Gillan, Plant and Staley

Updated: Aug 24, 2019, 21:51 IST | Rahul da Cunha

So, this is partly a birthday wishing column. But, it's also a column about rock music: two specific periods

llustration/Uday Mohite
llustration/Uday Mohite


So, this is partly a birthday wishing column. But, it's also a column about rock music: two specific periods. The years 1969-73 produced some of the finest work in classic rock history. Two of the premier bands, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, were formed in 1968.

The year 1990 witnessed the birth of grunge. If the overriding themes that underlined classic rock were protest and freedom, the latter, grunge, was about loneliness and abandonment.

This has been a significant week: three of my all-time favourite singers were born in the last five days. Ian Gillan was born on August 19. Who's Ian Gillan, you will ask, dear reader? He's the belter who fronted the first of the aforementioned 1968 bands, Deep Purple, the man with the banshee-like scream, who kept most parents of '70s teenagers awake at night. Parents who wished they hadn't bought their kids Cosmic amplifiers and Ahuja speakers.

Ironically, it was my mother who introduced me to Gillan, via the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack. The idea that the world's fiercest and wildest rock singer should play the role of Jesus Christ was conceived by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. He had a section in his song, Gethsemane, in which he required a prolonged scream, a song in which Christ seeks redemption from god in the Garden of Eden. Only one man in the rock world could reach that octave: Ian Gillan.

It was a few weeks later at the St Xavier's College canteen that I realised that this was the same man who sang Smoke on the Water. A day later I was in Rhythm House, buying all the Deep Purple/Ian Gillan: In Rock, Fireball, and Machinehead.

Robert Plant was born a day later on August 20. Who's Robert Plant, you'll ask, dear reader? In 1972, he came to Slip Disc, Colaba and played live with guitarist Jimmy Page. Crucially, he fronted the other iconic 1968 band, Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant wrote Stairway to Heaven. He also wrote the following lyrics: "If the mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me/And so today the world it smiles, your hand in mine we walk the miles." In a non-Google/Wikipedia age, a friend and I would use these words to score with the ladies, palming them off as our own. Needless to say, Plant could pull it off, and we couldn't.

The late Layne Staley was born on August 22. Who is Layne Staley, you will enquire, dear reader? Millennials will know this manic-depressive singer as the front-man of the grunge band Alice in Chains. With the most melodic melancholic growl in the business, he defined the Seattle sound along with Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, Soundgarden's Chris Cornell and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder.

Tarot card readers have a belief that only people born in the same week have carbon copy traits, irrespective of star signs. Gillan, Plant, and Staley, born five days apart, redefined rock vocals, for me.

Happy birthday, gents. Keep blowing our minds as you blow out your candles.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at

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