Don Airey has been the keyboardist in the rock band Deep Purple
since 2002, succeeding Jon Lord. He has had a long and productive
career, playing with such acts as Gary Moore, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas
Priest, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull, Whitesnake, Colosseum II, Sinner,
Michael Schenker, Uli Jon Roth, Rainbow, Divlje jagode and Living Loud.
He has also worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Inspired by his father, Norman Airey, Don Airey took a love for music at
a young age and was trained in classical piano from the age of seven. In
1974 he moved to London and joined Cozy Powell's band Hammer. Don worked
on several albums with solo artists and was a session musician on the
1978 Black Sabbath album ‘Never Say Die’! Soon after, he joined
guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's band, Rainbow, and featured on Gary
Moore's solo debut. With Rainbow he contributed to two hit albums, ‘Down
to Earth’ and ‘Difficult to Cure’.
1980 Airey played on Ozzy Osbourne's first solo album, ‘The Blizzard of
Ozz’ where he had a famous and slightly gothic intro to the song "Mr.
Crowley". After leaving Rainbow in 1981, Airey joined with Ozzy Osbourne
for a three year stint where he helped with the albums ‘Bark at the
Moon’ and ‘Speak of the Devil’. Airey joined Jethro Tull in 1987 for
their tour in support of Crest of a Knave. The same year also saw the
release of Whitesnake's multi-platinum ‘Whitesnake’, on which Airey
played keyboards. (The album is known as ‘1987’ in Europe). Soon after,
he quit the band to record his first solo album ‘K2: Tales Of Triumph
And Tragedy’’. The first half of the 1990s saw Airey's son suffer from a
serious illness, so his musical activity was largely on hiatus during
this time. In 1997 he arranged and played on "Love Shine a Light" by
Katrina And The Waves, conducting the accompanying orchestra at The
Eurovision Song Contest. The song won the contest.
Airey went in semi-retirement until 2001, when he joined Deep Purple to
fill in for an injured Jon Lord, who has since retired. Airey joined the
band as a full time keyboardist in March 2002. He has recorded two
studio albums with the band, ‘Bananas’ and ‘Rapture of the Deep’.
February 25, Airey steps into the spotlight’s full glare as his second
solo album, ‘A Light In The Sky’, is released via Mascot Records. Twenty
years have slipped by since ‘K2: Tales Of Triumph And Tragedy’. For ‘A
Light In The Sky’, Airey has gathered together 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’s Geezer Butler. To most people, Sentance was last seen
With a new album out soon we had a little chat with Don Airey, so here
First of all, how are you?
Very well thank you.
It took you almost 20 years to come up with a new solo
album, why did we have to wait so long for a new solo record?
offered me a deal till recently, and to be honest I have been so busy
with Deep Purple that I had neither the time nor the ideas for a solo
How did you launch into writing the material for ‘A Light
in the Sky’, did ideas come easily so that you just had to write them
down or was it more of a careful composing thing?
Some of the songs are quite old, but most are brand new and were very
carefully put together.
Did you have a certain idea of what you wanted to do on
‘A Light in the Sky’, what were the goals you had in mind, any elements
you definitely wanted to have on the album?
always going to be about a journey into space, but with the musical
spaceship powered by the sound of Rainbow meets the Mahavishnu Orchestra
meets Jean Michel Jarre. I also wanted to really capture the sound of my
Hammond A100 and its two Leslie cabinets.
Was it a conscious decision to do it this way?
You have some guests playing on your album, each of them
have a different musical background, how did you manage to come to one
musical agreement with them or did you arrange it all and tell them what
to do or play?
was highly arranged, and I wrote most of the music out, but left a lot
of scope for all the musicians to bring in something of their own.
There’s no point in telling good players what to play – you miss out on
the good stuff if you do. The album was recorded very quickly and there
is a lot of live playing on there.
Before an album release there’s the process in the
studio. How did the recording proceed, how much time did you spend in
I started by demo-ing all the tracks in my own studio. Sent copies of
relevant tracks out to all the musicians involved in advance, wrote out
the music where necessary, so that when recording started in Chapel
Studios, It proceeded relatively quickly as everyone knew what they had
to do – the whole album was recorded and mixed in 19 days.
What about the song writing – how can we imagine you work
on new songs? What comes first, lyrics or melodies? Is it like you write
a new song because you need more material now or do you wait until you
get an idea?
It’s always chords and melody first, and (often years) later the lyrics.
I usually wait till an idea hits me rather than grinding one out. The
most important ingredients in songwriting are simplicity and brevity.
What might this solo album “add” that you cannot express
in your music with Deep Purple?
A chance to
play music that is a little closer to my heart than heavy rock.
Even though the diversity of your music fits perfectly in
Deep Purple, have you ever thought of changing your music style, like so
many other musicians tend to do after some years?
it’s business as usual! Rock till you drop, with Purple it all comes
down to that Hammond and those Leslies.
Could you please describe the implications of the title
‘A Light in the Sky’, what does it stand for and is there a special
meaning behind it?
Just a general reference to the part the study of the heavens has played
in human evolution. It’s how we discovered mathematics from which all
other branches of learning come. Also a reference to how inspirational
looking up to the sky can be. It’s what humanity did in the evenings
before it started watching television! Also perhaps a message of hope
in these dark times.
Did you write the lyrics yourself and can you tell us
something about them?
