By Geoff Barton (submitted by Damian Phelan)

Deep Purple fly home today for their first series of British concerts in two years. They play four major music venues from the 11th to the 15th of March


“We’ve been a long time gone,” said founder-member Ian Paice, “so naturally we’re excited about coming home and seeing all our friends again.”

Purple have played Japan, Australia. Indonesia and the States on this current tour where in the traditional Deep Purple way, they’ve been exiting audiences and critics alike.

They arrive here at the peak of their musical energies to say ‘thanks’ to their British fans.

Shades of Deep Purple - You Keep On Moving

Is this Purple as good as the old? GEOFF BARTON joins the bands 24th tour of America to find out.

“This is my 24th American tour,” remarks Jon Lord, staring absently into his steadily diminishing glass of cognac “my twenty fourth.”

Have they all been with Deep Purple?

He nods affirmatively, his empty gaze changing to one of mock despair, and finishes off his drink in one large gulp.

“But you know,” he continues, “life on the road isn’t that bad any more. In the band’s early days it was a trifle hectic. Now eight years on we can afford to relax a little.”

Indeed. A Deep Purple U.S. tour is, today, a smoothly-organised, well put together affair — lots of long limousines which, even in the midst of a queue of similarly like tank — like American cars, cause heads to turn.

No sound checks, the roadies are veterans too, its a case of on the stage, off the stage, with a one-and-a-half hour set in between.

There’s even a customised plane, with the name ‘Deep Purple’ emblazoned it’s side, to fly you the 200 mile upwards distances from gig to gig.

Yes they can afford to relax a little — but they daren’t become complacent.

Jet lagged, weary and fighting off a flu bug, I arrive at the airport of San Antonio, Texas, in the early evening.

Louis, Purple’s delectable American publicist, is there to meet me. The band she informs me, are playing tonight. Did I want to go to the concert? Or would I like to go to the hotel instead, to sleep off the journey and start afresh tomorrow?

The prospect of a soft bed sounds tempting… but no, although I’ll doubtless have several opportunities to see the band during my stay, curiosity gets the better of me. I’m interested to see new guitarist Tommy Bolin, I’m anxious to find out if the various disparaging reports about the band have filtered across Britain since the beginning of this tour are founded and hold water.

“Deep Purple are going to break up,” a colleague had said, with a great deal of conviction, just before I left Britain for the States.

Are they? Certainly, it seemed possible, watching the band from the back of the stage on that first night. Tommy Bolin, with streaked hair, tight velvet trousers and snakeskin boots, seemed less than convincing in his role as lead guitarist, front man, mainstay of the outfit.

Vocalist David Coverdale spent an inordinate amount of time offstage, graciously allowing bassist Glenn Hughes some additional singing space.

Jon Lord seemed only mildly interested in the proceedings, his keyboard solo, save for the endearing snatch he played of “Yellow Rose Of Texas” being mechanical and uninspiring.

Only Ian Paice had a good time, battling it out with his drum kit, his wiry hair flying in the breeze behind him.

It was, all in all, disappointing. But now, looking back, having seen subsequent sets at Abilene, Fort Worth and with the whole trip culminating with a supremely powerful concert at Houston Coliseum, I can safely claim true enthusiasm for this incarnation of the band. There are some faults, admittedly, but overall, I’m happy to report. Deep Purple are alive and kicking. Often fiercely.

But it was rough to start off with, touch and go for a while. Much of my reluctance to accept Purple Mk. IV stemmed, obviously, from the absence of Ritchie Blackmore. Tommy Bolin’s talents as a guitarist aren’t in question here — it’s just that he often fails to impress a positive identity onstage.

He’s not flashy enough — well maybe ‘flashy’ is the wrong word. Let’s say that he fails to flaunt his expertise, inflate his ego, straighten his shoulders and say “Hey I’m Deep Purple’s new guitarist. I’m better than Ritchie Blackmore. Here, I’ll show you what I mean…”

It took the aforementioned Houston concert to fully dispel any doubts and completely lay Blackmore’s ghost to rest — up until that time, things had looked decidedly dicey for the band.

