IAN GILLAN BOXES CLEVER, BERNIE TORMÉ WANTS REFORMATION GIGS, JOHN McCOY: "WE WERE VOLATILE!"
The Vinyl Collection 1979 – 1982 (7 LP + 7” box) out on Demon on 7th October 2016
If you ever needed a reminder of just how good vinyl sounds, looks, feels and even smells then this collection is probably one of the best kicks up the backside you'll ever get. It also serves as a very timely reminder of just how good the music is.
One of the main offshoots of Deep Purple alongside Whitesnake and Rainbow, Gillan formed in 1978 from the ashes of the more fusion inspired Ian Gillan Band. Between 1978 and 1982 they released six blistering hard rock albums of the absolute finest quality that saw them run in parallel to the then New Wave Of British Heavy Metal explosion. And they played Reading Festival almost every year too.
The first album, simply called 'Gillan' or 'The Gillan Album', was released in Japan, Australia and New Zealand but was imported, at a price, enough to bring the band success on home turf.
The five subsequent albums (1979 to 1982) are what we get in this vinyl package, reproducing the original UK pressings; in the case of 'Glory Road' there's also the bonus outtakes and rarities LP 'For Gillan Fans Only'. Two double albums ('Double Trouble' was half studio, half live) and a bonus one-sided 7" make for seven LPs, eight discs in all.
The band had a unique sound, energy and chemistry, as bassist John McCoy tells us: "It's a little clearer why we were so successful in retrospect. We had the best singer to start with, he just needed a push back to the right direction and we were the band to push him!
The commercial singles opened people's ears to our more serious work and converted a lot of people to hard rock... the timing of Ian's return to heavier, more accessible material could not have been better. We really were an incredibly volatile bunch and I think that helped in some way with the music and the success.
"We had great musicianship and great songwriters, we were always one step away from contemporaries creatively but we never took ourselves too seriously. Image too of course is important and we certainly didn't look like any other band.
"Who knows why it was so successful. Luck? The right chemistry? Or was it just sheer hard work and belief in ourselves and each other?"
Ian's history with Deep Purple has been well documented, but on leaving in 1973 he became involved in ventures outside of the music industry, ultimately culminating in the purchase of the De Lane Lea studios in London which would become the Kingsway studios that the band would frequently use. Recording projects would become the fusion Ian Gillan Band and when the project ended Ian formed Gillan, retaining only pianist Colin Towns who under pressure from Ian to get more involved with writing came up with the now acclaimed 'Fighting Man'.
The aforementioned Japanese album was completed with bassist John McCoy and drummer Liam Genocky (both ex-Zzebra) and guitarist Steve Byrd. Touring with drummer Pete Barnacle, the band's presence in the UK started to take off with one show even featuring guitarist Ritchie Blackmore after Ian had turned down an offer to join Rainbow.
Gillan 1980: Mick Underwood, Colin Towns, Ian Gillan, Bernie Tormé, John McCoy
This set kicks off with 1979s 'Mr Universe', the title taken from a track Ian had recorded in his pre-Deep Purple band Episode Six, albeit a different track. Alongside Ian, Colin Towns and John McCoy were drummer Mick Underwood, also formerly of Episode Six, and guitarist Berne Tormé, a former McCoy bandmate. Tormé's guitar mixed Hendrix and punk and added a fresh bite and a serious punch to the music.
On the album's sound, Mick Underwood tells us: "We started recording the 'Mr Universe' album the day after the line-up came together, I think, and it seemed to me, the potential was apparent right from the start. The musical chemistry seemed there right at the beginning and I think it just grew and grew as the album progressed. Soundwise we covered a lot of diverse material and it seemed to work well."
The original LP’s chart run was short lived as the record label went under, so a decent pressing is so welcome here. A reproduction of the original that sounds as good as it looks.
The change of line-up led to a Colin Towns lead on many of the tracks, typified by the 'Second Sight' opener that builds to the blistering 'Secret Of The Dance'. The album was/is so good that many labels who had previously turned down the band were now knocking at the door. A deal with Richard Branson's Virgin label followed and, led by the opener 'Unchain Your Brain', 1980s 'Glory Road' had a more Metal leaning.
Gillan 1982: Colin Towns, Janick Gers, Ian Gillan, John McCoy, Mick Underwood
There's the blues of 'If You Believe Me', Ian's poetic song writing of 'Are You Sure', and the hit 'Sleeping On The Job', referred to by Ian as 'Cacking On The Yob'.
