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Highway Star - a journey in rock
The Highway Star

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Ian Gillan - man of the earth

'Highway Star - a journey in rock' is impossible to ignore and comes highly recommended.

Have you seen the new Ian Gillan DVD? If so, you'll have spent the best part of a day in the presence of Ian and his chums - give or take the odd break for toilet and meals.

'Highway Star - a journey in rock' is one of this year's most important releases from within the Deep Purple family. At six hours plus it offers a mightily impressive wealth of material, and stands head and shoulders above most other attempts at the DVD-biography genre.

'Highway Star - a journey in rock' comes highly recommended to Ian Gillan fans both casual and die hard. It has one or two short comings, which somewhat diminish the overall impression, but the abundance of inspired interview and new millennium live footage more than makes up for this. Not to mention all the good laughs you'll get out of the clever and never ending joking that goes on between particularly Gillan and Jon Lord.

The main feature tells the story of Ian Gillan's professional life as a singer - from the day he announced he was giving up school choir practice ('because he couldn't get his hallelujahs right', says his mum), to the kick-off to Deep Purple's 'Rapture Of The Deep' tour in January 2006.

In a two-and-a-half-hour marathon it tells Ian Gillan's lifetime journey in rock (pardon the pun - the producers started it with the tacky title!), and it does so rather well. The early years are told through Ian's own words and those of his mum and then Episode Six partner Roger Glover. As the story progresses, other eye witnesses are given their say, and apart from the main man, Roger Glover and Jon Lord are the main story tellers.

Ian Gillan is seen interviewed on a number of different locations with matching different lengths and styles of mane. He is never allowed to shift into autopilot promo talk as often seen in media interviews, which makes the DVD a refreshing and credible viewing experience.

As the controversial questions are asked, Ian duly accepts his part of the responsibility for the sometimes frustrating and less than fruitful turns of his own and Deep Purple's careers.

Love-hate guitarist
Much time is devoted to the love-hate friendship between Blackmore and Gillan, and thankfully, all blame isn't placed exclusively on one or the other. Gillan admits he reacted to Blackmore's dominant behaviour by partying ever harder, the colder the in-band climate became.

The DVD is obviously one main ingredient short as the guitarist does not offer his point of view. Surely, nobody seriously expect 'the recalcitrant sod' (© Jon Lord) to turn up for this particular encore!

As it is, it is left to the rest of the band and manager Bruce Payne to retell the story of how Blackmore and Gillan went from mutual admiration over simple ignorance to active dislike and dispair, while never losing the grip on their famous 'duelling of wits' as Jon Lord calls it. He himself speculates what might have been if only the two main antagonists had remained friends instead of becoming foes.

But the DVD's not all Gillan-Blackmore feuding. The string of willing eye witnesses resembles the cast on 'Gillan's Inn', Ian's career-retrospective album of re-recorded catalogue highlights; Tony Iommi, Joe Satriani, Steve Morse, Don Airey, Ronnie James Dio, Jon Lord, Ian Paice and Def Leppard's Joe Elliott - plus original fighting man Colin Towns, the late George Best, 'funky' Claude Nobs, Luciano Pavarotti, managers Phil Banfield and Bruce Payne, Ian's mum and Tim Rice.

Apart from Elliott and Dio (whose contributions are as forgettable here as on 'Gillan's Inn'), all the interviews offer relevant, interesting and fascinating insight into the life and career of Ian Gillan. Lord, Glover and Colin Towns are - not surprisingly - particularly poignant in their observations.

Fighting man at the ball
All the crucial high and low points of Ian's career are dutifully described and handled. From Ian suddenly realising in 1972 that 'something was missing from the future - there was no sense of purpose', to the unexpected standing ovation that greeted his surprise appearance three years later in Glover's 'Butterfly Ball' concert, which spurred him on to become involved in music again.

Ian's solo years with IGB and Gillan are given somewhat short shrift. Colin Towns deserves extra brownie points for being dignified enough to give his opinion without over all bitter like John McCoy and other non-appearing band members.

Towns tells of the immensely musically skilled Ian Gillan Band that he desperately wanted to be part of, while producer Roger Glover explains how their musical output came to be in spite of their volatile recording sessions.

Later Towns wrote one of Ian's career highlights and signature tunes in the emotional 'Fighting Man', which the rest of IGB showed no interest in. Not wanting to fire anybody, Ian decided instead to quit his own band and take Towns with him. Generally speaking, Ian's work between Purple and Sabbath deserved a slightly more thorough overhaul.

