IF LOOKS COULD KILL
Incurable heavy metal romantic Geoff Barton gets fogbound in Germany but not before he goes:
'Kerr-annnnnnnng! Crunnnng! Splee-yannnnnnnng! Whirannnnng! Zzzzzt!' to Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow.
'Love live rock 'n' roll!
Long live rock 'n' roll!
Long live rock 'n' roll!
Rock 'n' roll.!
Rock 'n' roll!
Long live rock 'n' roll!'
Uh, excuse me?
What is it?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but up there, just above us, does it or does it not say ... well, er, y'know ... rock 'n' roll?
'Course it does. Long live rock 'n' roll. Says it over and over and over again. Ah. Thought so.
What do you mean?
I don't know, it just seems strange to see that phrase once again, black on white, printed there time and again on this page. Must admit, it's not something that I've thought a lot about recently.
Well, it's just that these days rock 'n' roll's very much of a dinosaur term, isn't it? I mean, that form of music is over the hill, a thing of the past. A year or so back it just kind of collapsed, retreated back into itself ... died, didn't it?
Oh yeah? Well, if that's the case, if rock 'n' roll is dead, then long live rock 'n' roll!
You want proof? You want to know for why? Then sit back. Relax. Read on.
HUNG OVER IN HANNOVER (1)
Story Begins in Heathrow departure hall, biggest sweatbox in Britain. Flying really isn't all it's cracked up to be you know, especially when air traffic control disputes serve to fling more than the usual hefty amount of humanity together in one airport lounge to suffer delays of one, two, three, four - you name it - hours.
Atmosphere's a curious cross between that of a dentist's waiting room and that of an emergency hospital set up to deal with the injured after a World War Two blitz. Meaning that on one hand there's eager anticipation, the desire to get out and away as soon as possible; on the other there's the awful array of walking wounded, people who have been waiting for their flights for ages and who stumble around bleary-eyed and perspiring, threatening to expire at any given moment..
I was just gnawing my way through a particularly disgusting Danish pastry when a call came over the tannoy asking me to go directly over to the British Airways desk, where I would learn something to my advantage.
It took me a while to arrive - treading carefully, avoiding the bodies and bags of medical supplies strewn about the floor - but when I eventually did I was surprised to be greeted by Colin Hart, Rainbow tour manager, Cozy Powell, Rainbow drummer and Ritchie Blackmore, Rainbow guitarist, plus girlfriend.
Seems that they all took advanage of a brief gap in their European tour itinerary to bring back Cozy Powell's Ferrari for repairs in Britain - he'd been thrashing his way from gig to gig in it - and as luck would have it they'd been booked on the same plane as myself, travelling back to resume a string of German dates in Hannover.
Blackmore was - truly - in a jocular mood and we chatted pleasantly until boarding was finally announced. Dressed, as is his wont, in black and sporting a shorter, neater hairstyle, we recalled the last time we'd met each other for any decent length of time (it does fly - it was way back in January 1976, in Munich, during the recording of `Rainbow Rising'), talked about the welfare of friend Makowski and concluded with a simultaneous 'nice to see you again'. As you know, Blackmore's an enigmatic, very private person - but on this occasion at least he allowed a little warmth to show through.
I spent the flight squashed up against the window sitting next to Cozy Powell, tough, thick-skinned character who, similarly, isn't really as cold and unfeeling as his oft-scowling face and aggressive speech pattern might indicate - and anyway, it always cracks both of us up to recall my first interview with him (coincidentally, my first interview for SOUNDS as well) just after he'd had that string of hit singles ('Dance With The Devil', 'Man In Black' and 'Na Na Na') and had formed his own band, Hammer. "You were so nervous," ribs Powell, "I could have torn you to shreds." Luckily, he didn't.
I asked Powell about Rainbow's two new members, how they were fitting in. I had to admit that I'd kind of lost track and didn't know the name of the new keyboards player ... "David Stone," Powell reveals.
"I didn't know until a week or so ago, either." Continuing on a more serious note, "Bob Daisley, ex-Widowmaker, the new bass player, is settling in very well. Mark Clarke, his predecessor, just couldn't handle it. And Tony Carey, our old keyboardist, finally got the message when we were recording at the Chateau - his room was set alight and hatchets were thrown into his door ..."
Pleasant. As related in the SOUNDS article of a few months back, 'there'll always be a Rainbow as long as Ritchie, Ronnie and Cozy are around', which means that the three of them have very positive ideas as to how the band should work/progress and anyone who disagrees with them is likely to be given a hard time.
