For many years, high on my diminishing bucket list was a reformation of Mark 3 Deep Purple, from the years when the contrasting vocal talents of David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes revitalised the band, throwing fresh soul, blues and funk influences into the melting pot to complement their classically-inspired hard rock and create a unique sound that was ahead of its time.
Sadly Jon Lord’s passing meant this dream could never be realised, while the Mark 3 and 4 eras have long been ignored in Purple sets since Ian Gillan’s return. So it has been left to other members to cement that legacy. After David Coverdale went down the only road he’d ever known, recording new versions on Whitesnake’s ‘Purple Album’, now it was Glenn Hughes’ turn to celebrate that era through a tour celebrating classic Deep Purple.
There is much more than Purple to the ‘Voice of Rock’s distinguished career, all the way from Trapeze to Black Country Communion alongside a string of solo records, and in past tours the odd Purple number has sat alongside this catalogue.
However the promise of a DP-only set seemed to have encouraged several lapsed fans out of the woodwork, judging from the way the Electric Ballroom – half empty on his last visit in 2015 – was as packed to the gills as I can remember it, with the air conditioning choosing a bad time not to be working.
Appetites for the main event were whetted very nicely by a support slot from Laurence Jones who as Planet Rock’s Paul Anthony reminded us (is there a contractual obligation that every show is introduced by him?) has won several blues awards in his fast rising career. Sharpest Dressed Man might be another honour, even if his double-breasted pinstripe suit had a touch of the Jacob Rees-Mogg to it.
He also seems to have a dual musical identity. On openers ‘What Would You Do’ and ‘Gone Away’, despite some very Hendrix-sounding guitar on the latter, it was the songs and his sharp, clear vocals that impressed most while the band were slick and tight, even if I could not get over bassist Greg Smith’s remarkable resemblance to Harry Kane.
In particular, the Hammond organ of Bennett Holland and a pair of girl backing singers gave the songs a funky soulful dimension that the night’s headliner would have approved of.
A cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower’, a risky move but given just enough of an original feel and an 11 minute slow burning blues epic in ‘Thunder In The Sky’ showed his other side as the would be blues guitar hero.
The rest of the set was in more commercial vein with ‘What’s It Gonna Be’ and ‘Live it Up’, the latter making me think it might have been a hit in the nineties in the hands of a Lenny Kravitz or Terence Trent D’arby, and closed with another cover in CCR’s ‘Fortunate Son’, skilfully tackled as he treated the structure of the song reverentially but embellished it with guitar solos significantly heavier and less basic than the original. In other circumstances this would have been a headline-worthy set.
There was only one star of the show however and as Glenn Hughes came on stage to an intro tape of his songs being heard through a crackling radio dial, a seventies vibe was lovingly created. His own look of patterned shirt, maroon waistcoat and trousers, mirrored shades and long flowing hair was complemented by a picture of his younger figure staring from a psychedelic backdrop, a band logo based on the classic Purple artwork and a backline of Orange Amps.
It was a fitting setting for a great opener in ‘Stormbringer’, Glenn getting in one of his trademark screams early and Jesper Bo Hansen producing some extended synthesiser solos, followed swiftly by a funkier pair in ‘Might Just Take Your Life’, Jesper’s Hammond organ work worthy of vintage Jon Lord and a stately ‘Sail Away’, Glenn singing with great restraint.
He paid a moving tribute to Tommy Bolin so after an unfamiliar intro, it was no surprise that the biggest cheer of the night greeted Soren Andersen’s Stratocaster playing the unmistakable taut guitar riff to ‘Gettin Tighter’, Glenn’s bass playing given full reign and the funk quotient growing during the first, but not last jam, of the night.
After describing how he and David Coverdale wrote another Mark 4 classic, which he hinted Ritchie Blackmore never rated, ‘You Keep On Moving’ saw that remarkable voice break into some falsetto gymnastics, but there then followed the Marmite moment of the night. With solos from nearly all the players and jams thrown in (plus an all too brief snippet of ‘High Ball Shooter’), ‘You Fool No One’ stretched to nearly half an hour.
On the one level this did seem excessive when so many other classics screamed out to be played. On the other, as the show was meant to transport those attending back in time to recreate the vibe of seventies Purple, lengthy jams came with the territory. Plus, as a friend and fellow hack remarked, the time spent off stage for Glenn to recharge his vocal cords was a price worth paying.
It was still a surprise six songs in to see Glenn, with his usual effusive gratitude towards his fans, effectively closing the set, and Soren teased with a snatch of ‘Lazy’ before playing the iconic ‘Smoke On The Water’ riff. I was curious, but Glenn’s voice adapted seamlessly to a Gillan song, while the band stuck relatively closely to the original, until a coda when Glenn unstrapped his bass guitar to better engage the audience at the front and gave an emotional rendition of a couple of verses of ‘Georgia On My Mind’.
The one song from that era most associated with him is ‘Burn’ which inevitably was the first encore, and showed off the tasteful, respectful yet inspired prowess with which both Jesper and Soren attacked the classic Purple instrumental virtuosity. However the looming presence of the normal ‘three songs and out’ professional photographers at the side of the stage signalled something special was about to happen.
When the band returned, Soren took his leave, but on came an unassuming figure who in his baseball cap and biker-style blouson looked like a garage mechanic, but it was ‘only’ Glenn’s BCC bandmate Joe Bonamassa, on a busman’s holiday from his own current UK tour.
This was like Barcelona bringing Lionel Messi off the bench in the closing stages, and you could cut the sense of anticipation with a knife before he played the opening riff to ‘Mistreated’, whose epic theme culminated in a closing solo where Glenn’s bass and Joe’s guitar matched each other in an ever faster crescendo of notes. I was even convinced his face broke into a smile at one point!
The atmosphere then loosened slightly as Joe stayed and Soren returned together with a bass player who looked rather like Jesus, freeing Glenn up to lead a finale of ‘Highway Star’. As with ‘Smoke On The Water’ any reservation at hearing an over familiar Mark 2 song was overcome by the sheer skill of delivery, not least the memorable way in which Soren and Joe combined on the guitar solo.
An already excellent gig was lifted to epic status by such a memorable encore. Even better news was Glenn saying from the stage that touring will take priority over recording for a while, so this unmissable tribute to a very special era will be rolling on into 2019.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Paul Clampin
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