Deep Purple • Live In Montreux 1996
Simon Robinson

If you were looking to find Deep Purple's spiritual home, then two locations would vie for top billing. The first would be Hanwell Community Centre, stuck in the midst of a huge between the wars London housing estate. The second would be the altogether more affluent and spectacularly sited town of Montreux, on the shores of Lake Geneva. In the former, Deep Purple assembled in mid-1969, to audition Ian Gillan and Roger Glover and begin work on "Deep Purple In Rock". But it was in Montreux, just two years later, that they wrote and recorded "Machine Head", one of the most influential rock albums of all time.

The Montreux casino in flames, December 1971This release finally established the group as a top-line American draw and ensured the band would be elevated to iconic status. It was also in Montreux, on a wintry December day in 1971, that "some stupid with a flare gun" torched the Casino where the group had planned to set up their gear to record the album, and gave Ian Gillan an idea for a song, a song which is now one of rock's international anthems, but which began life back then as the distinctly unglamorous backing track "Title No. 1".

Twenty five years later Deep Purple were back in Montreux to celebrate that very song which, retitled "Smoke On The Water", documented the events surrounding the making of the album. A lot of water, smoke covered and otherwise, had passed under the bridge during the intervening years. The band themselves disbanded in 1976, had huge success with their own projects, then reformed in 1984. For a decade Deep Purple toured the globe to a whole new generation of fans, before relations between Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore finally disintegrated once again both on-stage and off. Gillan himself was briefly fired, then rehired, after which Blackmore finally walked. Deep Purple were faced with the prospect (for the second time in their career) of having to replace one of rock's most enigmatic and talented guitarists.

Purpendicular CD sleeve, 1996While Joe Satriani joined them on a short-term basis so they could finish the 1993 tour, it was the talented American guitarist Steve Morse who eventually got offered the gig on a permanent basis. Something of a teenage guitar prodigy, Morse had led his own group since college days, as well as working with Kansas. With Morse on board, Deep Purple did some warm-up shows in far-away places during 1995 before recording their first album "Purpendicular" together, then setting off on a lengthy world tour to promote it in February 1996 (I use the word lengthy advisedly, they were still on the road three years later...).

Now I've been a fan of this band for over thirty five years, but they really pushed themselves to the limit on this tour. With many sceptical Blackmore fans in the crowds, it could have easily have back-fired. Instead, liberated from the constraints imposed by the man in black (who would often veto suggestions for set-changes), everything was up for inclusion. Deep Purple threw caution to the wind with a set which gathered new and old, mixing in some off the wall classics which hadn't been heard in years - indeed, some had never been done live before. The band were clearly rejuvenated, and the good vibes on stage and in the audiences fed back into the performances which grew in stature and power as the tour progressed.

Poster for the Montreux Jazz Festival 2006By the time they rolled into Montreux in July 1996 after six months touring they were delivering a set which was chock full of jaw-dropping musicianship. The group were in town to perform as part of the long-established Montreux Jazz Festival, an event held in the city since the mid-sixties and which has attracted top bands and performers from all areas of popular music - jazz, blues, pop, rock and world. The Deep Purple concert had sold out months before and about the only downside for fans was that, as part of a festival bill, the band had to play a slightly shortened set - all but one song from which is included here.

They kick off with the rarely performed oldie "Fireball", a hit for the group back in 1971 which they hadn't done onstage for almost 25 years. The band further reassessed their back-catalogue to revive other oldies including "Pictures Of Home" and "When A Blind Man Cries" (from "Machine Head"), as well as "Black Night" (their first European hit), "Woman From Tokyo" (from "Who Do We Think We Are") and a blistering version of "Speed King". This number typifies the tour in many ways; a classic track given new life by the sheer enthusiasm with which they all pile into it. New boy Steve Morse climbs alongside Jon Lord's keyboards and the pair trade increasingly dizzying and complex speed riffs off one another, to gasps from the pumped up crowd (and some of the band!).

Poster for the Montreux Jazz Festival 2006In many ways though, it was the sheer quality of the new songs which really gave this tour such strength and ensured that they had a real future. "Purpendicular" was an album of depth and variety, which they carried over into the live versions. "Ted The Mechanic" finds Morse ripping through the backing as if he and his guitar were both plugged in to the mains, and demonstrating his astonishing virtuosity. "Hey Cisco" is the last of the new songs, kicking like the proverbial mule, but still opening up to reveal the new dynamics within the band. By the end of the set, the group are on a high, laughing and busking their way through a clutch of rock'n'roll oldies like "Not Fade Away", taped before most of the crowd were born, as well as some lewd nursery ditties delivered at break-neck speed by Gillan!

Even as they disappear the show still has surprises, as they unveil their latest reinvention of "Smoke On The Water" for the encore. Considering it's a track they've been obliged to perform for a quarter of a century, they still manage to raise it to a new level as Morse warps and twists his guitar before kicking into the riff. Ian Paice is powering the track along, aided by Roger Glover's rock steady bass. Lord's deceptively simple keyboard work holds everything together, while Ian Gillan - close to exhaustion at the sheer pace of it all - hands the microphone over to the crowd to gain a breather.

Poster for the Montreux Jazz Festival 2006As they come to the end, festival organiser Claude Nobs himself (the man who successfully rescued Purple's seemingly doomed recording session in '71) is suddenly ushered onto the stage to the approval of the crowd and the bemusement of Ian Gillan, who welcomes him with the words "Long time no see!" Incidentally it was Claude who came up with the idea of filming acts at the festival decades ago, and built up a superb archive of shows which is now being brought to a wider public by Eagle. The band were later presented with medals of honour by the town Mayor to recognise the publicity Deep Purple have brought to the town over the years, while a special recreation of the 1971 fire - this time in fireworks - closed the festival. From Montreux the band continued the tour, which ran on through until 1999.

Four years after the 1996 show, the band were invited back to Montreux's Stravinski Hall to headline the festival again in July 2000. The two bonus tracks on this CD are taken from this later set, "Fools" - one of the stand-out tracks from the "Fireball" album - was reintroduced into their set just this year, while "Sometimes I Feel Like Screaming" was another of the new album cuts. Both are very polished performances indeed. The set also marked one of the final Jon Lord performances, as he was to bow out of the group the following year (albeit returning for some farewell shows in the UK in 2002).

Hearing Deep Purple on disc when they play this well just makes you want to get off the sofa and catch them live but even for a band on the road as much as they are this isn't always possible, and for those times when it isn't, this makes a great substitute."

Simon Robinson


2006 DPAS/Darker Than Blue.
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