For “A Light In The Sky”, Airey has gathered together a different set of collaborators (though Laurence Cottle ofSting/Eric Clapton/Brian Eno/Bill Bruford fame once again contributes precision bass-playing), though naturally Don provides the record’s central creative thrust — an entertaining mixture of instrumental and vocal songs, from the “Bladerunner”-style “Ripples In The Fabric Of Time” to the hook-laden hard rock of “Shooting Star”.
And as the record’s title might suggest, there is a central unifying thread of space and space travel. “In my youth I was very interested in astronomy,” reveals Airey. “These days I live in the Cambridge astronomer belt. I have a telescope and know my way around the sky. I must own nearly 60 books about the creation of the universe, birth of stars, planetary systems, etc, so in some ways I’m musing about what we’re doing here on Earth.”
Musically speaking, the album is fittingly rich and diverse. “What I had in mind was making something that sounded like a cross between RAINBOW, THE MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA and JEAN-MICHEL JARRE,” continues Airey. “There was no point in making some generic hard rock album. Probably my favourite of its tracks is ‘Light In The Sky’, which dates back to my days with COLOSSEUM II[during the late 1970s].”
Created during three weeklong bursts between Airey’s touring commitments with PURPLE, mostly at Chapel Studios in rural Lincolnshire, the sessions were recorded as live as possible. “Just about everything is a first or second take, all of the Hammond playing and most of the synth and guitar solos were recorded live. I knew I didn’t want to make one of those Fileshare albums in which everyone sends their parts by email,” comments Don, who also handled the record’s production. “It’s very much a band record; I’ve played a lot with most of the people that are on it.”
One name that you won’t be expecting to hear mentioned is that of Rob Harris, whose day job is to play lead guitar for funk-pop king JAMIROQUAI. And yet Harris plays like the proverbial rock god on tracks like “A Light In The Sky” and “Andromeda M31”. “I first met Rob when as a 17-year-old, guitar in hand, he knocked on the door of my studio; he’s an absolutely fantastic player.”
There are two separate rhythm sections — the aforementioned Laurence Cottle teaming up on the more complex tracks with groovemeister Darrin Mooney, drummer of both PRIMAL SCREAM and Gary Moore‘s band — while Chris Childs(bass) and Gary “Harry” James (drums) from British rockers THUNDER proceed to stampede over all the rest. THUNDER’s Danny Bowes also drops by to impressively belt out the lyrics of “Love You Too Much”. The other vocal tracks (“Shooting Star”, “Endless Night” and “A Light in the Sky”) are handled by Carl Sentance, who began his career with the band PERSIAN RISK alongside Phil Campbell of MOTÖRHEAD, before joining the solo band of BLACK SABBATH‘sGeezer Butler. To most people, Sentance was last seen fronting KROKUS.
“I used to like PERSIAN RISK a lot. Carl and I do gigs together,” explains Airey. “And THUNDER have often supported PURPLE, so it was great to have Danny, Harry and Chris on the album, too.”
The real oddity is “Rocket To The Moon”, an early 1950s song by MOON MULLICAN, a fairly obscure Texan artist who was a big influence on the likes ofElvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. On paper, there’s nothing particularly unusual about Airey covering one of Mullican’s songs — except that he asked the madcap Harry James not to play drums but to sing on it. “The look on Harry’s face as he gradually realized what I wanted him to do was a picture,” beams Don at the memory. “But he did a really good job!”
From the ridiculous to the sublime, violins were handled by Lidia Baich, a young and vivacious Viennese concert virtuoso that Airey encountered when DEEP PURPLE appeared at a show in Modena with the late Luciano Pavarotti in May 2003. “Lidia was playing with Andreas Bocelli and we kept in touch,” he says. “Some of her parts were played on a 18th Century Guarnerius violin that’s worth two million euros — the results were stunning.”
Now that the album is fully completed and on the verge of being released, Don Airey admits to butterflies in his stomach. However, any unease he might feel is tempered by the excitement that comes with the possibility of presenting the songs onstage. Although he did get to perform certain solo shows with “K2”, hopes of a full-blown tour failed to bear fruit. This time, so long as schedules permit, something bigger seems possible.
“This album has a whole different message and feel to that of DEEP PURPLE,” he sums up. “The plan is to do two weeks’ worth of gigs in April, though of course that would depend upon the availability of Rob Harris, Darrin Mooney, Lidia Baich and whoever else would like to be involved.”
Airey will reportedly make a guest appearance on the new MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP (MSG) album, entitled “In the Midst of Beauty”.
An audio sample of the track “Shooting Star” is available for download at HERE.
Click HERE to check out Don’s first solo album, “K2: Tales Of Triumph & Tragedy”, at Amazon.com.