DEEP PURPLE - LONDON O2, October 20, 2022

To the 02 by riverboat, courtesy of my old friends Deep Purple, though only three survive from the group I covered extensively for Melody Maker between 1970 and 1976 and whose semi-authorised* biography I wrote in 1982. At that time the group had split and had no plans to reconvene but two years later the line-up I termed DP Mark II – organist Jon Lord, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, drummer Ian Paice, singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover – reformed and hit the road again to promote a new album, Perfect Strangers. Since then the Purple franchise has been more or less permanently active and released a dozen more albums – two more than the group I used to write about – though Blackmore quit for good in 1993 and, sadly, Lord died in 2012, having retired amicably from the group a decade earlier.
Now touring for the first time since 2019, Paice, Gillan and Glover are joined on keyboards by Don Airey, whose CV reads like a roll call of heavy rock and has been on board since Lord’s retirement, and recently appointed guitarist Simon McBride has replaced Steve Morse who bowed out earlier this year for personal reasons. 
So, much has changed since I last saw Deep Purple at Radio City Music Hall in New York in January 1976, yet the distinctive character of the group remains unequivocally the same. The emphasis is still on soloing, predominantly guitar and keyboards, and songs that are stretched beyond recognition from the studio versions, be they well-seasoned nuggets from the catalogue of the group that plied their trade long ago, or newer pieces with which I am less familiar. The difference between the old and the new in a live setting is a greater emphasis on discipline, no doubt due to the length of time they’ve spent playing together or, simply, more rehearsal, and in a sharper, crunchier, more contemporary stage sound afforded no doubt by superior 21st century amplification. 
As befitting the only member of the group to have played in all of its line-ups, Ian Paice forsakes a drum podium and positions himself centre stage and more upfront, on the same level as everyone else. From the audiences sightline, Don Airey’s multi-layered keyboard set-up is to the right of him; Roger Glover, far more mobile than the stationary metronome he once was, is on the left of the stage; Simon McBride is on the right; with Ian Gillan in the centre when called upon to sing, a less arduous role in Purple than in most groups of their stature. 
As in times past, Deep Purple’s arrival on stage is heralded by a blaring classical piece full of drama, this one by Holst, until the lights flash and they launch their first London show since 2017 – ironically part of their ‘Long Goodbye’ tour – with ‘Highway Star’, segueing smoothly into ‘Pictures Of Home’ and ‘No Need To Shout’, all without a break. Not until the fourth song, ‘Nothing At All’, does Gillan address the large crowd who’ve been on their feet since he arrived on stage, ambling on last from the gap between the speaker cabinets behind Paice’s drums, which affords him a handy egress on those occasions when his services aren’t required. 
Don Airey on his extravagant variety of keyboards and synthesisers and the much younger, and slimmer, Simon McBride on guitar are given free rein in much the same way as Lord and Blackmore once were, with virtually every song in the evening’s set offering them opportunities to solo over and above the set pieces where they are left alone on stage to grandstand their ample skills. 
        In McBride’s case this came before ‘Uncommon Man’, dedicated by Gillan to Jon Lord, and began with a display of muted tone control effects that made his guitar sound like a cello before he reverted to the more nimble-fingered stuff that DP fans expect. A dab hand at those incisive power chords and manipulating FX foot pedals, there can be no doubt he’s a worthy replacement for the more experienced Morse and, indeed, could probably give their original guitarist a run for his money in the speed, string-bending and harmonic departments. With his trim haircut and tight Levis, he looks good too, a sleek and snappy player who oozes confidence in a demanding role. 
        Airey had the stage to himself in the prelude to ‘Perfect Strangers’ later in the set and showed himself to be equally well-equipped to step into the shoes of his predecessor. With hints of Phantom of The Opera-ish doom and glissandos galore, and a touch of JS Bach, or maybe Ludwig Van, he attacks the many tiers of electric keys at his disposal with the air of an assured maestro, conjuring up all manner of commotion on his synth yet not without some sly humour. At one point, to the delight of the crowd, he tinkled out ‘Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner’. 
        Ian Paice does not solo in the accepted sense but many of the songs include drum breaks and sharp modifications in tempo that require him to take a commanding role. He is as tireless as ever, the same bundle of energy at 74 as he was at 24, his hair now almost white, worn in a straggly ponytail. His namesake on vocals is still a handsome devil and, though he no longer screams in the manner he once did, his singing is more measured these days, with perhaps a shade less range but certainly more depth. His bluesy treatment of ‘When A Blind Man Cries’, the only song in the set where Purple took their foot off the accelerator, was a highlight for this reviewer.
        After Space Truckin’, delivered with persuasive, unflagging relish, the pre-encore closer was the inevitable ‘Smoke On The Water’, prefaced by a bit of noodling before McBride took up centre stage to play that riff, as piercing as it was precise, the signal for a thousand mobile phones to be held aloft. On the screen behind the band, on which graphics had been shown the whole time, a pack of cards was dealt amidst visions of smoke from the burning casino that floated over Lake Geneva all those years ago. On the cards we saw the faces of DP past and present, their old guitarist the jester, someone’s tongue firmly in cheek. 
        They came back to play ‘Hush’, that early US hit single never performed during the era when I first encountered them, followed by Glover’s bass solo, deftly handled alongside Paice, and, at the very end, ‘Black Night’, the 1970 UK number two hit that took them by surprise, paving the way for their elevation to rocks top table. Im happy to report theyre still supping from it after all these years. 


* Five out of the ten ex-Purple musicians co-operated in the book (of the others, one blanked me, three were uncontactable and one had died), together with managers, producers and a few roadies. 

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