So there we were, opposite the bins labeled Pop and Reggae, rummaging through the box-like contraption clad in worn blue-painted plywood. It had one of those 70's Dymo labels stuck on it that said News and hid a surprise. Near the back of the neatly stacked vinyl records was an album which should not have existed.
A Deep Purple album none of us had heard of before. In nineteen-bloody-eighty two, two years before they got together again, six years after Tommy Bolin stopped smoking.
Across the top of the cover, above David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes' impossible platform soles and massive hairdos, it said - in appropriate purple lettering - Deep Purple Live In London.
"Yeah, right. What's this one doing in News?"
"It's filed under News because it is ... er ... new."
"Huh? They split up six years ago. Didn't they?"
The man behind the counter was - come to think of it - not unlike the guy in High Fidelity. You know, the owner of a record shop in London who John Cusack failed somewhat to portray in the movie by the same name. Maybe you don't agree, but I read the book before it became a movie, and the pictures in the book were nothing like the pictures in the picture. In any case, Nick Hornby probably spent more time watching the Arse than writing in 1982. And he certainly wasn't using our own vinyl pusher as a model for his Rob Fleming. This guy knew everything about every record in the entire shop. And that was all he knew.
"Yeah, but this one is new. Brand new. Old recording just released."
My friend, who was thirteen, hell bent on becoming the next globally celebrated guitar slinger (it never happened) and owned a cheap Korean copy of a Gibson SG, well, he bought it for his own money. I, on the other hand, was fourteen and broke so I had to tape it on my sister's mono cassette player. I owned a cheap Korean copy of a Fender Precision Bass by the way, and we played loud music in the same band. None of us happened. Apart from across a couple of girls a few years later that is, but that's another story.
I think we paid roughly what you now would call €12.
And my name is ... Rick ... Emerson
The recording was done May 22, 1974 at Kilburn State Gaumont in London for BBC's In Concert series. Deep Purple's penultimate lineup, otherwise known to Purple connoisseurs as Mark III is performing on this album, right after Burn hit the shelves in record stores across the planet. Like every other rock band in the world before and after, Deep Purple's cycle of life was recording and touring, recording and touring. Unsurprisingly then, the album mostly consists of numbers from Burn, their second to last studio offering with Ritchie Blackmore on guitar.
So what about BBC and their "In Concert" series? Not much to say about that. Apart from reindeer farting and a few of the lesser known Inuit drinking songs, there's not much in the way of sound that isn't on tape somewhere in the BBC vaults. Speaking of tape, rumour has it that after the Kilburn concert was recorded, the tapes somehow got lost within the vast BBC system, and had it not been for some engineer making an unauthorized copy, nobody except those present on that late May day in 1974 would have heard it. What a shame that would have been.
Now, I could tell you that this album kicks ass, that it makes you want to bang your head or go out to the front of your house and yell in a loud but still humouros manner at random people. I could, because it makes you want to do all those things. The truth is that they are all clichès thoroughly worn out long before some music journalist with just the right hairstyle and sunglasses declared Kurt Cobain as the newest and most innovative thing since the previous newest and most innovative thing since Elvis. The truth is that Kurt Cobain invented nothing. He stood on the shoulders of previous giants just like Deep Purple did, and was as black inside as Ritchie Blackmore is. The difference is that Mr. Blackmore married a much nicer fellow musician.
Alas, this writeup is not about an angry, hairy young man from the US north west, but about a group of less angry but much hairier young men from all over the United Kingdom.
Okay, now for what's actually on the record:
- Burn (6:58)
- Might Just Take Your Life (4:51)
- Lay Down, Stay Down (5:11)
- Mistreated (13:18)
- Smoke On The Water (8:46)
- You Fool No One/The Mule (18:18)
See that? They literally crammed the B side with just two songs. We'll get to that in a minute.
A Japanese import double CD has a 30 minute version of Space Truckin' tacked on the end. Rumour has it that EMI will remaster the whole thing - including Space Truckin' - and release it in Europe sometime during 2004. Let's hope they keep their rumoured promise.
It opens the recording, masquerading as a straight number from the studio album by the same name. As was customary in the days before Queen started to use synthesizers, a person steps up to the microphone amidst cheering and whistling to introduce the band before the concert kicks off. In 1974, Deep Purple was considered to be the loudest band in the world and this is exactly what we're being told by the microphone wielding scotsman. I don't know who he is. He goes on to scream in a scottish tongue slighted slightly by smokes and booze: "Put your hands together, please. Burn with Deep Purple!" before a mighty crescendo of instruments try to blow you off whatever you're sitting on. Oh, they managed that nicely with a couple of Norwegian adolescents.
Ritchie Blackmore gently picks a few notes on the Stratocaster before unleashing the Burn riff on us. You can't help to wonder for the next seven minutes if the preceeding sound check - if they even had one - went horribly wrong or whether the aforementioned partying scotsman was responsible for tuning Glenn Hughes' Rickenbacker. It sounds out of tune to me. Generally the whole band sounds like they are in the warm-up stages of the concert. Nothing is nearly as tight and precise as it is later, but thumbs up to whoever decided to leave this on the album. It perfectly shows the raw and sometimes fault ridden opening seconds of a live performance before the musicians manage to shake off their nervousness and sync up mentally with the others.
