THE EYES HAVE IT"TRUST YOU to come to the two worst shows... got any money??"
With guts around my ankles, suffering the aftermath and excesses of a tropical jaunt over to the mosquito coast, accompanied by a bad case of the runs that would make the London Marathon look like a casual stroll (bicycle clips at the ready!) - yours faithfully wasn't exactly in prime-time mood for the maninblack's drier than Sainsbury's White Vermouth humour, scathing enough to make Basil Fawlty look positively charitable.
"Is that a suntan or hepatitis, heh...heh". The looming dark figure of a guitar hero points a solitary, spindly finger at your frail one's slightly signed, sallow complexion bearing more than a passing resemblance to partially burnt toast. Some devilish chuckling from the 'evil one' echoes around the dressing room accompanied by the familiar noise of the seal breaking on the obligatory Johnny Walker Black Label bottle. The location is Hamburg and the occasion Rainbow's current and most successful, incidentally) European tour. This dubious combination usually inspires mayhem and there's no doubt that Blackmore hasn't lost any of the Wilkinson razor sharp wit that's so often been misunderstand/misinterpreted and constantly provided fuel for a reputation that can only be described as notorious. Wearing a badge bearing the proclamation: "Everybody's entitled to My opinion"; he's recently been christened 'The Edge', the state he leaves the rest of the group in on and off stage.
A man of perfection, his lust for the lost chord has led to numerous line-up changes, with the band re-emerging in as many forms and varieties as a Heinz product. Still this current motley crew (for the benefit of the uninitiated and sceptics) remains unhampered featuring the talents of Joe Lynn Turner (vocals), Dave Rosenthal (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Bobby Rondinelli (drums), although rumours remain rife with talks of redundancy cheques in the offing (in fact it's almost like Spotlight), accusations to which the group responded with a cynical press release announcing that Ritchie had, in fact, fired them all. The media, needless to say, took to it like a proverbial dog to a bone. Of course, one can't predict the future with guaranteed surety, but judging from the recent shows things look very sweet on the musical front, with both group and audience happy.
Blackmore, surrounded by a flank of friends (fiends?) and relatives, puts on a mock scowl when I ask about his feelings on the show he's poised to perform.
"I like Hamburg as a town, it brings back many memories (fellow historians will know that the maninblack spent his formative years thrashing away in Teutonia) but as a gig... the audience seem a bit jaded, it's as if they've seen it all before and there's nothing worse than playing a gig where the first three rows have their arms crossed and stare blankly.
It makes you feel a right twit running around the stage like some demented animal in front of a crowd of statues." Way down in the distance the sound of Girlschool's motorised rock can be heard wafting through the many corridors.
"Fancy seeing the support group?", asked Ritchie replenishing my beaker.
As long as I've been associated with this enigmatic axeman he's always shown a surprising interest, if not enthusiasm, for the music scene around him, in fact that will no doubt shock the people who believe he spends a hermit like existence secluded in some gothic castle scenario between bouts of work. Although outside influences rarely seep into his music, Blackmore certainly absorbs current trend fashions and keeps in check with American radio, while still maintaining the knowledgeable/wordly distance of a suss sage.
From our secret observatory post in the dark recesses of the beehive busy stage area, Blackmore announces that Girlschool are definitely the best group to support Rainbow, adding his admiration of Denise Dufort's drumwork. "The girl really knows how to keep time... at first I thought to myself do I like them and do I give them the licence to make mistakes because of their feminity, but after a few dates it became apparent that they are in fact a good rock band."
I tell Ritchie that sounds exactly like Jeff Beck's response, when inquisitioned about one of their platters on 'Roundtable'. "Well Jeff always was a moody, unpredictable bastard as well" he responds, his black garb almost melting into the backstage darkness. As the familiar taped selection of Ritchie's favourite records begins to run it's nightly course, the band prepare for another show. Joe Lynn has taken it upon himself to do Dave Lee Roth - like workouts, while Rosenthal, currently the quietest member, seems to spend his time wandering around comparing dressing rooms. The lewd but lovable Rondinelli, meanwhile goes to and fro in search of the eternal sandwich, while his heated Carmen rollers do the job on that fabulous, distinguished mane of hair.
In some quiet corner Roger Glover is to be found digesting a breakfast of chain-smoked mentholated cigarettes and spirits while 'ski-ing partner' manager Bruce Payne darts around swallowing handfuls of Excedrin with Myers Rum chasers looking as if he's carrying the burdens of the world on his rounded shoulders. Meanwhile, as I paint this pretty verbal picture of life on the road, the familiar strains of Vangelis' epic "Chariots Of Fire" theme can be heard and larger than life silhouettes of the group seen on the back screen in constant movement, limbering up for the musical workout ahead.
