the young composer with some of the revisions of the score (and more than once the orchestral phrasing certainly seems to bear his mark, especially in the third movement), but he also performed the work with a vigorous vitality and positive creativity that undoubtedly acted as the central medium through which the group and the orchestra were able to come together; the brilliant performance of the RPO brass section, for instance, was I am sure in part due to the presence of Arnold, who, of course, had started his own musical career as an outstanding trumpeter with the LPO - it was Malcolm who had insisted on a full quota of brass10. It must be remembered also that the group itself had only just recently acquired two new members and for it to perform with such undoubted confidence and tightness in front of a sceptical and seasoned orchestra must have had something to do with the open and encouraging character of the maestro. There are few if any signs of jagged edges and it sounds as if the orchestra and the group had been playing together for a whole season - though perhaps the tensions of the rehearsals in the end only helped to create an even more intense and more vibrant syncretism of ostensibly alien musical forces.
Although undoubtedly a success - at least as far as most of those who were privileged enough to witness the event were concerned - and the rest of the group were at first more than pleased with the outcome of the concert (and it had certainly enhanced the band's reputation), it did lead to friction in the group; some of whom became distinctly annoyed at Jon's raised profile within an essentially (at the time) democratic band and worried that it had confused people's image of them as first and foremost a rock band. Although Blackmore was and still is a great fan of classical music11 the guitarist wanted the band to be a 'hard rock' outfit and was concerned that people might get confused. Some were. When Deep Purple arrived at the Leas Cliff in Folkestone some weeks later they were greeted by a promoter who wanted to know where the orchestra was. A club owner in Stoke even hired a local brass band to play with them as he had been unable to book an orchestra! After a considerable amount of anguish and internal accusation during which the keyboard player was all set to leave the band at one point, a compromise was eventually reached: Lord committed himself to the group's new album, destined to become a rock classic, while the rest of the band grudgingly agreed to perform the Concerto in the US in August 1970 at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra12 as well as take part in Lord's next project with an orchestra, commissioned by the BBC almost immediately after the Concerto, back in England the following September: from then on Lord's classical inclinations were to be his own affair, not Deep Purple's. But by the time of the American concert however even Jon was to have lost most of his enthusiasm for another outing of his already much-maligned work.
Gemini Suite Live
The first part of the concert was taken up with a performance of Rhapsody in Blue, but it was not recorded. The central, genial and smiling figure of Malcolm Arnold then took the stage again, this time with the featured instrumentalists for a quite breathtaking concert. There is at times a restive and ragged almost volatile edge to the instrumental dramas, and a definite hint of the under-rehearsed: indeed according to Malcolm, the concert was not well-prepared at all as there was little or no time to get the orchestral players accustomed to the score and working with the band; as he also stressed the orchestra was not quite in the same class as the RPO and he remembers that it lost its way on at least one occasion requiring a smart bit of conductorship - though this is not especially evident on the recording. Yet in some ways these otherwise difficult circumstances only seem to increase the exhilarating effect of the musical experience which unfolds and for all the special efforts required Malcolm says it was a very enjoyable experience13.
The work begins with the guitar movement and Blackmore pulls off a tremendous tinder-like performance, though it is not without the odd imprecision. It kicks off with what appears to be a quote/lift from the opening of Vaughan Williams's Galliard of the Sons of the Morning from Job, which introduces a delightful orchestral flourish involving brass, winds, timpani, and plucked strings, until the guitar, brass and percussion take over. The movement is dominated by a simple 3 figure riff soon introduced by the guitar on its own. The winds and strings interrupt and after a lovely tune played by the oboes, the orchestra takes up the theme in a march, almost dirge- like fashion, with the strings delightfully skipping along beside, before the radiant guitar and the group join to briefly take over on their own. The timpani continue the beat as the catchy oboe tune is played once again, joined eventually by the brass. There is climax and the rhythm speeds up as Ian's drums drive the beat along and the winds, strings, and guitar and eventually brass engage in marvellous interplay. There is short, attacking, but somewhat wildish guitar cadenza comprising mainly of two- and three note flurries before quietening down to re-introduce the riff. The orchestra returns and builds to another climax as another Paicey drum pattern begins to take hold once more and the orchestra moves along with the guitar overlaying a lovely solo until taking part in a boisterous final romp. The music then once more subsides and the guitar quietly and beautifully plays out.
