Deeply Purple

Friday 30th May 2008

As peculiar as it might seem, believe it or not there are only a handful of Deep Purple tribute bands out there. Yeah, I know, you’d think there’d be dozens but you can look it up if you like. Unlike Sabbath, Zeppelin and the rest of the seventies monsters that have inspired facsimiles everywhere, only Deeply Purple and Deepest Purple are serious contenders for the role of the UK’s premier Purple tribute act, and though there may be one or two others floating about entertaining old men in rural pubs, being little more than dire Purple covers bands rather than tributes, none are really worth a damn, so the title means very little when you consider the competition.

And speaking of market competition, it seems that The Counterfeit Stones are playing at The Assembly Hall tonight, which may explain the lack of ticket sales. Well, that’s what ‘Ian Gillan’ is trying to convince himself of as he stands outside pre-gig, disgruntled and bewildered. Maybe they’re used to having hundreds of headbanging granddads at other venues, but it just ain’t gonna happen here, and even 15 minutes after the scheduled start time, we’re still low on bodies because it’s hard enough getting the youngsters along to a gig on a Friday night, let alone the parents. And can you imagine the scene at home when young Toby or Penelope finds out that Dad’s planning on going to the Forum of all places, will probably play air guitar and start headbanging even though he’s bald, pot bellied and wears glasses. “No way am I going there again just in case anyone finds out he’s something to do with me…”

They needn’t worry for nothing. There are a number of fortysomething old ‘uns here, and it’s actually a novelty for me not to be the oldest person in the room for once. They’re supping their pints, gawping at the décor, wondering where on earth some of these bands on the posters get their names from and whether a comfy chair in a nice country pub might have been a better way to spend an evening. They won’t be dancing, headbanging or plugging in their invisible Stratocasters and as for shaking their barnets while grimacing as if the activity demanded intense concentration, well, thankfully they can sit for a couple of hours glued to an uncomfortable rickety chair, cheering mutedly and clapping on occasions as the band do their level best to recreate the sweaty excitement of a packed Japanese arena so that old ‘uns can pretend to enjoy it. Aye, it’s a Dad’s life.

Luckily though, Deeply Purple, like the rather fabulous Led Zep Too, at least do their best to play their parts and dress accordingly, from the genuine Deep Purple intro tape to going someway towards actually looking like their heroes, such as with bassist ‘Roger Glover’s wig and hat (which make him look like some Cavalier left over from the English Civil War), to Ritchie’s own flowing locks and look of boredom, to a very convincing ‘Jon Lord’. ‘Ian Gillan’ of course, looks the part naturally, although it’s debateable as to whether that’s fortunate. Yes, they have got real names of course, but do you really care what they are? You wouldn’t go to see an Elvis impersonator who kept reminding you that his name was Dave, so let’s keep the Deeply Purple boys in character for now.

Despite being very much a Mark 2 set-up, Deeply Purple spend an inordinate amount of time delving into the mark 3 material, particularly from the “Burn” album, when the band featured Glen Hughes on bass and David Coverdale on vocals, and that they choose to open with “Burn” itself seems a tad odd. It’s done Mark 2 style of course, with Gillan’s cock-wobbling clumsiness and roaring effervescent vocals down to a tee, and the interplay between their laconic ‘Ritchie Blackmore’ and the swirling keys of ‘Jon Lord’ becomes increasingly wild as the crowd level reaches 30 or so, roaring their approval (still sitting down though) to indicate that all’s well. So far so peachy.

Woman From Tokyo” suffers a little though. Despite sounding more authentic than its predecessor (it is after all a Mark 2 tune) Blackmore’s guitar sound is somewhat weedy and if truth be told, he sounds very ordinary and no different from a pub-rock copyist in a good covers band. Though he plays with the offhand casual narcissism that the man himself does, he’s actually only competent to do the job rather than ideal, but luckily the rhythm section is steady and powerful, leaving ‘Jon Lord’ an awful lot of scope for filling in Blackmore’s inadequacies.

