Deep Purple @ LG Arena, Birmingham – 27 November 2011

Among the pioneers of modern hard rock, Deep Purple formed in Hertford in 1968, releasing their debut album ‘Shades Of Deep Purple’ that year. Since then they have sold over 100 million albums worldwide. They are one of the UK’s greatest rock exports, and have gone through many line-up changes and an eight-year hiatus between 1976 and 1984.

The current tour sees classic members Ian Gillan (vocals), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums), along with Steve Morse (guitar) and Don Airey (keyboards), team up with a 38-piece orchestra for a show entitled ‘The Songs That Built Rock’. Not so much an orchestra-based affair, but the band “playing with strings and horns for colour textures” according to Steve Morse.

Although still regarded as one of the best rock acts of all time, they have toured for the last six years to promote their 2005 album ‘Rapture Of The Deep’. So, I expect die-hard fans have been looking forward to something different, as well as a new album, apparently planned for 2012. Conductor and electric violinist Steven Bentley-Klein, leads the young classical musicians into a brief introduction before the band thunder into the first of many classic rock songs: ‘Highway Star’ taken from the 1972 album ‘Machine Head’ and ‘Hard Lovin Man’ from 1970’s ‘Deep Purple In Rock’.

‘In Rock’ was one the first albums I ever bought, and having not seen Deep Purple since my teenage years in 1985 – it appears that tonight is going to be a bit of a treat, as further early tracks ‘Maybe I’m a Leo’ and ‘Strange Kind of Woman’ are given a towering twist with orchestral accompaniment.

Throughout the set, the balance of band and orchestra does wane here and there, but generally the treatment does feel and sound pretty damn good. Up-to-date tunes that I am not au fait with, such as the eastern sounds of ‘Rapture Of The Deep’, certainly appear enhanced by the orchestra.

1973 hit single ‘Woman From Tokyo’ is followed by the short instrumental and Steve Morse guitar solo ‘Contact Lost’. Morse is now the bands longest-running guitarist, although I guess possibly a target for Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple purists. However, listening to his virtuoso capabilities, during a sweet song he penned about the sad loss of the Columbia space shuttle astronauts – one is made absolutely aware why he was voted Best Overall Guitarist by Guitar Player Magazine, five years in a row.

At 66 years old, Ian Gillan is one of rock music’s best known vocalists and lyricists. Gifted with a phenomenal vocal range and with over 40 years of touring under his belt, his vocal strength may have weakened, but his performance has not. A wonderful rendition of ‘When a Blind Man Cries’ – an epic, melancholy track – still highlights why Luciano Pavoritta called him a genius and David Gilmour said: “as long as Gillan is singing, rock and roll is not dead”.

Bass player Roger Glover along with drummer and last remaining original member Ian Paice are solid throughout. Don Airey – one of the most sought after keyboard players, having played with many acts including: Gary Moore, Ozzy Osbourne, Brian May and Andrew Lloyd Webber – enthrals during a sublime keyboard solo. Songs taking us to the end of the show include: ‘Knocking At Your Back Door’, ‘Lazy’, ‘Space Truckin” and my personal highlight: ‘Perfect Strangers’ – a masterpiece, sounding like it had been written with an orchestra in mind.

Unsurprisingly, ‘Smoke On The Water’ encourages the biggest sing-along of the evening, whilst ‘Hush’ and ‘Black Night’ – divided by a Roger Glover bass solo – make up the encore, for a delighted, sell-out Birmingham audience.

Deep Purple in their prime, were one of the greatest live bands ever to be seen. We maybe 30+ years on since that time, but tonight, as I had anticipated – was indeed a treat.

Review & Photography: Steve Johnston

Deep Purple