The Deep Purple Project goes on with a flashback to 1970.
Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra put Deep Purple on the map. An original concerto in three movements written specifically for an orchestra and a rock group together had never been accomplished before. Headlines and offers to bring the Concerto over to America helped cement Deep Purple’s name in the public consciousness. The only problem was, public perception was that this was a band who always played with orchestras. They were not: Deep Purple wanted to be a heavy rock band. They did not want to be cornered into playing with orchestras for their career. There may also have been some internal friction because Lord was being singled out as the band’s leader in the press. Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillan were united in their insistence that the orchestral work cease. Worse, some in the band suggested that Lord was using the Concerto as a potential launch pad to other projects. These were accusations of petty youthful jealousy of course, but it led to Lord announcing his intention to leave Deep Purple.
Management arranged a sit-down and peace was kept. They collectively agreed that the way forward was with rock music, not classical hybrids. There was just one catch, which was that Jon Lord had already been contracted to write a second classical/rock piece for Deep Purple to perform. This project had to go forward, it was too late to do otherwise, but the band insisted that it was publicized as little as possible. The new piece was played live by the band, but a Deep Purple album release of the final product, the Gemini Suite, would not happen until 1993! Instead, Jon Lord recorded and released a studio version of it with other guests and musicians.
Perhaps to assuage some bruised egos, Lord decided to compose his next work around the five members of Deep Purple. Each movement had time for a member of Deep Purple to shine on his own. The first goes to Ritchie Blackmore. The year was 1970, and Deep Purple were working on the Fireball LP. The quiet moment in Blackmore’s movement is tonally similar to Ritchie’s solo in Purple’s “Fools”. According to the liner notes, this is one of the last occasions that Ritchie played a Gibson on stage. Jon Lord goes next with an organ piece (though on the back cover it’s incorrectly listed as the vocal movement). There are some very cool atonal parts here. You have to admire the man for his ambition and vision, but as technically brilliant as this is, it doesn’t have the level of impact of the Concerto nor is it as well recorded. The are fewer memorable themes and instrumental moments, and the end result is that these two movements take some patience to absorb.
It was noted that Ian Gillan had not written the lyrics to his movement until the night of the show. The lyrics are not really important; what counts is that you’ve never heard Ian Gillan sing like this before. With an exaggerated falsetto, and an unusual psychedelic melody, Ian really knocked it out of the park. Halfway through, this gives way to standard Gillan howling. It’s hard to make out all the words, but this is Ian Gillan in peak voice, totally in control and at the top of his game, backed by a friggin’ orchestra. What more do you want? This vocal movement is the highlight of the entire Gemini Suite. Roger Glover goes next with his bass spotlight. It’s about as interesting as you imagine a bass spotlight to be, but the orchestra plays it busy in the background. There’s some great oboe on this movement, which ends on a sudden, awkward note.
Ian Paice goes last. With military precision, Paice marches forward, leading the orchestra and percussion section. They answer his drums in interesting ways, making this movement another solid highlight. The crowd clearly loved it. Then, there is a long finale (10 minutes) with everybody playing together. It attempts to tie together the previous movements, but without memorable themes, this is difficult. The Suite lacks cohesion overall. There are some absolutely mindblowing moments of musical precision and dexterity, as well as rock thrills (most of them concentrated in the finale). It is probably well enough that they did not release an LP of this at the time, for it would most definitely have lived in the shadow of its superior predecessor.
Look at that backstage photo. Looks like nobody wanted to be there that night, particularly Ian Gillan.