Sabbath galore
Disproportionate amounts of screen time is instead given to Ian's one year in Black Sabbath. All the usual Spinal Tap-stories are repeated plus extra bits from the recording sessions. It's all very entertaining, but as well as Ian reiterating the old story of waking up to find himself in Sabbath after a drinking session with Iommi and Geezer Butler, it would have served the DVD well to also offer Iommi's take on it all for once.

The 'Perfect Strangers' period is portrayed as one of pure joy and frivolous frolicking with Ian Gillan as the court jester never in short supply of a good (practical) joke. Many of these are relayed at length in the bonus interviews segment 'Things I never said'.

Sacked and sabotaged
When Ian got sacked from Deep Purple in the spring of 1989 it was the result of a prolonged period of inter-band difficulties, which came to a head when the musical juices had stopped flowing and the rest of the band found themselves faced with two evils - Ian Gillan's increasingly aimless partying or Blackmore's manipulative dictatorship. After a final unproductive writing session between Glover and Gillan, the band chose 'what seemed like the lesser evil at the time', and went with Blackmore, explains Ian Paice regretfully.

He adds that Ian Gillan probably realised Blackmore's intentions a lot sooner than the rest of the band did. When they finally cottoned on and their misguided attempt at a Purple Rainbow became too embarrassing, the real challenge was getting Ian Gillan back into Purple. Ian himself is convinced his band at the time, Repo Depo, fell victim of behind-the-scenes sabotage designed to put Ian in a vulnerable position unable to resist the Purple lure.

The salvage job rages on
Thankfully the sinister scheming worked and 'The Battle Rages On' became reality - on vinyl and onstage. Glover recalls the album as 'the biggest salvage job' he's ever done production wise in having to mesh backing tracks recorded with the previous singer with new melodies and vocals by Ian Gillan. As the tour started, Ian admits getting pleasure out of regularly congratulating Blackmore on a good night's show as the singer's friendly intent obviously infuriated the guitarist.

In one of the DVD's few lapses of credibility Ian is allowed to repeat his unfounded claims that the band played to venues only 40 percent full. Ian's inability to look beyond his personal feelings and recognise that the second reunion of Deep Purple Mark 2 was a commercial success speaks volumes of just how difficult the tour was for him.

Furthermore, manager Bruce Payne hits the nail on the head as he points out that it was the singer's and guitarist's persistent attempts to musically blow each other offstage every night that made Deep Purple such an exciting musical force to begin with.

Herein might also lie the explanation as to why the current state of complacency within the band doesn't sufficiently intrigue the band's older fan base - or this DVD's producers, as the years since 'Purpendicular' (via 'Abandon' and 'Bananas') to 'Rapture of The Deep' pass completely without mention. We learn of stand-in guitarist Joe Satriani's awe at suddenly finding himself onstage playing 'Smoke On The Water' with Deep Purple before Steve Morse enters in 1995.

Impressed opera diva
What we do get is Luciano Pavarotti's thoughts on Ian Gillan's admirable decision to duet with the tenor on his own signature tune 'Nessun Dorma'. Pavarotti expected Gillan to be either a genius or completely crazy to 'try and kill himself' on that particular piece. The gusto, courage and chutzpah with which Ian carried it off - not just once, but twice - earned him Pavarotti's undivided respect and is one of the DVD's emotional highlights that fills you with admiration for the man.

The greatest shortcoming of 'Highway Star - a journey in rock' lies in the musical footage used. To illustrate all the interviews the entire DVD uses contemporary still photos, the odd silent slow motion clip from Deep Purple's 1970 appearance on 'Doing Their Thing' and plenty of new millennium Deep Purple footage. The only new contemporary footage on offer is a British news feature showing the Gillan band in rehearsal for the 'Double Trouble' album.

Boat on the water
For the story behind 'Smoke On The Water' Ian is imaginatively interviewed in a small boat on Lake Geneva itself (where the smoke was, remember?), but it irritates and grates to find the general story of the recording sessions behind landmark albums as 'Machine Head', 'Who Do We Think We Are' and 'Perfect Strangers' illustrated with completely unrelated 2004 and 2006 live footage of songs like 'Smoke on the water', 'Woman from Tokyo', and 'Perfect Strangers'. It would appear licensing actual contemporary historical footage was not within the DVD's budget.

