Deep Purple / Fireball
Chapter 1: Scrapbooks
I always made a point of ignoring my sister’s boyfriends. They were annoying because it meant she was around even less than usual, so I had no-one to speak to. I couldn’t believe she knew someone like this. He was a couple of years older than my sister, who is seven years older than me. He looked like how I want to look – when I'm older, I'm definitely going to grow my hair long and buy a leather jacket. Gary was like the men who work in the guitar shops, who don’t seem to worry or follow any rules; they laugh and joke, drink tea, smoke cigarettes, and talk about music. I knew immediately when I saw Gary that he would like the same bands as me. Then my sister told me he’d seen Deep Purple in concert – I couldn’t believe it.
I was sitting on the floor in my bedroom, the box room, with my scrapbooks spread out on the carpet. I had some new cuttings from Sounds and Kerrang! and, I hate to admit it, Smash Hits. There were lyrics to Another Brick in the Wall; a grainy newspaper print photo of Girlschool, which I felt shy about because they’re all women and I fancy the bass player; and an interview with Rory Gallagher. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was on the turntable, playing low because Dad was at home for a change; Mum lets me play records louder.
There was a knock and my sister pushed my bedroom door open without waiting for me to answer. That annoyed me – I could have been doing anything. I was going to tell her off, but then she shoved Gary into the room.
‘Nick, stop playing with those things,’ she said. ‘This is Gary. I’m lending him to you for a few minutes. You can talk to him about noisy music. I’ll be back shortly.’ Then she turned and left.
He stood there, hands in his pockets, nodding his head and smiling. I looked at the Led Zeppelin badge on his denim shirt. ‘Hi,’ he said, raising a hand. Then he pointed at the turntable. ‘Good album this. Brilliant riffs. Some of Iommi’s solos are boring though.’
‘Yeah, I think that,’ I said, amazed. It was only when he said it I realised I thought the same, I’d just never put it into words. Iommi’s riffs are brilliant to headbang to, but his solos have no tune, they all sound the same and they go on too long.
‘Apart from The Wizard,’ he said, pushing his hair behind his ears. ‘But those solos are more like riffs.’
‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘The Wizard is probably my second or third favourite Black Sabbath track.’
I swelled up with a feeling I didn’t recognised. Whenever I try talking to my sister about music, she says things like ‘Yeah, it’s alright’ or ‘Dunno, it’s ok’. It’s weird because sometimes when she’s playing records she leaps about singing the lyrics and pretending to play the guitar – half dancing, half being funny – so I know she likes the music. But when I try asking her about it, she hasn’t got any opinions and she’s not interested in anything the bands say in interviews.
Gary is still standing there. I don’t know what to say. I think maybe he doesn’t either, but he doesn’t seem bothered. He’s looking at the pictures on my wall. There’s a massive billboard poster for Marillion’s Script for the Jester’s Tear that I bought at the Manchester Apollo and got signed by the band after the concert. There are colour pictures out of Kerrang! of Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Whitesnake, Rory Gallagher. My favourites are where the band is playing live, rather than portraits when they’re just trying to look good. The best poster is of Status Quo, with Francis Rossi sprinting so fast across the stage he’s blurred; it’s like he’s in a war, leaping out of the trenches in World War I. I can’t explain it, but I know the feeling. Heavy rock is comforting. It’s like a weapon to fight all the rubbish stuff in life, with guitar solos that are full of pain and hope, and lyrics that talk about ideas and feelings you would admit to anyone.
‘I like your posters. The autographs are cool.’
‘Yeah. We queued up back stage then they let us back into the stalls. We queued up to buy posters and get them signed. I’ve got some autographed concert tickets too.’
‘Are they in your scrapbook?’
‘Yeah. It’s a bit silly.’ I felt self-conscious. My sister used to have a scrapbook with pictures of flower fairies and cherubs and things like that. I used to have a football scrapbook. But now I just collect things about rock music.
‘Hey, no, it looks great. You can keep all the best bits in one place, rather than having loads of old magazines. Can I look?’ He sat on my bed.
I picked up the scrapbook I was working on and sat next to him. Placing it between us on the bedspread, I opened it up at the beginning. I try to arrange things neatly, but there’s no particular order to what goes where: photos, song lyrics, interviews, gig and album reviews – unless they’re really bad – adverts for concerts. Anything. I turned the pages slowly.
