Deep Purple Mark II
Following the abrupt dismissals of Rod Evans and Nick Simper, the new Deep Purple, now featuring the stellar talents of former Episode Six members Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, prepared to take on the world. The first order of business was to record a very Mark I-sounding single, Hallelujah; next was a project very close to Jon’s heart – performing his Concerto for Group and Orchestra with London’s Royal Philharmonic, conducted by Malcolm Arnold *. Following that impressive achievement, it was time for the new line-up of Deep Purple to cast off all inhibitions and set about showing the world exactly what a hard rock group could do. Recording a clutch of classic albums and songs that would pass into rock folklore, and setting a standard in live rock performance that would seldom be equalled, their achievements must have surpassed the wildest dreams even of someone as passionately driven and creatively ambitious as Jon Lord.
Deep Purple In Rock (1970)
Finally, the shackles were off! After Lord’s personal triumph, the aforementioned performance of his Concerto for Group and Orchestra, it was time to rock the eff out – and, from the furious cacophony that began the album in such astonishing fashion to the final strains of Hard Lovin’ Man, they did so in style. The maverick talents of Ritchie Blackmore were finally unleashed to the utmost and, with the aggressive and muscular bass work of Roger Glover locking in perfectly with Ian Paice’s extrovert drumming style, and the range, power and control of their exceptional new vocalist, the revamped outfit could boast world class strength in every position. For Jon, the new emphases brought about by the line-up changes called for a redefinition of his role within the band; particularly in light of Ritchie’s increasing prominence as a ‘guitar hero’ of the Hendrix/Page/Clapton stature, his position as the band’s leader – never in dispute in the Mark I days – was no longer assured. The genius of Blackmore became the focal point of many fans’ attention, and it was the guitarist who, by all accounts, provided the creative spark for most of the material from In Rock. This new balance of power did not lead in any way to Jon’s talents being reined in or eclipsed; on the contrary, the dazzling performances of a confident and mature Ritchie Blackmore forced Jon to raise the bar on his own performances even higher, and the twin assault of their devastating lead playing quickly defined the sound that wrote Deep Purple into legend, right here. The word ‘iconic’ is certainly overused in rock journalism, as in all cultural commentary, but I do not think it an overstatement to apply it to some of the sounds Jon committed to tape on this seminal album. The intro to Speed King, with Jon’s tension-laden classical musings on the Hammond sandwiched by the cacophony earlier cited and the powerful riff that marks the beginning of the song proper, is a wonderful study in musical theatrics. Likewise in that song, Jon’s soloing, and trading of inspired licks with Ritchie, is spellbinding; the way the band take it down – and then build it up, and up, and up, leading back into the final verse and chorus – powerfully showcases the symbiotic cohesiveness of the new unit. Jon’s intro to Child in Time is surely immortal, as is Ian’s vocal performance on the same; these are moments that must have brought home to many a rock band at the time – including major artists – that Deep Purple were simply on another level. I would also like to tip the hat to Hard Lovin’ Man as a personal favourite Jon Lord moment – the way he steams into the song like a spacecraft taking off, and the devastatingly simple, supremely heavy, in the late sixties usage of the word, repeated motif sums up perfectly what Deep Purple were all about on this album: swaggering, in your face, and more potent and intense than anything you’ve encountered.
While Deep Purple’s fifth album is rather overshadowed in the wider rock consciousness by the hefty monoliths it is lodged in between, Fireball is arguably Deep Purple’s masterpiece, and is lauded as such by many of the diehard fans. Not for the last time in his Deep Purple career, Ritchie would follow up a tour de force of mesmerising fireworks with an archer and more laconic approach to lead playing, almost as if he was signalling to Jon, “Right, I’ve just worked my knackers off – over to you, mate!” (Don’t misunderstand me: there are still moments of electrifying brilliance from Ritchie on the album – just brilliance of a different order). Needless to say, the maestro was always equal to the challenge, and Fireball, with its heady and intoxicating introspective sounds, and stylistic fluidity, is a treasured touchstone for Jon Lord aficionados. His knack for seamlessly working classical motifs into rock lead playing is beautifully exemplified by the unforgettable solo on the title track, while the witty and playful piano solo on Anyone’s Daughter never fails to plaster a smirk on my mug. His intensely brooding solo on Fools is quite spellbinding, and the pure melodic eloquence of the one on Demon’s Eye should be set as required listening for students of any lead instrument. And, while No One Came is the track most often cited by purists as the song that exemplifies most perfectly the brilliance of Deep Purple Mark II (not without good reason), I would personally pick out No, No, No as the most bonkers and head-twistingly addictive musical fix on the album; deliciously relentless, with one of Ian Gillan’s greatest ever vocals, and Roger and Ian Paice working that heavy groove like the funky powerhouses they are, it is a magnificent platform for the casual brilliance of Blackmore at his haughtiest – and I absolutely adore Jon’s percussive rhythm work on the Hammond throughout this song: never coasting for a second, always working his ass off. Ritchie’s comments on the album have been surprisingly dismissive, but I imagine that Jon must have been very happy with the creative standards the band were attaining to at this point in their career.
* I will not cover the Concerto in this series, as the imminent release of what Jon described as the ‘definitive’ recording of the piece, in 2011, seems to me to provide the best possible opportunity to revisit it with the level of detail it deserves.