Jon Lord

Lichfield Cathedral

17 July 2009

The day started with an hour of Jon Lord being interviewed by Lichfield Festival director Richard Hawley and taking questions from the audience. Jon is always an interesting an entertaining speaker but to be honest I wasn't expecting any great things from the talk. I expected the usual potted biography and anecdotes we have already heard a hundred times before. But actually it was nothing like that at all. Probably deciding that the only people attending would be die-hard fans who had heard it all a hundred times before, they glossed over the bio and focused on Jon Lord as a composer: his thoughts on composing, the composition process, and on the merging of rock and orchestral music. This was all very interesting and insighful, and therefore much better than I was expecting the event to be.

But because this review is being read by die-hard Deep Purple fans, I'll skip all the interesting stuff and give you Jon's answers to the two questions you really want to ask:

1. Mk 3 reunion? Answer: "Snowballs" and "hell".
2. Working with Ritchie Blackmore? Answer: Jon is in occasional contact with Ritchie and would love to write something for him one day... THIS DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING HAS BEEN PLANNED, SO DON'T BOTHER STARTING UP ANY INTERNET RUMOURS BASED ON THIS REVIEW, OK? IF YOU DO, I WILL COMPLETELY DISOWN THE REVIEW.

Anyway, after an hour of very enjoyable chat I still didn't really have any idea of what the evening concert was going to be like. (Interviewer: "Will it be a typical Jon Lord concert?" Jon: "I don't think there's any such thing as a typical Jon Lord concert".)

So, I suppose the thing to do is fast-forward eight hours and review the concert...

Lichfield Cathedral is beautiful. I grew up a few miles from it but this is the first time I have been in it for years and I forgot how good it is. For some reason it's never mentioned in the same breath as the country's more famous cathedrals, but it should be. Everybody should go and see it. Especially when Jon Lord is playing there.

The band played on a raised stage in front of the main entrance (so all the seats in the nave faced west). The stage was a good idea (the orchestra in Durham Cathedral for the Durham Concerto was on the floor and therefore invisible) but still not quite high enough. Because all the performers were seated, I rarely saw more than their heads (though some trick of the crowd gave me a perfect view of the first violin!).

The band came on at 7.35, played a 55-minute first half and a 75-minute second half after a short interval to visit the "wine tent".

And the band was:

Drums — Steve White
Double bass and electric bass — Don Richardson (I think; the programme listed Guy Pratt but it wasn't him)
Keyboards — Nigel Hopkins (I think; again, the programme listed Hannah Vassanth but I'm pretty sure it wasn't!)
Vocals — Steve Balsamo and Kasia Laska
Flute — Bruce Martin (I think; not mentioned at all in the programme)
String Quartet (The Badke Quartet)
Piano and Hammond Organ — Jon Lord

No guitar player! This was an unusual move, but I think a good one. As soon as you put an electric guitar in a band, it dominates it. Removing it gave the piano a lot more prominence, and also gave the strings more room to breathe.

Let's see how my dodgy set-list memory manages with mostly instrumental pieces (I started writing it during the intermission, so it should be pretty accurate). First half:

As I Walked Out One Evening
De Profundis
Miles Away
Pictured Within (Steve Balsamo vocal)
From the Windmill
The Teleman Experiment

As I walked Out... is new and is one movement from Jon's tribute to John Mortimer. It is played by piano, strings and flute, and the sweeping, melancholic string melodies are immediately recognisable as a Jon Lord composition.

The sound in the cathedral is perfect for the instruments and although the band is amplified, the instruments are in perfect balance. This wasn't as true on De Profundis — as soon as the drums came in, they tended to swamp the strings. As the concert wore on, this problem seemed to be ironed out so it wasn't really a big problem.

You will see the pattern in the set... pretty much one soft piece followed by one up-tempo piece. It worked really well and showed off the range of styles Jon works with.

Throughout the first half Jon played the piano (and conducted the band), ignoring the Hammond sitting next to him. Oh, I think he played one solitary organ chord at the end of, I think probably De Profundis, but that was all.

Second half:

Evening Song (Kasia Laska vocal, and she is exceptional. You can hear a very faint hint of a non-English accent in her singing, which just makes it sound better, and her emotional delivery is achingly beautiful.)
Air on a Blue String (This is the first performance of a new piece. Jon introduced it as having the idea of "Bach meets the blues" but I must be honest, I couldn't hear a lot of blues in it. Or a lot of Bach, for that matter. But I did hear a lot of Jon Lord, and that's good enough for me.)
Unsquare Dance (The Dave Brubeck tune, with Jon finally playing a long Hammond solo — standing up, naturally!)
When Jon introduced the next song as something written by Ritchie Blackmore and David Coverdale, I almost fell out of my seat. Never in a million years would I have expected (wait for it...) (make sure you're sitting down...)
Soldier of Fortune (Steve Balsamo lead vocal, backed by Kasia Laska). I don't know what to say about that. I still can't believe it. And, honestly? When Jon Lord's got a band that can play an arrangement of Soldier of Fortune as beautiful as this one, nobody in their right mind should be asking for a Mk 3 reunion.
Gigue ended the main set. You might wonder if this could be an anticlimax after that last song, but it actually might be the highlight of the show. It shows off the versatility of all the musicians, including a long and brilliant drum solo and, yes, some superb Hammond playing. If anybody ever asks you what sort of music Jon Lord plays, play them this arrangement of Gigue and you might get somewhere close to an answer.

Then a couple of songs as an encore:

Wait a While (Kasia Laska)
The Sun Will Shine Again (Kasia Laska again, backed by Steve Balsamo)


What is the one song you always want to hear at a Deep Purple concert?

Child in Time.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting this. You can't do Child in Time without a guitar player, can you? But I got goosebumps as soon as Jon said "1969" in his introduction and I knew there was only one song he could do. When he played the first three notes on the Hammond, I... well, you know what it's like.

Steve Balsamo sang the verse and Kasia Laska joined him on the screams. She hit them effortlessly, which wasn't a surprise, but he hit every one too — was this the same man who had just sung Pictured Within and Soldier of Fortune? That's an incredibly versatile voice. I was hugely impressed with both of them.

And how do you do Child in Time without a guitar player? You put a five-minute organ solo in the middle. Go on, admit it, you wish you were there.

The whole show was so good, I would be telling you it was the best concert I have ever seen even if they hadn't ended with Child in Time. But they played my favourite song, and they played it in a breathtaking arrangement, and I thank Jon Lord eternally for that.

The venue was great, the band was exceptional, the atmosphere was wonderful, the musicians' respect for each other and for the different styles of music they were playing was obvious, the music was perfect throughout the two(+) hours, and they ended with my favourite song.

Of course this was the best concert I have ever seen.

[Site Home Page] Home
[Review Index Page] Review Index