As Deep Purple alumnus Glenn Hughes stated on the night, it’s been over 40 years since he’s toured a Deep Purple show. Hughes left the band in 1976, having played on three albums as bassist and vocalist, alongside lead vocalist David Coverdale as part of the Mark III and IV line-ups. Coverdale himself went on to sing for Whitesnake, while Hughes’ career has included a veritable smorgasbord of projects, with Black Country Communion currently the most notable. As Hughes himself will tell you, he doesn’t like to look back, preferring to live in the moment, day to day; but it recently came upon him that now was the right time to tour Deep Purple, so he assembled a line-up of world-class musicians he could front to do the job, including Jeff Kollman (guitar), Lachy Doley (keys) and Pontus Engborg (drums).
On entering Hamer Hall at Melbourne’s Arts Centre, fans were first treated to an enormous banner that immediately set the tone – we were going back to the 70s. The vibrant colours, tropical theme and looming image of a young Hughes no doubt brought the famed California Jam concert to mind for many in attendance, where Deep Purple headlined with support from Black Sabbath and Eagles.
There was no support act for the night, so it was up to Hughes and his band to get the audience of stalwart rock ‘n’ roll fans fired up. They chose the perfect song to do so, opening with ‘Stormbringer.’ From the get-go it was clear Hughes wasn’t messing around when he told OVERDRIVE his voice was stronger than ever in a recent interview. Hughes hit the high notes perfectly from the opening lines, with precision and passion that would have wowed even the world-dominating 1970s Deep Purple. This was especially impressive as Hughes later revealed that not only did he have a cold, but he’d been hospitalised just a few days prior in Christchurch after suffering dehydration! Hughes’ efforts in Melbourne showed why he is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll singers of all time, and a worthy member of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Scorching renditions of ‘Might just take your Life’ and ‘Sail Away’ emphasised the quality of Hughes’ band, with a depth of sound that was overwhelming for a simple four-piece of guitar, bass, keys and drums. The band were deeply faithful to the original recordings of the songs, though the sound was expanded, chiefly through the solos of Kollman whose personal style sits somewhere between Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore and Dream Theater’s John Petrucci.
Hughes is a very personable frontman, letting the audience know “I like to talk,” though he promised to focus mainly on playing the music. An engaging speaker, Hughes did offer some stories and reflections from time to time, and nobody was complaining. Hughes’ message remains eminently clear: “Love is the answer, music is the healer.”
The band took it to a new level however with ‘Mistreated,’ absolutely blowing the audience away and getting them rocking out in their seats. The band then moved into some deep cuts, with ‘You Fool No One’ and ‘This Time Around,’ Hughes taking a break before the latter to tell the story of composing the song with Jon Lord in a recording studio in a hotel basement at 3:00 am. ‘This Time Around’ is simple and beautiful, showcasing the versatility of Australian Doley who in more bombastic tracks plays with such passion and movement it looks like he’s being electrocuted by his instrument.
Fans were then given a real treat as Hughes introduced ‘Holy Man,’ a song that he and Coverdale never performed live. In a night of remembrances, it was stirring to witness a first. This was followed by ‘Gettin’ Tighter,’ which Hughes performed in honour of his fallen friend, Tommy Bolin, who died tragically of a drug overdose in 1976. Bolin, as Hughes described it, “replaced the irreplaceable” Ritchie Blackmore in the Mark IV line-up of Deep Purple. Hughes reflected lovingly on his first encounter with Bolin, the young man who entered the Deep Purple audition with green, yellow, red and purple hair, and an unmistakable rock ‘n’ roll swagger. “If you don’t get the gig,” Hughes told him, “You’re coming home with me.”
The emotional tribute was followed by a major change of pace, as the band launched into one of the most iconic rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time, ‘Smoke on the Water.’ You could tell the crowd were veteran Deep Purple fans, as while the song was naturally well-received, it didn’t blow the deep cuts out of the water as one might have expected. The set was completed with ‘You Keep on Moving,’ and Hughes and the band left the stage to rapturous applause. They returned for an encore of course, playing two absolute Deep Purple classics – ‘Highway Star’ and ‘Burn,’ from the Gillan and Hughes / Coverdale eras respectively. Fantastic selections to round out the show, with ‘Highway Star’ particularly proving that even though Hughes was considered the backing vocalist of the Mark III and IV Deep Purple line-ups, his voice meets or exceeds Gillan’s on even the classic Mark I and II material. Stunningly, Hughes’ manager later mentioned that the singer didn’t feel he’d performed particularly well that night! But for those in attendance, Hughes and his band revived the spirit of the 70s in a way few achieve; not merely a retrospective, but a unique and powerful experience that expanded on the existing material with love and faith. This was, without a doubt, one of the most inspiring gigs of 2017.
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Photos by JOHN RAPTIS