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Ian Gillan

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In many people’s eyes (and ears) one of hard-rock music’s premier singers, IAN GILLAN is best remembered for his high-octane tonsil-twisters in the 70s in front of the genre’s loudest band, the dynamic DEEP PURPLE. Bursting on to the scene with `Black Night’, `Child In Time’ (from 1970’s `Deep Purple In Rock’) and `Smoke On The Water’ (from the classic `Machine Head’ album of ’72), overshadowing somewhat his slightly lesser-publicised main role of Webber & Rice’s epic chart-topping Broadway musical `Jesus Christ Superstar’.
Born 19th August 1945, Hounslow in Middlesex, a young and enthusiastic GILLAN kick-started his volatile but expansive singing career in 1962 with local teen act The Javelins, while the latter half of the 60s were spent (alongside prospective DEEP PURPLE bassist ROGER GLOVER) in psychedelic-pop combo, EPISODE SIX. Having been sacked from ‘Purple in 1973, the singer subsequently found his way (via his IAN GILLAN BAND) to form one of the many successes of the NWOBHM alumni in GILLAN.
Surrounding himself with seasoned hands (Ray Fenwick, John Gustafson, Mark Nauseek, Mike Moran and producer GLOVER), the IAN GILLAN BAND cut the well-received CHILD IN TIME (1976) {*6} album for Polydor’s Oyster imprint – where DEEP PURPLE offshoot RITCHIE BLACKMORE’s RAINBOW had also delivered their eponymous solo.
Regarded by some disillusioned Purple disciples for ruining `Child In Time’, Ian suffered severe backlash at the time for his new soulful arrangement of the one-time gem; the GARY MOORE-esque delivery of Fenwick’s forlorn guitar solo saving it from further pasting. The rest of the set was rather funk-driven and fancy-free (example the SLY & THE FAMILY STONE-like `You Make Me Feel So Good’; with jazz-fusion in vogue at the time, the 11-minute `Let It Slide’ (lyrics based on premature ejaculation) was something of another misnomer for status quo DP fans.
With Moran then Mickey Lee Soule giving way to keyboard-player Colin Towns, album number two CLEAR AIR TURBULENCE (1977) {*5} experimented further with the jazz-rock theme, the only thing was – with exceptions of fun guy FRANK ZAPPA – GILLAN was hardly qualified to take hard-rock into the realms of WEATHER REPORT or CHICK COREA’s RETURN TO FOREVER. Heavy-metal head-bangers were finding solace through harder-edged outlets (punk, new wave, etc.), while Ian festered by way of songs like the funky `Over The Hill’. Most fans were thinking the latter had literally happened, especially when Island Records served up another intense helping via the almost schizoid (hard-rock-jazz anyone?) SCARABUS (1977) {*3}. Following on from a somewhat back-to-basics heavy approach on a couple of Japanese-only concert volumes of AT THE BUDOKAN (1978) {*4} & {*3} – both heavily imported into Britain and beyond – GILLAN the band were formed.
Retaining only Towns and enlisted Steve Byrd (guitar), the bald ’n’ bearded John McCoy (bass) and Pete Barnacle (drums), Japan was again the only outlet for the group’s new studio material in GILLAN (1978) {*5}. During May 1979, Ian, Colin and John were joined by soloist/guitarist Bernie Torme and former EPISODE SIX sticksman Mick Underwood; “comeback” UK set MR UNIVERSE {*7} was indeed a tougher affair for GILLAN and Co. Harking back to the PURPLE patches of “Speed King”-metal, Ian’s auxiliaries were a true tight-knit combatant to match his vocal acrobatics. On a par with the emerging NWOBHM or the outgoing punk sound (think IRON MAIDEN or a perfected SLAUGHTER & THE DOGS), the near Top 10 set would generate a resurgence through testosterone-fuelled tracks like `Secret Of The Dance’, `Roller’, `Vengeance’, `Message In A Bottle’ and the title track.
Bolstered by a handful of top-notch UK hits (a version of Leiber & Stoller’s `Trouble’ gaining the high place at No.14), GILLAN scored two Top 5 albums in a row with GLORY ROAD (1980) {*6} and FUTURE SHOCK (1981) {*6}. High-octane, balls-to-the-wall heavy metal, the quintet were taking a sound – not unlike DEEP PURPLE – screaming and kicking into the 80s; the latter set for example saddled back-to-back rock’n’roll nugget `New Orleans’ (a UK hit revamping a Gary U.S. Bonds smash) and the head-banging `Bite The Bullet’.
