Nick Simper Interview from "Darker than Blue", July 1983

Interviewed by Simon Robinson

 


(This starts with Simper recounting how Deep Purple were formed. Simper talks about his band at the time, The Flowerpot Men, and an organist who worked for them.) 
SIMPER - Some nights we had Jon, some nights a guy called Barry Kingston who works for Southern Music, but they offered Jon the job permanently and it was damn good money, regular money and a retainer. Around this time he met Coletta and Edwards through Chris Curtiss from the Searchers.

SIMON - They were supposed to be sharing a flat or something?

SIMPER - Well I heard they met at a party. Me and Carlo Little were supposed to be forming a group with Ritchie Blackmore before the Flowerpot Men thing actually, when we were with Billy Davies. We didn't like the clubs really. I did quite a lot of singing in those days but I was suffering from chronic tonsilitis. I used to do a couple of rock'n'roll numbers before Billy came on and at the end of the night I'd be dribbling blood. We saw Ritchie in Hamburg when we were over with Billy and he put it to Carlo that me and Carlo came over and worked with him and formed a trio. The idea was that Ritchie could get a load of work; we'd live in Hamburg and try to springboard it from there, but it would stay as a trio and I'd sing. I bottled out at the last minute. There's no way I'd get through a nights singing. I'd got enough nerve, I'd done it with the Pirates and got away with reasonably well but my throat was in such a state.

Back with the Flowerpot Men, me and Carlo were saying to Lord that we should do something, let's get Ritchie over to join us. I think that's how Jon found about Ritchie 'cos he didn't know who he was. We told him he was the greatest guitarist, and I think that when he was asked by Chris Curtiss about a guitarist, he said well I've heard about this Ritchie Blackmore - Curtiss obviously knew him - see Jon had come from Leicester but all the Londoners knew Ritchie, he'd lived in Southall like a mile from my house and he'd played with Carlo in Lord Sutch, so we were urging Jon all the time. Somehow Bobby Woodman got involved, I can't recall how and then Jon said to me Would you give up all the money we're getting in the Flowerpot Men, a regular 150 pounds or so, for a small wage to do what we want to do and I said give me the chance! He said well I know a couple of businessmen that are willing to put some money up, will you give it a go and I said yeah. I said who've you got on drums? I told Carlo I was going to split and form a group withJon and Carlo was a bit upset, sort of why hadn't he been asked, so I asked Jon and he said he'd got Bobby Woodman, who was Carlo's idol, a living legend - the original UK rock'n'roll drummer, first guy to use double bass drums and all that so Carlo couldn't say much after that!

SIMON - Was his name Woodman or Clarke or both?

SIMPER - Bobby Clarke yeah. He called himself that when he was with Vince Taylor.

SIMON - So there was you, Jon, Woodman and Ritchie. Did Curtiss ever do anything?

SIMPER - No. Actually he turned up later at the studio's with that orange label demo, he walked in and we said what are you doing here and he said Tony Edwards asked me down. He said I'm going to produce this, and Ritchie said well if you're going to fucking produce it I'm not going to play on it and walked out. Chris was kind of mooning around and drifted out into the street so we shut the door and got on with it.

SIMON - Which demo was that?

SIMPER - The one with Shadows on it

SIMON - So it is Rod Evans on there?

SIMPER - Yeah. That was the only time I ever saw Chris Curtiss. He was hovering, wanting to know what was going on. To start with it was, well Ritchie and Bobby moved into Deeves Hall a week before us 'cos they never had anywhere to stay. Me and Jon were living with my Mum and Dad, then we moved into Deeves Hall and they bought the equipment in from Jim Marshall set it all up and put an advert in the Melody Maker.

SIMON - This was very early 68.

SIMPER - March or the first week of April.

SIMON - So Dave Curtiss was never actually around?

