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Eyewitness to a break-up

By Rasmus Heide

When Deep Purple's The Battle Rages On Tour reached Birmingham, England on November 9, 1993, it had already taken in most of Europe. Starting off in Italy and moving around Germany, France and Benelux, it reached the band's home country for a triumphant four sold out shows, one of which would be filmed for the "Come Hell Or High Water" DVD and video. 

Brixton Academy Nov 8, 1993

Rumours of Deep Purple not entirely being best pals were floating around within the fan community, but the fact that Deep Purple was in fact on the verge of a break-up only became obvious at the band's final explosive British show in Birmingham.

Reports from the shows on the European continent told of incredibly successful shows with sold out venues everywhere. On the good nights, Deep Purple were as strong as they'd ever been. The performances were electric and powerful, incorporating a fair number of songs off the latest album - "Talk About Love", "A Twist In The Tale", the show stopper "Anya" and the masterful title track "The Battle Rages On" - plus a selection of classics including the intensity building show opener "Highway Star", "Black Night", the majestic "Perfect Strangers", complete with stunning lasers, "Knocking At Your Back Door", an elongated "Child In Time", a frantic "Lazy", a medley of "Space Truckin'", "Woman From Tokyo" and Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" (which Deep Purple used to employ as a vehicle for Ian Paice's drum solo in the early 70's), and the inevitable "Smoke On The Water". Some nights the encores included both "Hush" and "Speed King". The first time the band played "Hush" on this tour was in Frankfurt. Ian Gillan obviously wasn't prepared for this, humming his way through what he initially thought was nothing but an impromptu jam, not twigging something was amiss till the crowd in front of him started singing the "naa-na-na-naa" bit! The most surprising inclusion in the 1993 set list was "Anyone's Daughter" off the "Fireball" album, which the band had only ever played live very briefly in 1971. In 1993 it featured Ian Paice coming to the front of the stage to play tambourine - often introduced by Ian Gillan as Elton John (think about it - the resemblance is there!).

Often the shows were fraught with nerves and doubts of would-he wouldn't-he alluding to Blackmore's unpredictable mood swings. On the good nights his playing was otherworldly and he seemed unable to stop himself. On the bad nights it was merely a going-through-the-motions thing. There was obvious strife between Blackmore and Gillan, with the singer treading on eggshells so as not to provoke an incident. It was a well known fact that Blackmore had strongly objected to Ian Gillan's return to the band, but such had been the insistence by the other three members that he'd had no choice. At the first two Italian shows, "Strange Kind Of Woman" was played, but when Ian tried adding his bit to the classic guitar-voice chase, Blackmore stopped playing. In an attempt to make amends with the guitarist, Ian Gillan would come into Blackmore's dressing room after the gigs to congratulate him on a great show and try to strike up a conversation. Blackmore just stared at him and after the first few shows Gillan gave up his mission. Blackmore on the other hand claims Ian Gillan frequently forgot or ignored singing large parts of the songs, much to Blackmore's disapproval. The guitarist's insistence on professionalism sounds strangely hollow in view of what was to come. 

  The shows had many highlights. "Anya" would often see Blackmore signalling the band to stop and he'd go off doodling away endlessly in a world of his own. The same thing also happened in "Knocking At Your Back Door". It can be argued that this was just Blackmore treating Deep Purple as his backing band, but the rest of the band rose to the occasion giving him fierce competition and never letting up.

Jon Lord's long solo spots would seethe with improvisation as he sprinkled them with little classical quotes and tastes of the odd local national anthem. Ian Paice and Roger Glover were energetic and right there behind the soloists, and when it came time for his drum solo, Ian Paice seemed to grow extra arms and gain stamina. Ian Gillan kept a lid on his hitherto much loved stream-of-consciousness nonsense between the songs - perhaps in an effort to not upstage the guitarist. The shows in Frankfurt, Essen, Stuttgart and Paris were already touted as upcoming bootleg classics (were the bootlegs ever to appear), and among the travelling fan base, each had his or her own favourite show. This reporter had already attended the first half of the German shows, and would ultimately take in a dozen shows in all, including the British shows and the final show in Helsinki.  

Arriving in Britain, Ian Gillan was interviewed on national radio and asked about the current status within the band. Mindful of the imminent English shows he stated that the feeling in the dressing room hadn't been so good since the early 70's. He failed to say how this was true for only four-fifths of the band as Ritchie Blackmore always kept to himself in a different dressing room and never spent much time with the rest of the band. (After the show in Essen one fan asked him when he would next see Ian Gillan - "Tomorrow night onstage.") 

