Ian Gillan - One Eye To Morocco
“It’s nice to get off that rock’n’roll highway from time to time and take the scenic route,”
Ian Gillan on One Eye To Morocco.
Ian Gillan’s scenic route takes him well north of the ruts and grooves of life with Deep Purple and towards blues, pop and even rockabilly.
The singer has always known that subtlety commands attention and the gently nuanced singing on It Would Be Nice prosecutes the case.
Mind you, the gritty insistence of Change My Ways confirms that his day job is safe.
One Eye To Morocco is an eclectic gathering of moods, sounds and ideas, but binding it all is a disciplined restraint in which the songs do the talking.
This is no smilingly complacent legend singing by numbers, nor is it a tinselly scream for attention.
The songs One Eye To Morocco are each fully formed, but related to each other only by their authors and inspired musical fellow travelers.
The unclassifiable pop-rock album is in danger of becoming a beleaguered minority artform. Gillan’s One Eye To Morocco throws it a lifebuoy.
“It came about as a whole load of circumstances converged,” says Gillan of the timing and the familiar players with who he made this album.
But how did Gillan keep a lid on some of the best in the business: Michael Lee Jackson on guitar, Joe Mennonna’s on horns, Jessie O’Brien on keys, Rodney Appleby on bass and drummer Howard Wilson.
“Didn’t you hear that whip cracking!” he laughs.
“I was clear about what we needed to do from the start,” Gillan says.
“I wanted no guitar solos. No drum solos. I wanted Hank Marvin on guitar. I wanted Ringo Starr on drums,” he says invoking the spirit of the famously disciplined and unobtrusive former Shadow and former Beatle.
“I didn’t want any histrionics. Free form guitar solos were never going to be part of this record.
“I wanted it to song-driven and the mood to be central to title track, One Eye To Morocco.”
Orignially inspired by a Traffic song, Gillan worked away at the melody and lyrics of this for some years, but it lived on as a series of ideas without a home, or a name.
“Then, I was in Poland staying with an old buddy and before going out to his house on the Czech border he showed us around the salt mines of Cracow and we were sitting at Oscar Schindler’s Café in the Jewish quarter there.
“All of a sudden this incredible woman caught my eye and I drifted away.”
Gillan’s friend observed the moment. “Ah, Ian, one eye to Morocco.”
It’s a local saying which fully expressed continues “ . . . and the other to the Caucasus”.
“Nobody knows where it started, but I think we can understand it might mean dreaming of other things while keeping you eye on the picture.”
Later, Gillan related this to his job with Deep Purple.
“I see Purple being the Caucasus and Morocco being the little bit of fun that I want to have,” he says.
“That lead track became the album’s title and its inspiration. It’s been a wonderful little fluid thread that has run through everything.”
When it came to selecting the tracks to accompany Morocco, Gillan ruled “everything that we choose has to feel as it belongs on the same record”.
“There’s a discipline there. It’s very much a pop record, I think. It’s got a focus to it.”
Some beautifully understated flourishes on guitar, sax, piano and harp (Gillan’s harp) punctuate the songs and ever-so-briefly shine lights into corners you might otherwise pass unnoticed.
“You can be eloquent without using too many words,” Gillan says of these.
Unfettered by the restraints of the expectations that attend one of the world’s biggest bands, Gillan has shown some daring, moving well beyond the material he has conquered with Purple, with his Gillan Band, and on other side projects.
Only his 1988 outing with Purple bassist Roger Glover, Accidentally On Purpose, ever hinted at this.
Which is not to say that one or two of these songs couldn’t find a home on a Purple album, such as the hard-edged No Lotion For That. Is that a fit? “Wouldn’t that be cool?” Gillan agrees.
“There is another song called Change My Ways that I took along to the (Deep Purple) Abandon writing session down in Florida.
“I said I’ve got this idea for a song called Change My Ways and it sort of irony and about the hot war and the cold war, and I started strumming along.
“I got through the first verse, finished the chorus and half way through the second chorus Steve Morse (Purple’s lead guitarist) got up and put his guitar down and said quite firmly ‘If you think I am going to play an entire song in the key of E . . .’ ”
“And I said ‘what about Ravel’s Bolero, that doesn’t change until the very end.
“But we brought it into this record and just for a bit of fun I did a massive key change at the very end.”
Elsewhere, Morocco deals in the straight-up blues of Ultimate Groove and Better Days, Carl Perkins-like rockabilly on the ironic Lonely Days, and some tricky vocal productions on Girl Goes To Show and Deal With It of which Beatles producer George Martin would be proud.
“I love the music in the melodies on those things,” says Gillan. “They come from a different age and there were flourishes in the top lines that you wouldn’t dream of doing today.”
Lonely Days resonated particularly with Gillan.
“I wasn’t happy with some of the lyrics. I was working with ‘lonely days, lonely nights’ - they were just the words I used while we were singing the song, just to get the phrasing.
“And then Rodney said ‘Hey, man, supposing it was that you needed some lonely days and lonely nights – that you wanted some’.
“And then I was reading another story on Amy Winehouse and it all came together.
“So this song is totally about Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears. They need some lonely days and lonely nights.”
Daniel Decatur Emmett wrote the southern anthem Dixie never having been south of the Mason-Dixon line. But what’s a boy from Heathrow doing singing Texas State Mind, perhaps Gillan’s favourite song from this set?
“I’ve had mates chide me that ‘you’re white, you can’t sing the blues’, but I go, well, as far as I can see most of the blues you’re signing about is about women. You’re moaning about how your women did you wrong.
“I can assure you that I have been done wrong by so many women that I feel entitled to write about it in the blues form.”
“Michael Lee Jackson wrote this song as he was driving down south to Texas for a date and he was excited and looking forward to meeting her. He was in a Texas state of mind.
“I heard him performing it years ago and I said ‘I want that song’.