The composer himself is the soloist in the next movement. It is a somewhat obtuse though utterly intriguing affair. It sits uncomfortably alone amongst the six movements and at times seems to be composed with defiantly perplexing musical priorities in mind, with the playful agitations of The Miraculous Mandarin contrasted with the more elegiac idioms of a Virgil Thomson, as Jon's organ meanders in and out of the sometimes unusual and bleak and sometimes seductive orchestral accompaniment, seemingly almost at odds with the orchestra, as if it refuses to become a musical friend, remaining difficult, with punctuating dissonances. Indeed whilst the orchestration is thrillingly juxtaposed to an abdurant soloist it has the quality of the unfinished and it was the only movement to be almost completely recast in the studio version: nonetheless it repays the considered attention of the ears. There is another lovely orchestral opening before the organ begins to dominant in harsh tones clashing with its orchestra, which seems to try to match the harsh tone as well as flirt in a more pleasing lyricism. There are beautiful passages interspersed with Jon almost playing a musical devil's advocate. The organ cadenza has Jon switching from violent musical attacks upon his instrument to brief poetic touches. There is much interesting, rapidly altering musical interplay with the orchestra occasionally interrupted by contrasting harmoniousness. The orchestra's tuneful gambol over a vibrant rhythm begins to dominant the movement in a modernistic pastiche as the music builds to a very Shostakovich- like climax and the brass display over the vibrant strings and winds to a great finish until the soloist after a brief flourish accompanied by a gradually more vigorous orchestra seems to mellow in unison and with the orchestra and celebrates its triumph in a glorious manner accompanied by the drums. The organ finally winds down as if all washed up.
The vocal section begins with a lovely sweeping and lyrical orchestral parade dominated by the strings very reminiscent of Elgar's Sospiri for Strings until Ian enters - 'Oh how I wish that I wasn't here ...'. The orchestra provide a beautiful accompaniment with beautiful delicate touches from the cor anglais during the second verse. Ian sings well, though he is reported to have been once again finalising the words only moments before the performance, and possibly it shows. There is a gripping climax before Ian returns with an exuberant and more optimistic vocals accompanied by the group, simple brass, and finally the rest of the orchestra. Nice bass from Roger too as Ian characteristically 'screams' over the pleasing climax ended by the guitar. The music then proceeds straight into the bass movement with its vibrant musical interplay of soloist and orchestra and the brass providing almost continual repartee. After some lively orchestral playing the bass enters into combat with the drums and brass before the bass is left to itself and the instrumentalist plays a warmly affecting solo, with its brief touch of humour. Roger sets a vibrant rhythm for the orchestra to return once more with the bass still interchanging its patterns against the brass and drums and eventually the rest of the orchestra until quietly concluding with a delectable accompaniment from the cor anglais. Given the tonal limitations of the instrument it is a most successful and wonderfully musical moment. Similarly the drum movement is quite remarkable with Ian's drum sound equalling a Gene Krupa for sheer power and excitement. The interplay of the orchestra and the drums, with cleverly dominant brass figures, really begins to show how ostensibly incompatible or rather unusual musical counterpoises can provide such exhilarating and joyful music. The drum solo is outstanding. And after some more charmed interaction the music develops into a percussive battle before the orchestral forces rejoin for a lively and enjoyable passage home. Paice's performance was greeted with the most instantaneous appreciation on the night and undoubtedly earned the applause of the audience and his fellow band members as well as the generous conductor himself.