SIMPER - Dave Curtiss I met at Jon's flat when Jon moved out of there to my parents, 'cos we were introduced. I remembered him from Dave curtiss and the Tremors. He was quite a nice singer but not for us. We wanted a guy called Terry Reid but he wasn't interested, he was an amazing singer. We were sitting in Deeves Hall the four of us, started writing and Bobby clearly just wasn't interested in our sort of music, he was still living in the Johnny Kidd era - great days, but we'd seen Vanilla Fudge which turned us on and we wanted to create something new, but he wasn't interested so it just used to be the three of us trying to write things. One night we had a party invited a few friends and Tony Tacon came along. I said we needed a singer and hesaid what about Gillan? And I said yeah, what's he doing - he was with Episode Six so although I didn't know him personally, just to say howdo to. He'd always seemed a bit distant when I'd met him at gigs, 'cos he was usually in the support group supporting the Bergeracs [Nick's old group] once I remember, and I said to Tony would you ask him, tell him what we've got 'cos you've seen it all - he was obviously impressed, banks of Marshalls, nice big house! Tell Gillan what it's all about ask him if he's interested in coming down and having a blow.

The next night Tony rang me up and said, I can remember almost the exact words, he said I've spoken to Gillan and he's not interested. He says you'll never get anywhere and Episode Six are gonna make it big. I said oh well, tell him where to stick it! 'Cos he was flash, came across like that. The others didn't know who he was and they said what about your mate and I said he's not interested. I asked Roger Truth to come down and audition as a drummer, he didn't want to know.

SIMON - Didn't you mention someone else earlier, Mick ...?

SIMPER - Mick Angus. He was the first to turn up from the MM advert. We used to go down to the station at Boreham Wood and there'd be twenty guys there all looking at each other, "you come for the audition?" I was having to ferry them backwards and forwards in my Jag, 4 guys at a time, put them in a room, make them coffee and all that.

SIMON - So Rod Evans was one of the guys at the station then?

SIMPER - Yeah, it was actually Rod Freeman the guy out of the Flintstones that picked him up, I remembered that because they recognised each other at once.

SIMON - What was he doing around?

SIMPER - Oh he was working at the Reading Top Rank with Rick Wakeman, he just used to come down at weekends, after gigs, bring his girlfriend, just a mate. He bought a bit of food with him 'cos this place had 10 bedrooms, he could doss down. Good times.

SIMON - How lond did the Deeves Hall bit last then?

SIMPER - About 5 weeks I suppose.

SIMON - From March ...

SIMPER - March April until we went off for that first tour. It's funny because I really hit it off with Bobby, we were great pals, although he wasn' t doing much for us musically and Rod was trying to get Ian Paice in. They called a meeting one night, Tony Edwards and us and I remember Jon Lord saying to me, "tell me Nic, if we got rid of Bobby would you leave?" and I said why and he said we've got to get rid of Bob; we want to get Ian Paice in and we don't want you to leave and I said no, I wouldn't leave. All I said was that you shouldn't mess around with the guy, he's come over from France, uprooted himself from where he's lived for years, he knows you're not happy with him why don't you tell him straight? And they didn't have the guts to so they had to get Coletta and Edwards to fire him. Tony says "Bobby we want to terminate the contract and we'll give you twenty pounds" and old Coletta nudges him quietly saying "forty, forty"; "forty pounds expenses". There was a big silence and Bobby says "I don't fink that's very nice at all. Its him innit, it's Blackmore he don't like me", even in those days! Jon's going "I'm your friend Bobby"... so anyway he packed his bags and Rod and Ian who were with the Maze packed their bags and moved in with us. That was the start of it all.

SIMON - Did you audition Paice before this?

SIMPER - No, well it was a bit crafty. Ritchie had seen him in Germany and at the time we were only auditioning singers. We auditioned dozens. I mean we auditioned Asley Holt, to me one of the best singers in the land and we missed him because we were, well we'd heard so many singers by then we were just bored to tears with it whether they were good or bad, we just got pissed off with the whole thing. When you turn up at the station and there'ss another 30 guys all waving the advert, it was terrible. We had one guy come in nd play Bill bailey "Won't You Come Home", pulled out a big mouth harp. We couldn't believe it! We had a look at Rod Stewart 'cos we thought we might consider him, he was pretty awful. [;-)] You can't say we auditioned him, we did, but he didn't know about it! Rod was magic, he fitted great.

SIMON - Could he sing well?

SIMPER - Yeah

SIMON - I heard people say he sang flat alot of the time.

SIMPER - Well, he lost interest later, but once that buzz was there he was good. He could sing incredibly low but had a very melodic voice. Class, he' ll always be a star to me.

