|Deep Purple - The House Of Blue Light tour 1987|
Golly!” said Little Miss Molly, when she was rocking in the house
of Blue Light….”
Déjà vu? Well, when the proposed title of Purple’s
new album was leaked to us, the plebeian pen-pushers of Britain’s
music press, and world trickled tantalizingly back from those colleagues
lucky enough to have lent an ear to the odd track - strictly glass-to-the-wall
fashion, of course - that the band was pounding away very much in the
vein of the early Mark ll days, there can be no doubt that an extra degree
of intrigue was added to the already knee-knocking anticipation of release.
Sure enough, The House Of Blue Light, released in January this year, was every bit as good as we expected it to be - Purple’s needle of natural progression piercing the rock ‘n’ roll heart of the late eighties and drawing the best part of two decades together with a stitch made from the thread of some classic material. There was a slight sense of déjà vu in the air - little things, like Big Ian’s harmonica inserts, the song title of “Hard Lovin’ Woman” (remember “Hard Lovin’ Man” from In Rock?) and, talking of that particular album, the lay-out of the new LP’s band photos - but basically this was Deep Purple modernised, utilising new-fangled ideas like guitar synthesizers and up-to-the-minute production techniques and planting a foot forward rather than backwards or sideways into the bargain. It can’t be easy for a band so innovative in its early years to bounce back over a decade later and regain similar sky-scraping standards, but with The House Of Blue Light, possibly more so than with Perfect Strangers, Purple appear to have done just that.
“Take a look at these dirty hands,
As the opening track on the new Purple album, “Bad Attitude” has a daunting reputation to live up to: Speed King, Fireball, Highway Star, Woman From Tokyo and Knocking At Your Back Door are its grand and imposing ancestors and anything less than a chip off the old block would’ve been a disappointment. However, when, after Jon Lord’s stately keyboard crescendo and a couple of abrupt punctuations, the band steam into the song on the back of Ritchie’s thick, chunky chords, sending goose bumps the size of golf balls up your back, it’s as obvious as this band’s class that Bad Attitude is a thoroughbred.
Masters of their trade, Purple make it all sound so simple: Paicey and Roger Glover punch a fierce-yet-controlled rhythm that invariably hits a nerve at the base of your spine and has you twitching your feet throughout; Big Ian delivers the lyric as convincingly as ever; and Lordy provides the rich, colourful keyboard cushion from which Ritchie springs to add all the necessary six-string spice. Here, Ritchie digs deep into that hip-grafted strat to carve a solo of casual majesty, and as the band cruise along around him in their familiar, well-oiled style, the fresh air that flares you nostrils really does make a pleasant change from the stench emanating from all too many of the current pretenders to Purple’s throne.
“I’ve got a warning for you,
“The Unwritten Law” is the perfect follow-up to “Bad Attitude”. Breaking out of a clever intro which finds Big Ian scatting in unison with Ritchie’s guitar, to tease your (by now) throbbing ear drums with a memorable guitar-synth riff that Ian claims is the most difficult he’s ever had to write for. “I nearly killed Ritchie when I heard it,” he confesses, although he needn’t have worried as this particular lyrics is one of the most interesting on the album. It’s a general comment on how people should have a little more responsibility, and I think it’s particularly relevant today with all the worry about AIDS.” Little Ian also comes to the fore this particular track; his busy work as the song fades is a real chest-sweller for all his fans. But Ritchie holds the reins, switching from his Roland to his Fender as he creates this new and novel shade of Purple, throwing in a solo of stride-staining menace for good measure. If anyone needs convincing that Deep Purple are capable of progressing in the late eighties, “The Unwritten Law” should be sufficient evidence.
“Operator, I’m looking for a girl,
With beefy, stomping verses and a chorus with a hook big enough to land jaws, “Call Of The Wild” is a stinging reminder that Purple can still wipe the floor with even the most commercial of today’s rock ‘n’ roll pups at the mere change of chord. Comfortably combining the very best elements of muscle and melody, here is a song that smacks strongly of a 45 and undoubtedly leans towards chartdom, but which is still pleasingly purplesque… and that’s enough to place it proudly beside the more accessible songs in the band’s back catalogue.