The Finale is quite marvellous as the instrumental forces engage in a quite thrilling nigh primal conflict and the different musical styles combine for a sparkling display of musical strife with quick changing rhythmic patterns akin to the last movement of the Concerto. It begins with impulsive and racy instrumentality between strings, winds, and brass, punctuated by the organ. There is some tantalising orchestral writing including the piano, before the organ announces a stunning climax and the group dramatically enter the proceedings as the electric nervous energy of the concert really begins to let rip. There is a passage of skipping Prokofiev-like friskiness until the music quietens down and the group and orchestra lead up to a jazzy crescendo and a great leap into a full- blooded group work-out led along by exhilarating drums from Ian and brass riffs. There is a return to the splendid interplay of the opening and another rocky episode where Ritchie lets fly over a high-powered jazzy brass phrasing. Proceedings are briefly brought to a halt as an almost stately stringed melange reminiscent of Ligeti marvellously intrudes upon the unfolding musical sorcery. The brass sing a doleful tune over the stringed 'atmospheres' until another climax and Roger's exquisite bass proceeds into another great free-wheeling band passage impelled along once again by a jazzy brass impulse, leading to a false ending. The band galvanised once again by the orchestra brilliantly dominate proceedings once more as Ritchie produces some quite stunning playing. There is yet another crescendo of musical forces before the orchestra and group engage each other in fast, dramatic, gripping and changeful musicality, until another false ending, followed by a brief rising violin, and the final climax.
Despite all the ensuing doubts and difficulties in and out of the concert hall, and although in this original version the work does not quite have the instrumental cohesiveness of the studio version or the Concerto, Arnold, the group and the orchestra nonetheless bring off a quite miraculous if highly- strung musical entertainment, with some quite awe-inspiring passages of instrumental interplay.
Gemini Suite Studio
There is less of the Shostakovichian-type dramaturgy, the Arnoldesque vivacity, and the fortississimo group-orchestra work-outs of the Concerto, with a real exhaustive and eclectic mix of musical styles, containing certain nicely juxtaposed modernistic elements alongside the composer's stunning use of jazzy grooves and a more restrained but equally sparkling rock instrumentality, as well as brilliantly inspired orchestral writing. A more thoughtful and less instantaneously visceral experience it may be, the newly constructed work nonetheless reveals the utterly inspiring and glorious musicality which comes from the interplay of the vitality of the rock soloist and its infectious and ingratiating musical language with the grandest musical instrument humankind has yet managed to devise - the orchestra. What the studio recording of Gemini Suite loses in immediate physical excitement is more than made up for by the sheer polished craftsmanship of the studio performance as the true compositional strength, depth, and variety of the music are brought to bear and the rock and orchestral forces are brilliantly integrated into a majestic musical whole. In one of his more gloomier moments Jon once later described his composition as somewhat contrived, as if it were somehow lacking the genuineness of the Concerto: in fact, with Gemini Suite, he acquires a truly impressive musical voice and the work is by any standards a quite outstanding achievement, a superlative entertainment, and a charmed and peerless addition to the British musical landscape of the late C20th. Arnold himself described the piece as 'very good indeed' and is his favourite out of the three he worked on with Jon, adding that he felt it was much more accomplished than the Concerto.16
Vocal is here a real standout movement with its gloriously catchy melodiousness and its hint of the vibrancy of a '60s stage musical finale. For this studio version Jon re-wrote his own lyrics, a worthy paean for tolerance and peace, and the two soloists bring off a marvellous indeed moving lyrical display amid the noble orchestral exultation - though Ashton's characterful offbeat gravely voice might be considered an acquired taste by some. Albert Lee's Guitar movement is a more measured affair than Blackmore's, beautifully played, and, though the dizzy and exhilarating atmosphere of the live version is to some extent inevitably missing, Lee brings off a superbly executed performance; his lovely and longer cadenza certainly outshines the brief and hurried flurries of Ritchie's concert solo in terms of its musicality, even if we also lose the original, beautiful closing diminuendo. Ian Paice performs once more with the bravura of a master at his beloved instrument with a dashing display of percussive technic and a finely judged and mature interplay with the orchestral forces: percussion dominates yet does not completely imperialise the affairs of the movement, and Drums becomes a most delightful and marvellously engaging musical miniature. Roger, in many ways always the 'unsung hero' of Deep Purple, too repeats his own brilliantly 'concerted' drama with his characteristic rhythmical panache and absorbs with his instrument, once again belying any of the supposable limitations of the melodic soundscape of his chosen instrument, providing a worthy canvas and wonderfully musical roundness to the whole proceedings.
