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Thursday 16 August 2018

Chronology aside, this is a great peek at deep purple

Sometimes even the magnificent BBC4 get their facts ever so slightly askew, but as long as they keep maintaining their impeccable standard of music documentaries then what the hell are a few years either way between friends? This Friday they offer us Deep Purple: Made in Japan, a film to mark the, ahem, 40th anniversary of the classic live album of the same name.

Now, the fact that Made in Japan was actually released in December 1972 isn't really here nor there when it comes to the film, as it actually concentrates more on the making of the studio album which preceded it earlier that year, Machine Head, and, particularly, on the now-iconic track Smoke on the Water. Recently voted the second-most popular guitar riff of all time on a BBC Radio 2 poll, losing out to Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love (I'm sure Jimmy Page got in touch with a medium to give the late Willie Dixon the good news), this classic progression - duh-duh-duh duh-duh de-duh - has been the bane of workers in guitar shops for over three decades now, but it still manages to get the blood flowing whenever it's played on the radio.

When it was criticised by some musicians on release for being too simplistic, its composer, the ever-modest Richie Blackmore, pointed out that the basic riff bore close comparison to the opening of Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Good man Richie.

The song itself is actually based on a real-life incident. Towards the end of 1971 Purple, with their classic line-up of Ian Gillan, Jon Lord, Richie Blackmore, Ian Paice and Roger Glover in place, were on a roll after Deep Purple In Rock and Fireball and eager to maintain the momentum. Decamping to Montreux in Switzerland (yes, it's 'by the Lake Geneva shore') with the Rolling Stones' mobile recording studio in tow, the plan was to record in the Montreux Casino. Alas, the night before everything was set to kick off things did actually kick off in the Casino. During a gig by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention someone fired a flare gun into the roof, starting a fire which - yes, you've guessed it - burned the place to the ground.

The band eventually found another venue in the city to record the album but that one stroke of bad luck did at least provide a ready-made lyric for what would prove to be their most iconic song. And incidentally, there is a link between the incident and a landmark event in Irish rock. After finishing up in Montreux the next destination for the Rolling Stones' mobile was Longfield House in Co Tipperary to record Horslips' debut album Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part. No flare guns there, I believe.

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