For the British dates tension was running high within the band, as only a few nights before, after a show in Prague on October 30, Ritchie Blackmore had resigned from Deep Purple. He had instructed tour manager Colin Hart to read out a letter to the rest of the band. In the letter Blackmore had announced he was tired of Deep Purple and would leave the band after the last European date in Helsinki, Finland on November 17 - a two-week notice. 

According to people who were there, it had come to a stand-off between Blackmore and Gillan at the show in Brussels three nights later on November 2. Ian Gillan allegedly kept singing through one of Ritchie's solos and later, when Gillan was getting the crowd to sing along to a quiet bit in "Smoke On The Water", Blackmore wouldn't stop playing. The situation nearly got physical as Gillan only barely managed to contain himself when the guitarist came close to his microphone stand.

A Japanese six-date tour had already been announced for December, but to prove his decision to leave, Blackmore tore up his Japanese visa after the show in Rotterdam and told the crew the Japanese dates were cancelled. Little did he expect that this time the band would not let themselves be pulled around by their collective noses.

The initial British show in Manchester on November 5 was a good one, but the first London show two nights later at Brixton Academy was a bland and disappointing affair. The next day, Ritchie Blackmore took his Swedish tech and a bunch of fans and journalists to London's Hurlingham Park to stretch out in a game of football. "Tonight can only be better," he said. He proved himself right as the second London show that night turned into one of the very best performances Deep Purple did on the whole tour. 

For the following night's show in Birmingham, all the stops had been pulled - at least video production wise. There were at least three cameras dotted around the audience, plus one in the pit in front of the stage and two handheld on either side of the stage. The resulting video "Come Hell Or High Water", now out on DVD, is a near-faithful reproduction of the show excellently produced and directed. However, the opening of the show and "Highway Star" have been heavily edited in an attempt to cover up what happened during those first few minutes. (The first encore of "Hush" was also edited out.)

As the introduction tape was played over the PA, and the lasers picked out the DP logo and the battling dragons on the backdrop, all cameras fired up. Ian Paice arrived onstage and started the signature snare drum beat of "Highway Star", and soon Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Gillan joined him onstage. It took a while to register that Blackmore was missing. He appeared briefly by his amplifiers, then ran off again. What was going on? The band started looking around, the intro to "Highway Star" still brewing. Confusion. No one seemed to know what was happening, least of all the band. Still with no sign of Blackmore, Ian Gillan signalled for the band to start the song proper. Looking slightly pissed off, they made their way through the first two verses in style, trying to cover up. But when it came to Jon Lord's solo, Blackmore still hadn't turned up. Without the rhythm guitar to back him up, Jon's solo sounded a bit thin. The second verse ensued and by now confusion was clearly spreading among the audience. Where was Ritchie? 

As it turned out, he'd arrived onstage, ready to begin the show, when he'd spotted the handheld camera in the wings of his side of the stage. Perhaps mindful of past experiences with onstage cameras, he ran offstage and demanded the camera be removed immediately. The one in the pit in front of the stage also bothered him and was quickly pointed downwards and wouldn't be seen working again during the rest of the show.

By the end of the third verse, when it was time for the guitar solo, Blackmore finally appeared. He doodled aimlessly, clearly not into the performance, and edged sideways across the stage towards Roger Glover. On Jon Lord's side of the stage was another handheld camera, providing excellent close-up shots of the keyboard player's fingers and hands (check out the film for proof), but this also bothered the guitarist. He later claimed to have agreed to the filming of the show on the condition that no cameras were onstage or between the band and the audience. Others claim this is nonsense.

Picking up a large plastic cup of water, Ritchie moved in closer and lobbed the full cup towards the camera on Jon's side. The camera was out of view from the audience, but very close to where Ian Gillan was minding his own business on the congas as he often does during guitar and organ solos. Consequently, from the audience's point of view, as the cup of water hurtled through the air, passing close over Gillan's head, it looked like Blackmore had been aiming it at the singer. It's been over seven years now, but this fan can still remember feeling at once sick, sad and angry at this seemingly obvious act of aggression. The show is reviewed elsewhere, but suffice to say the mood was spoiled and it took a lot of hard work from the band to get the crowd going again. In the end the show wasn't bad at all, but it hadn't been one of the best of the tour either.

