The Dutch tour went off very well, drawing capacity crowds. Morale had seemed to lift generally amongst both vocalists and musicians, but Jon Lord and I both had our minds elsewhere. I was particularly excited to learn that the drum stool in our group was to be occupied by none other than the great Bobby Woodman, who had achieved legendary status through his work with rocker Vince Taylor and Johnny Halliday, probably the biggest French rock star ever.
Bobby had been an inspiration to many British drummers, including Carlo Little, so his reputation was assured. On arriving back in England, the one-nighters were picking up, a welcome break from the tedious cabaret gigs. Jon had arranged a meeting with the backers of this new venture, and so on a crisp February day in 1968 I found myself heading for Newman Street, in the shadow of London’s Post Office Tower, where two of the three new managers had their offices. I climbed the stairs to the office where the meeting was scheduled, which was the headquarters of an advertising agency run by a guy named John Coletta. Jon and Ritchie were already there and introduced me to Coletta and his other two partners, Tony Edwards and Ron Hire. Tony worked upstairs for his family firm Alice Edwards Textiles, and Ron was a high flyer for Unilever, specialising in their frozen food operation. It turned out that Coletta and Hire both lived in Brighton and commuted daily by train into London, where Coletta’s company operated below the Alice Edwards’ office. Together the three of them had pledged to gamble £5000 apiece (an enormous sum at that time) on a musical group. Through a contact, they had met Chris Curtis and were obviously impressed by his status and many hit records as a former member of the Searchers, arguably the biggest British act at the time after the Beatles. Chris had like the idea put to him by Hire, Edwards and Coletta, now known as HEC Enterprises, and had organised a meeting with Jon and Ritchie. Chris however had not impressed the pair with his somewhat outlandish ideas for a “floating” group of various musicians who would opt in and out of the band at different times, and so the project was abandoned, that is, until HEC decided to approach Jon on his own.
So here we were, in Coletta’s office, discussing the future. According to Jon, Tony took him to one side, saying “Nicky looks great. Get him in!”. My confidence was duly boosted and I eagerly absorbed the details explained by Tony. They (HEC) would supply a place for us to live and rehearse, the necessary equipment would be purchased, wages would be paid on a weekly basis, and the rest was up to us! The only downside was that instead of the promised £25 per week, we would initially draw only £12.50 each, although any extra commitments such as my car hire purchase debt and Ritchie’s maintenance payments to his ex-wife, would be taken care of. If all went according to plan, then the wages would rise to £25. We all agreed to this, and probably would have settled for a lot less!
Without delay, on February 28th Jon and I gave notice to the Flowerpot Men, explaining our new project. Our fellow musicians, Ged and Carlo, wished us well, and I must admit to feeling a tinge of sadness, particularly as I had grown very close to Carlo, who had rescued my career and taught me much. The four vocalists however received the news with some hostility, which we found rather depressing, particularly as we had offered to find suitable replacements and teach them all the parts! Our offer was turned down, and in no time Job was replaced with Johnny Carrol, my old pal from the last Pirates line-up, and the bass job went to Gordon Haskell (who many years later was to have massive success with his own solo record).
By now Jon was living at my parents’ house in Hayes, but it wasn’t long before we learned that HEC Enterprises had found a suitable house for us, and we set off to view our new home in the countryside. Situated near a tiny Hertfordshire village called Ridge, Deeves Hall was an old Georgian farmhouse, standing in several acres of ground. Well secluded and with no immediate neighbours, this was the perfect place for a rock group to ‘get it together’ without disturbing anybody’s peace. The nearest house stood high up at least half a mile away, apparently occupied by champion racing driver Graham Hill. At Deeves Hall I was introduced to Bobby Woodman, who was re-locating from Paris with his girlfriend. A quiet, laid-back type of bloke, Bobby and I hit it off immediately. Together, the four of us toured the many rooms of the house, agreeing on which rooms would be used for which purpose. Before leaving it was agreed that Ritchie and his girlfriend Babs would move in first as they were homeless. But first, the current tenant had to move out. A pleasant young lady who had lived there with her boyfriend for some time, she solemnly informed us that the place was haunted, and we were not to be worried by what we might see or hear!
Within a few days I was picking up Ritchie and Babs, their belongings packed into two suitcases, and heading north up the A1 for Deeves Hall. I couldn’t help but notice that Ritchie appeared to own little more than the clothes he was wearing. He explained to me that, apart from a couple of stage shirts, he always bought black clothes, because he felt that they lasted longer! Armed with his trusty red Gibson 335 guitar and a Vox AC30 amplifier, Ritchie and Babs, ensconced themselves in Deeves Hall in the largest bedroom, and awaited the arrival if the rest of us. Approximately one week later, Bobby, his girlfriend, Jon and I moved ourselves into Deeves Hall, and so began the new group which was to become Deep Purple, each of the four of us picking up our first wage of £12.50 on March 4th 1968. It wasn’t long before the subject of a vocalist came up, but Job assured me that plans had been made, and that the problem would soon be resolved. I discovered that the plan was to ask singer Terry Reid to join, and that Jon, together with HEC, had no doubt that he would leap at the opportunity. Unfortunately, Terry had other ideas and turned the offer down flat!