The obligatory concert diversion, DOUBLE TROUBLE (1981) {*4} seemed to slow things down slightly, although their effervescent fanbase were still on track as the dual-set climbed up to No.12; the re-vamped CD (issued much later of course) contained renditions of `Smoke On The Water’ and LITTLE RICHARD’s `Lucille’. By the release of MAGIC (1982) {*4}, however, the tonsil torturer was losing interest with the band; their lacklustre performance on a re-hash of STEVIE WONDER’s `Living For The City’ was definitely a low point; bonus CD fans might regard LENNON-McCARTNEY’s `Helter Skelter’ (or blues classic `Smokestack Lightning’) by the same token.
This winding down of sorts, led to GILLAN the band imploding in all various directions, Ian himself taking on an unenviable role of fronting former DP rivals BLACK SABBATH on one solitary and mistimed LP, `Born Again’ (1983). Things took an upturn when DEEP PURPLE (Mk.II) regrouped soon afterwards, roaringly recreating something for the arena-rock brigade to sink their teeth into on studio albums, `Perfect Strangers’ (1984) and `The House Of Blue Light’ (1987), plus a live “farewell” `Nobody’s Perfect’ (1988).
When this reunion predictably fell apart once again, GILLAN & GLOVER combined forces for a one-off exploration into electro-pop-metal, ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE (1988) {*6}. From covers of Lloyd Price’s `Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave’ and Doc Pomus’ `Lonely Avenue’ (which featured on the soundtrack to `Rain Man’) to flop 45s `Dislocated’ and `She Took My Breath Away’, there was much to like about the duo’s synthetic sense of roots – wherever they stemmed from. More in keeping in line for a good cause, GILLAN took part in a star-studded charity “Rock Aid Armenia” single version of the great `Smoke On The Water’, while around the same time he established a side-line via GARTH ROCKETT AND THE MOONSHINERS; one 12” EP (highlighting a re-vamp of `I’ll Rip Out Your Spine’) surfaced in early 1990.
The odd throat problem had dogged the singer’s career on many occasions, but this stopped him little in his workaholic stride to get back to the top; however, his solo NAKED THUNDER (1990) {*6} – bookended by trad cue `No More Cane On The Brazos’ – and hard-rock group piece TOOLBOX (1991) {*5} – featuring co-contributor Steve Morris – did little to inspire all-but his most loyal of acolytes.
Unlikely as it seemed at the time, Ian not only reunified his ties with DEEP PURPLE (for `The Battle Rages On…’ in ‘93), but he also found time to subsequently re-tread some of his earliest works with his old compadres, The JAVELINS; releasing what looked to be at first an exploitation CD, SOLE AGENCY AND REPRESENTATION (1994) {*4}.
In and out of ‘Purple more times than one could estimate (`Purpendicular’ in 1996 and `Abandon’ in ’98 were just two he was prominent on), IAN GILLAN was again divulging his solo tendencies through albums such as the romanticised DREAMCATCHER (1997) {*4} and a raft of “real” exploitation sets. Back to the fore in 2006, Ian invited a stellar cast of top rock luminaries (including GLOVER, JOE SATRIANI, RONNIE JAMES DIO, Steve Morse, JEFF HEALEY, Joe Elliott, Johnny Rzeznik, Uli John Roth, etc.) to wig-out at his bluesy bar courtesy of GILLAN’S INN {*6}.
Following on from the LIVE IN ANAHEIM (2008) {*6} double-disc recorded a few years previously, there were even more past songs for the man to shout about; and yes, there was room at this inn for yet another take of `Smoke On The Water’ – this a la ‘Purple style. Probably inspired by ROBERT PLANT and his recurrent solo successes, ONE EYE TO MOROCCO (2009) {*6} was a resurgent IAN GILLAN, ready to express his emotions through his vocals once again. Not content with being a leader in his field, the man was back in black for the collaborative WHOCARES, a hard-rocking OAP act featuring the talents of BLACK SABBATH’s Tony Iommi, JON LORD and younger stars Jason Newsted, Nicko McBrain and Linde Lindstrom. From then on in, Ian once again spearheaded the resurrection of DEEP PURPLE, featuring on chart albums, `Now What?!’ (2013) and `Infinite’ (2017).
© MC Strong 1994-2004 // rev-up MCS Dec2011-May2019

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