NICOSIA – Over 100,000 people – 10 percent of Cyprus’ entire population – are expected to attend legendary rock band Deep Purple’s May 24 concert at Near East University (YDU) in the Turkish-controlled area of that country. But many are furious with the band for agreeing to play in a region recognized as a country by no nation in the world except the occupying one – Turkey.
There comes a time when politics and entertainment clash. In the United States, conservatives often struggle with the contradictory duality of appreciating the talents of, say – actor Alec Baldwin or singer Barbara Streisand – while abhorring their political ideology. Conservative actors, in turn, often describe how ostracized they feel by the rest of mostly-liberal Hollywood.
Those conflicting feelings are not limited to Americans, however, as evidenced by the controversy that Deep Purple has caused among Greeks, by their pending YDU performance.
YDU Board of Trustees Chairman and Assistant Professor Dr. İrfan S. Günsel, said: “The recent advances of our university, especially in music and art, are followed with great care and appreciation by everyone. The Deep Purple concert that we are going to perform on 24 May 2014 is one of the most important events of this process.” We did not arrange this music event just to make a big mark all over the world, he said.
In the spirit of unity, Dr. Gunsel said: “We dreamed a concert that will embrace all the island, entertain everyone together, and one that will give ultimate pleasure to people from every age and every nation. We set forth for a musical event that will be remembered for ages and we set forth for a special journey that will overcome all the barriers and the borders. Let’s bear in mind, Deep Purple is a common passion for the last couple of generations, and a common value. And, at this point, we would like to bring in a historical event that will be remembered for generations, a historical day that will be an unforgettable event in history of our island. As to emphasize this, we say get your sleeping bag and come along.
“For us, Deep Purple symbolizes the expression of several values through music. Deep Purple’s principle of holding its head high as is also reflected in its music style, and its solid approach to perform this music event in our country are overlapping with academic and social standing of the Near East University. I am sure that several moments and memoirs from our 25 year-old journey will again revival in our eyes and minds while we are listening to their music.
“We are hoping to send a hearty salute to rest of the world and unite with the songs of Deep Purple as one heart with our precious students who came from over 100 countries all over the world and turned our culture into a unique blend of cultures, and with our guests who will come from all parts of our island as well as from around the world to join us at that glamorous musical event.”
Not everyone sees this event as symbolizing unity, however. Plenty of Greeks, as evidenced by their comments on Deep Purple Lead Singer Ian Gillan’s official Facebook website, are livid over this, and do not hesitate to lambaste their long-beloved band.
Here in the United States Deep Purple no longer sits in the rock and roll pantheon occupied by bands such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and U2, although during its heyday in the early 1970s, Deep Purple had eclipsed them all in terms of volume: both the decibel kind (the group was listed as “the world’s loudest band” in the Guinness Book of World Records), and album sales (it holds the record for most entries simultaneously on the Billboard charts). Long before the band could set more records, however, the classic “Mark II” lineup, which consisted of Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, Lead Singer Ian Gillan, Bassist Roger Glover, Keyboardist Jon Lord, and Drummer Ian Paice disbanded in 1973, when Gillan and Glover left the band. Some of the breakup was due to exhaustion, but in great part it also had to do with the strong and clashing personalities of Blackmore and Gillan, which onstage was channeled into an amazing guitar/vocals combination rarely equaled let alone surpassed, but offstage caused a great detail of turmoil that permeated throughout the entire band. The departing members were replaced by new Lead Singer David Coverdale and Bassist/Vocalist Glenn Hughes.
Nowadays, American classic rock radio stations typically limit Deep Purple’s airplay to the band’s most famous song, “Smoke on the Water,” whose guitar riff is arguably the one most aspiring young musicians first learn to play on their electric guitars, but the band – now in its 47th year of existence – is still popular throughout most of the rock and roll world.