“We thought it was too soft and sloppy at first - it nearly got rejected, strangely enough,” Big Ian admits, “but when it was finished it seemed to have a nice edge to it. We didn’t think about writing a single when we originally did “Call Of The Wild”, but when we presented it to the record company everyone immediately remarked that it was an obvious single. It’s a nice tune, I think.
“Don’t look too long in the face,
After the melodic niceties of “Call Of The Wild”, the threatening bark of “Mad Dog” is sobering indeed. Ritchie flicks out a catchy riff and the floodgates are open for the rest of the band to crash in with one of the album’s most straightforward yet infectious rockers: A vintage Purple vehicle, retuned, resprayed and purring with the new-found verve of a band clearly enjoying each other’s company once more. “It’s just good fun,” was Big Ian’s simple comment on “Mad Dog” when I asked him about it. And I reckon that’s about as good a description as any.
“Read all about it, tell me have you heard the news,
Harmonica wedged firmly in kisser, Ian Gillan heralds the arrival of “Black & White” - a track which finds Purple flirting with the very faintest funky overtones, with Paicey - still the best rock ‘n’ roll drummer in the business for me - thumping out another insistent rhythm and Jon adding some of his most subtle work on the album. Yet it’s Ian’s scornful lyric - a Mike Tyson-like swipe at the press - which probably throws up the most obvious topic for further investigation…
“Black & White is not only an attack on the press,” Ian considers, “but also on people’s attitudes towards it. Some people believe that if they see something in black and white it must be true, although very often it isn’t true at all. I mean, I have no objection to the press in the slightest - bastards! - but it’s difficult to tell people that what they read in the papers isn’t necessarily true. “A reliable source informed me…” “A close friend said…” - what a load of bollocks!
“She walked into the room, her hand upon her hip,
If Ian is cynical and contemptuous on “Black & White”, by the time you’ve flipped the disc over he’s back to his tongue-in-check best with “Hard Lovin’ Woman” - a song about some sex-mad “lump” (the translation of “female” in the concise Gillan Dictionary) which contains such sniggersome lines as “I felt just great when she pulled her 38s”. One for feminists everywhere…
Musically, “Hard Lovin’ Woman” is, in Ian’s own words, “A hard rock ‘n’ roll song with tight harmonies and that kind of thing and follows in the fine tradition of Purple Mark ll’s more uptempo tracks. But hold on a minute…. What about that outrageously familiar title? “We just thought it would be a laugh to call it “Hard Lovin’ Woman”, Ian explains, “considering we had that song called “Hard Lovin’ Man” in the early days. Roger and I wrote a whole list of potential titles up on the wall of this little room in Stowe, where we recorded the album… and that title just fitted the bill.”
“Well there must have been a reason for the smile
As you may or may not know, giving someone the “Spanish Archer” means giving them the “elbow”… or, more precisely in Ian Gillan’s case, “giving some lump the heave-ho”! The song itself is a grower of redwood proportions, tucking neatly into the slipstream of the raunchy “Hard Lovin’ Woman” and rolling along smartly on Roger’s throbbing bass line and little Ian’s cantering drum beat. Most noticeably, though, it features some of Ritchie’s most manic work on the album, with rampant runs and incisive solos whizzing around your head like some kind of mini musical tornado, scattering your senses and reminding you once again that no matter how fast and proficient today’s precocious generation of guitar heroes may be, there’s nothing quite like hearing an original.
“I was born into confusion, my mother said to me:
One of my personal favourites on “The House Of Blue Light”, and, not surprisingly when you hear the slick, harmonised vocal-intro, one of Ian Gillan’s too. “Strangeways” stands tall alongside “The Unwritten Law” as another example of how the revitalized Deep Purple are eager to progress and, if not exactly explore new avenues, then certainly to acknowledge the fact that they’re there. Ritchie again comes up trumps with a riff that seems to owe much to his apparent fascination with far eastern music - this time there’s a distinctive Arabian scent wafting from the grooves! - Jon adds some delightfully deft and fittingly fleet contributions to the somewhat unusual middle section, and the driving rhythm of Paice and Glover binds the whole caboodle together. A marvellous band performance.
