Dead Sea Skulls are what we used to call a power trio: guitar, bass and drums. Where this particular combination differs is that it has all three members up front and the drummer standing as he plays a reduced size kit and supplies the main vocals. They come from Walsall, and I’m not sure if a large part of this Midlands crowd is already aware of them or have become converts to their sound as of tonight, but the fact is a fair few of those gathered are singing and clapping along,
Not so much those round my neck of the woods by the bar.
When asked for my own opinion, and one we’ll give you here it’s that if you listen carefully their songs are actually old school crafted pop not least with the R ‘n B vocals but they give it an aggressive modern rock edge. Their problem in a live environment lies in the fact that with the drummer also singing the pacing is dictated by his breathing needs between all that multi-tasking, limiting instrumental diversity yet having songs that extend too long with repeated vocal lines.
But, as we know, the reason we’re gathered here (Beyond noting that where the gent’s loo was once seen leaking into the crowd during a UFO gig is now the sink area for a new bar section, and the whole place has had a few quid spent on it) is to relive our youths – or pretend we are, because for once some of the middle-aged so-and-sos here were too young to have heard the music on offer when it was brand new back in the 70s.
The American radio voiceover from those vintage days comes over the PA, and as the late Jon Lord announces his band’s Mark III & IV’s bass player’s name Glenn Hughes walks on stage and a roar goes out. No one goes gently into this good night, we “burn and rave at close of day” but his Deep Purple debut album’s title track must wait for we open with a spacey-keyboard trundling version of the second album’s ‘Stormbringer’.
Hughes is up front (some of us admiring his full head of hair, others declaring it must be dyed) pumping away on his Fender Precision while to his left Soren Anderson is throwing shapes, shaking his own mane of hair and enticing us all to take a step nearer as he plays the signature riff. As if on cue Hughes works the stage before tracing his steps back centre stage to deliver the lines he and Coverdale once shared. “There’s a rock star doing his job” says a voice next to me, and he’s not wrong.
However, not everything’s perfect. There’s something wrong with an odd deep popping sound interfering with the rhythm section sound. This continues with ‘Might Just Take Your Life’ that sprawls out in a heavy blues manner despite this, with a cheeky spiced R ‘n B flavour come the middle eight section and driving hard on the song’s conclusion. That heavy manner continues with ‘Sail Away’ its riff a tad slower and almost Sabbath like because of it. Thankfully by now, the overall sound is sorted and vocally the different nuances Hughes applies to differentiate the lines both he and Coverdale sang are admirable. Vince DiCola sprays squeaky synth lines with aplomb one minute a piano that moves from classical to jazz the next, with Anderson biting deep come his own solo.
Hughes goes into the first of some lengthy raps that (a) Remind us he’s playing on home turf in the Midlands, (b) That “music is the healer” and boy do we need it now, and (c) His plans for the future. So, two and half years into his Classic Deep Purple tour, delayed/extended by a health concern we’re still unsure of the details about, he’s calling an end to the affair and as such it’s the last time drummer Ashley Sheehan (who’s pulling in double duty having fronted Dead Sea Skulls earlier) is going to supply the intro to ‘You Fool No One.’ Anderson moving sleekly between heavy funked riff and drama-tinged chords, though again the song feels a little slower than on record at times, and when the guitarist and Hughes harmonise on vocals it’s almost a Gothic Cream sound.
They dig in deep, heavy on the paradiddle, DiCola takes an organ solo then Anderson leans back playing notes twisted in distorted torture that become emotional melodies before once more wringing his axe’s neck framing the sound in a heavy blues as drums beat down hard, and as in the vintage Deep Purple vernacular they “interpolate” with blues number ‘Going Down’ before sending us giddy as they launch into ‘High Ball Shooter’ with a collective audience’s arms raised clapping along only for it to turn into an extensive drum solo.
Back in the day this was a time to go take a leak, for all but the faithful, no matter how great the drummer was. With an audience whose average age isn’t what it used to be their bladders need even more attention. Maybe Hughes needed that break too? Frankly, despite Sheehan being good, it doesn’t work. Not least because ‘High Ball Shooter’ is given short-shrift and when the rest of the band do return to the stage they reprise ‘You Fool No One’ duly reminding us we came here for songs.
