Airey is a much-travelled man. One of the most sought after keyboard
players in popular music, his CV reads like a who's who of British
played on albums by the likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Rainbow, Whitesnake,
Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, Brian May, Cozy Powell, and Jethro Tull,
and is in the middle of recording a new album with rock legends
Deep Purple, still a force to be reckoned with on the live circuit.
Born in Sunderland in 1948, Don
Airey has never forgotten his roots, despite touring the world many
times over. Busier then ever, he still found time out to talk to
BBC Wear. Posing the questions, Rahul Shrivastava:
are your earliest memories of growing up in Sunderland?
grew up in Sunderland in the 50s and 60s when it was quite different
to what it is today. I remember waking up each morning at 7.30 to
the sequence of shipyard buzzers summoning the faithful to work
– it was like a symphony.
sometimes stay on the school bus all the way back into town, just
to watch the thousands of men pouring out of the yards and up the
High St when work was over.
distant memory now!
|Cozy Powell's Hammer: Left to
Right - Clive Chaman, Bernie Marsden, Cozy Powell, Frank Aiello,
In the fifties there were still lots of bomb-sites from the war,
and I guess there was considerable poverty, but I was part of a
close family, four brothers and sisters & lots of cousins, and life
was full, with musical evenings, the great round of birthday parties,
church outings, soccer in the winter, cricket in the summer, fishing
off Roker pier, sledging down Tunstall Hill, wonderful times on
a packed beach at Seaburn – happy days indeed.
Do you ever manage to find time to visit Sunderland in your busy
I get up at least twice a year to see the few members of the family
still living there – its always a great time.
What do you miss most about Sunderland?
people, the sea, Notorianni’s ice cream, a decent pint and going
to Roker Park.
a Bonnet/Airey gig you were seen wearing a Sunderland football shirt.
Do you ever manage to get yourself to the Sunderland matches?
as charged! Visits to Sunderland always somehow seem to coincide
with a home game, and without any prompting from me, my three children
have all forsaken Man U & become avid supporters of The Lads.
|'Citizen's substitution', Emerson
haven’t seen them win for a year or two but it’s always worth the
trip just to hear the comments of our supporters.
were at the 5-0 drubbing at Ipswich last year, and at 4-0 down my
son became quite agitated and started shouting at Emerson Thome
that he was going to come down there and take over from him. The
bloke in front turned round and said " Ay, gan on son, make a citizen’s
did you want to be when you were a child?
Funnily enough, a concert pianist – I didn’t achieve it!
How did you first get into music, and in particular, the piano/organ?
had a piano in the lounge, both my parents played, and I started
picking out tunes at the age of three. I had lessons from age 7
onwards and took all the grades. I was introduced to the Hammond
organ backing the turns at the Ivy Leaf Social club in Grangetown.
They used to let me practise on it during the week.
is/was the most influential person in your life and why?
father Norman Airey, who sadly died almost 20 years ago. He initially
taught me to play, and via his collection of 78s, introduced me
to the wonders of American jazz and much else.
I started playing with groups in the town he always seemed to be
just passing the church hall or youth club where we were gigging
and would help us home with the gear, such as it was.
|Sparing time for Robert Schumann
hoped I’d get a proper job, and got me interviews with local solicitors
for example, but despite his misgivings about the music business,
he was very supportive when I turned pro.
I finally got his seal of approval at Rainbow’s gig at the City
Hall in 1980 – he said it was the loudest and most impressive thing
he’d experienced since El Alamein!
music do you listen to in your spare time?
Lots of classical music, Schumann, Chopin, and of course Prokofiev.
I collect vinyl jazz records of the 50s and 60s, anything with a
Hammond on it, preferably played by Jimmy Smith.
bands have you seen live? What’s the best concert you’ve ever been
a long list and a difficult question to answer. I feel very lucky
that in my student days I got to see the Jeff Beck Group with Rod
Stewart, the Bonzo Dog band, John Lee Hooker, the Zombies, Moody
Blues, and jazz legends such as Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, & Count
I regret not seeing the Nice or Hendrix, though I had the chance.
