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As subtle as a flying mallet


Louder Sound reprints a feature from the Classic Rock magazine on Whitesnake’s 1979 Lovehunter album:

Working at Clearwell Castle, the 18th-century estate in the Forest Of Dean where Purple had prepped for both Burn and Stormbringer, the band re-hired Purple’s producer of choice, Martin Birch, who had also overseen Trouble, to man the console of the Rolling Stones Mobile.

Later nicknamed ‘Headmaster’ by Iron Maiden, Birch was a serious guy but not without a sense of humour. Clearwell was said to be haunted, and Birch derived great amusement from piping spooky sounds into the band’s headphones as the tapes rolled.

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28 Comments to “As subtle as a flying mallet”:

  1. 1
    Uwe Hornung says:

    I was disappointed when it came out, seriously. I had loved Trouble (the album) with its very direct sound, but I thought Lovehunter weaker. I know the production must have cost more, but it sounded neutered to me (NOT Dowle’s fault, his drumming was fine), limp and uninspired. The best numbers to me were Outlaw, We Wish You Well and Long Way From Home (though that overstayed its welcome with being too long, catchy as it was). It’s the weakest Marsden-line-up WS album to me, even Saints & Sinners is better. Trouble (the album) was just more immediate and hungry – and many of the songs were better. Even though (or maybe because?) Jon added his keyboards in the aftermath, they are much more prominent on Trouble in a good way.

    The cover? I blame Jon Lord and no one else.


    But, concerned about his image as he always was, the sly culprit of course combined the incriminating cover (which at the time had no one batting a lid – or, uhum, lip for that matter) with a hush finger picture of him obliging his fans to eternal secrecy. Yet I feel duty bound to now reveal to the world that his invention of “prostrate women sliding down scales” had nothing to do with music theory!

    ; – )

    PS: Around 1976 there was a heated exchange between David and Jon in German POP magazine where they accused each other of having contributed to Purple’s demise in various interview snippets. At one point DC spluttered that he had been the one to bring most ideas for new music to DP and that even Jon Lord’s Sarabande album “contained original ideas from me, I have the tapes to prove it!”. Looking back at it now, perhaps good ole DC, always very visually oriented, had the idea for the Sarabande COVER?

    Let’s end this scaly subject in all its unsavouriness before we all recoil further in dissstassste!


  2. 2
    MacGregor says:

    Martin Birch clearly had picked up some ‘bad habits’ from Blackmore. I would have thought Coverdale would have been up on that at the time, but obviously not the ‘new’ members of the band. Cheers.

  3. 3
    Ivica says:

    “Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues”best song is the absolute gold of that album”Love Hunter”. Blues-hard rock, typical WS I will never understand why Coverdale gave up that song in the setlist in the last 15 years? as well as “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” (RaW) another gold , or the concert finish furose rocker “Take Me With You”- Trouble album ( identical song at Reading 1979″ Breakdown & ‘Whitesnake Boogie’ “..Murray-Paice” rhythm machine”, Coverdale’s baritone great, great,great ) all those songs don’t play , classic WS, from the repertoire of good old fucking WS ..
    Everything that Martin Birch touched from the seventies to 1992 (Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, Wishbone Ash, Rainbow, Whitesnake, Paice Ashton Lord, Jon Lord, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Iron Maiden..). it was pure gold, underrated” “Hard Lovin’ Man”…his soul was enjoying heaven

  4. 4
    John M. says:

    Did anyone ever hear the real reason Martin Birch retired so early? A young sound engineer I know, said Martin may have thought his ‘ears’ were not at a high enough level.

  5. 5
    Max says:

    @3 Ivica, I agree …Walking in the Shadow of the Blues is pure gold. One of the greatest WS songs IMHO. Bernie Marsden did play it at his solo shows for a reason. Why Coverdale did not – well to be a tad cynical I’d say if you listen to the live-version of that song on “Live…in the Shadow of the Blues” (sic) you know why. They butchered it! I couldn’t stand that recording more than twice. Without Lord and Paice it is a dull stomping affair here. Same goes for Don’t Break my Heart Again.

  6. 6
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Let’s spice up the discussion somewhat!


