|Interview with George Kerwinski|
— George, I canít but ask you about your work with Deep Purple as this band always had a special popularity in the former Soviet countries.
— Actually, that was my first professional job, besides doing the odd job from “Mama Concerts” when I was driving somebody from here to there or something. The first concert in Olympiahalle after the Olympic games in Munich, the first rock concert that was put on in a big hall like that, was Deep Purple. And it was sort of the original, big Deep Purple with Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord and Paice. But that was their last tour because after that Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan didnít get on. At that time they had different dressing rooms and they didnít speak to each other. And then they fell apart and then Coverdale joined in and all that. That all was in í72-í74. Thatís when I first met them. And then over the years Iíve been working nearly with all formations of Deep Purple.
— And which of them had left the most positive memories to you?
— It was actually the first lot. But I canít really say that either because even with Coverdale in it that was quite ok. I got a gold record from Deep Purple, did I ever show you that?.. In 1975, here it is (showing the photo). It was made for Yugoslavia. (reading) Deep Purple... successful collaboration... in Yugoslavia... Zagreb, March 1975. Thatís the gold record. The band got 5 or 6 of those and Coverdale gave me this one. Iíve got this at home. And, by the way, (showing the photo) this is a platinum record that Tina Turner gave me for “Simply The Best”. And I have a Deep Purple Christmas card they sent me. Here it is. “Happy Christmas from Deep Purple!” Signed by all of them – Coverdale, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore... It was that formation of that picture. Purple Records. Itís good, eh?
— Itís well known that Ritchie Blackmore has a hard character. What were your impressions of him?
— I donít know, heís a great player, but he was a real arsehole as a person. Iím not surprised that they split up because nobody, even the band, didnít like him. I mean, he was one of the main brains, and the music and, you know, “Smoke On The Water” and all that for what heís ever famous for. But as a person he was really... And he was also a practical joker that used other people. He had idea for a joke, to play a joke for somebody else, but he didnít do it himself. He had it initiated and watched it from a distance. Like one day they got me out of bed... 4 oíclock in the morning, Iím fast asleep. It knocks on my door and I jump out of bed, I donít know what, I panic. I run to the door in my underpants, I open the door. Thereís Ritchie Blackmore outside my door with 2 roadies. Theyíve got 2 fire extinguishers. And they shoot, they put all the foam on me! And he is laughing and then they run off... I could have killed him for that! And this is not the only he did for me.
He did it to me all the time. One day in Munich Olympiahalle, it was in the afternoon before soundcheck, he comes out of his dressing room and Iím just walking by. We were on friendly terms, you know, it was like it should be on tour really. But he was always a bit different from the others. I was more friendly with the others but he was a bit of alone anyway. So he comes, he starts talking to me. He puts his arm on my shoulder, we are walking in backstage somewhere into the catering. And then he seats down and Iím going on my business. And from that moment after he left everybody that sees me coming, they all pointing at me and laughing. And I thought, have there my trousers opened or what is it, I didnít know what it was. And I am walking around half an hour like that and have the attention of some people. Then I got to the toilet and I look in a mirror... When he put his arm around me, he put a piece of ham on my shoulder. I had a big piece of ham on my shoulder while walking :). Itís like kindergarten!.. Thatís the kind of guy he was.
And thereís another story when we played football. “Mama Concerts” against Deep Purple. Because he was a big football fan too. So we played in Munich on the warm-up pitch next to the Olympic Stadium.
— In the 70s?
— No, that was already in the 90s, that was late. That was when they were back together, before they split up again. I was touring with them, so I played in the Deep Purple team. And I organized another team from Munich, it was radio stations, DJs, some people out of the music business that could play a little football, just for fun really. The game had started, but 5 minutes into the game the British tour manager of Deep Purple, who played also at the defence, came to me and said: “Ritchie says, he wants you to play with the other team”. In the middle of the game! I said, “What do you mean?” He said: “He just said to me, he wants you to play...” I said: “Look, Iím in your team, Iím in the Deep Purple team and Iím staying...” I played left wing and Ritchie played right wing, he was on the other side of the field. And this then kept going, I just played. 15 minutes later the guy comes again and says: “Ritchie is really pissed off that you are still playing. You should go and change your shirt and play with the other team”. So I was really... I was so furious!.. I left the field, went to the dressing room, changed into my clothes, came with my bag back to the field where the rest of Deep Purple was watching. Ian Paice, Jon Lord and Roger Glover, they didnít play and were watching the game. So I come with my bag and Iím on the side now where Ritchie Blackmore is on the right wing. And he comes walking and he says: “Why did you change, why donít you play anymore?” And I said: ”I tell you why now!..” I went for him, I wanted really to hit him or struggle him. He was running away, the band was behind me dragging me off of him :). That was the closest I got to really beating him up. I was so upset and pissed off. And this went on and he kept pretending. We were still touring for a couple of weeks, and he kept saying: “Why did you leave the field then? What gave you that?” I said: “Look, Ritchie, donít talk about it. Right you told that guy to change and play for the other!” – “I never did”. He was that kind of an arsehole, he would initiate trouble just to entertain himself. And I was one of his victims over the years, on and off :).
