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Purple reflections – Barcelona

Reflections on Deep Purple, Barcelona 22 January 2006

The Pavelló Vall d’Hebron, Barcelona, is a sports hall, built for the Olympics held here in 1986. Owing to a “crap promoter” (Ian Gillan’s words) the doors were late opening and there was no support band. Hence it was two-and-a-half hours after the advertised opening time before Purple hit the stage. In keeping with that delay, I would like to give a little personal history behind my interest in Deep Purple, before going on to the performance (or you can scroll directly to the concert).

I was just 12 years old when I first heard “Made in Japan” and I loved it. Like most kids of that age at that time all I knew of music was what I heard on Top of the Pops, Radio 1 or Radio Luxemburg. Deep Purple were so unlike anything else I had ever heard up to that time. With the combination of my hormones starting to kick in and the death of my father only six months before, Deep Purple filled a deep hole in my psyche that I am only now beginning to realise.

Back then, my older brother found the records and we lapped up the back catalogue: from “Machine Head” back to “Shades of” and the later “Who Do We Think We Are?” At the time, it was Ian Gillan who spoke to me (or should I say screamed), so when I heard that he and Roger Glover were leaving the band I was gutted. It was appalling news. After finding myself able to carry on without a father, I was deserted again by the surrogate that Ian Gillan and his magnificent voice had become to me.

The news that the band were to continue, but with new vocalists and bass player was something of a relief, though it was hard to imagine a suitable replacement for Gillan. “Burn” was released and I went to see them in Coventry in 1974. I was still only 13 years old. As one might expect, they mostly played songs from the new album and when it came to the classics like “Space Truckin” and “Smoke on the Water”, they just didn’t sound right. Whilst I enjoyed that, my first rock concert of any description, I would have had to admit it was a bit of an anti-climax.

Months and years passed and I went to other rock concerts and the memory of that first one faded a little. I kept listening to Purple, following their progress with David Coverdale on vocals and got to see them again when they came round two years later, this time with Tommy Bolin on guitar. Looking back I don’t remember much about that concert – my tastes had spread across the spectrum of rock and, if I am to be fair, this second performance was mediocre by comparison to other concerts. I got to see Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow twice and he seemed to embody what I loved about the band better than the MkIV Deep Purple.

The new wave of punk music followed and Deep Purple collapsed. I was amazed to hear they’d reformed in the eighties, but at that time I wasn’t listening to much in the way of “new” music – my tastes had gone back to the 60’s, with the likes of Dylan, The Doors and Hendrix. I paid the reformation no mind. I married and had two kids and, except for the occasional trip to Glastonbury my life as a rock concert-goer was essentially over.

The youngest of our kids was a boy and he showed an interest in rock music practically from birth, nodding along to the sounds of Led Zeppelin before he could walk or talk. But it wasn’t until he was 14 that he started taking a serious interest in my back catalogue of Deep Purple tapes and vinyl. With a brief view of them performing at Live 8, he was talking about wanting to see them live himself. As a family we had moved to Spain and the law prevents under-16 year olds from going to concerts. So when we heard that there was a new album and tour out towards the end of 2005 it didn’t take much for me to decide: we had to go and see them in Barcelona. I would treat him for his 16th birthday.

For myself, I didn’t have high hopes: the new album “Rapture of the Deep” seemed mediocre compared with the early stuff, though it had been growing on me with every listening, and I couldn’t quite get used to sound of the band without Blackmore, even though it was quite refreshing to hear Gillan again. (No offence meant to Steve Morse, a technically brilliant guitarist, but Richie always seemed more fluid, more natural.)

The concert
So when they finally hit the stage they opened with “Pictures From Home”, a song I had heard on the radio. It was quickly followed by a couple from the new album, which sounded much better live, and “Ted the Mechanic”, another one I didn’t know too well.

I was therefore dumbstruck when Gillan dedicated the next song to the aforementioned promoter: “Living Wreck”. Suddenly I felt rapture from deep within me. And there on bass, he who I’d almost completely ignored, was Roger Glover! Suddenly I was 12 again and I realised what was missing from 1974 onwards. It wasn’t just Gillan, it was Glover too. Blackmore may have been the author of some of the greatest riffs off all time and Jon Lord the most exciting keyboardist, but neither of them were there in Barcelona. The title track from “Rapture” followed, a song that is destined to be as great as any other Purple song, a couple more from the same album, Steve Morse’s guitar solo and eventually, “Lazy”. The crowd suddenly woke up. Don Airey’s keyboard solo followed, “Perfect Srtangers” and “Junkyard Blues”. Despite Ian Gillan’s explanations (in English) to the crowd about his frustrations when writing the next song, I don’t think there were many there who understood “Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming” like I did: as a British ex-pat invariably frustrated by the local customs!

Finally, the double pieces-de-resistances: “Space Truckin” & “Highway Star”. After 32 years of buried disappointment, I heard both songs played live properly for the first time since “Made in Japan”. Even if you couldn’t hear Gillan’s vocals on “Highway Star” thanks to the Spanish/Catalan crowd knowing all the words and belting them out, who cared! Glover’s performance was magnificent. It brought me to tears to hear it and it brings me to tears to write about it two days later. This was what was missing in 1974 and 1976. Coverdale was a great vocalist to equal Gillan, but Glenn Hughes: nondescript by comparison.

“Smoke on The Water” followed and the band went off. Back on for an encore, another new one and the final song: “Black Night”. This had never been one of my favourites, but once again, Roger Glover showed me why the MkII Purple were the greatest line-up of the band and why MkVIII can carry the banner and raise it high once again.

If I had any disappointment from the show it was down to wanting to hear some more of Ian Paice – where was “The Mule”? Gillan proved he could still hit the notes through the aforementioned classics but perhaps it would have been a scream too far for him to perform “Child In Time”. Shame, but no matter, we can’t have everything. The band showed they are tight performers, I didn’t hear a single bum note.

Long live Deep Purple.

Kevin Allcoat

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