ALBUM REVIEW: DEEP PURPLE – THE BBC SESSIONS 1968-1970

It’s hard to imagine a time before they had more line-up changes then some people have hot dinners and before they’d released a slew of classic, hard rockin’ tunes about women, trucks and smoke, but Deep Purple was once just another band trying to catch a break. The group’s original producer Derek Lawrence remembers walking into the BBC with a bunch of red roses to sweet-talk a woman into giving them a listen. Never mind that they hadn’t even cut a single; she proved extremely helpful because to use a well-worn cliche; the rest is all history.

From the years 1968 to 1970 Deep Purple would record 37 songs at Auntie but of these, a quarter remain lost or so badly degraded they’re unfit for public consumption. In the intervening years a number of songs would turn up on bootlegs and deluxe reissues but it was the discovery of two complete and unreleased sessions in 2010 that has driven them to put out The BBC Sessions 1968 – 1970. In doing so, it now means that they join other English acts like The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Small Faces, etc, in packaging their live radio performances for the Beeb in one handy spot.

The mark I line-up (Rod Evans, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore, Nick Simper and Ian Paice) offer 15 numbers on the first disc and as to be expected, the sound quality here tends to be poorer. In spite of the muddy sound, there’s no denying the pop groove and signal of bigger things to come in the song, “Hush”. At the time the band had to be judged on their fitness for airplay and they received a unanimous pass with the panel deeming them “A polished commercial group”.

This section features more plodding, blues-tinged rock that at times is rather flowery thanks to the suave vocals of Evans. It also includes some covers with Donovan’s “Lalena” and The Beatles’ “Help!” making appearances. The latter was done as a big ballad full of chiming guitars and embellished motifs and would eventually be re-recorded as the B-side to the “Hush” single.

There are some sinister keys on “Wring That Neck” and an interesting but very brief interview with Rod Evans who said their hit, US single, “River Deep – Mountain High” was achieved by removing no less than the intro, outro and middle eight. The first part is completed by two covers of tracks that were made famous by Cream and Jimi Hendrix, “I’m So Glad” and “Hey Joe,” respectively. The latter shared a few things in common with Hendrix’s version, something that is not completely unsurprising given that Blackmore was known for noodling away like the master in the early days before carving out his own niche and if you’re unconvinced of this then have a listen to “The Painter (vsn one)”.

Just six weeks after completing a session for Chris Grant, the group had entered its mark II phase (Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord, Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice). Opener, “Ricochet” was an early version of “Speed King” and was once described as some “Good hard rock with no classical pretensions at all”. This was a reference to Deep Purple’s previous collaboration with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the fact they were now back to performing some straight rock.

The second disc’s sound is more superior and this proves a real stroke of luck when you consider the inclusion of three of their biggest singles, “Black Night,” “Speed King” and “Child In Time”. When this session was recorded, the former was the top British single and it was ultimately an anthem that could hold its own alongside a Steppenwolf classic and featured the powerful, sexy and damn primal vocals of Ian Gillan. These would reach fever pitch when he wailed away through some of the group’s heavier numbers (see “Speed King”). “Child In Time” meanwhile, was an epic anthem to rival Led Zeppelin because it had as many moments for hard kicks in the teeth as gentle and soft-as-a-whimper diversions.

There is “Grabsplatter” which became “I’m Alone” and some improvised lyrics on “Jam Stew (aka John Stew)” and “Ricochet”. Here, the guitars crunched and grunted while the drums were pummeled with fury. The keys were like cosmic darts and layers knocking anyone’s preconceptions about the group far out into the universe.

The BBC Sessions is a compilation album for completist fans who want to dip into the live radio performances by Deep Purple’s first and second line-ups. With some cuts previously considered missing and now lovingly assembled and remastered, it is one fine listen that also proves an excellent journey in allowing the listener to see the band evolve from children in time to the influential musicians they would eventually become. At times it feels like the set has fallen off the back of The Boat That Rocked or the pirate radio station that was the film’s setting, but this only adds to the mystique and rogue appeal of it all. In short, it proves that these guys were fireballs of energy who were smoking hot, long before they went down to Montereax.

Originally published on 9 February 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/31510/Deep-Purple–The-BBC-Sessions-1968–1970

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