SIMON - So Rod turned up with Ian Paice.

SIMPER - Well I don't know if Ian was with him when he turned up for the audition, I think he came at night, we were so bored with it all that he sat down at a piano with Jon and a load of songs and I went into the front room to watch telly! When he said what do you think of this guy I said great. I was too bloody tired to listen to any more singers, let's get him in and we did. And that was the lineup. We started rehearsing till we'd enough for about 10 numbers. Jon phoned up a guy called Walter Claybler who'd done a Danish tour with the Artwoods and said look we've got this new group, me out of the Artwoods, a guy out of the Flowerpot Men - we just been to Denmark where we'd been number 1, and he said that's great publicity and that's why we did that first tour. We got alot of interest, TV and that.

SIMON - You thought of the name on the way over didn't you?

SIMPER - Well Ritchie Blackmore had come up with the name Deep Purple but we didn't like it, everey time you think of the Nino Tempo/April Stevens version people would associate us with that. We went through a lot of names we'd like to have used, in those days groups used to register names and everything we liked was registered. We finally decided we were going to be called Fire. The night before we went to Denmark. The next day Coletta says there's a group called Fire, and they were all over the papers, and we thought shit! We were sitting on the boat, I remember Zoot Money was on the boat too with Andy Summers, the Winston Churchill going over to Denmark. We were in the bar, Zoot Money was playing on the piano and there's this journalist saying what's this band called? He was a Danish guy; of course there was me and Ritchie giving him all the bullshit about how we were influenced by Wally Thud and Ted Babbage, all the stuff we could come up with and this guy's writing it all down! "Vot is ze name of zis new group?" Tony Edwards was going oh they're Roundabout, Magic Roundabout, and we'd told him there's no way we were going to called Roundabout. So we told him we were going to be called Deep Purple - me and Ritchie looked at one another and grinned, but when we saw it in print, in the charts, it was alright, but we were a bit embarrassed by it. When we got to Denmark everybody said we were called Roundabout in the papers and we told them we were NOT Roundabout and we got to the Concert and announced ourselves as Deep Purple but they still printed the reviews as Roundabout until we'd done a TV show and made it clear on TV to the Danish nation that we were Deep Purple. But we definately had something 'cos every gig we did got a riotous reception, totally over the top.

SIMON - Have you got any recordings from that era (well it was worth a try!)?

SIMPER - Nah, you mean live things, no nothing, nobody had cassettes in those days. I mean we had some of Johnny Kidd but we used to wipe it off and use it again. At that age you don't think of it in kind of a historical context.

SIMON - So that track Shadows was your first composition then?

SIMPER - Well as soon as we'd told Edwards and Coletta that we'd finalised the lineup they had a studio booked before we'd even written a song or anything. We kicked around Love Help Me which Rod later put the words to, sorted out the chords to that in the first couple of days. Then we all sat down one night and wrote Shadows and we were forced into the studios, get in there and do it, and we did. Paice had only been in the group about a day like. I think there was even a question of whether he could get hold of his drum kit 'cos they didn't want the rest of the Maze to know in case they got sued, they were keeping it secret 'cos they had a contract.

SIMON - So you did Shadows and the Love Help Me instrumental.

SIMPER - Well it wasn't really an instrumental, the vocals were on the take but for some reason not on the dub of that demo.

SIMON - It's amazing the sheer power of that recording.

SIMPER - Yes it is powerful.

SIMON - Better than the album.

SIMPER - It is. You often find that, into the studio for the first time you find a bit of magic, but that first album was ridiculous. We came back from Denmark, we got off the boat and we told we being moved, we couldn't get Deeves Hall again so were going to this place called Highleigh Manor a little village called Balcombe near Hayward's Heath. An old tenth century manor house and it was a hotel and we lived there for a couple of months. But as soon as we got back into the country we were they said we've got a studio booked for you to do your album, so basically we had to pick 8 or 9 numbers from our stage act which we'd got together.

SIMON - Was there anything else on that first tour that you didn't do live?

SIMPER - Yes, we used to open up with a John Mayall number, My Little Girl I think it's called, sort of Mayall/Clapton number. Maybe we even did Shadows I really can't remember. Me and Ritchie used to practise in front of the mirrors to get all the movements off pat, that was in the old Sutch days, very much into the visuals, the old knee tremblers. Some of the rubbish we used to play, we were so busy trying to knock everyone dead with the movements that we just used to forget about playing, it was so bloody loud, it was magic.