    If I had to rank the Marsden-years output of WS it would look like this:

    1. Ready an’ Willing (great songs, bad sleeve)

    2. Live at Hammersmith (great sleeve, extremely spirited and musical performance, even beats the later live album, Ian Pace or no Ian Paice, Coverdale’s voice is in better shape at the Hammersmith gig)

    3. Come an’ Get It (good sleeve, good songs, just not as good as on RaW)

    4. Trouble/Live in the Heart of the City/original Whitesnake EP (all fine, what the earliest WS releases lacked in production quality, they offered in strength of song material)

    5. Saints & Sinners (Young Blood, Here I Go Again & Crying In The Rain are great, the rest is so-so)

    6. Lovehunter (lame, lame, lame …)

    That said, there is no Sunburst years WS release to me that is actually bad, Lovehunter is just very unspectacular sounding and a little dull, but at least it still has a real cover (albeit a garish porn one, it’s not even real erotic art to me) while the musical jewel in WS’ crown, namely Ready an’ Willing, doesn’t have a decent cover to speak of, obviously a rush job. Come an’ Get It’s ‘vagina vs forked tongue’ innuendo I actually liked, not as heavy-handed and lurid as Lovehunter, it’s ok to be a little adolescent sometimes. Saints & Sinners’ sleeve is abysmal again – cheap- and kitschy-looking, if it was meant to be ironic it failed in that too.

    Incidentally, I do remember the Lovehunter sleeve at the time as being controversial. The day I bought it in Frankfurt, I took it to a shared apartment of friends there and one of the women living there looked wryly at the cover while the album played and said “Well, the music sounds nowhere near as dangerous and cutting-edge as – she grimaced – this album cover would like to have us believe, kind of limp really …” Ouch!

    Really, the cover art is of the type you would find prevalent in the hallways of Frankfurt brothels as wall murals to inspire the male customers. I should know, I worked there around that time.

  7. 7
    MacGregor says:

    Ready & Willing is their best album & cover also. That teenage erotica rubbish on other album covers isn’t art at all. It is Coverdale & his teenage adolescence, NOT ever growing up. Some things never change to this day. Ho hum, such is life for ole Cov’s. That Jon Lord Sarabande cover image indeed. Cheers.

  8. 8
    Uwe Hornung says:

    “Did anyone ever hear the real reason Martin Birch retired so early? A young sound engineer I know, said Martin may have thought his ‘ears’ were not at a high enough level.”

    That’s what I read too – not uncommon among engineers/producers either. All that headphone listening and mixing of albums at loud volumes. And of course age takes its toll too even if you are not working long hours with high concentration in a loud environment.

  9. 9
    Fernando Azevedo says:

    To this day I don’t understand how “Walking in the shadow of the blues” wasn’t the track chosen to open the album. I had the pleasure of watching the band play this song at the first edition of Rock in Rio in 1985. And it was the first song of the show

  10. 10
    Max says:

    I will check that one out Uwe, thank you. Nothing wrong with your poll although I would not rate Lovehunter worse than trouble. Day Tripper? I mean … the two of them would have made for a great album I think: Take Me With You-Love-To-Keep-You Warm (most underrated, that bass!)-Lie Down-Vampire Blues-Trouble-Long Way-Shadow Of The Blues-Mean Business (that organ)-Lovehunter-We Wish You Well. And I habe to add Rock’n’Roll Women as a bonus. It’s ringing n my ears since 1979 and heaven knows I don’t know why. And yes I heard of Chuck Berry. That cover never matched the music, your Frankfurter was right.

    @7 Ready an’ Willing? Really? The artwork? Very rushed and cheap Beatles-rip off I thought.

  11. 11
    MacGregor says:

    @ 10 – yes any ‘artwork’ would be more mature & appropriate than the soft porn teenage snake siding all over the young female human. Or should that be the other way around? The woman sliding & cavorting all over the innocent & not so young snake? Cartoon characters they do look like, those sort of album covers. Cheers.

  12. 12
    Uwe Hornung says:

    It has always bugged me that her right hand is all wrinkly and looks much older than her otherwise youthful body. What is that supposed to mean, is she drawing eternal youth from the reptile or – vice versa – is the beast’s venom making her age? Weird.

    Walking in the Shadow of the Blues was always a good opener, Fernando, you’re right.

    My fondness for Trouble might be tainted by the fact that I was just so darn happy at the time to hear DC reunited with Jon – and the album had an appealing immediacy, it sounded like a happy band.

