Darker Than Blue (Review)

Deep Purple Appreciation Society

Review by Simon Robinson

Words and Music / Michael Anthony – ISBN (978-0-9572528-0-6)

If I’d realised Michael was going to splash some of my thoughts on his book over the back cover when it was printed, I’m sure I would have tried to come up with something more erudite. Too late. As Ian Gillan once screamed. Anywho, Michael has put together a wordy tome in which he attempts to put into words what rock music means to him, and by inference to the rest of us. A tall order indeed but over 350 pages he gives it a good shot. And if at the end of the book my initial reaction is to pull Made In Japan off the shelf and give it another blast, then that cannot be bad (especially as these days I find myself listening to a smaller group of discs but more frequently).

Michael has used his own experiences of first hearing rock music, going to gigs, and meeting like minded people as the basis for the book, so it’s often quite a personal slant but one we can all empathise with. From here he goes further and ruminates on a variety of rock music themes, often with a couple of his favourite bands underpinning the arguments. What brings the book into our sphere is his love of just about all things Deep Purple. His telling of seeing older relations freaking out to Made In Japan behind closed doors to finally being able to borrow a copy, and then playing it non-stop every day after school for about a fortnight, will resonate with a lot of fans.

Indeed for the first third of the book, Deep Purple crop up with alarming regularity (I just hope his listing of their various accomplishments at one stage doesn’t put less enamored readers off!), while Deep Purple fans may well look on with envy at the chapter on how Marillion look after their supporters. What’s good about the book is they way most of us will be well able to relate to the unfolding story and it isn’t written in the ‘trying to be clever’ way of some writers who use rock music to underpin their work (I’m thinking of Nick Hornby here). It’s rare to find book which looks at any aspect of being a rock fan without the writer taking the piss somewhere down the line, so on that basis alone it deserves a mention here.

 The book did spook me once or twice with stories which seemed cribbed from my own life, albeit ten years further down the line, but that alone illustrates the shared experiences so many rock fans have, knowingly or otherwise. Brownie points docked for the lack of pictures (I love the shot shown here of Mike and his mate meeting Steve Harris  from Iron Maiden backstage. They had time for one photo. And the flash failed to go off.) but more than awarded for keeping it local plus the sheer amount of effort which has gone into it. And of course his cogent thoughts on Deep Purple when they appear. Michael has kindly allowed us to print an extract, so I’ve chosen this part (edited down so as not to spoil the book) where he riffs on that eternal theme of Deep Purple vs.Led Zeppelin.

Details of where to buy are available via the link to the author’s own site  (https://wordsandmusicbook.wordpress.com/) on which continues the themes in the book. Any problems getting copies let me know.

 

“Who’s the greatest heavy rock band ever?” my friend Harvey once asked me. I thought for a while and, not without reservation, answered “Deep Purple.”

“Nah. It’s Led Zeppelin,” Harvey grinned back, “people who say Deep Purple always have to think about it first. Zeppelin fans know that it’s Zeppelin. Purple were always a bit too arty for my liking, but Zeppelin just get you. Man, no one plays the blues like Led Zeppelin.”

I think Harvey had a point or two. I recognise, for example, the power of Led Zeppelin and the sensual pull of the band. I recognise too that while Zeppelin are a very direct and hard-hitting band, Purple have a more varied and arty approach that does give pause for thought. When you answer “Led Zeppelin” to Harvey’s question you are shooting from the hip. When you answer “Deep Purple” you must first draw the disparate elements together, with the cerebral exercise required inevitably introducing a hint of hesitation. It should be said that Led Zeppelin were always very good at creating a mystique around themselves that has been preserved over the years by the clever management and marketing of their image and their back catalogue. It’s not that the history of Deep Purple is without incident or intrigue – think, for example, of the sad and senseless path travelled by the late Tommy Bolin – but it is surely true that Purple’s reputation was built on music alone and was not augmented by the dark and demonic associations and tales of general decadence that seemed to follow Led Zeppelin around.