"That may sound harsh," Powell says, "but when I first started out in this business, no-one did me any favours, it was every man for himself. I'm not about to soften up now." As it turned out, my misgivings about the decision to release a live album so early on in Rainbow's career were echoed to a certain extent by Powell himself. "Yeah ... I didn't really want us to release 'On Stage', but you know how it is, pressures from the record company and all that. People have complained about a couple of the sides being too short - I'd just like to say that it was unavoidable, at the time we really didn't have enough material to fill it out. And when I saw exactly how much it was selling for I was shocked..."
The next Rainbow studio album, 'Long Live Rock 'N' Roll', is out in January of next year. It's almost complete right now in fact, the band are planning to finish it off in Munich's Musicland studios after the British tour and just prior to their visits to Japan and Australia. Because of the personnel crises Rainbow were going through at the time, some of the tracks ('Lady Of The Lake', 'Sensitive To Light', 'LA Connection', 'The Shed', 'Rainbow Eyes' ... not necessarily all of these, just thought I'd throw a few appetite-whetting titles in your direction) feature Blackmore and Powell on all the instruments. "We'd spend hours with the various band members trying to get a take, but with very little success," Powell reveals. "Then Ritchie and me would return together in the dead of night and get it right between ourselves in half the time."
Going back to 'On Stage', I wondered why Powell's magnificent drum solo didn't appear in all its '1812 Overture' decibel-laden glory - after all, wouldn't it have then filled out the album quite respectably?
"I suppose so, the only thing is that I think solos sound really boring on records. Besides, I like to keep mine kind of special, so that people who may not have seen the band before will be - I hope - surprised. Plus, it's changed a little. You'll see how tonight." The last time I saw Rainbow was at the Hammersmith Odeon at the tail end of the last tour and the drum solo was pretty spectacular then. How else have the band changed since they last visited Britain? "We've got louder," says Powell, with an evil glint in his eye. "About half as loud again."
HUNG OVER IN HANNOVER (2)
For reasons obscure, I was late for the gig. By the time I arrived at Hannover's Stadium Sporthalle - a vast, sprawling, single storey complex, like an Empire Pool with the roof chopped off - Rainbow were well into their third number, 'Sixteenth Century Greensleeves', vocalist Ronnie James Dio screaming out "Fire! Fire!" and the band contributing piledriver punctuation. Eyes wide open, mouth gaping, I was awestruck, totally taken aback - I'd almost completely forgotten that, live, Rainbow are a truly senses-shattering visual experience. Just look at that presentation - the multi-hued, dazzling, ever-changing rainbow lightshow, the luminous backdrops of (first) the mist-shrouded guitar-castle and (later) the fist thrusting up from the ocean depths ... and the band cavorting beneath that colourful arch, reading from left to right blond-haired David Stone; an animated, grinning Bob Daisley; the compact figure of Ronnie James Dio, his hair a frizzy, cascading brown mane; Ritchie Blackmore in slick black satin suit; behind them all, bruising along high up on the drum riser, Cozy Powell.
Blink, shake the head, clear those clogged nerve cells, look again ... and the result's just the same. Overwhelming. The set goes on, 'Catch The Rainbow' followed by 'Long Live Rock 'N' Roll' leading into 'Man On The Silver Mountain', with its deceptive 'Lazy' opening. Soon enough, the shock of that first impression begins to fade, the effects start to take a back seat and you find yourself concentrating on the music - which, truth to tell, sounds rather fragmented, a little disjointed in places, Rainbow somehow failing to connect, to gel as a unit this time around. After the blues interlude, a swift smattering of 'Starstruck' and the completion of the scaling of the 'Mountain', 'Still I'm Sad' completes the performance for the night. No encore, despite voiciferous demands from the crowd (including a large British contingent from nearby army bases). The general feeling amongst the band is that tonight's gig had been somewhat untogether, that the best was yet to come.
Post mortem in the plush-but-tacky disco-bar of Hannover's Intercontinental Hotel doesn't last long - it's felt that the band itself, no one single individual, was to blame for the lack of fluidity. Tonight, Blackmore is in a cryptic mood and proceeds to confound yours truly with some interesting - and if I didn't know better I'd say downright spooky - tricks. Now I must admit that at this point my mind was rather addled through drink and my brain wasn't anything like its usual (ahem) blindingly analytical self, so Blackmore, he had me flummoxed. He got me to go out into the lobby, write a word - any word - on a piece of paper and return with it folded in my hand. He asked me to burn it (the paper that is, not my hand) and then proceeded to 'forget' about the matter for 10 minutes or so, after which time he presented me, out of the blue, with another piece of paper with my word written on it.