The girl backing singers climb up onto a platform that keeps them invisible from the paying onlookers while rock and roll's answer to Les Dawson, crew manager Ray Italian, runs about the place doing last minute checks on the explosives and other effects rigged up around the place. As the voice of a young, virginal and undrugged Judy Garland recites the entree to her canine partner, the audiences eyes and ears are savagely bludgeoned by flash pots, and before anyone can regain a sensible semblance of hearing and vision the group are already onstage with Blackmore furiously belting out the opening chords of "Spotlight Kid".
During the solo he whips his guitar into a frenzy with the lead while 'Jolene' reveals a visionary side to his performance when spitting out the lyrics; 'just like a junkie you always want more,' he intones, simulantaneously wrapping the mike lead around his arm like a tourniquet, making the gesture of someone about to fix up.
Ever since Purple days the two obvious frontmen have been the vocalist and the guitarist (which is probably why the whole set up eventually deteriorated - too many chiefs and not enough Indians), and 'Jolene' has certainly displayed his worth in the singer/songwriter bracket taking the whole set up to a new peak of success with some solid HR commerciality. It's only onstage that the criticisms come fast and furious, for Turner at times proves quite a schizophrenic personality going from the headstrong, powerful and dynamic to the whimpering, weaker realms of cabaret (making the likes of Charles Hawtrey look positively butch) within a matter of performances.
This unpredictable personality change seems to affect the rest of the group's standard of playing, which in a way is understandable when you think that as a frontman any embarrassment or cock up creates reflects on the rest of the mob. As you can imagine, Joe comes in line for the occasional scholarly slap on the back of the head.
Glover, Rondinelli and Rosenthal, however, come over as being much more potent than just a set of accompanying players - especially the first two who've firmly affixed their distinguished personas into the Rainbow set-up.
Glover now has a bass solo and occasionally whips out his tambourine for good measure, while Rondinelli goes to almost muppet-like measures to get the fans frothing with some bare-fisted skin-beating, using his delightfully coiffured barnet to good effect (and before anyone starts an argument regarding who used this 'bare fists' gimmick first - Aldridge or the Round One - the answer is in fact Don Brewer of Grand Funk), Rosenthal still needs to inject some of his well-concealed fiery temperament into his performance which at the moment is a bit transparent hardly surprising really as the ex-Boston preppy got thrown in at the deep end going from relative anonimity to mega-stardom in the space of one audition cassette. His soloing and improvisations are occasionally reminiscent of a more studious Tony Carey and the pup does actually get going when indulging in some blues interplay with Mr. Blackmore, as ever the epitome of an axe hero continually teasing and cajoling his avid stargazers and, although the group have strayed into more melodic musical spheres on vinyl live his performance still hasn't lost the maniacal, moody, theatrical flair that puts this genius on the musical map.
Tonight he isn't particularly hot, but still manages to raise a few temperatures with a steamin', stampeding version of "Power" which should've been the single in Britain. He also includes a delightful diversion by playing a teasing snippet of "Hey Joe" during "Long Live Rock And Roll". There's no encore and definitely no apologies for the fact. The next day we take a short flight to Berlin, which is the closest equivalent to an architectural cemetery I've ever encountered. The name immediately conjures up visions of Sixties monochrome spy movies and one's paranoia is immediately heightened when surrounded and overshadowed by cold, grey concrete.
As one might (or might not) expect the stiffness of the city doesn't reflect on the evenings' performance, which everybody agrees is one of the best of the last few. The audience certainly go for it and the band reciprocate by turning out an A-1 set. The show's probably enhanced by the fact that the size of the building allows for all props to be used and once one is confronted by a set of familiar, probing eye balls that hover dangerously over the massed throng there's no turning back. A festive, feast of highlights the evening is given a welcome touch of icing courtesy of Blackmore's six-string sacrifice. As we say our farewells over a pot of goulash at the airport, me full of apologies for not being my feisty, spirited self, I ask Blackmore about the possibilities of bringing this spectacular show to Britain - a question that can't yet be answered with any real concrete facts as next year's plans are so up in the air.
"Make it up as you go along," says the three o'clock shadow between spoonfuls of Bavarian-like broth," tell 'em I'm thinking of reforming Whitesnake or something." The fact is ol' Toots has been sworn to secrecy as far as the prospects of '83 go. But one thing is certain though - as with the proverbial Teddy Bears' picnic, you lot are in for a big surprise.
KERRANG #31 - 16 December 1982