Black Sabbath’s songs have been covered many different ways — by soul singers, jazz combos and even a fast-food-themed parody band. But it still must have been a surprise for Tony Iommi and onetime Sabbath singer Ian Gillan (best known as the frontman for Deep Purple) when the Armenian ensemble the Naregatsi Orchestra presented them with a cover of the Technical Ecstasy deep cut “She’s Gone” at a special concert in Yerevan today. The ensemble, dressed in traditional garb, played the song on traditional instruments including the dulcimer-like qanun, the lute-like oud and the sitar-like tar.
The musicians, who first worked together on Sabbath’s Born Again album, were in the country’s capital today to be recognized for their efforts to raise funds for earthquake relief there. In 1988, a 6.8-magnitude quake had decimated the Armenian city Spitak and killed an estimated 38,000 people. Iommi and Gillan were among the musicians to contribute to a star-studded charity recording of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” the following year to raise funds to rebuild the country. Other musicians on the recording included Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore and Queen’s Brian May. Decades later, Iommi and Gillan recorded another song, “Out of My Mind,” with another supergroup of musicians, including current and former members of Metallica and Iron Maiden, to collect money to build a music school in Armenia.
“I was [in Armenia] a year after the earthquake, and it was as if it were the day before,” Ian Gillan said in 2011. “I went out to Spitak, the epicenter of the earthquake, and I was speaking to the mayor and people going around seeing people like zombies. And of all the things that made an impression on me, the one thing he said was that there’s no music. Even after a year, there’s no music in the church. There’s no music on the radio. Children don’t sing. Even the birds aren’t singing. It’s just dead.”
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Along with charity organizer Jon Dee, who put together the “Smoke on the Water” recording for what was dubbed Rock Aid Armenia, Iommi and Gillan traveled to Yerevan this year to attend a special event in their honor that the country’s prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, attended. While there, they were also treated to the special performance of “She’s Gone,” Sabbath’s classically orchestrated, mournful love song from 1978.
Iommi posted the performance to his Facebook page and wrote, “Great day here in Armenia, Ian and I have just been with the Naregatsi Orchestra.”