Watching the repeat of Heavy Metal Britannia a couple of weeks ago, I found myself thinking that the documentary could well be the last word on that era. None of the participants were getting any younger. And anyway, that period of time from 1970 to 1985 or so that forms a big part of my record collection now seems increasingly a remote, historical era, as any quick glance at YouTube of a Sweeney episode will attest. Jon Lord was part of the documentary, white-haired, but otherwise looking fairly healthy; I wasn't aware of his illness and was surprised and saddened when I awoke today to find out that he had passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Deep Purple were one of the first bands I loved. When we had to design a screen-printed T-Shirt as part of my first year art class, I chose the Purple Records logo. Burn was one of the first albums I bought with my own money, from a record shop in Rose Street in Edinburgh, when I was down visiting my brother who was at college there. That was 1981 or so and I still have it, one of the few vinyl records that I bought in the early 80s that didn't get purged during one move or other. It's a good album.
I've fallen in and out of love with Purple over the years, and I'm not sure what I really think of them these days. Of the "big three" of Sabbath, Zeppelin and Purple, they were the only one who released a decent live album during their lifetime, and also had the best producer in Martin Birch, meaning that their records tend to have the best sound of the three. But they couldn't write songs like Sabbath or Zeppelin, and Machine Head and Burn are their only albums that I can listen to the whole way through.
Yet when they were good they were great, and Jon Lord was a big part of that. The jazzy keyboard and guitar dueling in the middle of Speed King is wonderful, Space Truckin' is a rare example of a heavy rock song whose riff is played on the keyboard, not the guitar, while his keyboard-driven instrumental A 200 from Burn is one of my favourite Deep Purple songs.
One last memory. when I was at college in Brighton in the 90s, a friend told me about what happened one evening in Hungry Years, the local Heavy Metal disco. Apparently, Highway Star came on, prompting some mass air guitaring, which lasted until after the first chorus when Lord's keyboard solo came in. Then, at once, everyone stretched their arms in front of them, like drunken Frankenstein's Monsters and then started to air keyboard along to the solo.
Air keyboarding. RIP Jon Lord, and thanks for the music.