Jon himself is the soloist in the two other movements which as the longer of the six movements now shape the work into an opus of quite stunning and enduring quality. The piano movement is a glorious addition to the work and contains some of the real highlights of the studio version. It begins with Jon playing a wonderful solo over Roger's clever bass and Ian's catchy drums, before the orchestra brilliantly interrupt. There is clever interplay between orchestra and soloist, including a delightful frolic, before a quite stupendous build up into a magnificent march-like section as Jon plays a lovely piano over a four-figure brass riff and percussion - a real high spot this: the music then pauses and the brass gives way to just percussive accompaniment. Pizzicato strings signal the end of this superlative section as the music leads into Jon's cadenza, absolutely absorbing, with its apparent faint nod to Gershwin, and containing some exquisitely skilful but perfectly restrained and graceful playing, impressing musically rather than virtuosically. The plucked strings return to accompany Jon's play-out until the orchestra also joins in to a crescendo for an organ glissando and whirling strings to signal the end of this outstanding movement.
Organ too is a delight from beginning to end as the dominant and slightly cacophonous indulgences and 'difficult' modulations of the original version are replaced by a packed and free-flowing musical perambulation of sustained musical interest. It is probably the most substantial and certainly at nearly 12 minutes the longest of the six movements, and it truly begins to reveal what a resounding and sophisticated entertainment can be achieved when the progressive musical language of rock begins to explore and engage other musical horizons to create a musical grandeur all its own. There is an enchanting orchestral prelude transposed slightly revised from the opening of the Finale of the original version. Although the wonderful interplay of the orchestra and the organ does not quite have the same thrilling and 'hot' instrumental wizardry of the Festival Hall concert, the music nonetheless builds up after a few false climaxes and engaging variously-styled interludes into a dramatic crescendo for the entry of the organ as Jon unleashes into a brilliant rock solo over Roger and Ian's driving rhythm. This is soon accompanied by nice brass phrases and then by a fuller orchestral accompaniment until the winds and the timpani provide a quick vivacious relief on their own. The organ then begins once more to engage in spirited exchanges with the orchestral forces including another thrilling organ passage over jazzy trumpet riffs. This festal musical mood is then halted by that funereal Ligeti-type stringed passage with the brass, as in the original Finale, cleverly and mournfully counterpoised. The organ re-enters once again over an arresting lilting bass figure as Lord pulls off a sparkling and this time more lengthy solo, until finally casting off with another false ending sounded on the trumpets. The work now repeats the final passages of the original version as the music takes on quick-changing musical temperaments including scrawny strings, a pastoral oboe, and various sportive frivolities and a final build-up with Roger's bass, a solo violin ascending, and the fabulous close. It is superior stuff indeed and puts the seal on an utterly outstanding and inimitable piece of compositional workmanship, thoroughly entertaining, overflowing with winning musical ideas and consummate instrumentality. Who could possibly concern themselves with feigning a harrowed artistic sensibility before the unholy joy of such hallowed musical amenity?