SIMON - So you cut Hush ...

SIMPER - Well we didn't cut Hush, we made the album. We went in and we started working on it and we did a 9 hour session and we were told we'd got to finish it the next day. When we were told we couldn't have any more studio time and I never really found out why. That night we couldn't get a hotel 'cos there was a cup tie match or something big on in town, every hotel was full. Tony Edwards took me and my wife, well we weren't married then, but she'd come down to the studio, all round and we couldn't find anywhere, in the end he took us to a pal of his who owned a hotel beyond Buckingham Palace and the manager gave us his personal suite. Rod couldn't get anywhere to stay, he slept in the van the night. Next day his voice had gone, that's why some of the singing was weird. People say to me the group lacked direction, didn't sound that together, but we'd only been together as a group about 10 days, as a proper group, and we came out with an LP like that. It sold bloody millions.

 


(Simper starts talking about DP's first gig in Warrington.)

SIMPER - The support was the Sweet. They were called the Sweetshop then. They absolutely flipped over us, followed us everywhere, came to all our gigs. Used to come round to our home all the time. Even in Warhorse they used to come round to my home frequently. Then they had a hit record and I never saw them again. Mick Tucker said to me that when you and Rod went, that was the end of Purple for me, he said he nearly cried, that's how much the band meant to him. You never realise how intense these guys are into it. But anyway we turned up at this Warrington gig and everybody said who's this group, we've never heard of Deep Purple? We just walked on stage as if we owned it: the backcombed heads, walls of equipment, so bloody loud it nearly made your ears bleed. The crowd just stood there mesmerised. I think people sensed we were something different, something new. I read all these interviews knocking the first Deep Purple and I think it's out of order. I was the best bass player Purple ever had as far as I'm concerned. Ritchie's owned up to that, so's Roger. He's a nice guy who's written a lot of good material for them but as far as I'm concerned - and I'm not trying to brag, I was the only one who played rock-n-roll bass. ....

SIMON - Do you much like talking about the split?

SIMPER - No, not really. I mean most people know the kind of thing that went on.

SIMON - I've never really understood the reasons myself.

SIMPER - Well alot of it was down to circumstance. Rod Evans wanted to go anyway, he was pissed off with it. A lot of people say the music lacked direction, needed a shot in the arm. The reason the music lacked direction was Jon Lord fucked everything up with his classical ideas. Quite honestly, I don't think that Jon would deny it; in the early days we elected him as our spokesman and Coletta and Edwards usually dealt with him. They didn't want to know about the rest of us, we were just rabble! That's how they thought of us, "we'll talk to Jon". We were quite happy, but I think he had ideas about DP being almost Jon Lord and DP, so it's quite ironic really how it all backfired and Ritchie ended up holding them all to ransom!

SIMON - I thought the Concerto was the beginning of that scene.

SIMPER - Yes the Concerto was coming up before I left. I was in the office one day and Tony Edwards was talking to this guy and when he'd gone I'd said who's that. And he said that's Malcolm Arnold and I said he's an orchestra ain't he, and Tony said yes, he's conducting Jon's work that you're doing at the Albert Hall. and I said what are you talking about. I knew Jon had spent months feverishly slaving over his manuscript, but he'd never actually asked us if we'd wanted to be involved in it. A bit taken for granted there. And I think the DP sound as it became known in the 70's would have emerged a lot earlier, it was definately there on stage, anyone who heard us live, but it wasn't there on record...

 


(On the split)

SIMON - I was told you took a lump sum and Rod opted to carry on receiving royalties.

SIMPER - Nah, they offered us a financial settlement and then they told us to sod off we weren't getting anything, that was it. We never the rest of the guys again.

SIMON - You had to sue didn't you?

SIMPER - Yeah for my royalties, it was bloody disgusting.

MANAGER - They kept waiting for Nic to run out of money so he couldn't afford to fight.

SIMPER - It's all water under the bridge but for the record they treated me like shit and they know it. I did a lot to make other guys rich you know, I' m not saying they had no talent but...