Flying to Abilene the next day, I voiced my fears, albeit in a restrained manner, to the now-bearded David Coverdale. I mentioned that, as far as I could tell ‘Come Taste The Band,’ the debut LP with the new line-up, had a pretty cool reception from Purple fans and critics alike.

“The last thing I heard, which was at the beginning of December, the album had sold 130,000 in Britain,” Coverdale counters, I think at one stage it was at number nine in the charts, which is cool, Christ, what do people want? Worldwide, the album had sold well. I, for one, am not complaining,” he concludes, brusquely.

I ask him for an honest opinion of the album.

“It’s the freshest thing Purple have done since I joined the band” he proclaims, possibly since Machine Head. I can only speak personally of course, but I’m very proud of the performance of each musician on the album.

“I’m very happy with my progression as a singer and as a writer. Come Taste The Band has lyrically and melodically, been my best work on it to date. I can still listen to it after six months of living with it, which is incredible, amazing.”

As I said before Coverdale spent a lot of time offstage during the San Antonio concert, allowing Glenn Hughes additional space to exercise his vocal chords. I wondered if he found his role in Purple’s current stage show rather restricting.

“Oh yeah — but I have no-one to blame but myself. I suggested the songs without realising how limiting they were, for me at least. They’re very monotone. I miss doing “Mistreated,” we’ll probably get that together for the British tour. But after all, I’m one fifth of a concept and at the moment it’s very frustrating for me, because I know I can sing.

“Also, at the moment, we’re trying to get Tommy Bolin across — a lot of the act is centered around him, the same as it used to be around myself and Glenn, when we first started.

“But it’s really been all right so far — this tours profitable musically and profitable financially, which makes a change. Socially it’s a lot more pleasurable.”

As the conversation continues, it transpires that a solo project is uppermost in Coverdale’s thoughts at the moment. Indeed, the ambition to prove oneself as a performer is in one’s own right is a current preoccupation of several Purple members.

As well as Coverdale, Hughes has an album forthcoming, as does Lord (admittedly his fourth) and of course Bolin’s Teaser LP is currently on release. In many cases, these solo plans override any thoughts about Purple.

“I’m very keen to find out what I can do in the studio, on my own,” Coverdale reveals. “When I record my album it’ll be without any members of the band, because if I used any of them it would be judged as a Purple recording not my own. I’m going to sing on this album, rather than scream my b***s off. I’ve been f***in’ screaming for years now… you know.”

That night in Abilene, the gig goes OK. Not spectacularly well just OK. Apparently, Texans are wont to do a lot of skiing at this time of year. Somehow, it seemed sadly ironic when, mid-way through Purple’s set a victim of a skiing accident who’s present in the crowd thrust up his crutches high into the air, in a gesture that was meant to denote appreciation.

To me, however, the action epitomised the situation onstage — Purple in some plight, having been dealt a serious injury with Blackmore’s departure. They were limping along, struggling desperately to equal past glories and falling far short of the succeeding.

The next day in Dallas near Fort Worth, some personal friction makes itself evident. The afternoon’s round of interviews and personal appearances takes Tommy Bolin and Glenn Hughes to two record shops, one a vast disc emporium, the other a more intimate concern. In both places, however, displays for Bolin’s ‘Teaser’ album far outweigh those for ‘Come Taste The Band.’ Hughes becomes not surprisingly a trifle annoyed.

In the first store, the record supermarket, the manager entices Bolin to climb a stepladder and autograph a six feet square, hand painted cardboard poster of his Teaser sleeve, stuck high on a wall. In the second shop, matters become worse.

‘The Teaser on Nemporer Records — here, in person, today 6:30 thru 7:30’ runs the banner outside The whole of the right hand shop window has been taken over by Bolin publicity material. A Come Taste The Band cover is displayed unceremoniously in another window, alongside many others. Hughes is understandably peeved.

