Former Deep Purple keyboard player Jon Lord is known for his pioneering work fusing rock and classical music. He talks to Lindsay Jennings about life with the colourful Ritchie Blackmore and why he took the decision to leave the band

THE boy was absorbed with the nightly ritual, watching as his father carefully put on his dinner jacket and slicked the Brylcreem through his damp hair. He watched as he picked up the black case containing his saxophone before turning to kiss his son goodnight. Then, in a moment, he was gone, off to another draughty dance hall in Leicestershire.

His father's passion for music would have a huge influence on the young Jon Lord, who grew up to become one of the most revered musicians in the world. Today, he is better known as the keyboard player with rock band Deep Purple and the composer renowned for his unique style in fusing rock with classical music.

"It is to my father that I owe the fact that I've had a musical life," says Jon, now 66. "Even though he was going out to Market Harborough Women's Institute or something, it still seemed very romantic to me. He was a huge influence and my hero."

IT was from his father that Jon formed a love of music across all spectrums. Jon studied classical piano from the age of five and grew up listening to music ranging from Bach and Blues to jazz and Little Richard.

He left Leicester in the early 1960s and studied acting at drama school for three years, launching his musical career with the jazz ensemble, the Bill Ashton Combo. Then, with The Artwoods, he got a deal with Decca Records and gigged non-stop, making the UK charts in 1966 with I Take What I Want.

But it was when he met guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple was formed in 1968, that he leaned towards rock.

"When I met Ritchie, his style had arrived from a purely pop side, but by late '67 we both had it. We'd heard Hendrix and where Clapton was moving towards and felt it was direct and we wanted to follow it," he says.

Jon began experimenting with a keyboard sound on his Hammond organ which worked well with Ritchie's gifted and frenetic guitar playing. His experimentation led Deep Purple to produce Concerto For Group and Orchestra in 1969 alongside the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which was recorded by the BBC and later released as an album. Deep Purple then moved into a heavier rock sound, but always with Jon's classical elements woven in.

Much has been written about the rivalry between Jon and Ritchie, that they fought to take the band in different directions, but Jon refutes it was ever the case.

"Ritchie is a brilliant musician but he's extremely self-centered in his beliefs. He wants it to be his way and therefore if you're going to challenge that in him you have to be well prepared,"

he says.

"There were tensions in the band but these were mainly between Ian Gillan and Ritchie.

"We did the Concerto For Group and Orchestra and all the band enjoyed it. The BBC asked me if I'd do something else and I went to the rest of the band and they said no, once is enough.

"But I was very happy to be hard rock. Ritchie was great to work with and I think the sound of Deep Purple was that mixture of his guitar and my Hammond. I'll always be thankful for having played with him."

But while Deep Purple went on to have hit after hit, including Black Night, Hush, Child In Time and Smoke On The Water, Jon also continued with his classical aspirations, producing several solo orchestral albums.

Deep Purple split in 1976 and Jon joined rock band Whitesnake until Purple reformed in 1984. But in 2002, Jon took the difficult decision to leave the band for good to focus on composing and performing his own music.

"It was gut-wrenching to leave," he says. "It was my band, I was the founder member and the guys were huge buddies of mine. I had sleepless night after sleepless night, but I realised I was beginning to enjoy it slightly less than I felt comfortable with.

I found myself towards the end thinking I really wish I didn't have to play tonight and the second I thought that I had to do something about it.

"I tried to see if I could get a year off, but they said that's not how we see it', so I said in that case, I'm going to have to call it a day'.

Jon, who lives in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, with wife Vicki (the couple have two daughters, Amy 26, and Sara, 36), never felt compromised between the hard rock player and classical musician until the late 1990s.

"And then not compromised," he says. "But if anything was being compromised it was the side that wanted to write more. I don't think the dichotomy ever compromised Deep Purple," he says.

"I loved playing hard rock on the Hammond organ for years but also loved being able to write music for orchestras, then in later years trying to join the two together."

He calls the fusion of the two "cross-over" music.

"For want of a better word," he says. "It's always fascinated me and even when I'm writing for orchestras I'm still thinking in quite a rhythmic way, almost a rock-like way."

His latest work brings him to the North-East. Jon has created a major piece of orchestral music aimed at promoting Durham University, as part of its 175th anniversary, and Durham City across the world. The 45 minute concerto is based around a day in the life of Durham and will be performed at Durham Cathedral on October 20 by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and four soloists, including Jon on his Hammond organ, and folk musician Kathryn Tickell on the Northumbrian pipes.

The project has been inspired by Durham law graduate and merchant banker John McLaren who commissioned Jon to put Durham on the international map.

"John had this idea of having a big concert with a specially written piece of music which could then be played around the world and he thought of me,"

says Jon. "I went up to Durham and I was astounded by the place. After the first visit, within days of getting back to my music room, I had several quite good themes which occur in the piece. I had to find a hook to hang the music on and I came up with a day in the life of Durham."

The concerto consists of six movements arranged into three parts - morning, afternoon and evening.

"I think it's the best thing I've ever done for an orchestra.

I'm thrilled to bits with it," he says.

"If the music sings to you, then I'll have done my job."

* Tickets for the Durham Concerto are available from the Tourist Information Centre, Millennium Place, Durham or by contacting 0191-384-7641 or emailing