The original edition featured the bonus LP, 'For Gillan Fans Only', featuring a b-side, some studio outtakes, specially recorded material, a Mick Underwood solo track and even a jam between Bernie, John and drummer Thunderstick. That is reproduced here and it's as good as it fun with not one throwaway track. One rarity is a Colin Towns track from an otherwise unreleased solo album, proof that the band are solid, versatile and had a great sense of humour.
1981s 'Future Shock' was a hit LP and rightfully so, and again the original packaging is reproduced here. Despite the dodgy front cover portrait, the original fold out booklet sleeve exemplifies the glories of LP packaging. Like 'Glory Road' it sold loads, made the top five in the charts, but is very difficult to find in decent condition. With the hits 'No Laughing In Heaven' and 'New Orleans' bringing the band more Top Of The Pops appearances, it was a good time for Gillan and for rock music in general.
With Tormé leaving mid-tour, in came White Spirit guitarist Janick Gers, now of Iron Maiden, and the double album 'Double Trouble', a slightly more melodic affair but the two singles 'Nightmare' and 'Restless' continued to see Gillan frequently on UK TV and the nine minute 'Born To Kill' showed a progressive leaning. The second disc featured six live tracks, five recorded at Reading earlier that year.
The band's final LP, 'Magic' was Gillan's most melodic affair and more solidly produced. The song writing is as solid as ever and Ian's vocals as strong as they always were. Gers' guitar solos are as good as ever, even if they don't have Tormé's Electric Gypsy edge. A very underrated album; 'Demon Driver' is an epic and Stevie Wonder's 'Living For The City' one of the best covers you'll hear.
Gillan were the absolute epitome of British Classic Rock, without compromise and always loved on vinyl. There have been numerous reissues including a series by Demon that took in all the bonus tracks. This set is all about the reproduction of the original UK LPs and there it does the perfect job. And as a bonus there's the one sided 7" 'Spanish Guitar', a track originally released on a flexi disc.
The band were always tighter than a camel's arse in a sandstorm and some might say not as energetic on record as they were live. As Bernie puts it: "Production wise I think the records sounded a lot tamer than the band did live. It would have been impossible for it to be otherwise in that studio in those days though but Chas Watkins worked wonders with us.
"Other than Chas there never really was any producer as such in my day. We all pretty much produced our own parts along with Chas. There were too many arguments otherwise. That resulted in pretty raw minimalist recordings. AOR or MOR it definitely was not, but it undoubtedly kicked major ass.
"The recording process obviously changed when I went. I think there was some pressure from the record company to sound more radio friendly, but you would have to ask the others about that as I don't really know. It sounded different."
This set is testament to a wonderful legacy and does it fantastic justice. And here's the final word from Bernie: "I remain eternally grateful to Ian for giving me the chance to be in the band, and the chance to make a name for myself, and out of that have a career and be able to make a living doing what I love.
"I owe all that to Ian and I am daily conscious of it and thankful for it. For the record I would still love to do one or two or even three reformation gigs for the fans. I feel we owe it to them; but definitely no recordings, no tours: that would be trying to flog a very dead horse."
Want proof that classic British hard rock looks, sounds and feels good on 12" vinyl? Well here's the proof and it's worth every penny. Most Gillan original vinyls are overly played. Here they can be played, enjoyed and treasured. Beautiful, crisp, clean and blisteringly rocking.
We spoke with Ian Gillan about the forthcoming vinyl box-set, which he hasn't actually seen yet. So when we'd told him all about it, we asked how he felt about the albums at the time?
"It was a very hectic time, very overwhelming. It was all a quick progression from the previous incarnation to this. The jazz/prog bit had run its course, it was a new era.
"Live it was spectacular but difficult to get a deal at the time. Easier after Acrobat and we had a lovely time with Virgin. Looking back now, professionally, the albums were great but of the time.
"They showcased the importance of vinyl. An LP was a significant purchase then, with the artwork, lyrics, the quality of the sound. If you play an MP3 now and turn it up loud you can really tell the difference. Lots of great memories, good times."
And on the highlights... "Every day was a highlight, very hectic, that's touring for you. Do a gig and travel to the next one. A memorable one for me was the seventeen week tour we did; we travelled 17,000 miles.
