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Is it a plane...?

Copyright © David Hodgkinson 1996


I'm sitting on a flight to Toronto with a small can of Ruddles beginning to kick in and, in the absence of sitting next to a babe or being upgraded in any way, my mind has begun to wander to the subject of "kookdom".

Now, for the last couple of years I've been the driving force (this means a lot of other people also get to do the work) behind the Deep Purple WWW pages. I've begged the WWW space, set up the programmable parts of the site (guestbook, search engine, on-line surveys and so on) and pretty much set the look and feel for the site. Other volunteers have done a large amount of data gathering, collation, indexing, "linting" and general formatting.

With a new album just released and a tour pending the site and its sister USENET newsgroup alt.music.deep-purple has become the focus for attention among the "net-enabled". I believe that Deep Purple are unique among their genre in that two of the band are on-line (one actively, the other in a more detached fashion), as are the manager and the tour manager along with several other characters, professional musicians who have had dealings with the band.

What adds spice is that with thirteen "permanent" members in its historic stable and a history of in-fighting and cowardly personnel rearrangements the scope for factional in-fighting is huge. [Quicktime 1Mb, .au 424 kb] That this is generally done in a global spirit of good humour and support is quite remarkable. Even more remarkable since English is not the first language of most of the participants (those with an impish sense of humour may even suggest that North Americans come into that category).

For me, one of the joys of being at the epicentre of such a WWW site (a couple of thousand regular human visitors giving some ten thousand "hits" per day) is that I get an assorted mailbag of joy, wonderment, excitement and the occasional wierdo. I've exchanged e-mail with people from Japan, Israel, Cyprus, Slovakia, Brazil and countless other countries many of whom have now become firm "e-friends".

With two gigs in London, something like twenty of us will get together in a room above a pub before the gigs to put some faces to names and settle a few old scores. Just kidding!

The newsgroup, by necessity of USENET rules, had a charter. This charter made amd-p for the "discussion of Deep Purple and related subjects". Somehwere along the line, this has managed to include toupees, socialism and lutefisk. In the last few months, I wrote a similar charter for the WWW pages that stated that it was an area for "Deep Purple information" and related, but should anyone wish to adopt one of the numerous related bands or spinoffs, then we would clearly give them our support.

Something I dislike about running such a site is being percieved as either an "anorak" (a rabid collector: in effect a train spotter) or some kind of apologist for the band's behaviour in whichever far away land my correspondent was offended. In fact, I yearn for the days when I knew far less about the band and could barely distinguish one lineup (or "Mk" in Purple fan parlance). Then, the enjoyment of all the music was undiscriminating. Now, I know when the singer was throwing up in the wings or when the guitarist had taken a bad hit of some drug earlier. Innocence lost.

Talking of trainspotters, there exists a fanclub dating back to the year dot, that in the days of snail mail was the one true font of information for the truly dedicated. However, this worthy organ has somewhat of a reputation for erratic output - something a WWW site (barring the occasional system foul-up) cannot be, provided it's updated as and when news breaks. Where such a magazine scores highly is in the quality of its creative writing - something I now know is like having teeth pulled to have to do. Suffice it to say, that despite several amicable telephone calls, the fanclub's proprietor and I hold different world views. One from a traditional publishing world where information is the next paid piece, and another from a world where you can't stop information spreading so you may as well present is as quickly and professionally as possible.

At the back end of 1995, things started getting interesting. Somehow, someone, somewhere got the idea that the internet was "kewl" and suddenly the band's mangement felt that since they didn't have an overblown, content-free site like a lot of other dinosaur bands then maybe they should make us official and start feeding us stuff. So in due course advance copies of the new album did the rounds and even a wierd format video dropped through my letterbox.

However, such collateral is not without its obligations. The advance tape necessitated somehow digitising segments of some of the songs so that those in far away corners of the globe, like the US, wouldn't wither away while a release was orgainsed in their country. The video was supplied through a desire to "put some video on the site" and needed conversion from some Sony Digital format into a computer digestible format.

As it happened, this event ocurred at one of the busiest two weeks of my career to date and prior to my departure to Canada for up to a month. Fortunately the company I was working at happened to have the equipment available to do this. Unfortunately, we finally figured out that Macs need their video "flattening" (huh?) before being exported to real computers at seven o'clock on a Friday evening. Too late to get the 10 megabyte file (for forty seconds of video!) transferred from a non-internet connected site to the WWW server for further compression and processing my some other WWW site volunteer. Saturday was my daughter's birthday and Sunday I'm on a plane.

While this kind of stand-offish support from the management has been appreciated, it's actually paled in comparison to the keenness and material support that some of the apparently minor players in the Purple Kingdom have shown. One, a mail-order CD distributor also manages several Purple spinoff enterprises including a band with one ex-Purple member and a drummer whose credentials stretch back to the mists of time. I've given these guys as much support as I can because they are keen and upfront. Plus, this band, despite initial fears of Spinal Tap-ism kick serious butt: something the new Purple effort studiously avoids in order to appeal to an ageing, sorry, maturing market.

The second orgainisation that has given us support, OK, one of all their Purple related CDs and videos, is a re-issue label that has done so much to unearth valuable rare material and make it available to the fans at a reasonable price. However, converting such collateral into negotiable assets is difficult. I can give some of the stuff away to the stalwart contributors to the site, but I'm at a loss as to what to do creatively. I hate the idea of trivial giveaway quizzes. Especially ones that I'll be expected to pick up the postage for.

[Editor's note: The transmission becomes garbled at this point. Probably something to do with the drinks trolley coming round the plane yet again]
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