The infamous spaghetti incident where Blackmore smashed a plate of ketchup-smothered pasta into Ian Gillan's face is relayed rather effectively on the DVD. In his autobiography 'Child In Time' Ian Gillan mentions the spaghetti incident as taking place after a British date on 'The House of Blue Light' tour in 1987.

However, the DVD narration uses the incident to illustrate how bad the situation was in Deep Purple on the 1993 tour and says it happened after a show in Philadelphia - yet the band didn't even tour the States that year. An unfortunate mistake or a deliberately controversial piece of creative editing?

Luckily the DVD is devoid of major mistakes or signs of editorial incompetence. In fact it is a joy to watch as the interviews are all conducted and edited respectfully and calmly with plenty of time for their subjects to express themselves. You get the impression most subjects were able to feel confident and relaxed enough to really open up. Adding to this, the editing is tasteful, never taking away from the story but adding to it by splicing different sources together around a particular story line.

The structuring and story telling of the main feature is excellent and not once does the momentum of the two-and-a-half-hours drag. At this point you might want to take a break - although the DVD extras are way too exciting to leave for a rainy day. Read on.

Things I never said
Disc 1 finishes with a full hours worth of extra interview bits that didn't find their way into the main feature. While this does drag in places, the producers deserve extra large bonus points for including this section at all, as it is full of interesting extra bits from all the key players. Thumbs up! (One question though: what's Marillion's Steve Hogarth doing here?)

Thus, apart from missing out on the onstage Gillanisms - his inimitably hilarious between-song banter that has thrilled crowds for decades - 'Highway Star - a journey in rock' does a great job in inviting you inside the world of Ian Gillan and Deep Purple in a way which makes you long for more.

Disc 2 continues with further bonus goodies.

On tour with Deep Purple
Disc 2 is a feast of bonus extras, predominantly a one hour and 45 minute on-tour feature from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Cardiff and Plymouth in late 2004. It includes candid backstage footage of Ian relaxing before and after the shows (with and without the rest of DP) plus selected tracks from the fours shows, which are all filmed atmospherically and attentively, capturing the band and Ian Gillan superbly in full flight.

For some incongruous reason 'Smoke On The Water' is featured four times on disc 2 and 'Highway Star' twice. As this is the only previously unreleased footage on offer, the producers could have chosen complimentary songs from the four (almost consecutive) shows rather than duplicate them...

The real highlight on disc 2 is GillanCam. 28 minutes of glorious off-stage footage filmed by Ian with his own handycam on various tours. Featuring weird, witty and wacky moments, the clips include a segment from one of Deep Purple's strangest shows ever - at Scheidegg in Switzerland, where they played an open air show at 7.000 feet altitude in the Alps on a snowy afternoon. This has to be seen to be believed.

At home with the Gillans

Elsewhere we get wife Bron and daughter Grace Gillan's opinions on Ian as a dad and family man when he comes off the road. He gets exactly two days to change from rock star on tour to domestic life, his wife says. 'He's just a lovely old guy having a lot of fun now', she says about Ian's current attitude to it all.

There's also a somewhat embarrassing section called 'Drinkin', Smokin' and Messin' Around with Women', which focuses on Ian's drinking habits.

The final bonus item is the complete broadcast of Ian and Purple's second appearance with Pavarotti.

The DVD is accompanied by a 20-page booklet with two essays by Roger Glover and journalist Dante Bonutto, which both add to the overall feel of the DVD, not to mention to the impression of Ian Gillan the person.

None more so than Roger Glover who himself plays a crucial role in Ian's career, as he pressured Ian to start writing his own first songs with Episode Six. In his notes here, Glover manages to get that little bit closer (than the entire DVD) to describing who and what the phenomenon Ian Gillan is.

These aren't your average DVD liner notes. They're inspired, carefully thought out and offer deep insight - and thus need to be read.

Buy or ignore?
So, six hours later, was it all worth it? In short, yes!

'Highway Star - a journey in rock' is the most detailed, honest and downright entertaining Deep Purple documentary around - second only to the 'Machine Head Classic Albums' DVD, which handled only a brief chapter in the band's career.

The no nonsense story telling first moves you then cracks you up (Ian's and the band's creative sense of humour and self-irony is priceless), and Ian is never allowed to - doesn't even seem to want to - gloss over anything. You're left with a much closer and more intimate look at the man than you might normally have gotten - while still retaining some of the mystery behind what makes the man tick.

Highly recommended.

Review by Rasmus Heide


Unauthorized copying, while sometimes necessary, is never as good as the real thing (with apologies to Ani)
(c) 2006, The Highway Star

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