In short, unless you are a completely unhinged obsessive demanding everything in your life from Deep Purple wallpaper to Deep Purple toilet paper, this is pretty much all the pre-’80s Purple you could realistically ask for without hiding in a cupboard in Ian Gillan’s house for six months. From the Purple Pictures to the Purple Prose, it’s all here.
There have been groaning shelves full of books about Deep Purple over the past fifty years, ranging from excellent to ‘rip-off’, as one would expect. Few, however, can have hit the double whammy of expansive and in-depth text with sumptuous illustration as well as this one – originally published in 1983 but now expanded and redesigned for this four-decade anniversary of its first arrival. And when it says ‘Visual History’, they aren’t joking; this is one of the most extensively and beautifully illustrated books on the subject of rock in general, never mind Purple, that you’re likely to see. It’s huge – you get the feeling that if you dropped the PDF file it would break your toe, never mind the finished hardback tome – and yet it is also skilfully and interestingly laid out. Most importantly, it doesn’t just end up as one of those books full of photos accompanied by words you could fit on the back of a postcard – remember things like The Heavy Metal Photo Book and the like which started appearing in the ’80s, which had you scratching your head and wondering why you couldn’t have words as well? This is the absolute antithesis of that particular furrow, and all the better for it.
With this having been originally researched and mostly written in 1982, before the band reunited for Perfect Strangers, it obviously concentrated on the band’s history through to their then-final split in 1976. It could have been redone to include the latter years as well, but it has instead been left as it was, with just the inclusion of a new introduction and afterword (as well as extra photos). This is, I feel, a very wise decision for several reasons. Firstly, it is hard to argue with the fact that, as excellent as much of the post-’84 Purple has been, the real action, quick developments and band changes, and just plain influential stuff occurred in that first decade or so. As an author of a book about the band myself, I took that same decision to cover only Mk I to Mk IV (albeit including the early Rainbow albums as a continuation) for much these same reasons. Secondly, and more importantly, of course, this was already a massive tome – and realistically if it was to include decades more material it would have had to be edited down severely, which would have done it a huge disservice (unless anyone fancied paying for and actually lifting a thousand page edition, that is!)
Taking the visual aspect as a given – it looks beautiful, and covers just about everything you could possibly want to see – let’s look at the text, which could have proven the Achilles Heel in any venture of this sort. Nothing of the sort, I’m happy to relate, as this delves into the minutest history that anyone save a complete obsessive living in a house fashioned to resemble the cover of Deep Purple In Rock could want. The forensic investigation into the multitudinous and complex interwoven strands of the pre-Purple careers of the various band members in particular is laid out in engaging, readable and extremely knowledgeable fashion – the author was of course fortunate to have very close access to various members when originally writing the book (not least the late Jon Lord, who is a mine of information), but that takes nothing away from the fact that this is an exhaustively researched account. That fact that it is also a literal ‘page-turner’ when it could have become bogged down in a cat’s cradle of convoluted information strands is testament to the author which must be paid.
Having been in attendance at the final show by the Mk IV line-up myself at the tender age of 14, at the Liverpool Empire in March 1976, I have obviously retained a keen interest in that final short UK tour and that last concert in particular, and even interviewed Coverdale and Hughes on the subject over the years, yet still there were nuggets of information and band memories that I had never heard before. This can be taken as a microcosmic representation of the book as a whole – if there’s a particular album, line-up or tour you’re interested in, chances are it’s going to be more than adequately catered for here, both in words and pictures.
There are always criticisms which can be levelled at publications such as this, of course – but in reality they are very few here. There is one glaring typographical error in a chapter heading when the Mk IV line-up is referred to as Mk VI, but of course the meaning is clear – these things, annoying as they are from personal experience, do slip through the net! (It may even have been corrected in the final print run of course). Apart from that, the only thing I could wish for would be for more of the photos to be captioned – it is often not noted which particular show a live shot is from for example, which would have been nice to have throughout. As I said, however, minor points indeed.
In short, unless you are a completely unhinged obsessive demanding everything in your life from Deep Purple wallpaper to Deep Purple toilet paper, this is pretty much all the pre-’80s Purple you could realistically ask for without hiding in a cupboard in Ian Gillan’s house for six months. From the Purple Pictures to the Purple Prose, it’s all here. What do you buy the Deep Purple fan who has everything? This. Then he really will have everything…