Now, I knew it wasn't the same piece of paper because it was a different colour. Besides, I'd burnt it. No-one could have seen me write the word because no-one was in the lobby at the time. No-one could have taken the piece of paper from me because I'd had it in my hand all the time up until it was burnt ... and what's more, my word was 'helicopter'. I mean, you could hardly get more unlikely than that. Yet somehow, and much to his glee, Blackmore had found me out and I couldn't for the life of me understand how ... I went to bed totally confused and more than a little curious. It was a long time before I got off to sleep.
FIRST BLOOD IN BERLIN
NEXT DAY, Cozy Powell, Bob Daisley and myself speed over by Mercedes to Berlin, where the next concert is to be played. Well, perhaps 'speed' is the wrong word, the queues leading up to the checkpoints - specifically, Checkpoint Alpha - stretching for mile upon mile. Powell, driver of the car, becomes very agitated: "It's not worth the bother," he complains, "unless you're Iggy Pop or someone you go down like a lead balloon in Berlin." Eventually, it takes us all of six hours to get from one city to the other, our travelling time being considerably brightened by Powell's collection of cassette tapes, especially the half dozen or so devoted entirely to hit singles of years gone by. Powell had youngsters Daisley and myself trying to guess the artists/titles of the 45s - and I must admit that neither of us did particularly well, although Powell seemed to know every note of such gems as Floyd Kramer's 'On The Rebound', Ramsey Lewis' 'Wade In The Water', Brenda Lee's 'Is It True', even the Strawberry Alarm Clock's 'Tomorrow'. Also to be found in the wide and varied collection was a single by Young Blood, one of Powell's first - if not very first - recordings, dating back to 1967. Even then he possessed a distinctly unsubtle playing style - thrashing and bashing and crashing through what I remember to be an otherwise fairly low key pop song. "Yeah," comments Powell, "I was a maniac even in those days."
The Deutschlandhalle, tonight's venue, is a huge place, on a par with some of the biggest astrodomes in the States. Despite Powell's misgivings and the fact that the upper balcony is closed, the hall is respectably populated, albeit by a particularly motley collection of Berliners. It's a strange crowd indeed - quiet and inanimate for the nonce, very wary of putting a foot wrong, the police presence here being totally, unnecessarily excessive, hundreds of them on guard and ready to act at the slightest sign of trouble. But luckily the evening goes without a hitch, as far as bother and Rainbow are concerned.
Cue darkness, cue Judy Garland, cue 'Kill The King', the finest and most frantic of opening numbers. Rainbow hit top gear straight away, not a hint of judder, and work smoothly, naturally up to a breathlessly energetic pace and successfully hold it, right there. It's obvious that that quality of togetherness is there tonight, right from the outset. Blackmore is a lot more active, his arm movements at once effete and then teeth-grittingly aggressive, but throughout he still manages to maintain his detached, slightly offhand aura - this as a direct contrast to the friendly, sympathetic stage presence of Ronnie James Dio.
More than most lip pouting, chest thrusting, cocky strutting vocalists, Dio comes across very much as a human being - indeed, when you get down to it, he doesn't pay much attention to the 'traditional' role of the heavy rock vocalist at all. He spends much of his singing time standing stock still in front of the stand, fingers caressing the microphone ever so gently, ever so slightly sensually. Sure, he twirls the stand around now and again, gives a few token piece sign salutes, but the overall mood is an honest, unaffected one.
Of the two new Rainbow members, Bob Daisley seems to me to be far more at home than David Stone. Although Daisley still has to really find his feet, it's obvious that in a couple of month's time he and Powell will have developed into a symbiotic and veritable powerhouse unit. In the meantime he's doing just fine, is nicely on his way to becoming - gasp - Rainbow's new permanent bass player. In fact, when one of the British army chaps shouted out, "You're better than Jimmy Bain!" last night, you could see that he was well chuffed. David Stone keeps a low profile throughout much of the set - his one chance to let rip coming at the keyboards opening to 'Still I'm Sad', which tonight he handles with predictably eager aplomb.
'Mistreated' follows, with its masterfully lyrical time-bomb guitar beginning lulling you into a false sense of security (a favourite Blackmore ploy), making the eventual musical detonation that much more spine-tinglingly sudden. From here on in, the pattern's the same as the previous night, although that much more compulsive, 'Still I'm Sad', the final number, hitting new heights of rock 'n' roll excess in the form of Cozy Powell's drum solo - which I haven't told you about yet, have I? Well, basically it's the same as before (that is to say, Powell being deafeningly destructive as a tape of the '1812 Overture' blares out of the PA) only this time his whole kit is fixed to a hydraulic lift which moves up to the front of the stage, rises up to the apex of the arch of the rainbow and then - BTOOOOOM.! - a dazzling flashbomb explodes and in the midst of smoke and strobe lights the kit finally returns to its lair between the two stacks of onstage amps. Shattering.
