A Deep, dark secret

Deep Purple, circa 1970
Deep Purple, circa 1970
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THEY have sold more than 200 million records worldwide, are credited with inventing heavy metal and were once listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as “the planet’s loudest band”.

But here’s something global rock gods Deep Purple have managed to keep quiet for almost 30 years...

Smoke in the grain store: Simon and the master tapes

Smoke in the grain store: Simon and the master tapes

Their entire archive of early recordings – some 250 master tapes featuring original albums, live tracks, rarities and out-takes – have been stored in an old Sheffield grain store since 1985.

The extraordinary collection, now valued at up to £1 million, was left with a city super-fan after he simply asked the band’s managers if he could look after it.

“Things were a bit more lax back then,” shrugs Simon Robinson, who has since stored the tapes at the renovated Aizlewood Business Centre in Nursery Street.

“Before I was given responsibility they were being kept in this leaking warehouse where the door was left unlocked all day. I couldn’t believe it. You wouldn’t leave The Beatles master tapes like that – and Deep Purple are just as important to rock fans.

“I said ‘Let me look after them properly’, and the management company agreed. Simple as that really.

“I remember driving back up to Sheffield with them in the back of an old Ford Escort van. They were so heavy the back axle was scraping on the ground.”

The tapes – dating from 1968-76 – contain about 200 hours of early recordings by the band, formed in London in 1968 and still going today.

Several rare versions of their most famous hit, Smoke On The Water, are among the collection’s highlights.

“It’s a strange story really,” says Simon, 57, of Stannington. “Basically I wrote to the management company as a fan and told them I didn’t think much of their plans to re-issue some of the early material.

“I had a small record label at the time and they wrote back and asked what I thought they should do. We got talking. I went down to their offices and when I saw the state these early master recordings were being left in I asked them to let me look after them properly. When I said it would probably save them some money, I think that swung it.”

And that’s what he’s done for the past 27 years, only taking the tapes out of storage when a new re-release was being made.

“A new generation has discovered the band through computer games like Guitar Hero,” says Simon. “That means there are things constantly being re-released so I get to listen to them often enough.”

And now?

After the death of both the band’s former managers the tapes have been returned to the estate of the firm as agreed.

Global music giant EMI will store the tapes at a dedicated facility at Abbey Road Studios.

“It’s nice to know I’ve done my bit and helped preserve the originals,” says Simon.