I am not suggesting that Led Zeppelin lacked substance in any way, but they certainly knew how to package and present themselves to maximise their impact. By simply letting their music do the talking, Purple failed to capitalise on the kind of image and product management that would have made it easier for them to preserve their own status and reputation.

How often I’ve wished that the band had been able to prevent the release of all of those pointless post-reunion compilations, and how often I’ve wished that I could remove ‘Smoke on the Water’ or ‘Black Night’ from all those crappy rock compilation albums you find in the bargain-bin in supermarkets.

Of course, Deep Purple have sometimes been their own worst enemies. While Zeppelin maintained the same line-up throughout their entire recording career, in-fighting and seemingly frequent changes in personnel have not helped Purple’s cause.

I don’t want to get drawn into a divisive Purple versus Zeppelin debate. To my mind they are both great bands who should be treasured and respected by us all. I do, however, want to say a little more about Deep Purple because it seems to me that while Zeppelin’s position in rock history is assured, and even Black Sabbath’s flailing reputation has been restored, Purple do not get the credit and recognition they deserve.

It almost goes without saying that the impact of the Mk II line-up on the early 70s rock scene was immense. The bludgeoning power of In Rock, the experimentation of Fireball and the classy rock perfection of Machine Head , rightly established Purple as one of the greats. If they’d recorded nothing else ever, these three albums alone would represent a phenomenal achievement, and a legacy of which the band could be justifiably proud. But how many modern day music fans realise just how popular Deep Purple were? Indeed, the exertions of the Mk II line-up made Purple the biggest selling album band in the United States in 1973, with the band outselling even Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.

I know of no other ‘mainstream’ rock band (with the possible exception of Queen) that has blended rock with such a range of musical styles with such stunning creative success. Check out the back-catalogue and you’ll see, for example, the strength of the classical influences from the very start. Outside of Purple, Blackmore’s own classical interests found expression in some of his Rainbow-era musings. A guitar player I met once told me that a lot of the time Blackmore’s playing is based around arpeggios. “That’s not uncommon, is it?” I asked. I lacked technical understanding but had read about the then-current fashion for ‘Bach ‘n’ Roll’, and the playing of people like Yngwie Malmsteen. “No, it’s not uncommon,” he replied, “but the thing about Blackmore is that you don’t realise they are arpeggios or what he’s really playing until you try to learn the songs.”

Beyond Purple most of the band’s musicians have taken creative turns that are further testimony to the talent and musicality of this unique band. It’s well worth reminding ourselves just how popular Purple and the ‘splinter bands’ were around the time of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and of the esteem in which they were held by some of the bands who emerged around that time or soon after. Saxon, for example, name-check Purple on ‘Play it Loud’ from the Denim and Leather album, while Iron Maiden and Metallica made no secret of their admiration for Purple’s achievements. Even now it is not unusual for contemporary musicians to acknowledge their debt. In the credits to their excellent 2005 album Second Life Syndrome, for example, Michal Lapaj of Polish prog-metal band Riverside gives “a big bow to Jon Lord for all my keyboard playing.”

And, of course, it’s not over yet. Purple are still out there and doing it, releasing the occasional album, undertaking massive world tours and playing to decent sized crowds everywhere. They even headlined the re-launched Monsters of Rock Festival at the Milton Keynes Bowl in 2006. If I have a criticism at all it is that they still appear to rely too heavily on Machine Head for much of the live set, choosing to ignore some superb material from more recent albums like Purpendicular and Rapture of the Deep. For me it is the breadth of the music and the willingness to experiment across styles and genres that makes Deep Purple (its musicians and its splinter groups) so special.

See this review on the DPAS Darker Than Blue website:
http://darkerthanblue.wordpress.com/2012/09/03/excursions-in-the-world-of-rock-fandom/

http://darkerthanblue.wordpress.com/review-pages-%e2%80%a2-cd-dvd/words-and-music/

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