“I’d heard this one thing, Smoke On The Water or something. But I’d never actually seen them”: the night an ex-Beatle gatecrashed a Deep Purple show for an impromptu jam

Deep Purple’s Roger Glover and Jon Lord with George Harrison in 1984
Deep Purple’s Roger Glover and Jon Lord with George Harrison backstage in Sydney in 1984 (Image credit: Bob King/Redferns)

Few bands can say they’ve been joined onstage for an impromptu jam by a former member of The Beatles, but that’s what happened to Deep Purple when George Harrison made a surprise appearance during an encore at a gig in Sydney, Australia in December 1984.

Like every other band of their generation, Deep Purple were heavily influenced by The Beatles. Their Rod Evans-fronted 1968 debut album, Shades Of Deep Purple, featured a slowed-down, organ-heavy version of The Fab Four’s 1965 hit Help!. But The Beatles’ stopped playing live well before Deep Purple formed, and the latter’s career took off just as the former’s ended, meaning the two bands’ paths never crossed. As Harrison admitted in a 1987 interview, he was only vaguely aware of Purple during their early 70s heyday.

“I never knew their music, but I’d heard this one thing, about Smoke On The Water or something like that,” the guitarist said. “But I’d never actually seen them… I’d heard they were in the Guinness Book Of Records for being the loudest group in the world.”

The seeds for that unlikely onstage jam were sewn a few years before, when Harrison and Purple duo Ian Paice and Jon Lord became neighbours (drummer Paice was married to the twin sister of keyboard player Lord’s wife). Lord even contributed keyboards to a track on Harrison’s 1982 solo album, Gone Troppo.

The former Beatle happened to be in Australia when the recently reunited Deep Purple played a show at the Sydney Entertainment Centre on December 13, 1984.

“I thought I’d go and check ’em out, get my earplugs, and I’ll go and see them,” he said in 1987. “I really enjoyed the show.

“I sat on the stage for part of the show, behind the loudspeakers, and then I walked down and sat right in the centre of the hall, and it was not too loud.

“I liked it. And I thought Ian, who was my neighbour… he’s such got a good drummer… Jon Lord, rocking his organ. And [singer] Ian Gillan, I thought he’s just a scream, he’s really funny.”

At some point, someone decided it would be good idea to invite Harrison onstage to jam. “They said, ‘Here’s a guitar, come on,’” he recalled.

Harrison took to the stage during the encore. “What’s your name?” Gillan playfully asked. “This is your audition.”

“Arnold Grove from Liverpool,” replied Harrison, a reference to the street he’d grown up on.

“This chap won a prize to come and play with us this evening,” Gillan told the audience, before turning back to Harrison. “Did you get to the gig alright? Have you been paid yet?”

The band and their famous guest proceeded to launch into a loose, eight-minute version of Little Richard’s Lucille. Harrison himself later admitted that he was winging it. “I don’t know what it was, I was playing the wrong key and everything, but it didn’t seem to matter,” he said.

Luckily, footage of this one-off jam was captured by an audience member. While the quality is grainy, it shows Purple having a blast as they try their best to accommodate their superstar second guitarist. Even regular Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore looks uncharacteristically gleeful

It wasn’t the last time Harrison played with members of Deep Purple. In 1989, the guitarist enlisted Ian Paice to drum on  Cheer Down, written for the soundtrack to action movie Lethal Weapon II. Paice also drummed on two other tracks recorded at the same time, Poor Little Girl and Cockamanie Business, both of which appeared on the compilation  Best of Dark Horse 1976–1989.

Watch footage of Deep Purple jamming with George Harrison below.

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