Not much to write home about lately, perhaps Faith no More, early
|Roy Wood, formerly of The Move
best rock concert would be either the Vinegar Joe, Yes, Iron Butterfly
one at the City Hall in 1970, (Yes were mind-blowing!), or The Move
at Nottingham University in 1968.
If we are talking classical, then Jacqueline du Pre, Daniel Barenboim,
and Pinchas Zuckerman at the Free Trade Hall Manchester, 1970. As
for jazz, the Jimmy Smith Quartet at the Jazz Lounge, Islington
do you like to relax in your spare time?
three kids, there’s not much time – I am a taxi service - but I
practise the piano, walk, cycle, do a bit of gardening, go to the
your favourite food?
What’s your favourite TV program?
the demise of Angus, "Have I got News for You."
You’ve spent the best part of 30 years touring with some of Britain’s
biggest rock bands. Who was the most fun to work with? Do you still
keep in touch with any of your former bandmates?
most fun was my first foray into the rock world with Cozy Powell’s
Hammer in 1974. We were always on TOTP, or flying off to Europe
to do television, and on the back of three hits there were 3-4 gigs
a week for a year or so, mainly to an audience of delectable young
was on a wild upward spiral of success, and a wilder downward
one of addiction to alcohol and cocaine.
were parties, mad games of football against other bands, wild nights
in sea-front hotels etcetera. Quite a good band as it happens and
we plan to release some lately discovered tracks soon.
I’m still friendly with fellow band members Neil Murray and Bernie
Marsden and of course we all miss Cozy more than somewhat.
media perception would have you believe that Ozzy Osbourne and Ritchie
Blackmore are difficult to work with. How was your relationship
with these two musicians?
I knuckled down, my relationship with Ritchie was very good, though
he could be a bit temperamental on the road. The records speak for
was a lot more difficult with Ozzy. At the time I was working with
him, he was on a wild upward spiral of success, and a wilder downward
one of addiction to alcohol and cocaine.
It made for interesting times and though I wouldn’t want to go through
those four years again, am proud to have been there.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you
with Ozzy at Madison Square Gardens in 1984 to 17,000 people. The
keyboards were on a hydraulic lift complete with fake organ pipes.
I used to appear for the second song playing the intro to "Mr Crowley".
That night as the riser started its ascent, the power cable got
caught in the mechanism and was yanked out, bringing the whole contraption
to a sudden halt.
|Former bandmate, Ozzy Osbourne
keyboards went off and there was total silence in the packed hall.
My roadie, Bobby Thompson, froze.
over the rail I shouted to him, "Bobby, put the plug back in!" No
effect, so rather louder, "Put the f****** plug back in."
Large sections of the audience picked up on this and in true New
York style all took up the cry, "Yeah Bobby, put the f****** plug
In went the plug, the riser lurched back to life, and I completed
the intro, the keyboards now horrendously out of tune.
would you most like to work with, that you haven’t already?
am a great admirer of Eddie van Halen’s. I saw him recently at the
NAMM show giving a demo in the Peavey booth.
He looked well and his playing was simply marvellous!
on I was at another stand when hundreds of punters stampeded past.
I was told that at that time in the afternoon, Eddie liked to visit
the Gents, and his adoring fans liked going with him too!
did you feel when you landed the job of Deep Purple’s keyboard player?
Did the size of the task daunt you at all?
Finally, what does the future hold for Don Airey?
just finished my bits on Purple’s new album, due for release in
August, and I’m starting on a follow-up to the K2 solo album.
also writing a book about my rather strange experiences in the music
biz, getting a summer Bonnet/Airey tour together, and finally, planning
plenty of visits next season to the grounds of the Nationwide league!