— What about Paul McCartney?
— Oh, we got on like a house on fire. Just as a Beatles fan to work with McCartney was a dream. I did only one tour with him. That was the first time after Wings. He toured in Germany also before, with the band Wings. But after the Beatles which started their career in Hamburg, Paul McCartney never has been back to play in Hamburg, even on the Wings tours they didnít play Hamburg. And on his first world solo tour in 1989, when I toured with him, he started German part in Hamburg. There was a world press conference at the Kaiserkeller, which is the only club that still exists where the Beatles played, itís a legendary place. On the last two German tours we played with Chris there as well. So I picked up McCartney, he came with a private jet with the whole band in Hamburg airport. We bit drove with our cars to the plane, got everybody in the car and drove straight from the airport to the Kaiserkeller. There was a little stage set up and McCartney was sitting with Linda, she was travelling, she was in the band really. And if you know this story, during the press conference Iím walking around the room and in the back there thereís a man talking to some journalists...
— Oh yes, we know this story :).
— That was the guy from “Gretel & Alfons” who claimed that the Beatles owe him money :). And then the day after I went there with McCartney and he signed the poster “Sorry, it took 27 years” and all that story.
So we got on with McCartney like a house on fire really, I liked him, he liked me. He freshened up his German again from the old Hamburg days, we spoke German in the car.
And that was the tour when... By then I havenít had any personal contact with Chris Norman anymore for a few years. But so happened that at the time of that tour he was in Germany too, just for a few shows. And he was in Munich when McCartney came there too, he played 2 concerts in every city. So Chris was in Munich, he had an off day, and McCartney played, and I invited him to the concert. This was the first time he saw one of the Beatles play live. And this was also the first time McCartney played the Beatles songs on the concert. Because when he was with Wings, he didnít do that. And there was a lot of songs that were released when the Beatles didnít play live anymore – “Sgt.Pepper”, some of their last albums – those songs have never been played live. And McCartney started to do them. I placed Chris by the mixing desk, so he had the best view and all that. And during the show I went there, when McCartney started to play Beatles songs – Chris was standing there crying, he was so touched... So that was good experience, McCartney. Except his tightness with money, getting back to the story you know :).
— You showed me once the copy of Ozzy's testament, tell us please this story...
— I was working with Ozzy already with Black Sabbath in the 70s. And this was in the 90s, it was í95. With “Mama Concerts” we did some shows with Ozzy. The day after the show in Munich I went to the hotel to pick Ozzy up to take him to the airport. He was travelling with his family – Sharon and 3 kids, but they were still small. And usually this is done for insurance reasons, I experienced this several times with artists. When the artist travels with their partner or family, if the wife, husband and the kids travel, and they fly not with scheduled flights but with private planes, for insurance reasons they always have to travel separate. So Ozzy and family had to go from Munich to Milan which is not so far. And on that particular day they had to fly together. I didnít know about this, I came to the hotel to wait at the lobby for Ozzy to come. And then his assistance comes out and says, Ozzy wants to speak to you. So he takes me up to his suite and then Ozzy says: “I have to ask you of a favour but I donít know...” And I said: “What is it?” as I could see he had a problem asking me :). It was sort of hesitating how to tell me. I said: “But just straight up what is it?” And then he explained to me: when we go to the airport now we have only one jet, I fly with my family, we all are on the same plane. And in case something would happen on the way he has to send his testament, his last will, to the insurance company. It has to be faxed to London before the plane takes off in Munich, it was in telefax days, it was no internet :). Would I sign his last will? And I thought, his LAST will?? And I still thought it was a bit dubious, a funny story. But then they had it already prepared, there was his name on there. So I signed it. And then, when we went to the airport, I dropped Ozzy off at the general aviation area where private jets were based. Then I had to run into the terminal before the plane take-off to fax it to London so it gets there on time. And thatís how I came to sign his last will :). It sounds... When you tell somebody: “I signed the Ozzy Osbourneís last will” :)). And then, the funniest thing is about what you could read in it. That at that time they didnít leave any of their possessions to their families, not to the Arden, not to the Osbourne family. They dedicated it all to foster homes which is like homeless or parentless children.
