That time I played with a famous rockstar
A personal story about music and dreams
It’s the end of April 2011. I am in Palermo, my hometown. I’m on a very large stage of a theatre, where I have already been several times to watch movies or concerts. But this time for this specific concert I am going to be on stage, playing for the audience with my bass guitar. The event is only 2 days away. I’m in the middle of one of the last rehearsals. I am on stage with a full-size symphony orchestra from my hometown’s conservatory and my rock band, the Flowerstone. We are playing Concerto for group and orchestra, one of the first combinations of rock and symphonic music that was performed for the first time in 1969 by Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the Royal Albert Hall in London. The Concerto is split in 3 movements and it was composed by Jon Lord, the keyboard and organ player of Deep Purple. We are rehearsing the second movement, just about to start a section where the Hammond organ plays a mellow yet solemn cadenza accompanied by the bass guitar.
I am just getting ready to play my part, when I suddenly turn my head and I see him. Jon Lord in flesh and blood is here. He gets on stage. He’s coming directly from the airport. He doesn’t want to interrupt us. He quickly swaps with our keyboard player and starts playing his cadenza expecting me to join him. My feelings are hard to describe, my heart is pumping. In one moment, I am meeting one of my heroes, and I am playing with him.
Even now, just by telling you this story after all these years, it gives me goosebumps. But how did I get there? In this post, I am going to tell you about my personal history with music and what I learned from it all over my life.
I grew up surrounded by music. My mum used to be a member of a folk band and used to play her guitar and sing to me during my whole childhood. Many other people in my family were musicians too.
I was noticed for my music aptitude in primary school by my music teacher, playing melodica. I was 8 years old. She asked my mum to take me to her piano lessons. I played my first concert on the piano after a couple of months in our local church’s music hall.
After a couple of years playing the piano, I decided to stop. I thought my life was too busy. I was 10 years old.
Luckily, I got closer to music again as a teenager. In high school, a lot of my classmates were playing guitar, so I started strumming my mum’s guitar as well. However, when my friends from school decided to form a rock band, they came to me and said “Andrea, we all play guitar, we need a bass player”. My answer was “Cool, I’ll do it! …by the way, what is a bass guitar”?
That was in 2001. Since then, I have played in several rock bands and performed several gigs, at first with friends from school and later with my cousin and his band. They were much older than me and quite popular in our area for their flawless interpretation of Led Zeppelin. My cousin with his Les Paul guitar was our local version of Jimmy Page.
After a few years and after a few changes of singers and drummers, we had this once in a lifetime opportunity. I had grown up listening to 70s hard rock and Deep Purple were one of my favourite bands. After Led Zeppelin of course. Jon Lord was literally one of my legends. And I was going to play one of his main compositions with him on the same stage.
When we were made aware this was going to happen, we were sent a huge pile of music sheets from the UK, and we only had a couple of months to learn everything and practice with the orchestra. Honestly it felt almost impossible. But we all rolled up our sleeves and worked really hard. After a couple of weeks, I had every note from those sheets imprinted in my brain.
And then the night of the concert. It was incredible. Most of my friends and family were there to support me. The theatre was packed. There were more than a thousand people. I could barely see the end of the theatre. I still remember the tension rising as we were getting ready in the backstage. We played for more than two hours. The Concerto for Group and Orchestra in the first half and some Deep Purple classics in the second half. By popular demand, we finished with Child in Time. I still cannot believe I played that song, a milestone in rock history, with its very composer.
During those few days, I was lucky enough to get to speak to him and get to know him as a person. I could ask him whether certain legends were true or not. For example, I asked him whether it’s true that he was still writing the score the night before the concert in 1969. I also took the opportunity to tell him what he meant to me as a musician and how brilliant I thought he was.
Unfortunately he passed away one year later, so that was one of his last performances.
Fast forward a few years, I’ve become a software engineer and then an engineering manager, but I’ve never stopped pursuing my passion and playing music. I’ve moved town and country more than once, but everywhere I’ve been, I’ve had a band. Today, with my band, Unholy Joe, we compose our own songs. Last year, we recorded our first album. In my spare time, I keep strumming both guitar and piano and I’ve even started singing.
In summary, I’ve told you the story of my journey from playing melodica in primary school to sharing a stage with a famous rockstar.
What has music taught me during my life so far? Regardless of what you end up doing for a living, if there’s something you love doing, always make time for it. Don’t be like 10-year-old me and don’t make excuses because you feel your life is too busy. You can achieve your dreams even if you’re only pursuing your passion as a hobby.
Never give up on your dreams!