They don’t really start to slip into their comfort zone until “Perfect Strangers”, but this greased nostalgia isn’t really up to a great deal. As tributes go, Deeply Purple are competent and respectably authentic, it has to be said, but they’re not quite there. Close your eyes, that’s the key. You’d be amazed at how infrequently people actually do that y’know. If you think a tribute band are any good, it’s easy to overlook things on account of the visual impact, but close your eyes and actually listen and you’ll get a far greater understanding of whether the band actually ‘connect’ in the right way. Deeply Purple, unfortunately, do not. They merely play well together and have brief flashes of inspired brilliance, but because they lean so heavily towards the Coverdale/Hughes era tonight, what with “Stormbringer”, an epic “Mistreated” and the swirling purple whirlwind of fleshy organ and guitar interplay that is “You Fool No One”, it simply doesn’t sound ‘right’ and cheapens the tunes a little, not getting comfortably confident until a massively self-indulgent “Lazy”, but by then Gillan is showing tell-tale signs of pressure. He lacks the necessary power and range to do little more than modestly mimic his hero’s style and phrasing, which is particularly apparent when he accidentally goes off-key, but it’s saved from disaster by a swirling purple whirlwind of fleshy organ/guitar interplay and galloping throbbing rhythms, and for once, Ritchie handles the slowburning blues with more style and finesse than he’s shown so far.

Typically though the ‘Ian Paice’ drum solo is an over-extravagant load of old wank, and yes, I did manage to sneak off for a ciggie and a piss and was back at the bar before before he’d finished, but “Strange Kind Of Woman” brings us back into Mark 2 territory quite comfortably, giving the faithful a chance to join in a little. “Lets get some hands in the air!” yells Gillan, and there are few sights more depressing and horrifying than a handful of grey balding men in smart trousers sitting down as they clap vaguely in time to the rhythm, half-raise an arm in the air before letting it fall, mumbling to the ‘call and response’ rigmarole, while the band try to recreate the experience of getting an arena to ebb and flow with the power of the music. It’s like watching classic rock go through its death throes, and “Fireball” (which Gillan helpful reminds us was used in “Life On Mars” a while ago) fares little better.

That being said, DP are certainly more comfortable trying to emulate the chaotic pompous beauty of the Mark 2 line up, but here’s the thing: they do it pretty much perfectly from a technical perspective and probably perform the tunes better than the current Deep Purple lineup could manage (Steve Morse? Pah!), but it’s really just covers done well rather than a magical homage as one would get with Led Zep Too, Limehouse Lizzy or tonight’s ‘rivals’ for punters The Counterfeit Stones. Don’t get me wrong, they do it well, it’s just not great, and nowhere is this more apparent than on “Child In Time”. Though the tune is, as we all know, a shifting monster of epic solos and OTT extravagance, Gillan’s vocals, particularly on the high “woo-ooo-oooh” notes, are ineffectual and lacking in any real depth or power as he struggles to reach them. There’s little emotion as he swoops and soars, just rather asinine and crude attempts at trying not to fuck it up, but he redeems himself by virtue of enthusiastic audience interplay during “Space Truckin’” and the sight of a bespectacled shiny head bobbing up and down yelling “C’mon! C’mon! C’mon! Let’s go space truckin’!” is one that’ll stick with me in my darker moments for a long time to come. . Mainly because I know that I’ll probably be doing the same myself in a few years. Jon Lord gives it all the full organworks though and they lose it a tad as he improvises naughty little interjections from Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin”, even the theme to “Blackadder” of all things, but luckily the rest of the band don’t stand for such nonsense for very long and the jam continues in a more orthodox direction as we move back into the usual frothing cocktail of extended solos and grimacing poses that seem to last for about a fortnight. Even the old ‘uns are bloody glad when they’ve finished.

Of course, they daren’t leave out “Smoke On The Water” but Gillan’s voice is wobbling like jelly on springs, and although getting everyone to sing the words is a bit optimistic, a much-appreciated “Highway Star” in it’s full-length extended glory, and a frantic “Black Night”, finish things off contentedly enough.

Deeply Purple’s playfulness and true fondness for Purple’s music are wonderful in their own way, as when they’re jumping all over each other as they tip over the organ and Ritchie pretends to torture his white Strat against the Marshall stack, it almost makes you want to throw caution to the wind and jump around up there with them. As a cheery bit of not-quite-there nostalgia, they tick most of the relevant boxes too, but a true tribute and one with the necessary class to hold the banner of Britain’s best Purple tribute? ‘Fraid not. But for want of anything better (and I include that current masquerade of the real thing within that statement), they’re respectable enough. For now.

Paul Mills