[% META title = 'Knebworth Fayre 1985' %]
It all started in 1975 when I, as an eight-year-old lover of classical music slagged off my elder brother's love of rock one too many times. He threw me into a chair and told me if I moved I'd get hammered. Then he put a disk on the old turntable, it was 24 Carat Purple, it was side two and it was Speed King followed by the MIJ Smoke On The Water and THAT recording of Child In Time. The next Saturday I bought In Rock. The rest is history.
Indeed it looked back then as though the rest was history, the inferior Mark 3 brand descended into Murk 4 and then dissolved altogether. Only Rainbow, Gillan and Whitesnake remained and from 1980 (when my folks finally let me go to gigs) I barely missed an appearance by any of the three in the London area. Yet the dream of seeing Mark 2 remained.
Then tragedy, opportunity and a hint of what it might be like. Gillan's 82 tour ended at Wembley Arena and is announced as the end of the road for the band. I'm in the fourth row with a couple of friends and the band strike up a number I hadn't heard them performed before - it is outstanding! Lit by the fire that a last date can ignite - a lad in the row in front says "Wow - a new song!", but most of the audience know better. It's everything that was captured on the greatest live album ever - it's Black Night - it's perfect.
Eighteen months later Purple reform, a little later still a friend confides in me that she's been unfaithful and got a new favourite song that isn't by the Purps. But it's OK - it's Knocking At Your Back Door. Then the tour dates are announced and we Brits have to wait till last - but what a last it was to be.
Midsummer comes around slowly but surely and we're off.
A lousy nights' sleep in the tent is followed by a grey morning and we, along with thousands of others crowd through the crash fences. Alaska open followed by the enormous talents (in every way!) of Leslie West and Mountain, the strains of Nantucket Sleighride tear forth, Mama's Boys and Blackfoot are fun, UFO top drawer, and Meat Loaf jumps around just like his doctors told him not to when they set his leg. 80,000+ people scream "Fuck off Tommy" live on Radio One.
By now it's wazzing it down, the gig is running late and everyone's soaked. The Scorps come on stage, a stage that has been steadily bombarded with bottles of urine since lunch time and the German machine produce the best hour I've ever seen or heard from them. I'm reliably informed the rain didn't let up for their entire set, but I didn't feel a drop of it.
Then the break and someone comes on stage and to say Purple aren't coming out until the bottle barrage stops. Some more are held up, and a couple of muppets get bopped, and still they don't come on. It's wet, it's miserable - everyone wants a nice pint in a dry place... There's a vague feeling of concern that Ritchie's going to do a no-show...
It's the opening notes of Toccata and Fugue in d-minor, the strains of the music mutate, Paicey comes in, Rog's base, the cut of Ritchie's lead and Highway Star begins. Leaping up and down despite the inches of mud sucking at my boots. It's my best experiences yet to involve full clothing and a legal state of mind!
HS has never been one of my favourite Purple tracks, but that wasn't what the first few moments were about. Tthey were all about Purple being back. Technically, the gig improves as the band settles in with a rendition of Nobody's Home. The set reaches full pace part way through Strange Kind Of Woman, a number I'd loved since my first day as a Purpaholic a decade earlier. The Man In Black seems to be genuinely having fun on stage - the first time I'd ever seen this and he and Gillan play with Jesus Christ Superstar. A Gypsy's Kiss is storming despite not having been a track I was particularly enamoured of until then. The feeling that it isn't quite real is gone now and the concert is top draw.
Perfect Strangers, title track of the reunion album is Gillan's best performance of the show and part way through the track the PA goes a bit weird, sending the sound spiralling round the speaker stacks in a way I've not heard before or since. It was utterly odd and wonderful, possibly even strangely perfect. IG's voice afterwards seemed to hint at him not suspecting the track would or could go that well.
Under The Gun is sadly missing from the CDs of Knebworth but was a smash on the night. Lazy sees Paicy at his best and then came the best bit.
Around half way through, according to my tape and my copy of "In The Absence Of Pink", comes the Beethoven's Ninth/Space Truckin' medley, introduced by big Ian as "A piece of music" - what an understatement. In musical terms for me this is the highlight of the concert. Ritchie piddles around on his guitar, there's a mock intro, lasers draw a big picture of Ludwig Van, a Paicey drum roll and it all kicks off. Neither the boots nor the official album capture more than a hint of this piece or its atmosphere - it takes a lot of weather to turn a clay amphitheatre into a bog, it takes a lot more music and stamping feet to make it bounce at the same time on a cold English night. There are snatched of various pieces, there's the incredible sound of Lord's Hammond in a way I'd never heard let loose with Whitesnake.
For me one of the things which sets Purple above everyone else is a their capacity for, and understanding of crescendo. They produce delicate passages that presage a strident passion or raging fury. Noise, or tune or rum-tiddly tum isn't what great music is. It's about that something more, it's about creating a space bigger than there could possibly be and then filling it with a beauty or power you have hinted should be there. Its a rare and special gift, and it was in almost offfensive quantities.
At some point during the proceedings Gillan asks everyone to lend him a quid two and a half years of hope come full circle with an monster performance of Black Night is the first encore this is topped by the inevitable Smoke on the Water with the crowd screaming every syllable - you can hear us over IG on the CD during the chorus and in the crowd we could barely hear him over us at times. As the final strains die away the fireworks are ignited and the band makes its exit, leaving the site long before the stamping of feet and bellow of MORE had died away and we all noticed that we were now even wetter than when it had started.