"For tracks, 'Unchain Your Brain' from 'Glory Road' and 'No Laughing In Heaven' from 'Future Shock', although I prefer the live version from Reading. It was an epiphany, for me; I wouldn't want to go to heaven as I wouldn't want to meet a lot of the people who would go there. Man created God and I've lived by that ever since."
And on how involved Ian was with the packaging: "We were all very involved. Some came out much better than others. We were a bit disturbed by the cover of 'Future Shock'. I think they misread the brief there, but inside it turned out great. 'Glory Road' was done by Richard Branson, like putting a stamp on something. But with the lyrics, pictures, some great packaging there."
Ian surprised us when we asked his view on the Vinyl vs CD debate: "Most of my collection is on my computer, taken from CD and LP transfer. CDs are convenient, but they got a bad press from the early days as they were just transfers and they sounded flat. The first pressing of 'Machine Head' was dull, flat, awful. They didn't realise what you had to do back then but it soon got better.
"There's also the downside of the packaging. If you print red on purple, which we've done, you can't read it on a CD as you lose all the visuals. The optimum length for an LP is 38 minutes, 19 minutes each side, which was a perfect length for an album. A minute over that and you start to compromise the levels and depth. On a CD you can get over an hour and people expect that. CDs are the end of the artwork era, the whole package. And MP3 is the end of it all."
And on what tracks Ian would most like to revisit now: "I'm doing a solo tour in November with an orchestra. I may do 'No More Cane On The Brazos', which was a later track anyway. Maybe 'No Laughing In Heaven' But I've been there and done it all, that's as good as it gets, it's of an era."
On how Ian thinks Brexit will affect the music business: "I can't imagine. We did 48 countries last year and most of them were outside Europe."
And a final message from Ian to his fans: "For all the packed concerts, people standing outside the venue in Oxford in minus 20 degrees in their Gillan t-shirts, chatting with them, thank you.
"We did this great gig in Portsmouth Guild Hall in 1982 and I'd lost my voice. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. The audience sang the entire show at the top of their voices.
"So, for all of that, thank you."
4th November: Sofia, Bulgaria - NDK (National Palace of Culture
5th November: Skopje, Macedonia - Boris Trajikovski Sports Centre
7th November: Belgrade, Serbia- Sava Centar
8th November: Budapest, Humgary - Papp Laszlo Arena
10th November: Odessa, Ukraine - National Opera House
11th November: Kiev, Ukraine - Ukraine Palace
13th November: Minsk, Belarus - Palace of Republic
15th November: Moscow, Russia - Kremlin Palace
17th November: St Petersburg, Russia - BKZ Oktyabrsky
19th November: Warszawa, Poland - Hala Kolo
Secret Of The Dance
She Tears Me Down
Dead Of Night
Message In A Bottle
Unchain Your Brain
Are You Sure?
Time And Again
No Easy Way
Sleeping On The Job
On The Rocks
If You Believe Me
Running White Face City Boy
Side 3 (For Gillan Fans Only)
Higher And Higher
Your Mother Was Right
Abbey Of Thelema
Trying To Get To You
Post Fade Brain Damage
Egg Timer (Vice Versa)
Harry Lime Theme
Night Ride Out Of Phoenix
(The Ballad Of) The Lucitania Express
No Laughing In Heaven
Bite The Bullet
If I Sing Softly
Don’t Want The Truth
For Your Dreams
I'll Rip Your Spine Out
Men Of War
Hadely Bop Bop
Life Goes On
Born To Kill
Side 3 Live @ Reading/Rainbow
No Laughing In Heaven
No Easy Way
Mutually Assured Destruction
If You Believe Me
What's The Matter
Bluesy Blue Sea
Caught In A Trap
Driving Me Wild
Living A Lie
You’re So Right
Living For The City
Demon Driver (reprise)
Ian Gillan – Vocals
John MCoy – Bass
Mick Underwood – Drums
Bernie Tormé – Guitar ('Mr Universe', 'Glory Road', 'Future Shock', 'Double Trouble' disc 2 only)
Janick Gers – Guitar ('Double Trouble' disc 1, 'Magic')
Steve Byrd – Guitar ('Fighting Man' and 'Abbey Of Thelema' only)
Liam Genocky – Drums ('Fighting Man' and 'Abbey Of Thelema' only)
Thunderstick – Drums ('Come Tomorrow' only)