Lord and Eberhard Schenor
Since that time there have been an untold number of plans for concerts and projects involving Lord's rock/orchestral music, nearly all of which have sadly never come to fruition. Harlech TV had plans for a concert to be performed at Carnarvon Castle back in the '70s and Gemini Suite was nearly performed again in London in the early '80s. Arrangements for a tour of Europe with the Czechoslovakian Radio Orchestra and rock soloists were all but completed in 1991 before it ultimately had to be cancelled. The quite tantalising prospect of a concert with the great Jacques Loussier was heard a while back but sadly this too never took place. A few years ago a conductor in northern England was even pursuing plans for a repeat performance of the Concerto but apparently the score could not be found - though a copy has since emerged. Recently Jon has been promising to redo it himself sometime soon, but I wouldn't hold your breath, especially given the current musical renaissance of his rock band. Given all these disappointments over the years Lord's musical collaboration with Malcolm Arnold has taken on even more treasured musical eminence, and perhaps we should be thankful for what we have got.
'Let us say down, down, down with the music critics before they make our music the arid and joyless music of the concentration camp' Malcolm Arnold, 3rd June 1971
'I'm proud of it', Lord once remarked about the Concerto, but added, 'I react to some parts, because it might sound overly pompous and perhaps a bit naive'. Indeed sadly, belaboured with such unappreciated and unfashionable musical skills, Jon appears to have gone through periods of disillusionment with his rock/orchestral compositions, which in no way reflect the outstanding quality of the music he has written. Although his rock career has hardly ever been less than busy with varying results before Deep Purple's reunion 1984, the reasons Lord has subsequently so rarely indulged in the fulfilment of his ex curricula orchestral ambitions and capabilities are not hard to understand. To begin with, as others - like the great Frank Zappa for example - have found to their exasperating cost and indeed as the number of failed projects itself shows, there is the simple logistics and costs involved in working to put on performances with an orchestra. Moreover amid such a dominant critical scepticism about popular music's involvement in classical forms of composition, especially in Britain19, it causes a lot of anguish and takes a lot of courage and personal belligerence for any creative artist to engage in projects that in the first place consume vast amounts time and money, and secondly have little chance of ever being properly appreciated, requiring little empathy from the puny-minded and small-hearted fashion-conscious opinionists of cultural esteem, especially when there is so much else to fillip the insecure ego. 'I don't particularly want to do another classical album for two reasons. First, it's very time-consuming and it's also questionable if it's enjoyable to people', Lord was ruefully led to remark after Gemini Suite. For those who like to use the superficialities of musical taste more as a fashion accessory or as a means to social distinction and intellectual superiority or indeed for those who like to belittle other people's musical enjoyments and to specify the musical horizons of the human temperament it is easy meat. Stranded between two still well-boarded cultural barriers Lord, and indeed Arnold, are accused on the one hand of trying to intellectualise popular music and on the other of degrading the art of serious music composition. Though why such pointless and petty presumptions and crack-brained encumbrances upon the soul of humankind should have come to so plague the uniquely liberating and untethering world of music-making hardly baffles the human mind, they do remain a quite interesting statement about the self-deceiving cultural credulities and spiritual inadequacies of our species. In the October just prior to the release of the studio Gemini Suite Arnold wrote: 'One of the great curses of the present day is our apparent need to be regimented, and I would suggest that we could use the freedom that the arts give for a wide variety of expression in a wide variety of styles, as an antidote to our narrow lives'. Here was a humanitarian and democratic spirit wanting to embrace rather than exclude the different temperaments and humours of the human soul from the musical landscapes of our all too myopic cultural vision. Sir Malcolm rates the music highly and obviously has very fond memories of his work with Jon and the 'marvellous group' - there is certainly no hint of regret. Indeed it is the eclecticism, the far- ranging emotional appeal, the ebullience and immediate vitality, the obvious generosity, the personal integrity, the humour and uncandid charm as much as the intrinsic ever-flowing musicality of his compositional gift which go to constitute the supreme achievement that is Arnold's own oeuvre. And it is this fraternal and hospitable musical spirit to whom Lord owes so much, for it was an artistic fellowship that bore great fruit. In their own way the Concerto and Gemini Suite along with Lord's two other orchestral/ rock works to date constitute a unique and utterly worthy contribution to the history of British music. If cultural circumstances and the dominant musical intent of our times had evolved differently ... but if people wilfully refuse to accept such gifts of musical friendship then so be it. Even if Lord's musical language does not tend toward the big all-conquering tune which capture the imagination and sensibilities of all but the most willed of musical elitists and esoterists, had cultural circumstances and musical mythologies been different, it is not hard to imagine Lord developing into a Gershwin-like figure. As far as Sir Malcolm Arnold's involvement in this musical interface is concerned, if some see this episode of his life as merely the inevitable occasional folly of an essentially maverick spirit, then they have surely failed to recognise the utterly wholesome and joyful and anarchic musical animus that so obviously possesses the great composer. There is no fallible human temperament or wayward artistic ethos that needs to be explained away. There are no musical contradictions or personal idiosyncrasies that need to be understood except those of the petty and mean critical prejudices of the pompous and the pretentious. In an interview for a hospital radio in Huddersfield in 1970 Malcolm Arnold struck a benevolent, estimable, and perfectly proper tone to the nature of these musical proceedings.