While drum solos remain not everyone’s cup of tea, time has treated the Deep Purple Mark IV Come Taste The Band album much better for it was castigated at the time. While Hughes has continued to champion and feature songs from it on his solo tours; I really think it’s with the passing decades folk have been able to put the record in perspective and appreciate it for what it was, rather than what it wasn’t (ie: A Blackmore album).
Tonight, we get ‘You Keep On Moving’ and the singer again tells the story of how he wrote he and Coverdale wrote the song in the latter’s flat. That it was dismissed for use on the Burn album still doesn’t make sense, but it became an empowering number once committed to Come Taste, as it does here tonight.
Hughes takes up the classic bass line and we join him in one collective voice until he starts wailing soulfully, then we watch admiringly; this isn’t the coked-out kid trying out wonder little Stevie, it’s an aged voice that shouldn’t be there but is still quite stunning, and he uses it appropriately, moving back and forth from the mic for tonal difference and effect. Yes, there’s a fair degree of grandstanding when he does this kind of thing, but more often than not these days it works, and well.
‘Gettin’ Tighter’ follows, this being the track most rock fans would accuse Hughes and the late Tommy Bolin of plotting Purple’s demise with. Yet, while its West Coast funk elements remain it’s also probably the rockiest I’ve ever heard this number played live, and I’ve heard it a good few times now. Hughes parks up on his bass with a solo that veers between the influences of Jack Bruce and Bootsy Collins, trades lick with Sorenson, and after the song’s conclusion falls into a long conversation with a woman near the front and while those of us further back can’t hear it all, the bits we do get sound amusing.
While introducing the band we discover DiCola is a touring novice as he’s usually writing film scores for the likes of Transformers, Staying Alive and Rocky IV, to name a few. The man of the match however has to be 12 year veteran Soren Anderson: he does a great pose and streamlines Blackmore & Bolin’s styles in a modern vein; reverent while adding some filigree touches of his own as he proceeds to do with the opening onslaught of ‘Mistreated’.
Hughes tells us about going over to Blackmore’s house, the man in black playing this on acoustic and the bass player then and there knowing he’d made the right decision joining the band.
Tonight the song is deep, heavy and bluesy. Hughes (who’s now probably sang this solo more times than Coverdale, its original voice) is full on like a preacher giving us a sermon on the saddest of Sundays. There are more vocal gymnastics, and some cool play-offs between him and Sorenson, with the bass player depressing his wah-wah and giving it some.
The Cannock kid salutes each version of Deep Purple that’s ever strode the boards and entered a studio as with Marshalls stacked and Orange bass amps in overdrive they unleash the beast that you’re forbidden to play in guitar shops.
‘Smoke on the Water’ calls out to the masses: bald guys headbanging in unison are reborn, those younger initiates are now fully paid-up members of the church of rock as one of our principal hymns blasts out, and females shake their asses like there’s no tomorrow and while another interpolation with ‘Georgia On My Mind’ spoils the flow in the middle it ends in a blaze of glory.
Come encore time, those of us who’ve seen this tour before know what to expect: We’re going out with a bang as Mark III’s ‘Burn’ anthem proves dirty, gritty and tight as hell, Hughes again handling the different vocal characterisations with ease. Then, finally, with Dead Sea Skulls’James Crutchley taking the bass, Hughes roams the stage with mic in hand singing ‘Highway Star’ – Of the two Mark II tracks covered tonight it’s worth noting Hughes’ approach is different to the way Coverdale covered them live back in the 70s: On ‘Smoke on the Water’ he is inclusive singing “We” whereas Coverdale though literally correct, distanced himself singing “They”. Here on ‘Highway Star’ he also keeps to the original script ignoring Sir David’s now un-PC “Big fat knockers” additions.
And that’s it. Quite possibly for some time. When next Glenn Hughes plays these shores, it will be as a member of The Dead Daisies, and the verdict’s still out how that’s going to fair. For now, we end on a high. Yes, we can quibble about the same set-list (Where on God’s sweet earth was ‘Lady Double Dealer’?) but round 2 of his UK tour, though delayed was a better band performance all round, and even our Glenn’s castigators might have to admit he’s still got a voice on him. The voice of rock in fact.