|Deep Purple - The Battle Rages On tour 1993|
Maybe, just maybe, this tour isn’t a figment of every Purple fan’s collective imagination after all! The confirmation telex from the war zone is short and to the point: “The battle rages on…”
As a way of summing up Deep Purple’s twenty five years to date, it’s perhaps not too far wide of the mark.
It all began peacefully enough when five English rock musicians made
the short ferry trip across the channel to land in Denmark. In a little
club in Vestpoppen, billed as “Roundabout”, they took the
stage on the evening of April 20th 1968 before a crowd of about 500 curios
Danes. Three weeks later they were back in England, rechristened Deep
Purple, and hard at work on their debut album.
The phoney war came to an end in the late spring of ’69. Taking stock, founding members Blackmore, Lord and Paice decided they needed new recruits to achieve the harder sound they were searching for. The word went round London clubs, and before long Blackmore was checking out a pop band called Episode Six. Their singer Gillan and bassist Glover were signed up. It was time for dues to be paid, and Roger’s first wage went on a belt to replace the piece of knotted string which had been holding up his trousers during their audition.
The sacrifices were worth it; holed up in Hanwel Community Centre by day, taking any gig they could get by night, “Deep Purple In Rock” emerged on a largely unsuspecting world in June 1970 - and remains a landmark in rock history. From there, via an exhausting routine of almost non-stop touring, the arrows only pointed up. “Fireball” in 1971 consolidated their position - an adventurous album that for many people defined progressive rock - and “Machine Head” the following year found them breaking out of Europe and into the American charts once more. A precision made rock album, it had a commercial edge as well. In no time at all the trail of chart singles which had begun in the UK back in 1970 was quickly matched by the phenomenal sales of the album track “Smoke On The Water” in America, which in turn helped put the subsequent seminal live double album “Made In Japan” at the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Deep Purple stood poised on the edge of platinum success.
In just two short years, they had written many of the ground rules subsequent generations of rock bands would be only too happy to follow.
And then? They split up! Tension, disagreement, tiredness and frustration, which manifested itself during their last studio album “Who Do We Think We Are”, saw Ian Gillan shoot off to do his own thing, while Roger Glover walked away to bury himself in the studio doing production work.
Purple were never quite the same again. Although with new recruits David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes, they made a couple of strong albums, and played some excellent gigs - of which 1974’s California Jam probably went down in history when an angry Blackmore spectacularly closed their set by setting fire to the stage and destroying a camera on live US TV - some of the band’s sense of adventure, and fun had gone. When Blackmore in turn hung up his black brimmed hat in 1975, Purple chugged into phase four of their career with mercurial talent of Tommy Bolin, their first American member, in tow. A player who shone only briefly during his spell with the band, unable to direct his energies 100% towards the group activities, Deep Purple called it a day in March 1976.
Free of real or imagined shackles, the next couple of years saw an explosion of talent from the ex-members of the band. Blackmore formed Rainbow, and pushed the boundaries of rock with a couple of spectacular world tours before veering off in search of something new. Working his way through the A-Z of rock musicians in the process, he finally teamed up once again with Roger Glover. Paice and Lord formed their own outfit Paice, Ashton, Lord before being poached by David Coverdale for three or four years of globetrotting with Whitesnake. Ian Gillan, having tinkered with restaurants and motor cycle engines, had begun his attempt to enter the Guinness Book of Records for the longest non-stop tour with his own band Gillan.
And for a while Purple fans of old revelled in it; no sooner had one band hit town than another was scheduled. The will-they won’t-they reform saga was never far from people’s minds however, and while the possibility was curtly dismissed in interviews to begin with, as the years passed and tempers mellowed, the likelihood of a reunion grew - until it was less a case of it, than when.
The period of speculation finally came to an end in early 1984, when the classic band line-up of Blackmore, Gillan, Glover, Lord and Paice all signed on the dotted line once again. It was almost as if they’d never been away. A couple of solid albums, “Perfect Strangers” and “House Of Blue Light” contained enough gems to keep most older fans happy, while the band had adapted well enough to changing times to attract a whole new audience - their first 1985 reunion tour broke box office records across America. Tracks such as “Perfect Strangers”, “Knocking At Your Back Door”, “Strangeways” and “Spanish Archer” were good enough to match anything they’d laid down in the past. The future, even if it was being approached in a touch more leisurely approach than the first time around, was looking good.
And then? Well, the jury’s still out on this one. Ian Gillan’s seemingly insatiable desire to be touring found him gigging during non-Purple moments using his original stage name Garth Rockett and before long he found himself embarked on a solo career once more. While the cat was away, Purple played with - well replacing him was bound to throw whoever tried right in at the deep end, and it was Joe Lynn Turner who drew the short straw. And for a time battle really did rage, amongst the fans at least. It’s not always realised, but Deep Purple have been around longer in their reunited form than they were first time round, so the occasional hiccup is perhaps to be expected. It was over almost before it began, and at the close of 1991 Ian Gillan returned to the fold to enable Deep Purple to begin work on their current album.
And current is the word. From the Romany tinged “Anya”, through the lazy blues shuffle of “Ramshackle Man”, the driving “Nasty Piece Of Work” and Ian’s homage to the corned beef sandwich, “One Man’s Meat”, to this humble scribe’s ears it has a kick which the earlier reunion efforts lacked. In other words, it ain’t too bad at all, probably much better than we’d a right to expect in fact.
Will we ever see and hear their like again? Your guess is probably as good as mine, and almost certainly better than Ian Gillan’s. Let’s just hope he’s found a decent pair of trousers to wear tonight…!
Simon Robinson. July 1993