Later when Bolin is busy signing autographs in the store proper, it is Come Taste The Band and not Teaser that blares out of the shop speaker system. A token acknowledgement to Hughes presence, a passing nod to the fact that that Bolin is a member of Deep Purple. The atmosphere is tense.

However, when I eventually talk to Hughes about Bolin’s role within the band, his enthusiasm for the new guitarist seems to hold no bounds. If he does resent Bolin’s success as a solo figure and it’s apparent interference with his own identity as a member of Deep Purple, he hides it very well.

“Tommy’s come a long way in a short space of time,” Hughes relates. “He hasn’t started properly yet. I’m sure that, by the end of the year, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”

Deciding not to push the matter much further. I nevertheless suggest that, in Britain at least, people are skeptical about Bolin’s position as Deep Purple’s guitarist.

Hughes disagrees, “I don’t think British audiences expect Deep Purple to be Deep Purple as before. They expect to see a new show with some of the old guys and a new guy. I think they’ll accept the change, I really do I think it’ll be a knockout.

“The bands a lot funkier now, we have to be, I can’t play any other way. At the moment, I’m doing as much as I can do, within the band, I can’t go any further then it wouldn’t be Deep Purple. I’m totally in R&B so much that it sometimes hurts to play with this band.

“But still, I fell a lot freer in Purple now then I’ve ever done before. I’ll feel even better after I’ve done my own album in May, or maybe August, it all depends on the availability of the people I want to play with me. I’ve been working on the LP for some time now at home in LA and I’ve put down a few basic tracks in Herbie Hancock’s studio. I’ve got a lot of people in mind to do the album with me — Tommy (Bolin) might play on a few tracks, Ronnie Wood too, maybe even John Bonham.....

“Bowie’s going to produce it, along with myself, (Bowie and Hughes being close friends). The album will contain lots of personal songs, very much in the R&B mould.”

With this consuming love for R&B in mind I suggested that Hughes might feel somewhat frustrated playing with Purple.

“I don’t like heavy rock music, believe it or not,” he says matter-of-factly. “But ‘Smoke On The Water,’ Machine Head and all that is Deep Purple, I can’t change it. I don’t feel frustrated onstage when I’m playing, but I do sometimes when I’m offstage I begin to think about it.

That’s why I have to do this solo album — I want to get into get into the whole lead vocal I need to sing again my whole life is singing. I have to sing on stage. There’s no competition between me and David, I just want to sing.”

The Fort Worth concert followed much the same pattern as the as the one at Abilene. I was getting a little disenchanted.

Houston, space age city, all towering tinted glass, was my last night with the band and it just had to be good. As I walked out to sit behind the mixing panel and see the band out front I was mildly depressed.

My mood if I bothered to analyse it was, I suppose, one of cynicism. But happily at the end of the concert, I was aglow. Archetypical high energy, loud volume rock ’n roll has blown my doubts to pieces. At last, Deep Purple had come on a brash, arrogant, self-assured supremely confident band. They played the proverbial storm. It was great.

The Houston coliseum, a large old fashioned, dusty hall, set just the right scene. Its grimy sweaty atmosphere was much more suited to a concert than, say Abilene (a massive dome like structure, stuck out with cacti in the middle of nowhere) or Fort Worth (imposing and clinically-clean baseball stadium).

As always Purple, opened the show in fine style with “Burn.” The stage all in darkness, the orange lights suddenly flicked dazzling to reveal, backed up by regimented amps and grinding guitars, five almost malevolent figures, Coverdale adopting a ramrod pose immediately, mike stand held high in both hands, horizontal above his head, flanked by Hughes to his right and Bolin on the left, a formidable threesome in themselves.

Bolin, as the number progresses, still seems to be content to play an economic role, somewhat afraid to assert the power at his disposal as lead guitarist, but pumps out the licks with appropriate rapidity. The rest bolster the sound — Hughes, Lord and Paice battling it out, each seemingly trying to maintain dominance over the other. Coverdale howls. It is loud, the loudest concert so far.