‘I like it. So who’s your favourite?’
What a question! All Dad ever asks me is stuff like ‘How was school today?’ or ‘Have you done your homework yet?’
‘Deep Purple,’ I said, adding quickly, ‘with Ian Gillan on vocals and Roger Glover on bass.’ That’s the best line up: Mark 2. I didn’t want him to think I preferred the Mark 3 version with David Coverdale. ‘Do you like them?’ I already knew the answer but I wanted to hear what he’d say.
‘Yeah, brilliant,’ he said. ‘Saw Mark 2 three times: Manchester Free Trade Hall, Sheffield City Hall and Liverpool Stadium. Each gig was amazing.’
‘What were they like?’
He levered himself backwards, stretched out his legs and leaned back against the radiator. I could smell petula oil. ‘The thing about Purple was no two gigs were the same, even if they were playing the same songs. Once, Ritchie Blackmore stopped in the middle of a solo and went into Teddy Bear’s picnic, then into something else, then back to the solo. I think he just played whatever he felt like: heavy, quiet, funny. You never knew what was going to happen: whether he’d smash his guitar, whether they’d do an encore, even whether they’d show up. When Mark 2 started there were riots because so many people couldn’t get in.’
‘I’ve got a Deep Purple single, and the cover is a photo of the venue after the show, and all the chairs have been thrown everywhere. It’s from the Budokan in Japan, 1973.’
‘Exactly. It was exciting and scary at the same time. The main thing about Blackmore is, he does all that heavy stuff – smashing his guitar and everything – but he’s also very sensitive, doing all the quiet bits. Fireball’s brilliant for that. He does rock, country, funk, blues, even classical. Jon Lord trained as a classical musician, so he’s brilliant. Ian Paice can play really complicated heavy stuff, but also keep a solid groove. Gillan’s got the best scream and his words are clever. He’s good with the audience. And Glover’s very solid, keeping everything together; he’s the producer too.’
‘What were they like on stage? Didn’t they fall out with each other?’
‘Yeah, I think so, towards the end, but you couldn’t tell on stage. Ritchie directs the band with hands signals. He smiles. I don’t remember thinking he was gloomy like they always say in the papers. He’s a showman. In fact, the main thing is, you can’t believe how good everyone is and how tight they are. And loud…’
He stopped speaking and looked up. My sister was standing in the doorway; I hadn’t even noticed her come in. She was eating a bag of Tudor crisps, gammon and pineapple flavour (which are delicious). I think she was showing off because we’re not allowed to eat upstairs in our house, at least, I’m not. I suppose because she’s at university, and nearly grown up, she thinks she can do whatever she wants.
‘Have you had a good chat?’ she said, which infuriated me. She was just giving Gary an opportunity to say how bored he was. She’d obviously forced him to come and see me. I blushed. I couldn’t bear to look at either of them.
But then Gary said, ‘Yeah, it’s been great. Except, I think I’ve been monopolising. Nick got me onto my favourite subject and I couldn’t shut up.’ He shuffled forward on the bed, ruffled my hair, then stood up, nearly hitting his head on the light shade. ‘Hey, next time, I could bring some concert programmes to look at. Purple and other bands. What do you think?’
‘Yeah!’ I couldn’t believe it. Concert programmes are the rarest thing you can collect. I’ve got some for Gillan and Rainbow and other bands, but I’ve never even seen a Deep Purple programme.
‘Ok, I’ll see you another time.’
My sister said ‘Come on,’ and Gary followed her out of my room. As he pulled the door closed I heard him say ‘Nice lad’.
I waited a couple of minutes, then I crept out onto the landing. My sister’s bedroom door was shut and I could hear them laughing inside. I came back into my room, shut the door, and took Sabbath off the turntable. I found Fireball and put it on. What did he say? Quiet bits as well as loud bits. Sensitive. Funky, bluesy, country. I’d only played the album a couple of times because I usually played Machine Head – which was actually my sister’s but she let’s me keep it in my room. Machine Head has got most of the Deep Purple’s famous tracks: Smoke on the Water, Highway Star, Lazy, Space Trucking. I’d only bought Fireball a couple of weeks previously. I’d been dead excited. I thought it would be like another Machine Head. But when I played it sounded completely different, almost like a different band. Some of it was weird. But, listening to it again, I completely changed my mind. It’s absolutely brilliant.