“Flying to Salt Lake City
A true story, this one… but not one which your mother would appreciate!
Over a slow, swaying, bluesy “jam”, Big Ian tells the tale
of how when he was in Black Sabbath, flying to a gig in Salt Lake City,
he saw this “absolutely amazing boiler” and… oh, I’ll
let the man himself tell you:
“Mitzi Dupree” is a dead live song. It came out of a jam and we just recorded it for reference. I played it afterwards and thought it was great - I couldn’t stop singing it - so I said to Roger, “We’ve got to do something with it.” So we wrote the lyric and I sang it to the jam tape, and Roger and I decided to leave it like that, because it sounded so natural and spontaneous. It’s a great track.”
“Don’t turn off the light,
A rattling rocker at a punishing pace to finish, with Ritchie exploding in a ferocious fretboard firework display, and Lordy also sending up a few rockets of his own! “Dead Or Alive” is the tenth track on the album, and that’s value for money whichever way you look at it - especially when you consider that all previous “Mark ll” albums have only included either seven or eight cuts.
And that’s it. As a statement of intent, The House Of Blue Light
rams home the point that the reformed Deep Purple are very much about
today and not yesterday, while all the time hinting at the mouthwatering
possibilities of tomorrow.
“We did do it again and it was highly successful - successful beyond any of our expectations. I mean, in the US it was the second highest grossing tour of the year - after Bruce Springsteen - which isn’t a bad trophy to hang on your wall, is it? The album went platinum in America, and I mean we would’ve all been knocked out if it’d gone gold! So all-in-all it was a huge success.
“But we did have that curiosity factor, and I think that now that
curiosity must’ve died down a little, so we’re aware that
a lot of “fringe” people who came to see us last time just
to see what we looked like might have to be lured this time.
“The intention is for Deep Purple to move on. Perfect Strangers had Purple reaching out with one hand across the ten years or whatever to grab onto the past and trying to drag that into the future. I thought the title track was fairly current, and the opening to “Knocking At Your Back Door” was good too… but overall it was a pretty safe album. In fact, it was almost impossible for us to make any other kind of album at that time. “But this new album, without being desperately experimental or anything, sits firmly in the middle-to-late eighties, and yet is still very recognisably Purple. Now that’s quite a juggling act, but I hope that in the next few years we’ll be able to continue with that juggling act and improve it as well. I want to see this band earn the right to be here and not just assume the right.”
Rest assured, then, that Purple will continue for some time yet. As Ian Gillan says: “I don’t think the things that caused us to break up last time exist anymore, so on that basis I don’t think there’s any reason to assume there’s a danger of us breaking up again. I want to be in Deep Purple for the rest of my life, and I hope the rest of the band do as well. “Originally there was a lot of jealousy in the band, but there’s none of that now. We were badly managed between ’69 and ’73, we were working harder that we should’ve been for longer periods of time, our individual levels of tolerance were therefore decreased, the direction of the band was going slightly astray… and the most sensible thing would’ve been for us all to have had three months off or whatever to recharge our batteries. But the work kept piling up and I just had to get out, because, apart from anything else it was affecting the music, and consequently, Who Do We Think We Are lacked the spark and vitality that was there before. That’s the good thing about this new album. We’re not very good in the studio - we never have been - but we have managed to create a spark on this album, and it is vibrant.” And a lot of fun, too… you can almost see the five of them grinning at each other in the studio on some of the tracks.