Rainbow certainly have improved since I last saw them, especially Blackmore who, it seems, is enjoying a new lease of life, is playing better than ever before - but then again, little did I realise that the best was yet to come. The rainbow is now co-ordinated rather better with the music - it's less of a distraction, a gimmick than it was and more complimentary, it being particularly effective during 'Long Live Rock 'N' Roll', a potential classic with a guitar riff in the fine 'Smoke On The Water' tradition, when it swirls colours in eye-boggling, frenzied fashion. My only criticisms at the moment are that Rainbow's set would benefit from the injection of a couple more new numbers - although maybe the situation will have changed for their just-started British tour - plus the fact that they've been no encores yet. For, like Hannover, Berlin simply saw the Rainbow set straight through. No more, no less. Little did I know that, in Hamburg, the situation would change. And how.
HOLED UP IN HAMBURG
"HEY, WHERE'S Ritchie?"
He hasn't arrived yet."
"What? But it's nearly 11 o'clock."
"The gig should have started by now."
"I know. "
"Oh God ..."
The Polydor people, out in force tonight, are panicking. A full house for the Rainbow concert at the Congress Centre, 2,400 discerning Hamburgers waiting in eager anticipation, and no Ritchie Blackmore. The word is that, because the Hannover to Berlin car journey was so tedious, Blackmore decided to fly to Hamburg. Only trouble was that, after much waiting around, the plane was cancelled and it was found necessary to drive after all.
Or then there's the alternative version - that for reasons of his own Blackmore wants to get the record company guys uptight (the start of last year's concert in Hamburg was apparently delayed for two hours) and won't put in an appearance until the eleventh hour ... either way, the gig did eventually take place. And it was a stunner.
The interior of the hall looks like a 'Space: 1999' set - clean, white, spectacularly, futuristically shaped. Despite having to wait an inordinate amount of time for Rainbow to take to the stage, the kids are quiet, orderly, well behaved. I forget the exact time the concert started, but it was very late - and when the band eventually appeared, you could see that Blackmore was unusually agitated, chafing at the bit anxious to start. So it was that 'Kill The King' seethed with power and agression, you could feel the pent up fury flood out from, the band onstage and hit the audience like a tidal wave. When you're playing football and you're fouled just outside the area just as you had a sure chance of a goal and you want to get back at the guy who had you and hack him down hard ... it felt just like that, Rainbow rocked with an angry, adrenalin-charged power.
For the beginning of 'Sixteenth Century Greensleeves,' essentially quiet, soft, gracefully medieval, Blackmore has to concentrate on the delicate touches, finds it visibly difficult to restrain himself from rushing into the riff before time; similarly, 'Man On The Silver Mountain's' slow blues section is charged with the tension of self-control. When Blackmore lets go, the frustrations fly from his fingertips in the forms of wild soloing, blistering licks, thunderous powerchords ... tonight, there's no-one greater. And, of course, there had to be an encore.
Picture the scene. Blackmore, stage right, arms flailing, laying into his guitar violently, viciously, the instrument screaming back in vain.protest. Stage centre and left, the rest of the band, gazing at their unpredictable, quick-tempered mentor, wondering will he ... or won't he?
The answer comes with a splintering of wood and a snapping of strings. The guitar is in terrible, tuneless, tattered torment. The instrument is being demolished, torn asunder.
The crowd rise as one and surge towards the stage. The guitar is now in two halves, neck and body, and Blackmore is brandishing them above his head like grisly trophies of war.
Security personnel rush on to the stage as the kids threaten to get out of control. Blackmore sees his limelight being stolen. Dismembered instrument in hand, he stomps over to the nearest guard, shoves him in the back and - splat! - the guy swan dives into the midst of the very crowd that he's being paid to control.
The Rainbow road crew do their best to restrain the rest of the security staff who are after Blackmore's blood - and remember, this was in Hamburg. Hate to think about the scenes in Vienna when Blackmore got shut in jail...
The guitar is no more. Blackmore slings the remaining pieces into the audience, pours wine over them, plays a few notes on his synthesised guitar pedals and departs. The crowd scream for more. But nothing could top that. They don't get it.
Hamburg was my last date with the band. The next day everyone shot off to Austria, for the next leg of the tour, and I planned to return to London. Unfortunately, I was fogbound for a day-and-a-half and with little money, had to fend for myself in Hamburg until the BE 615 flight managed to get off the ground...
In contrast to the high drama of that last concert, it was a depressing time, but the memory of it kept me going. Plus the fact that I couldn't help but think that, for Britain, the best was yet to come. For, like it or not -
Rock 'n' roll is dead!
Long live rock 'n' roll!
© Geoff Barton, Sounds - November 5, 1977
photos: © Watal Asanuma, Brian Aris & Fin Costello