I wrote half of them, singer Carl Sentance wrote the rest. “Love You Too
was written from the point of view of a space traveler who has the whole
universe to explore but can only think about his doomed love for
someone back home. It was inspired by astronaut Jim Lovell’s remark that
he went to the moon, but discovered the earth. “A Light in the Sky” is
autobiographical about a close encounter I had a long time ago with
something very alien and very evil, and it’s also about the imminent
onset of Doomsday – a cheery little ditty!
Is the music written independently from the lyrics or do you try to
reflect lyrical ideas through the music?
always kind of given the first line of a song, but the bulk of the
lyrics always come after the music is written.
What was your incentive when you recorded ‘A Light in the
Sky’ in a time where a fan would rather download than buy an album?
The vain hope, that you can’t beat holding a copy of the real thing in
Have you received any feedback on the new album yet? How
do you feel about this album – are you satisfied with the outcome or
would you have liked to have changed anything in retrospective?
Some very good reactions so far – no regrets except about one track I
What’s the thing you are most proud of concerning this cd?
The live feel, the natural sound, (particularly of the Hammond) and the
great and sometimes staggering performances from all the musicians
What songs and bands do you listen to these days?
Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash, Feist, Gallows, Perry Farrell, of the newer
artists, and Cream and Mountain of the older bands.
Deep Purple is one of the longest standing rock bands,
how do you see the future with this band?
What is your opinion on the rock scene these days, is
there anything missing?
missing are good tunes, light and shade, and song structure all
definitely left on the back burner. Also what has happened to
guitar-playing? What happened to the solo?!
With such a fusion of styles in your music, are there any particular
bands who’ve been a big influence in your song writing? Which
album has been your biggest musical influence, one that made you think
“this is what I want to do!”?
Purple live when I was a classical music student in Manchester in the
early 70s had a big effect on me. I little thought I would end up as
their keyboardist. Albums, well Hendrix “Axis Bold as Love”, and “Inner
Mounting Flame” the Mahavishnu Orchestra, oh, and the first Beatles
album, and Todd Rundgren’s” Hermit of Mink Hollow”.
With all the touring with Deep Purple and so many albums
under your belt, how far has this surpassed your original dreams and
what would you say is the most rewarding part of being a musician?
I look back
in absolute amazement at some of the things I have done and taken part
in. Best part of the business is touring, absolutely. Nothing beats
coming to town with a rock band that’s sold out the local venue.
What is the ambition you still haven't fulfilled yet?
To walk through the Karakoram mountains to the foot of K2.
If you look at your career over the whole period of time, you're
primarily known as a session guy. You’ve worked with a lot of people,
you’re a permanent member of Deep Purple now, what can we expect in the
future from Don Airey?
myself the main part of my career has been spent in bands, with
sessions a sideline. I hope to make another album with Purple soon, and
to perhaps do some live solo gigs.
Has anything been left unmentioned?
Goodbye, thanks and good luck to all your readers!
Thanks for the interview!
Selected Discography :
1976 - Colosseum II - Strange New Flesh
1977 - Colosseum II - Electric Savage
1977 - Colosseum II - War Dance
1978 - Black Sabbath - Never Say Die!
1979 - Gary Moore - Back on the Streets
1979 - Rainbow - Down to Earth
1979 - Cozy Powell - Over the Top
1980 - Michael Schenker - The Michael Schenker Group
1981 - Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Ozz
1981 - Cozy Powell - Tilt
1981 - Rainbow - Difficult to Cure
1982 - Gary Moore - Corridors of Power
1982 - Gary Moore - Rockin' Every Night
1983 - Ozzy Osbourne - Bark at the Moon
1984 - Gary Moore - Dirty Fingers
1985 - Gary Moore - Run For Cover
1986 - Zeno - Zeno
1987 - Whitesnake - Whitesnake
1988 - Fastway - Bad Bad Girls
1988 - Jethro Tull - 20 Years of Jethro Tull
1989 - Don Airey - K2
1989 - Gary Moore - After the War
1989 - Whitesnake - Slip of the Tongue
1990 - Jagged Edge - You Don't Love Me
1990 - Judas Priest - Painkiller
1990 - Tigertailz - Love Bomb Baby
1992 - Cozy Powell - Let the Wild Run Free
1992 - UFO - High Stakes and Dangerous Men
1993 - Brian May - Back to the Light
1994 - Graham Bonnet - Here Comes the Night
1994 - Gary Moore - Still Got the Blues
1994 - Katrina and the Waves - Turnaround
1997 - Glen Tipton - Baptizm of Fire
1998 - Crossbones - Crossbones
1999 - Millennium - Millennium
2000 - Micky Moody - I Eat Them for Breakfast
2000 - Silver - Silver
2000 - Uli Jon Roth - Transcendental Sky Guitar
2000 - Company of Snakes - Burst The Bubble
2001 - Judas Priest - Demolition
2001 - Company of Snakes - Here They Go Again
2002 - Metalium - Hero Nation Chapter Three
2002 - Bruce Dickinson - Tattooed Millionaire
2003 - Deep Purple - Bananas
2003 - Silver - Intruder
2005 - Deep Purple - Rapture of the Deep
2006 - Gary Moore - Old New Ballads Blues
2007 - Gillian Glover - Red Handed
Don Airey - A Light in the Sky
2007 - Metalium - Demons of Insanity - Chapter Five