During the eight years — roughly 1976 through 1984 — Deep Purple was out of commission, various members of the group were angling for recognition of one sort or another. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow made a strong impression, first exploring medieval castles with Ronnie James Dio, and later churning out highly accessible pop rock with singers Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner. Meanwhile, Purple’s third vocalist David Coverdale, along with Purple founders Jon Lord and Ian Paice, started a new band called Whitesnake. Ten years later, Whitesnake enjoyed their own crazy dab of success. And then there was Ian Gillan, the ill-fated vocalist who unceremoniously parted ways with the big Purple eater in 1973. He went onto make a string of earthy, streetwise records under the Gillan banner, a band that never quite measured up to the standards of Rainbow or Whitesnake. Still, Gillan’s brief moment in the sun — just before the singer hooked up with Black Sabbath, and then reunited with Deep Purple — is remarkably documented on The Glory Years, a new DVD from Eagle Vision.
After leaving Deep Purple, Gillan ran through a gamut of musicians before the Gillan band solidified and jelled with Bernie Tormé on guitar, John McCoy on bass, Colin Towns on keyboards and Mick Underwood on drums. Adopting a basic, more straight-ahead approach than Purple, Gillan unknowingly helped kick-start a new wave of British heavy metal, a form properly manicured by the likes of Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. Albums like Mr. Universe (1979), Glory Road (1980) and Future Shock (1981) proved Gillan could dish it out as hard and heavy as the up-and-comers. Although the records dented the British charts, they failed to catch on in the States. And then, of course, internal issues and other, more enticing opportunities tore the band apart.
But at least we have The Glory Years, which captures Gillan (the band) at the peak of their powers — live at Oxford Polytechnic on February 18, 1981. Part of the Rock Goes To College series, the show opens with “Unchain Your Brain” — a ball-breaking riff from Glory Road that lives up to its name. Tormé is a formidable guitarist, taking the reins and guiding the troops through a treacherous terrain of chunky chart hopefuls. He rises to the occasion during “Mr. Universe,” while Gillan yaddles and yelps and woggies out on the congas. “No Easy Way,” another one from Glory Road, comes off as an easy, digestible rocker that dovetails into a Purple-like face-off between Tormé and Towns, ably anchored by the imposing McCoy. Naturally, Underwood gets the obligatory three-minute drum solo, before the whole band falls into “Mutually Assured Destruction.” Here’s where the chemistry coalesces as Tormé and Towns cut out the chords alongside the singer’s calculated vocal line. “Vengeance” keeps the momentum pumped at high voltage as Gillan swiggles to the delight of the college “hoi polloi.” The closing number “New Orleans” simply rocks the house down to its skivvies.
The DVD is stuffed to the gills with gobs of bonus footage, including a clip of “Vengeance” from an unidentified German television program, a promo of “Sleeping On The Job,” and souped-up performances of “Trouble,” “New Orleans,” “No Laughing Heaven” and “Mutually Assured Destruction” from the BBC's Top Of The Pops. These days, of course, Gillan is back with Purple, while a loose concoction of the Gillan band enjoyed a recent revival via the Gillan’s Inn reissue. You can’t help but notice that since he first burst onto the scene, singing on the soundtrack for Jesus Christ Superstar, Ian Gillan has been a prolific and consistent artist whose vision and vitality continues to remain true. You really have to wonder what keeps some of these wise old British chaps going. Must be something in the bitter.