“Oh yeah, there’s certainly an immense amount of affection between the members of this band,” says Jon. “I mean, I remember when Ian Gillan kept ringing us all up at the end of ’83 saying that we had to all get together. He told me he hadn’t had as much fun in the ten years we’d been apart than he’d had during the four years we were originally together. And I said, “You’re right - neither have I!” So we all met up in this room in Greenwich, Connecticut, with huge nervous grin on our faces… and within five minutes we’d decided we were going to do it. It was as simple as that. And I think it’s the realisation that we do have a lot of affection for each other, and that we do make some damn good music when we all get together that makes it fun and keeps everything fresh. “Personally, I’m having the time of my life being back with these chaps again. I’m especially enjoying working with Ritchie again. Musically, he and I were always compatible, but personality-wise we just didn’t understand each other. It wasn’t that I thought he was a prat, it was just that I misjudged him and he misjudged me, and there was this huge misconception of each other which lasted right up until we got together again recently. Then there was this lovely night in Vermont when we were doing the Perfect Strangers album, where we suddenly looked at each other and said, “You’re not such a bad chap after all!” It was really quite strange. In fact, now I find it difficult to believe how much of a twat I was in misunderstanding someone who is basically a very down-to-earth chap. He’s meticulous, painstaking and very, very much the perfectionist… and all that attention to detail can sometimes rub you up the wrong way. But if you’re prepared to accept that, as I now am, then it’s okay.”
Ian Gillan agrees that the individual members of Purple have matured
enough to be able to accept each other’s (sometimes annoying) idiosyncrasies
and work towards the common end of maintaining the band’s stage
and vinyl performance.
I can’t have been the only one for whom Christmas ’86 was something to get out of the way as soon as possible, it’s not every new year that holds a new Deep Purple studio album and a tour - an answer (if it were needed) to the critics who said the band’s reunion album Perfect Strangers was strictly a one off, and that the project would be lucky to last beyond the studio walls. Yet even as much of that criticism was filling column inches in the papers, the band themselves were hitting the stage again for the first time in eleven years, and it was there, and only there, that the reformation could really succeed: recording in the studio was one thing, cutting it on stage was something else. It’s perhaps worth looking back at the first world tour before we look forward to what could be in store this time around - let’s face it, the way this band work live, even they probably aren’t too sure how the set will end up!
Australia, then, and an ecstatic Ian Gillan walked back onto a Perth
stage to face an equally chuffed crowd of some 7,000 fans who had made
the pilgrimage to witness the return of Deep Purple to the concert platform. “I’ve
got to tell you, we were planning on wearing brown trousers tonight,
but you’ve made it easy for us - thank you.” Backstage Roger
Glover put it quite simply: “It felt like it used to feel…”
Suntans acquired, the group took time off over Christmas, and regrouped in mid-January in deepest Texas to rehearse for an even bigger challenge, their return to the American tour circuit. Curiously, while Deep Purple had rocketed to the top there in 1972 as they had elsewhere, individually their careers had never really broken through to the same degree in America as the had done in other countries. They needn’t have worried though. Kicking off in Odessa, Texas on January 18th, the tour, originally scheduled to last just two months, rapidly became one of the biggest box-office draws of the whole year, eventually stretching on into April. Everywhere, house records were being broken. In Long Beach, 13,500 seats sold out in 1 ½ hours; a second night was hastily added, and another 8,000 tickets went in a day. Over in Chicago, the 12,000 seater ULC Pavillion sold right out in just 53 minutes. In some areas bad weather struck, but fans braved below-zero temperatures in Philadelphia in order to be first in line for seats, and the show there at the Spectrum sold out in just two hours. The record seems to belong to Worchester, with the “sold out” notices going up in 43 minutes. With the incredible demand, second and thirds nights were added in wherever possible, even though this sometimes meant the band returning to the same halls later in the tour.
