This week has found the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra half way through the Summer Pops season. Three years ago we recorded a work by Rock Legend Jon Lord. Aside from fame with Deep Purple and Whitesnake Jon is a respected composer of orchestral music in his own right. The Durham Concerto attracted critical acclaim and held fond memories for me as the work begins with a solo flugel horn played behind the orchestra. The use of flugel horn and the siting of the solo had involved input from myself and I found Jon very receptive to my thoughts and ideas.
The live premiere took place in Durham Cathedral. It was decided that I play the solo from the Pulpit with me trying to look as angelic as possible, before returning to the orchestra to play the first trumpet part. The Durham concerto by Jon Lord is available on the Avie record label and is a wonderful evocation of “A Day in the life of Durham”. The dominance of the cathedral over the city is apparent throughout the piece.
People travel from far and wide to hear Jon’s music. I had some time before the coach was ready for the return journey from Durham to Liverpool. Having nowhere else to go I popped into a lovely old pub. I met an interesting ‘enthusiast’ for Jon’s work. This fellow had travelled all the way from Japan for the concert, armed with records, CDs etc which Jon Lord had duly signed for him.
With all the above in mind, I was looking forward to a further collaboration between Jon and the RLPO during the Pops. The programme consisted of music from ‘To Notice Such Things’; The RLPO’s latest CD collaboration with Jon and his ‘Concerto for Group and Orchestra’. ‘Pictured Within’ was the encore.
First performed in 1969 the Concerto for Group and Orchestra was groundbreaking and controversial. Being three years old in 1969 I am experiencing this historical music the ‘second time round’. It is exactly as described in the title. The original performance was in the Royal Albert Hall and featured Deep Purple and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Jon stirred up a hornets’ nest at the time as critics found it difficult to accept that a rock musician could contemplate writing orchestral music.
My friend John Elliott, who has played Tuba on some of Jon’s work had this to say,”…Yes, I worked with him a couple of years back. Truly a very nice guy, and a good composer and arranger. I was at the famous RPO concert in 1969, in the audience, during my first year at college; Malcolm Arnold conducting. Malcolm was very good to Jon, and made sure that his piece got played at a time when no-one thought that a rock musician was capable of writing orchestral music. The prejudice against Jon from the “Classical” music brigade was quite extraordinary. It wouldn’t happen now. People really thought that a rock musician wouldn’t be able to read music, let alone write it. I talked for quite a long time with Jon about that. He told me how he wrote the score lying on the floor because he hadn’t got a table big enough. He would work in the wee small hours, after getting back from a gig. Not only did he write and orchestrate the (Rock Group) Concerto himself, but he did it without the aid of a piano, as he didn’t have one in his flat at the time! Jon and Malcolm proved them wrong!”
Performing this piece was a fascinating experience for me. Jon has left Deep Purple to concentrate on his own music. His band consisted of musicians associated with Jon and the music of Deep Purple over the years. As John Elliott stated, I found Jon to be a lovely guy. He is always a pleasure to work with and despite his exalted status is so respectful to everyone. I approached him to say hello and to ask for a photo. An ‘enthusiast’ was standing by him who had travelled from Denmark. He had armfuls of stuff for Jon to sign. Jon said to the fan, “If you take Brendan’s photo, I’ll sign ALL those for you. “
A little something extra! David Pigott, Associate Principal Horn in the RLPO, asked if I would have John Lord sign his DVD of the 1969 gig at the Royal Albert Hall. The cover shows the admission prices to be in shillings. Whilst chatting I forgot to tell Jon it wasn’t for me. As pictured earlier, John signed the sleeve to me. Sorry Dave! We joked that it may be worth more money now!