One of the first lessons I ever learned in rock school was it was an (un?)holy British trinity of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple who effectively invented heavy rock, or heavy metal as it was later badged.
You could argue that Purple were the most melodic and musically inventive of the trio, and spawned countless imitators, not to mention some family tree members who were almost as influential. Yet compared to Sabbath and Zeppelin they are name checked comparatively rarely these days.
Maybe familiarity has bred contempt as a reformed line-up has been together for over 30 years, still touring and churning out new product, albeit for some while without the magic of Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord and with Ian Gillan’s vocal range declining.
A fourth row seat at this one off UK date at the close of the ‘Now What’ tour was a great opportunity for a close quarters view of the veterans cementing their legacy one more time. The 02 may have seemed an over optimistic venue to book, the much smaller Roundhouse having hosted their 2013 London shows, but there was a healthily large crowd and the lower level seemed all but full.
On that occasion ‘Highway Star’ had been inexplicably dropped, so this time it was great to hear their set open with a song whose guitar and keyboard solos sum up Purple’s virtuosity. As Ian Gillan – thankfully in black T-shirt and trousers after some fashion disasters on recent tours – opened his voice I held my breath, and the good news was he did not attempt the blood-curdling screams of old and stayed within his range. His voice still has a unique character and he has adjusted to cope with the ravages of time.
Initially the pace was unrelenting with ‘Bloodsucker’ and ‘Hard Lovin Man’, featuring some outlandish keyboards from Don Airey, the latter seguing straight into ‘Strange Kind Of Woman’, although to me Steve Morse’s solo seemed slightly off kilter compared to the original. Only then did the pace slow with a couple of guitar instrumentals.
Purple’s last studio album ‘Now What?!’ was their most convincing in a long while and it was heartening they were still promoting it, as a typically eccentric intro from Ian led into ‘Vincent Price’, featuring some menacing sounding keyboard lines from Don that fitted the subject matter perfectly.
Indeed the Charles Bronson and Peter Wyngaarde lookalike really seems to have come into his own in the band and the classical inspired passages as he duelled with Steve on ‘Uncommon Man’ were worthy of Jon Lord himself.
Like them or loathe them, and I have mixed feelings, instrumental solos will always be a big part of a Purple show, albeit no longer of the length that stretched the ‘Made in Japan’ songs to 20 minutes, so ‘The Mule’ was a showcase for Ian Paice’s ever precise and creative drumming, then in a departure from the norm a fiddle player, Stephen Bentley Klein, jammed with Don on an intro to ‘Lazy’. The bluesy licks of the latter and of ‘Demon’s Eye’ significantly roused a rather reserved crowd before another new song in ‘Hell To Pay’, with Don’s organ playing again prominent.
His own solo slot included a touching snatch of ‘La Marseillaise’ not to mention ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner’, but when it segued into ‘Perfect Strangers’ there was an outpouring of joy, particularly from those like me and my friends who were too young to have been Purple fans first time round, but for whom the 1984 reunion of the same name was our first direct exposure to them.
‘Space Truckin’ continued to liven things up before after Steve and guitarist Scot Holiday from support act Rival Sons jammed away, the opening riff to ‘Smoke On The Water’, surely the most iconic in rock, sparked a party both on stage and off where even the security guards were hard pressed not to join in the fun.
There were no surprises for the encore with a snatch of ‘Green Onions’ leading to the band jamming out on ‘Hush’ and a bass solo from the evergreen Roger Glover leading into a lengthy ’Black Night’ with more on stage camaraderie.
Indeed one of the advantages of being at such close quarters was to witness the smiles on their faces of these old hands and how much they still appear to enjoy playing together, which I dare say might not have been the case had Ritchie been there.
If I was to be critical the setlist was rather safe, sticking quite closely to the Greatest Hits and totally ignoring anything between 1984 and 2013.
Nevertheless it was great to see a veteran band still sounding so fresh and enjoying themselves after all this time, and we really should acknowledge their significance while we still have them.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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Power Plays w/c 2 September (Mon-Fri)
BAD WOLVES Killing Me Slowly (Eleven Seven Music)
THE DEAD DAISIES Righteous Days (SPV)
DEEP DEEP WATER Something In The Water (indie)
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12:00-13:00 MOB RULES Beast Over Europe (SPV)
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