Undeterred, we pushed on, trying to cobble together some musical ideas to kick start our new identity. As I have said previously, this was a time when pop music was changing radically, with groups experimenting with new ideas and sounds. Ritchie, Jon and myself had agreed from the start that we were going to be different and, hopefully, new, but we weren’t quite sure how this was going to be achieved. I have read Jon’s later report that he and Ritchie had composed several of the early songs at their first meeting, but this was patently rubbish as nothing was forthcoming at our first get-together at Deeves Hall, apart from a single idea which Ritchie had constructed which showed some promise. Ritchie also loved the riff that Hendrix had played in his recording of “Hey Joe”, and spent a lot of time trying to ‘alter’ it in order to create a different riff. The result was “And The Address”, although we all had a lot of input into the final version of the instrumental. As the days went on, gradually we started to gel as a unit, and we discovered a mutual admiration amongst ourselves.
Ritchie would tell me how he loved to listen to me practicing as he lay in bed at night, and we all expressed admiration at Jon’s prowess on the keyboard. One night Jon, Ritchie and I sat in the living room with our mouths open as Bobby practiced his drum solo in the rehearsal room, and we realised just what he was capable of!
Sadly, it soon became obvious that Bobby was not on the same wavelength as us when it came to musical policy. Jon and I had witnessed the mighty Vanilla Fudge in action, had listened to Graham Bond and others and realised that the boundaries of music were expanding rapidly, which had inspired us to look for a new direction but Bobby, on the other hand, seemed hell bent on carrying on in the same direction he had been following for the last ten years, which was only going to lead to friction in the future!
After a couple of weeks we had all settled in nicely and had cobbled a few tunes together. Ritchie insisted, somewhat embarrassingly, in pushing a tune he called “Mandrake Root” as his own, although I and half of London’s musicians knew it as “Lost Soul”, an instrumental composed by the guitarist in Screaming Lord Sutch’s Savages before Ritchie, and which Ritchie had to learn on joining the band. However, we needed material, and so “Mandrake Root” was accepted into our short repertoire. Bobby was obviously unhappy with our ideas, and although he reluctantly played along, he often referred to it as ‘circus music’!!
It wasn’t long before news of what we were up to got out and a producer from Decca Records was knocking at the door of Deeves Hall. Mike Vernon knew Jon from his Artwoods days, and listened eagerly as we played him our meagre offerings. Amazingly to us, he was absolutely knocked out, and left that evening convinced that he had discovered a world-beating group! The very next day he was offering a record deal to HEC Enterprises, which boosted us up considerably!
Of course, we realised that we desperately needed a vocalist, a fact that I discussed with my old school friend Tony Tacon, who turned up one evening for a visit. Obviously impressed with our situation, Tony was of the opinion that the vocalist from his old band, the Javelins, would suit very well. “You know”, said Tony, “Ian Gillan would go apeshit for this!”. “Do you think so?”, I replied. “Yes”, said Tony, “His band Episode Six aren’t getting anywhere, and he’d love this!”. I knew Gillan was a capable singer, so I asked Tony if he would call him up and ask him to come to Deeves Hall for a blow. Tony promised to call him the next day and let me know if he was interested. I relayed this to the others, who seemed pleased when I told them that Gillan would fit in very well.
The very next evening I received a telephone call from Tony Tacon who sounded very apologetic. “Sorry”, he said, “I asked Gillan, but he wasn’t interested. Said Episode Six are going to make it big, and said he thought that you won’t get anywhere!”. Well, I must admit to being rather taken aback. I was sure that Gillan would check us out, even if he didn’t want to join, but then he had always been a bit flash, so I guess it was no real surprise! Thanking Tony for his trouble, I relayed the news to the others, and it was decided there and then that an advertisement in the Melody Maker was our only course of action. Before this could be sorted out though, Jon, Ritchie and I decided to make a trip to London to see the Jeff Beck Group. Now I cannot remember of it was Bobby Woodman or Carlo Little who was deputising for Jeff Beck’s regular drummer, but I tend to think it must have been Carlo, although I may be wrong. The decision was made to go, however, when someone suggested that we check out his singer, a bloke called Rod Stewart. Who knows, maybe we could use him, and anyway Jon and I had a mate called Ron Wood playing bass, so we would see him too and have a chat about old times. Well, we heard Rod Stewart, but no-one suggested asking him, so several days later there was our advert boldly printed in the Melody Maker:
Little could we imagine the mayhem that was about to engulf us!
|Chapter 17 ←|