The group were reaching across the generation gap, appealing both to
their original fans, and to younger kids who had probably been turned
on to the group by older relatives or friends during the years the band
had been away. Deep Purple were delighted: “To be successful in
one generation and successful in the next is something I never would
have dreamed of, but we seem to have it,” Roger Glover commented
towards the end of the tour. “Many kids are coming to the concerts
who have never seen us before. I think they just want to see what all
the fuss is about. It’s a great feeling to know we now mean something
to a whole new generation.” To try and please the fans no matter
why they’d come, the Deep Purple set spanned their entire career,
with “Strange Kind Of Woman” and “Child
There was even a rendition of “Difficult To Cure”, a number
based on Beethoven’s Ninth which Blackmore had arranged in his
days with Rainbow, and into which Purple breathed new life, with a laser
image of Ludwig himself trying to keep up with the man in black. To complete
the show there were numbers used on different nights for encores - “Black
Night”, “Speed King”, and, of course, “Smoke
On The Water”. “They’re legends”, commented one
fan outside the show, “I never thought I’d get the chance
to see the band that recorded “Smoke On The Water”. Now I’m
getting that chance, I wouldn’t miss it for anything”. “Smoke
On The Water”, originally inspired as the band sat in their hotel
room and watched the smoke from the burning casino in Montreaux drift
across Lake Geneva, wondering just where on earth they were going to
find another venue to record in at such short notice.
Yet despite the rave reviews, and the seemingly endless demand for tickets, a halt had to be called sometime - the rest of the world were waiting for their return. Closing in Seattle on April 9th , the band were able to recuperate during May, with “only” half a dozen shows over in Japan, a traditional stronghold of the group ever since the taping there of Made In Japan. Despite four gigs in Tokyo at the famous Budokan, there were still people without tickets, and in the end one of the concerts was relayed outside on a giant video screen for those who’d been unlucky.
Finally it was on to Europe, with three shows before the typically fanatical Swedish crowds at the Isstadion in Stockholm beginning on June 14th. That month and the next they criss-crossed Europe, in many ways the home of the band (if such a world-class outfit can be said to have a home anymore) - it was here after all that they first achieved success back in 1970. The idea had been to take the Perfect Strangers tour to a climax with several outdoor extravaganzas, with British fans finally getting their chance to see a homegrown legend in the grounds of Knebworth Hall, Stevenage. If the weather had threatened to spoil the day, and it ended up being the wettest June day since records had been kept, then the band took it on and won hands down. With Jon’s organ shrouded in plastic, and Blackmore resplendent in Wellington boots, the weather eased moments before they hit the stage and for ninety minutes or so Purple reigned. Finishing with a lengthy instrumental workout during “Speed King” which saw Lord and Blackmore trading runs like demons, the show ended with a giant firework display, and 70,000+ fans were able to struggle home wet and tired, but pleased. “The great thing was how happy everyone was. It was pouring with rain but there was a feeling of such excitement. The audience gave so much to that concert, all I can remember was a sea of faces. I loved it,” Ian Gillan commented soon after.
For those unable to be there, the BBC broadcast the show soon after. The unhappiest person seems to have been the man from the council who said they played too loud, and fined the organisers £1,000! The band repeated the festival bill at shows in Mannheim and Nuremberg, before moving on to Paris, where one of the concerts was filmed for German television.
The tour was drawing to a close, and the European leg ended in Spain
on July 17th in Madrid. It was then back to America for a handful of
shows before finishing with a biggie, headlining the Texas World Music
Festival on August 24th before an 82,000-strong crowd. The tour had lasted
nearly a year, but the problems which had plagued them in days gone by
were no longer evident. “Deep Purple this time around is a much
friendlier band,” said Jon soon after. “It took us ten years
of being apart to learn how to appreciate each other properly. We burned
ourselves out before. That’s something we swore we wouldn’t
do this time.”
That “again” is now upon us. Early 1986 saw the band trying to find a studio to record and rehearse in. After checking out a castle on the banks of the Rhine, a ranch in the heart of Texas, and a studio in Massachusetts, they eventually settled for their original location in Stowe, Vermont, which had served them so well for Perfect Strangers. After Ian and Roger had spent a month at Roger’s house getting ideas together, sessions commenced in early April, and eventually some three months were spent perfecting the new album. It was hoped to release it towards the end of 1986, but finally the decided to wait until the new year. At last the group, minus Ritchie Blackmore (who usually has to take his cat to the vets at times like these!) assembled before the press over in Switzerland in December to preview The House Of Blue Light (if you check out the lyrics to “Speed King” you should be able to see where the album title came from) and chat, ending almost a year of silence.