As Ian Paice lays off the crash cymbals for a little while in order to let Blackmore's classic Stratocaster-with-high-gain-Marshall-tubes-cranked-to-11 solo through the wall of sound, everything's in order. The rest of Burn is per the sheet music.
Might Just Take Your Life
This song is another one straight from the Burn album. The out-of-tune sounding Rickenbacker persists, but now it sounds like Glenn Hughes is deliberately bending some blue notes out of the bass. It is no secret that David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes brought a more bluesy and funky feel to Deep Purple, so the sour bass begins to make sense. Maybe he was just overdoing the blue notes during the opening number?
Another thing Glenn Hughes brought with him to Deep Purple was backing and lead vocals. All of a sudden, a band famous in part for its vocalist had two singers, both of them performing equally well. Although less known than Coverdale, Hughes' is to me a complete musician who happened to play the bass in a major rock act in the seventies. He went on to do big things after Deep Purple, and if you've never heard of him you're probably more interested in wearing baggy pants and jewelry while impersonating a black guy calling his girlfriend bitch.
Lay Down, Stay Down
Also from Burn. In fact, the only two songs left out from Burn was Sail Away and What's Goin' On Here. They might have played them that day, but they weren't recorded. The Korean release of Live In London didn't have this song on it for some reason. The Rickenbacker with a pick, stuttering Hammond and springy drumming has you thinking of a jazz band on steroids. When the end crescendo dies down, John Lord does his signature act by kicking the reverberation box to produce some spacy Hammond sounds.
It starts with a spoken introduction in Jon Lord's Leicester accent while Ritchie Blackmore impatiently strums and tunes the Strat in the way guitarists did on stage before electronic tuners were readily available. Despite the song being credited to the whole band, Lord introduces it as "a song Ritchie wrote about two years ago." Lead vocals are sung by David Coverdale while Glenn Hughes takes care of the screaming chorus bits.
The sort-of intro guitar solo has the sound a lot of guitar players have tried to copy ever since. This is straight-in-your-face tube amp overdrive and no fancy electronic shit. If you consider an ancient tape loop echo to be fancy electronic shit, I'm lying through my nose here though. Blackmore's left hand vibrato coupled with the aforementioned echo, careful use of feedback and the Stratocaster's renowned sustain shows why he was the rock star and your father wasn't. The bridge takes a minute to get trough, all the way from barely audible strat strings to a mighty all hands crash. The band doesn't sound too tight here, but live is live. And who knows what kind of cleavage the girls at front row were sporting that night. Just a guess. If you've never held a guitar on stage, you might feel a little lost here.
Smoke On The Water
This is the song even the Pope practices his air guitar to. This is the song everybody uses to explain what a riff is. This song starts with the riff you're not allowed to play in guitar shops anywhere in the world. That is, this riff and the other one, except the other one isn't a riff. The only living person the owner wouldn't hesitate to pull the plug on, steal the pick from or give the death stare to should he ever descend among us mere mortals and show up in a guitar shop somewhere and crank out out these very opening chords, is Ritchie Blackmore. Anyone else playing it would probably be left to die in the back where all the cardboard boxes are stored.
Straying momentarily into a happy little tune, as if we were all present at a circus performance waiting for the next troupe of Russian line dancers or Spanish daredevils, the dirty, raw opening riff hits us head on and there's no time to look back and figure out what happened. This isn't David Coverdale's tune by the way. His voice cannot stretch across the scale like Ian Gillan's could, but he gets away with it anyhow. There's no interludes or segments from old variety shows or whatever the hell they used to play between, above and behind their standard numbers on stage, just a steamroller rock tune like the muse hard rockers got nightly visits from told them it should be like. She was likely called Phoenix or Flower. My guess is Flower.
You Fool No One/The Mule
Next up is a medley featuring You Fool No One and The Mule. If you've heard some or all of the other classic Deep Purple live albums or maybe even seen them live, you know their penchant for doing long numbers where everybody in the band gets a shot at showing off themselves. For eighteen and a half minute we're served Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice on a musical silver platter while Glenn Hughes and David Coverdale take the back seat.
Jon Lord opens the set with a fiery Hammond intro, utilizing every knob and dial on his setup. The reverb goes on and off while the springs inside pray for their very lives when Lord suddenly breaks out into a lenient classical piece. He literally leans on the ivory as Ian Paice takes over. A few bars later Ritchie joins the fray and we're in the opening chords of You Fool No One. From here, everything becomes a thunderous piece of musical evidence why Deep Purple was considered Heavy Rock in the mid 1970's.
Before the medley ends, we're treated with more Blackmore, more Paice and more Deep Purple. The somewhat surprising ending is taken from Blues, and the rolling, syncopated rhytms sounds just right. Or alternatively, I got used to it.
I've heard the 30 minute version of Space Truckin only once, so I'll need at least a couple of hundred more listenings before I can write anything sensible about it. And no, I don't know what they were smoking during rehearsals to come up with what I heard. Let's just hope it sounds as good on the remastered CD as the rest does.
This wu was coincidentally posted on the recording's 30-year anniversary.