— As I read in Sharon Osbourneís book, for a long time she was in confrontation with her well-known father Don Arden, so then such decision is no wonder...
— Yeah, they were always fighting. He was a big mafia guy. He managed not only Black Sabbath but a lot of acts. He was a really vicious man. And then, the funny thing was during “The Osbournes” series, the TV thing they did, that in the end she got friendly with her father again. And Sharon and Ozzy married again at the Jewish wedding reception :). So I donít think the last will is still as it was then... (laughs)
— Speaking about long tours, what are the main things to survive in them? How do you manage to keep yourself fit and full with energy?
— Oh, thatís difficult to say. You either have the energy or you donít. Personally Iím convinced from my life before rock-n-roll, because most of my life really until I was in mid 20s I was very sportive, I was doing sports all the time. I didnít drink alcohol, I didnít smoke dope. I think I smoked my first joint when I was 24. So I live more or less healthy way all my life. And I was drinking milk! When in the 60s and early 70s I worked as a disc jockey in London, I had no alcohol, I was drinking milk all day. I was really healthy and I think my body, my fitness is still from there. Besides that, while being on tour you should just rest as much as you can, especially at my age now. In the day, if I can, I lay down for an hour. Itís the same thing with Chris really, it becomes a routine to get as much rest as you can. I donít do anything particular like jogging or walking. Chris always does it but only for a week or so :). When he gets the idea, he starts doing it and then he stops it again... Since we are here (on tour) heís been jogging every day in the morning. The first 2 days he was actually jogging and on the third day, when we were sitting at the breakfast, he came and I said: “Have you been jogging just now?” He said: “No, itís no jogging anymore, itís more walking...” (laughs) So that have reduced itself after a while.
So I mean, you just have the strength or you donít, I donít do anything particular for it.
— So there are no special secrets? :)
— No, not at all.
— But I remember some like a month long tours in Russia last years and at the end everybody seemed to be like...
— Worn out? Yeah, I still experience that a lot... Over the years, even before I started to work with Chris again, with all the young acts and young bands, if it comes to 4-5-6-7 weeks or couple of months even touring, all these young kids, they all canít take it. And Iím still speeding along and doing it but they canít. It could be routine too, I guess. You are either made for this kind of life or you are not, and I seem to be made for it, you know.
— This is obviously kind of a silly question, but how long does your so well known by the Band signature yell “Abfahrt!” exist? :)
— Well, actually it didnít exist before Chris, I never used it before. I picked it up for it was not my idea. It was a security guy... That was just about the time when I met Chris again. I was working with No Angels, this German girl group. The girls were so unorganized, they were always late and they were always running off in different directions at the same time and all that. And there was a couple of security people working with them, and one of them used to shout it. First it got on my nerves and I told him not to speak to the girls like that. He was always shouting: “ABFAHRT!!!” (so loud to block ears :)). Afterwards he left eventually, but they got so used to it and it seemed to work. So I did it on them and that was since then, I started to do “Abfahrt!” :)). It was a kind of these routines that you pick up from other people. Once I knew English tour manager, I got very friendly with him. He was the one who did that timing before the show, going round: “20 minutes!” - “15 minutes!” - “10 minutes!”, to keep the artist on the ball. Not a lot of people do this. So I picked all those little things of experience, I picked it up on the way.
— George, youíre touring with Chris for many years. What is a secret of this man – means how he manages to make audience so happy every time he goes on stage?
— I think itís in his genes. I didnít think about it before because also itís a way of meeting people the longer you work, especially because you met later in life again. And then, in the Smokie days I was too busy with myself. And I didnít see some things. It was just exciting and all that.
Actually it started to dawn on me when we supported Dennis Locorriere in England (2007). Then I met Chrisís mother. Before that, during the Smokie days, I didnít know his parents were in the show business, we never spoke about this. We only started to speak about this in a grown-up life. Sometimes they would take him to work when they went. And he was sitting beside the stage or in the back behind the curtain watching them perform... So you either have it or you donít have it. And he has that.
Also, still besides all the tina turners and bruce springsteens and whatever I worked with, what I love about Chris Norman, and that was the same with the band Smokie, is their love of music, their dedication to music. Thereís not too many people that actually want to, but he would like to work until he dies, Iím sure. Years ago he said to me, Iím not stopping to work before Iím 70. And now heís talking about carrying on if he still can do it at 80 :). But thereís not too many people that have that in them, they canít live without that.