Interviewer: I don't know how
familiar our listeners are with a pop group called Deep Purple, but you have been involved
with them too.
If this immensely satisfying music is ignored and so wilfully under- appreciated21, ridiculed even, despite the obvious enjoyments to be had, its critical depreciation has little to do with the outstanding quality of the music itself, and much more to do with the human psychologies and sociologies of cultural opiniatry. Though there is nothing more laughable than the inevitable monumental indignance of criticised critics, Arnold himself felt the need to give vent to his feelings in an article which appeared in the Guardian 3rd June 1971 and said much of what needs to be said about the lazy, bone-headed and cold-hearted, and so often, utterly spiritless attitudes that prevail over so much music criticism in Britain. In our so-called post-modern age, there are of course certain quarters of pluralistic appreciation: indeed some infantile critical bum- baylies are already getting their knickers in a twist over our apparent cultural shoddiness with furrowy-browed incantations of 'relativism'. Yet this supposedly rustic and unsmart stigma upon our common cultural proprieties could hardly begin to lay a brick before the towering babelism that constitutes the guff, the dour, tedious and forever predictable stipulating adjudications of so many emotionally handicapped journalists which so becloud the immediacies of our musical bliss and indeed which have done so much to create the pretentiousness and intellectual folly that surrounds our musicmaking: viz. the restrictive worlds of the 'in' and the 'out', the trendy and the unfashionable, the 'happening' and the ignored; the crippling infatuation with the notions of masterpiece, the great, and the genius; the demented necessities of ranking and filing; the obsession with airs of seriousness and the disparagement of musical humour; the idolisation of virtuosity and cleverness over musical effect, the grotesque pretensions of intellectuality over sheer mental and physical delight, the pomposities of solemn judgement over experience; the equally specious laudation of the simple and the popular over considered musicality and the adulations of 'attitude' and dress over musical content; the hype of credibility and the mythic contrivances of incorrect taste, the tyranny of the 'repertoire' and the cultisms of the esoteric and the little known - all of which merely becloud the purity and simplicity of the musical experience. Light a candle to all those who find the music to voice the inexpressible joy and goodness of their soul wherever they find it - for it requires no critical apologia. It is as if the possible spiritual power or simply the personal emotional attachments of our music temperaments necessarily had anything to do with some designated quality of musical technique or supposed sophistication. As if a love of country music made you a cowboy. As if you had to be a walking tragedy and black to play the blues. As if the string quartet was the exclusive preserve of the social sophisticate. Let seriously pretentious music indulge the seriously pretentious. To state the obvious, the health of the human soul as effected by music is not dependent upon the height of one's brow or being able to distinguish a diminished 5th from a dominant 7th - if it were there would be no worthwhile audience to listen to music. This is not necessarily an argument for the bliss of musical ignorance - but even that is equally entitled to establish the spiritual gift of its musical joy without judgement. It is not important to be a jazz fan to be able to enjoy Rhapsody in Blue or Prelude, Fugue and Riffs or Ebony Concerto or indeed Contrasts; but it may well help to have a musical heart that can appreciate the full spiritual experiences of the different musical languages of our disparate species - white and black, west and east, popular and serious, the dance and the contemplative, the virtuosic and the simple, the untutored and the learned, the city and the country, the study and the street, the privileged and the people, etc. It is only music and it's more fun to try to like than dislike. 'Music is music and that's it for me', Jon once said in an interview. 