At the end of “Burn” the sound mixer, a Scottish gentleman, remarks, “There’s a little bit of power in those speakers tonight, eh? This is the real Deep Purple.”

And how right he is. A selection from Come Taste The Band follows “Lady Luck,” the U.S. single “Gettin’ Tighter” and “Love Child.” Bolin is more at home with the recent numbers and actually begins to strut a little, some of his cocksure offstage manner beginning to seep through. Coverdale leaves the stage during “Getting Tighter,” allowing Hughes to play a short bass solo, to sing a little and do a voice-guitar exchange with Bolin, impeccably rendered.

Predictably, the biggest cheer of the evening comes with an announcement of “Smoke On The Water.” The song tells a story of an album we made in Switzerland...” declares Coverdale, back onstage. The rap becomes mildly ironic, however, when you pause to consider that only two of the current Purple line-up — Jon Lord and Ian Paice — survive ‘Machine Head’ days and experienced the events in Montreux first hand.

Although Bolin corrupts the famous opening chords slightly, the number is still very classy and full of dynamics. It is here, for the first time, that I manage to accept Bolin as Deep Purple’s guitarist. Sure it’s strange to see him crashing out what is essentially a traditional Blackmore riff, but tonight he attacks it with such gusto, such genuine exhilaration, that at last the absence of the man in black doesn’t seem to matter any more.

Nevertheless, it’s unfortunate, but necessary I suppose, that Purple’s present set pivots around “Machine Head” — three songs are included in all, and each make a far more definite impression upon the audience than any of the others.

“Lazy” follows “Smoke On The Water,” a loosely constructed rendition this, leaving space for two solo spots, Lord’s and Paice’s. Both offer powerful testimonies to their respective abilities, while adding little to their past, pre-Bolin showcases.

“This Time Around” is next, turning out the be the most successful number of the evening. Hughes sophisticated vocals give way to Bolin’s perfunctory guitar spot. Introduced as ‘the best new guitar player in the world,’ Bolin finally successfully proves equal to the big build up. His past solos have been mundane — fingers running up and down the guitar neck, plenty of heavy strumming, little else noteworthy, together with a lack of dexterity.

At Houston, however, he was very much in control. It was good to see — there was some clever use of the Echoplex, some deft picking, some macho string bashing. The crowd was responsive and Bolin, gaining confidence, shook his fist at them, then made a gesture for more applause and received it back in spades. Even from the mixing panel you can see his eyes flicker with delight as he suddenly realised that the audience was his to shape and fashion, to silence or to inspire to rapturous cheers. He was enjoying himself.

“Highway Star” the encore saw me up front, five feet away from the stage, in the middle of a surging crowd. It may not have been 117 decibels, but it was awful loud.

Backstage after the encore’s echoes had died down. I remarked to Purple’s manager that, as Houston had been the last gig I had seen on that tour, that the concert was a good way to end.

He shrugged, “an end for you perhaps, but not for us. We just keep rolling on.”


Three Hiwatt 100-watt amps
Six Sound City Cabinets
Maestro Echoplex
GBX Stereo Noise Reducer
KEM Phaser
Fender Stratocaster Guitars
Gibson Les Paul Guitar
Ernie Ball Strings
Ernie Pickle Sliders

Two 200-watt Hiwatt amps
Four Reflex horn cabinets
KEM Phaser
Fender Precision Bass
Yamaha Guitar

Ludwig Drum Kit
Paiste cymbals

Hammond C3 Organ
Honer B6 clavinet
Fender Rhodes piano
Two ARP Odyssey synthesizers
ARP Pro soloist
ARP String Ensemble
Phaser (KEM)
Maestro ring modulator
Four Leslie cabinets containing Gauss 5840 speakers and JBL 2482 drivers
Crown DC 300A
(All keyboard equipment custom built by KEM)