    I saw Whitesnake for the first time in late June 1979 on the Trouble Tour (a few months prior to the release of Lovehunter) in Aschaffenburg, Bavaria, in a tent headlining a smallish rock festival (Motörhead and German progsters Anyone’s Daughter were among their openers). It was the first time I saw DC or Jon live – the gig was fantastic, great sound, powerful, the band hungry and happy to prove themselves. They ruled that night.

    And admittedly, I did like their funked up and slowed down version of Day Tripper, they even played that at that gig – along with Love To Keep You Warm and Might Just Take Your Life + Mistreated (Lady Luck was by that time sadly out of their set list). Neil Murray was an awesome bassist, almost soloing over the music, yet always grooving. They were already great as a line-up even without Little Ian on the drums, Dave “Duck” Dowle did just fine and fitted in well with his style honed with Roger Chapman’s Streetwalkers – WS’ music then didn’t need an extremely heavy drummer.

    “Very rushed and cheap Beatles-rip off I thought.”

    Or back sleeve of Burn for that matter!


  13. 13
    jaffa says:

    For me… the list is complicated and it changes depending on mood but the number 1 remains the same… Ready An’ Willing. What a change Paice made and the production is great. The sleave is a shame but you can’t have everything.

    My number two is probably Trouble AND Snakebite. Trouble is a hard to pin down album and has improved with age. Snakebite is so raw… it just works.

    Three is Come An’ Get it. I think it tries too hard to emulate Ready An’ Willing but it has some cool songs.

    Lovehunter is next… I think it’s rather good, just needs a production punch. Some classic songs on it including the cover of Help Me Thro The Day.

    Last has to be Saints. Really dislike it. Struggled at the time and still do. I think it may be the weakest WS studio album to date. It sounds, at times, like they are trying to be harder when they can’t quite bring it off. It does have the best version of HIGA though.

    On all of these don’t forget Neil Murray. He elevates many of the tracks. Back in those days you can actually hear the bass lines because there is space in the mix. Neil is a Whitesnake hero and worked perfectly with Paice.

    The live album has its own place. It’s rather good… a keeper as they say.

    As for the artwork… why not. Trouble is probably the best, simple and lovely.

  14. 14
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Naw, as WS cover art goes, ‘Live At Hammersmith’ wins scales down, a mos-s-st magnific-c-cent moody & dark s-s-sleeve! The Japanese have real design taste.


    Granted, the s-s-snake isn’t very white, but let’s not bicker …

  15. 15
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Trouble sleeve Europe or US, Jaffa?



    The old WS snakelike-writhing logo was great too.

    These days, all WS covers look the same with those repetitious/pretentious wax seals, I can never friggin’ tell them apart!

  16. 16
    Max says:

    @12 Karlsruhe 1979 … no Day Tripper as far as I can remember. But my first real rock’n’roll show unless you count Udo Lindenberg in. And what a night it was! Same here, DC and JL,first time ever for this boy, first time I saw anyone of the Purps in person (Ritchie in Heidelberg was to happen a few months later) – I can still feel my heart beating like a big bass drum. DC had us singing along to Rock me Baby. Only around 300 people had attended I guess so I could easily stand very close to my heroes. And …drum roll here … Dave Dowle gave me a roto tom skin after the show which I keep to this day.

  17. 17
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Good memories, Max!

    I have a distinct memory that in their very early days Whitesnake were openers for Nazareth in Germany (who had often opened for DP in the US). That must have been in 1978, but I never saw them then, I only found out about their opening act status after the tour – no internet then, you were often hopelessly behind in obtaining information.

    Jon Lord once said in an interview that he had to change his organ style for Whitesnake, because his role was different there. Within Purple, he was basically the second lead guitarist except on keys. But with WS, he described his role as “supplying a halo for the two lead guitars to sound great“. With very early WS, he hadn‘t found that role yet, which is why Jon‘s Hammond sounds so upfront on Trouble. All Purple fans must have eagerly lapped that up of course (there were never enough keyboards within Rainbow‘s sound for me) and it also showed live initially, just listen to Live at Hanmersmith. Gradually so, his sonic presence became greatly diminished in WS, by the time he toured with the Sykes line-up (prior to Mel Galley‘s accident), his share in the music was really only a shadow of its former self, the occasional solo and his solo spot excepted. I sometimes had the feeling that on later WS albums, some songs only saw inclusion so Jon could play a token solo, he wasn‘t a main focus anymore.