'All I'm doing is trying to write an alternative form of music to the sort I'm involved in with Deep Purple. I'm a classically-trained musician and I'm a rock musician. Thus it's only natural to me. I do it because I want to think of myself as a musician, as complete as I can be within my own limitations.' Enough said. And given the far-ranging musical voice of so much of Sir Malcolm Arnold's work it is hard to think that he would not agree. 'I have never been in fashion, so I can never be out of fashion. This is not a witticism, it is a stoic truth', Arnold once remarked. Jon Lord would say much the same. As the landscape of popular music has ever more fractionalised into reductionist and stereotypical images and classifications, the conventional mythic wisdoms of pop historiography has confined Deep Purple to a critical categorisation totally unrelated to and quite unworthy of the canvas of their near 30 year musical legacy - occasional lapses of quality notwithstanding. The snobberies and grandiosities of pop critics, especially in Britain - who have long-since needed to listen to the band's music with any degree of interest - outclass any of those associated with the elevated pretensions of classical music lovers and sour-faced jazz aficionados put together. Even though his classical and jazz origins are never far from the surface, Jon Lord has apparently been happy to remain first and foremost a rock musician and, his 'legendary' band, despite having fallen off the pop conveyer belt many years ago, continue to strive and sell records throughout the world despite all the changes - however ego- threatening their name has become for those who wish above all else to be 'cool'. But just as so much brilliant British music has managed to conquer and outlive the stinging cultural epithet of the 'cowpat' and to override some of the awful musical disparagement with which it has had to live over the years, and indeed just as Sir Malcolm is now fashionable and is finally being accorded a critical recognition that matches the scale of his musical achievement, so perhaps the best of the rock/orchestral musical detente which was so conspicuous in the late '60s and early '70s will in time have a wider appreciation which goes in some way to reflect the impressive magnitude of its finest musical achievements. Life's too short. It is only music: 'It's purpose is communication, entertainment, and the wider apart the different branches of it get, the less the chance there is of it becoming what it is - a world saver'. Let's, like Sir Malcolm, be large-minded and full-hearted and unite and liberate the world with music wherever and whenever we can and not use it merely to divide and estrange. Let us hope that Malcolm Arnold's collaboration with Jon Lord can in its own little way show what sheer musical delights can be achieved when musicians are brave enough to attempt to unshackle the conditioning cultural manacles with which humankind has managed to bridle the soundscape of its earthly life. In life there can be no last word in music so let us enjoy rather than judge.
1. Arnold was born in Northampton in
1921, but the town can also boast two other famous composers of a slightly earlier
generation, William Alwyn (1905-1985) and Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986).
Bibliographical and Discographical
Lord/Arnold CD Discography
Other Jon Lord rock/orchestral
Lord also contributed 6 delightful orchestral miniatures for the soundtrack to the Central Independent Television series Diary of an Edwardian Lady, The Central Concert Orchestra/Alfred Ralston (Safari DIARY 1). The rest of the music was composed by veteran composer and conductor Alfred Ralston some of which is based upon Jon's original themes. This extremely rare and long since deleted LP recording is not and very unlikely ever to be available on CD. It was released virtually unnoticed even in 1984.
Before I Forget (RPM 126) is a superb and varied but more mainstream collection of songs and instrumentals that includes a rollicking workover of Bach's famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor called Back onto This, a brilliant track based on Thomas Tallis' Tender Babes, as well as some soulful ballads and other quieter pieces; though there is also a pleasant but somewhat uninspired version of Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess (credited to Lord!) which was not included on the original 1982 record.
Finally, Jon has just completed a new orchestral/rock CD in Germany which will be released sometime soon.
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