Gillan have sadly proved to be the least enduring of the big three Deep Purple split groups which rubbed shoulders in the UK top twenty album and singles charts of the late seventies and early eighties. The band's easy accessability at the time bracketed them less as rock gods and more as street level nonconformists - which is exactly what they were aiming at. Their legacy was a landslide of excellent, imaginative recordings, and a host of appearances on UK TV shows - where they were always ready to ham it up and provide top entertainment. 'The Glory Years' covers the Glory Road / Future Shock era fairly conclusively, also providing a time capsule of music on TV in 1980-81 - Top Of The Pops, Rock Goes To College, warts, haircuts and all.
The DVD lasts for only one hour, but due to the hyperactive energy piled into every song it easily feels twice as long, in the nicest possible way. The main meat is a 40 minute live performance from BBC2's 'Rock Goes To College' show, where the (mainly punk and new-wave) acts played sets at university venues, and usually took the opportuntity to offload some inverted snobbery bile on the poor sods in the audience for daring to wish for further education. Such was the post punk era. Even Ian fits in a small aside about getting away from the 'hoi-polloi' . The show presents what is the only actual concert footage of that small Gillan era to have surfaced, so it's a relief to find that it captures the action so well. The picture quality is a bit soft, and the sound bassy, but that's TV recorded concerts from the period for you. As are the cross-fades, used with the same abandon as the 1980-81 edit of the California Jam. One thing missing almost completely, thankfully, is audience shots; the cameras were far too busy capturing the band whipping themselves up into a frenzy without being able to concern themselves with anyone else.
Once submerged in the occasion (which leaps out and grabs you instantly with the fabulous 'Unchain Your Brain') it is hard to tear yourself away. Torme looks like a punk Hendrix who's just burgled Adam Ant's dressing room, and John McCoy is utterly individual with his symmetrical half a hair cut . Not quite Bernie Marsden and Neil Murray! Despite their unique attire, the music is tackled with an almost shockingly grim faced ferocity, completely unlike the smiling, laughing Deep Purple which Ian fronts today. As a result it makes it impossible not to take them seriously. There is certainly no joking around Torme's ferocious, Hendrixed guitar work in a superb 'Mr Universe'. Was he irreplaceable when he left the band? Yes, I reckon.
'No Easy Way' features a lively if bludgeoning guitar / keyboard trade which seems incongruous given the nature of the beast, as opposed to Rainbow 1977 where such moments where the pillars of the show. Perhaps the jamming or the drum solo should have been left behind with the jazz rock of the IGB. However, it all does entertain, which is what matters. 'Trouble' is ramshackle in the extreme, but great to watch, Gillan were ideally suited for visuals, and it is a shame that they've had to wait so long (too long I'd say) to make it properly onto DVD.
'Mutually Assured Destruction' and 'Vengeance' follow, while 'New Orleans' was a preview of the band's new single, and brings the show to a suitably manic conclusion, with dry ice, and some very serious instrument trashing.
The bonus cuts begin tamely with 'Vengeance' on 'Pop Rock', German TV, in January 1980. The sleeve claims it's live ('live' my arse), but though badly mimed the band really do still mean it. The promo film for 'Sleeping On The Job' is already on the recent singles box set, so its inclusion is pointless (where is the promo for 'Mr.Universe' that was shot around the same time?). And on to 'Top Of The Pops'.... funny how lame it looks today. Crappy sets, and a half dead audience wandering awkwardly around. It couldn't look less exciting if it tried. Which brings me to another point - has this compilation arrived over ten years too late? Nostalgia, and the silliness of early 80s TV does, I feel, now detract from the band and their music, especially on the mimed segments.
From October 1980 we have DLT (The Hairy Cornflake in person) introducing 'Trouble'. This was Gillan's first appearance on the show, a dry run for larger than life return visits, where the band went all out to provide the visual energy to cover for the lack of it in the audience. 'Mutually Assured Destruction' appears to have a click on the soundtrack which wasn't on the original broadcast, but still comes across extremely well. By 'New Orleans' the theatrical Gillan band remembered best was fully formed, and performing amid a sea of flash bombs, with Ian as a tongue out, puppet version of himself, Torme with Mad Max eye-patch and lightning bolt painted on cheek, and McCoy festooned with bullet cross-belts. 'No Laughing In Heaven' brings the disc to a close, with Torme having just jumped ship, and being temporarily covered by McCoy using a double-neck guitar. And that was the end of that particular era. Next up came Blackmore impersonator Janick Gers, more singles, and even more bizarre TV appearances. Let's hope for a Vol.2. More of the same would be great, especially as none of it is the same as anything else, before or since.
review: David Browne
"Rock Goes To College". Oxford Polytechnic, February 18th 1981.
1/ Unchain Your Brain
"Rock Pop" . German TV, January 8th 1980.
9/ Vengeance (mime)
10/ Sleeping On The Job
"Top Of The Pops" 1980-81
The Glory Years DVD