Once he is on stage, he gives his all. It doesnít matter how many people there are, if we are playing festivals, big open airs where thereís 80 thousand people or if we play small theaters with 15 hundred people, and everybody goes bananas and loves the show so bad. I make fun of it if sometimes somewhere in the second row thereís one person that doesnít seem to enjoy himself, you know, maybe a husband whose wife took him along to the show, and they sit there bored or look the other way and they never clap. Everybodyís going bananas and one person in the audience that doesnít show the excitement pisses Chris off!.. He comes off stage and I say: “Wasnít that great in the audience, what a lovely noise!” And he says: ”But there was this f***** idiot in the second row, he didnít smile, he didnít clap!.” I say “What?? There was 15 hundred... Look at the others... What about that one... Who cares??!!” “NOOOOO!!! He f****d it up for me!!”... Have you ever heard him saying that? :) And heís real, he means it!.. :))))
Thatís why itís always difficult too with hardcore fans, especially in Germany then. For any artist, thatís not only with him. I experienced that with a lot of artists that have a hardcore following him. For like over centuries, this goes for a long time now. And those hardcore fans, if they are still fit enough to stand up during a whole show right in front of the stage, the first row, the first two rows are all always the same faces. And that is also very distracting for an artist. He plays every night, for 5 weeks, to the same audience, more or less... :). And sometimes Iím quite happy if somebody else makes it to the front before they do.
— Recalling the January (2014) gigs in England, I remember like after London you said: “Seems like my life came a full circle”...
— Yeah, this Borderline club was close to where I met my wife and where I was a DJ in the end of 60s. I feel I belong more there than here. Already when we did the first two shows in Mansfield and Wakefield in the north, I felt just more at home there than I do in Germany, I donít know why. And then, when we drove to London, it was Chris and I driving in his car. And as soon as we entered London, I canít put it into word, something happened to me. I became a Londoner again :). And I told Chris that.
And the funniest thing was, for me this was the biggest compliment. We just arrived with Chris in the hotel and we checked in. There was a cafe downstairs. Chris and I and Geoff went there and for a walk around. And because I know London so well too, I knew exactly where we were, where we were going, so I felt like.... I was showing them around really, the area where we were. It was in Camden. And after we came back from that walk Geoff said to me, and he couldnít make me a bigger compliment, he said: “You know, you are actually a Londoner, arenít you?” :). I said: “I can feel it now. I belong here, not in Germany” :). And I felt like that, it made me feel good that somebody notices it.
We were there two days before the show. And one morning I went out by myself, I took a bus from Camden into London and walked on my old ways around there. Soho Square, the first thing I went to. I knew that this Borderline club was not far from Soho Square. And just walking around there again, I mean... even now I get all goose when I talk about it... It was incredible really :).
And the funny thing was too that club... Thereís a certain smell, London has a certain smell. The underground smells the same like it smelled 50 years ago. That smell is with me, I can smell it now when I talk about it :). And then, that club is a basement club, itís downstairs. And it isnít very big. The club that I worked in as a DJ, like 500 meters away, was slightly bigger than that. But even that club, when I went downstairs, smelled like the club I used to work in! :) I donít know what it is. ThereĎs a lot of these places in London, night clubs. Especially when they are not on the ground level, if itís going downstairs, all the basements for some reason, or maybe I imagine that, they have a certain smell...
So I felt completely at home there. I was really thinking to myself, I was gonna go home and say to Lynne, look, we move to England again :). Thatís how I felt, I felt I belong there. But then, on the second day, I was walking again, I went for a long walk with Chris. And while walking, that day I realized, I thought this is just a dream, I am not young enough for London anymore. Because suddenly, during a day, in the afternoon, out in the streets it was too hectic for me :). I like the hectic, I like the bustle and the hustle, I love all that, the atmosphere. But it worn me out. When we got back to the hotel, I was so tired that I thought, do I really want to be here?.. I love it so much, I mean I love England generally, and I could still go back and live there, maybe not too far from a big city, like 20 minutes away from London. That will be the ideal thing really :).
Dear George, thank you so much for this great interview! Hope you'll stay on your “action post” beside Chris still for many years and, of course, enlarge your priceless collection of amazing stories! Also wish your book to be released at last. Stay healthy and happy!
photo © www.chris-norman.ru
| Recorded and processed by Stranger (2013-2014).
Many thanks to George Kerwinski for the pictures shared.
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