At the end of the show, Ian Paice frisbee'd autographed drumheads into the crowd and Ian Gillan thanked the British fans for 25 years of dedication. It was a touching moment. Backstage, the atmosphere was less inspiring. Blackmore was, as always, secluded in his own room with his girlfriend. His personal assistant was running in and out, barely opening the door wide enough to let himself through. Ian Paice was being interviewed for TV (or was it for the DVD and video?) in a crowded little room with a circular peek hole in the door. Rumours of doom were rife, some suggesting the band had just then fired Blackmore. No one had yet heard of the goings-on in Prague and anything seemed believable. Frustration was apparent. At the same time, the band had prominent guests to attend to.

Tony Tacon and Ian Gillan

Guitarist Tony Tacon, Ian Gillan's old partner in his pre-Purple band The Javelins, turned up and so did Deep Purple's old 1970's manager Tony Edwards. It was said he and Ian Gillan hadn't talked in over 10 years. Jon Lord was taking down Deep Purple Appreciation Society boss Simon Robinson's phone number because he had something to tell, and in the middle of it all, ex-Rainbow drummer Bobby Rondinelli was wandering about, trying to look cool and not too eager for a job. When Blackmore finally did appear, it was only to leave the venue. He was disguised in his roadie's medieval peasant's outfit (which has since formed the basis of his dress code with Blackmore's Night!) and his girlfriend lead him to the door by way of a dog collar and leash. Very strange.

In spite of the rumours and feelings of despair, the remaining Scandinavian shows went ahead without incident. In fact, they turned out to be some of the very best shows of the entire tour. Danish TV filmed the first two songs of the sold out Copenhagen show and interviewed Ian Gillan about the band's 1972 show at KB Hallen, Copenhagen, which was filmed and released as "Scandinavian Nights". When confronted with a snippet of the film where he introduces "Highway Star" as a song that will remain "our opening number for the next year or so," the singer smirked and said, "Oh well...!" Thankfully the setlists have seen endless revisions since 1993. 

After the Copenhagen show it became clear that Blackmore was indeed leaving Deep Purple. The rumours had been plenty, but Roger Glover confirmed it was the case and said that the band was looking for a stand-in replacement for the already booked Japanese tour two weeks later. The show in Helsinki, Finland on November 17 would be Ritchie Blackmore's last with Deep Purple and thus a not-to-be-missed occasion. 

Oslo was an especially memorable show as Blackmore lead the crowd into a chant of the classical Norwegian composed "Morning Mood"  before insisting on a punchy run through "In The Hall Of The Mountain King" - another Grieg composition which he would later record for Rainbow's "Stranger In Us All" album. For the second time on the tour, Blackmore smashed his guitar - the first having found its death in Köln on October 10. Centre stage, Ian Gillan had developed a new routine during "Smoke On The Water". He would lead the audience into the usual sing along of the chorus, but then take them down quiet to a mere whisper. With his arms he'd signal for them to alternately whisper "smoke on the water" and then with great effect shout at full whack "a fire in the sky!!" These were perfect showcases for Gillan's fine interaction and relationship with his audience and walked all over the interim vocalist who had tried to replace him. 

Deep Purple Mark 2 went out on a high note in Helsinki, with the entire band providing an excellent show with many highlights, not in the least an inspired "Speed King", where a busy Blackmore tried unsuccesfully to catch out his old partner Jon Lord in a complex guitar-organ chase. Blackmore's sense of humour came through when after a while he gave up and put his hands on his hips with a mock "who do you think you are?" attitude. Then he smiled and the two antagonists shook hands. After the show, Ian Gillan revealed that Joe Satriani was going to step in on guitar for the upcoming Japanese shows. Gillan was very excited about the prospect of a new banjo player in the band (as he likes to call them) and regardless of one's preferences in guitarists, Deep Purple hasn't been the same since then.

Thus the "Come Hell Or High Water" DVD captures on film one of Ritchie Blackmore's last shows with Deep Purple. Although it may not have been the best show of the tour, it still includes some damned fine musicianship. Turn it up!

Thanks to Lorraine & George Pickering, Jerry 'Tweet' Witherstone, Mark Welch, Jerry Bloom, Jim Manngard and Roger Glover.

All photos by Rasmus Heide. Concert shots from Brixton Academy, London, November 8, 1993, backstage shots from NEC, Birmingham, November 9, 1993.

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