  18. 18
    jaffa says:

    I like the simple white UK version Uwe.
    In terms of Lord’s involvement as the band changed didn’t Sykes say the Hammond sound dated the band?

  19. 19
    Uwe Hornung says:

    John Sykes said a lot of inane things back in day – that was just one of them. But Jon’s organ work had been pushed back sonically in the WS sound even before the Thin Lizzy pretty boy’s arrival. He was already less prominent in the original UK mix of Slide It In (yet the US mix pushed him back even further!).

    I saw one of the last gigs of the Coverdale-Galley-Lord-Murray-Powell-Sykes line-up (before Mel broke his arm) in Offenbach. Already Galley and Moody had never gelled like Marsden and Moody (nor had Hodgkinson ever gelled with Powell), but Sykes and Galley now came from different planets. I think Mel had by that point the writing on the wall, the broken arm just gave DC the chance to try out a single lead guitarist line-up sooner – and Sykes left no doubt by the way he interacted (or did NOT interact other than with DC) on stage that he thought one guitarist was plenty enough for WS.

    Galley never really fulfilled his potential with WS either – if you knew his rhythmic style from Trapeze days, you could’t help but be appalled about how much he dumbed his rhythm guitar work down for Slide It In. And he was never as melodic a solo player as Marsden (to be fair: Trapeze’s music hadn’t called for that).

    When Marsden left (had to leave), WS lost a lot in the melodic department, not just his melodic songwriting, but also his melodic backing vocals (which often gave vintage WS a pleasant English pop touch) and his melodic solos. It wasn’t until Sykes joined that WS had a proper lead guitarist again, but he was of course from another generation and his style was at odds with the band until further line-up depletions and style changes tailored the right environment for him.

  20. 20
    MacGregor says:

    To be honest when I discovered the Ready & Willing album in a record store back in 1982, I did wonder why Jon Lord would be in a band with two guitarists. And I still did think that even after a few years when buying the next two albums. He was there a little at times but not there most other times to my ears. It was then that I thought maybe it is a nice & easy job for him that pays the bills until something much more interesting & challenging comes along. Cheers.

  21. 21
    Uwe Hornung says:

    I’m not sure whether Jon was smothered with offers from established bands between 1976 and 1984. He didn’t like his short stint with Maggie Bell (although they would play together again in the Noughties in his Jon Lord Blues Project) and was vetoed by Paul Rodgers when the other guys from Bad Co wanted him to join.

    Around the time of Come An’ Get It, he (and Little Ian) had a financially potentially lucrative offer from Billy Squier who was at that point riding high in the Billboard Charts and a major concert draw in the US of A. Yet they stuck with DC (perhaps not the most strategic decision given what happened to the Marsden line-up of WS within a year or so), I guess joining Billy Squier would have also meant for both moving to the US again (given how much he toured there), something that didn’t fit into their personal lives. Neither Jon nor Ian had liked living in the States when they had to do so in the Mk III/IV eras. As for Billy, I assume he wanted to fulfill an American rock fan’s dream by having Brit rock royalty from Purple join his band – it sure would have been interesting if not for eternity.

    Other than the above, I’m not aware of any offers to Jon that would have caused him sleepless nights.

    Had his reclusive Henley-on-Thames neighbor “Arnold from Liverpool” be more touring-enthusiastic, then I guess Jon wouldn’t have said no to touring with a legend. As it was, he just guested on a few George Harrison albums and had a cameo in “Water” (as part of a band monikered ‘The Singing Rebels Band”), a movie of George Harrison’s Handmade Films production company.



    Maybe a traditional and committed Hammond player like Jon was not what people were looking for in the late 70ies/early 80ies when new keyboard synth sounds were all the rage. Or perhaps bands were wary of the associated baggage of getting someone in who was so strongly identified with the Deep Purple sound (that might have played a role with Paul Rodgers).

    Never mind, by 1984 Jon was back where he belonged and where he was valued. (Before that there had been an offer made to him to join Rainbow, but he declined that. I guess he didn’t want to be Ritchie’s employee. He did watch Dio-era Rainbow at least once at a gig though and commented: “I was really surprised how wild and virtuoso Ritchie looks on stage – while with Deep Purple that never registered with me stage-left as I was busy performing myself.”)