The current version of the band consists of Gillan and Glover (who are back), Paice, Guitarist Steve Morse (who replaced Blackmore when he left in 1993), and Keyboardist Don Airey (who replaced Lord, who left the band in 2002 and died in 2012). Their 2013 album, Now What!?, climbed to the top spot on the music charts in Germany, Austria, Norway, and the Czech Republic. It climbed to Number 3 in Russia, where then-President (now Prime Minister) and avid Deep Purple fan Dimitri Medvedev hosted the group.
In Greece, Now What?! climbed as high as Number 13 on the charts, where the band still enjoys tremendous popularity. Radio stations play the music, as do bars and rock clubs, and Greek rockers still want to grow up and sing like Gillan or play guitar like Blackmore. Deep Purple continues to tour Greece and played in Crete with Greek rocker Vasilis Papakonstantinou. Gillan also recorded the single “Get Away” with Greek pop singer Mihalis Rakintzis in 1992.
The question is, will the group’s decision to play at YDU, in the “Turkish Republic of Cyprus” – a nation formed as a result of the invasion of the Republic of Cyprus in 1974 by Turkish troops and officially recognized as a country only by Turkey – tarnish their image among their Greek fans loyal to Cyprus’ plight? Is ethnic blood thicker than Smoke on the Water?
Stathis Panagiotopoulos, who lives in Greece and is a tremendous Deep Purple fan – he has seen them live in concert an amazing 106 times – told TNH that he is not angry at the band by any means, “but I don’t really like them playing in what is, essentially, an illegal state.” No Deep Purple member, at least, is Greek: pop superstar Sakis (Rouvas) disappointed his countrymen who felt betrayed when he performed in a peace conference in Turkish-controlled Cyprus with Turkish musician Burat Kut. Sakis described how the Greek fans turned against him, even throwing garbage and other debris on the state at subsequent concerts in Greece.
TNH Correspondent Johanna Voutounou, a Cypriot-American, thinks “no one should be playing on the Turkish side, it is not a recognized country. But if it’s a benefit concert to promote peace,” that’s entirely different, she said. It seems this particular concert qualifies as the latter.
Dervis Eroglu, leader of the Turkish-controlled Cyprus region, invited Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to attend the concert with him, the Cyprus Mail reported, as a display of unity and solidarity. As of this writing, it is unconfirmed whether Anstasiades has accepted or rejected Eroglu’s invitation. Terry Algranati, a Turkish-American and Deep Purple fan, told TNH “I really hope President Anastasiades accepts the invitation to attend the concert as a symbol of taking the first step toward reversing the animosity between the two sides. Canceling the concert would just be a continuation of what’s gone on for years, while attending would be a small but important first step that could lead to something positive.”
Ian Gillan throughout his long and illustrious career has seen his share of international controversies. Already aware of the controversy Deep Purple’s planned visit to YDU is causing, wrote a lengthy comment on his website, gillan.com, and he told TNH that it represents his position on the matter: “There’s a bit of a hoo-ha going on about our forthcoming show in Cyprus, so here are some thoughts on the issue.
“My views are not necessarily those of the rest of the guys in Deep Purple,” Gillan says, “so, please take this as a personal opinion.
“We – Deep Purple – have never been on one side or the other when it comes to performing music. I remember during the Cold War hearing about visits to London by the Bolshoi Ballet and the top football teams from Moscow, also the Cossack dancers, and many other cultural exchanges between the West and the Soviet Union. The diplomatic and cultural side door was always open for art, entertainment, and sport, no matter how frightening and confrontational all the rest of it was.
“Amongst many of the countries we have visited in our peripatetic jaunts are Israel, Lebanon, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, USA, Venezuela, Argentina, UK, China and Japan; all of which have a conflict with somebody or another, and all with behaviour and traditions that someone else doesn’t like.
“And I love them all.
“And so it should be with Cyprus, across the divide. And may I add that our many previous visits to Turkey and Greece have been fabulous; I personally have friends in both countries.
“That is my position,” Gillan concludes, “may peace be in your hearts.”