  22. 22
    MacGregor says:

    At least for any Jon Lord aficionados we had the wonderful Before I Forget album to keep us salivating in 1982. The Whitesnake gigs were keeping the ivories tickled ready for the real deal. Ian Paice was also keeping the sticks well oiled with the Gary Moore band. Ian Gillan was rattling his tonsils in Sabbath & Blackmore & Glover were keeping the faith. Everyone was in good form for 1984. Cheers.

  23. 23
    MacGregor says:

    I do remember Billy Squire & yes he was rather successful then. Not sure how that would have panned out though, not that I am very familiar these days with Squire’s music, however back then I use to hear a little of it. Bad Company & Paul Rodgers & I cannot see that working at all. Rodgers played piano also & was the main man in that setup, well mostly. Mick Ralphs, Simon Kirke & Boz Burrell were very good in their earlier albums & concerts with Rodgers & they kept the band going later on with Brian Howe. Hollywood Rock ‘n Roll on Jon Lord’s Before I Forget album, always wondered how that came about & I think I have queried that before. That is a interesting comment from Lord in regards to witnessing Rainbow in concert. The difference in being off stage at a concert & seeing & hearing certain things from fellow band members. A bit of an eye & ear opener for him. I have similar comments from other well known musicians in regards to their band & standing off stage etc. David Gilmour with Pink Floyd at that final Animals tour gig in The USA. I think the one where Waters ‘spat’ the dummy (pun intended). Gilmour said it was very interesting watching & listening to the band perform the encore with Snowy White on guitar. Something like that anyway. Cheers.

  24. 24
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Before I Forget was a lovely album with quite a few highlights, but it didn’t have the stylistic consistency of either Sarabande or of Pictured Within, its fate was to fall between two masterpieces just like Fireball fell in between In Rock and Machine Head. Still, lots of nice tracks on it and Cozy’s drumming on Tender Babes is so cliche of what people came to expect of him, it’s almost a self-deprecating spoof of his. It works brilliantly on the track, however.

    The cover with the never-forgetting elephant with his trunk tied in a knot still has me smiling today, brilliant idea. I still use it as a meme today whenever I have to send an apology email in the office if I have missed a deadline or forgotten something. My work emails are generally littered with both hidden and blatant references to DP and when I do corrections/amendments in a text I always use deep purple as the font color. For years I had “Member of the Deep Purple Appreciation Society seated in Sheffield” in my professional CV and no one ever even questioned what that was! :mrgreen:

  25. 25
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Just listening to the album right now (Before I Forget), I had forgotten how the whole of the vinyl’s side two (four ballads in a row!) really served as ambient music to make love to (I’m talking from experience!). Of course, when Jon gets mellow, he is very often not too far away from getting syrupy, but that is just the way he writes, that English classical romanticism. He’s always been more Edward Elgar than Gustav Mahler – with the exception of Windows (which a lot of people find impossible to digest, I’m not one of them), his solo music has always been more pastoral landscape painting than cutting edge abstract art.

    Neil Murray is nicely mixed into the foreground – he’s on almost all tracks.

  26. 26
    MacGregor says:

    Side two of Before I Forget is sublime indeed, a good contrast from side one. I have always enjoyed Lord’s piano playing & as you said, very pastoral & romantic etc. Cozy’s drumming on Tender Babes is the kind of thing Emerson & Lake would have been thinking of when deciding to kick ‘ELP’ into action in the mid 1980’s. He has done a few orchestral progressive sort of things in his time Cozy, especially in the late 70’s & early 80’s. Jon Lord’s Pictured Within I still find hard to get into, I tried again a few months ago. It is very melancholic & reminds me of Richard Wrights mid 90’s solo album Broken China. Although that is a much darker depressing sort of album, allegedly about a friend who suffered from that & Wright himself also at times I would think. Sinead O’Connor guests on two tracks, that says something also. Too much down & out that album for me & Lord’s album also has a bit of that in it also to my ears, but not as dark. Cheers.

  27. 27
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Yes, it’s melancholic, but not dark, just like you said. But then it set out to be just that, it’s an album about the loss of both Jon’s parents, about coming to terms with human finitude. I get what you mean though, there is something funeral home’ish to that album. But it’s still beautiful, elegiac music.

    It’s criminal that no Jon Lord box compiling his solo albums has yet been put together. Only that would do his recorded legacy justice.

  28. 28
    Uwe Hornung says:

    This here


    moves me every time, gives me goose bumps. It’s almost painfully beautiful.

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