Now this is what makes my reviewing hobby all worthwhile! Ian Gillan has been one of my favourite vocalists for many years and I bought the five albums in this box set individually back in the day. Fully endorsed by the man himself, The Vinyl Collection 1979 – 1982 box set contains the 180g vinyl albums of Mr. Universe, Glory Road, Future Shock, Double Trouble and Magic. Released via Demon Records on October 21st 2016, they show how prolific Ian’s songwriting was back then. An exclusive edition available from Amazon comes with ‘Spanish Guitar’, a bonus 7″ single. Check out the video of Ian unboxing the collection here
After leaving Deep Purple in 1974, he formed the Ian Gillan Band, a more jazz influenced style than Deep Purple but he became disenchanted with this and changed the name of the band to Gillan in 1978,taking keyboard player Colin Towns with him. An album called Gillan was only released in Japan, Australia and New Zealand but Ian then recruited a stronger band with Colin still on keyboards, Bernie Torme on guitar, John McCoy on bass guitar and Mick Underwood on drums and they entered the studio to record the classic Mr. Universe album in 1979. The atmospheric intro of ‘Second Sight’ segued into the pure heavy metal of ‘Secret Of The Dance’. The band fire on all cylinders especially Bernie wailing away on his strat but of course Ian’s vocals dominate.
The gentle vocal/piano intro to ‘She Tears Me Down’ is followed by the band crashing in heavily, leading into a rumbling bass midsection and more fretboard wizardry. ‘Roller’ hurtles along with the band locking in behind lung busting risque lyrics including the couplet of “Get your hands on my lever, watch it while I stab your beaver”. The title track is the standout by far. It takes you on an emotional journey with Ian commanding over a pounding band backing including glorious keyboard runs. The grinding main riff of ‘Vengeance’ matches the anger of Ian’s vocal highlighted in the chorus of “Vengeance is my right. Vengeance, I fight a dirty fight. Vengeance, right is might in my hand“. ‘Puget Sound’ is slow burning blues with more near the knuckle lyrics including “As we drove through Spokane, you said something profane and I shifted up into Nirvana“. ‘Dead Of Night’ is a bass heavy stomper and ‘Message In A Bottle’ picks up the pace with guitar and keyboard duels as the album closes with ‘Fighting Man’ , a song of epic proportions as it rises and falls musically and vocally, closing with banshee like screams.
The 1980 release of Glory Road was not as strong as Mr. Universe but still contained many highpoints. Opener ‘Unchain Your Brain’ is a highly energized animal with trademark keyboard and guitar duels followed by the funky, almost barroom blues of ‘Are You Sure?’. The curious doo wop rhythms and double tracked vocals make ‘Time And Again’ an interesting hard rock ballad. ‘No Easy Way’ is a good old fashioned headbanger as the killer choruses build up to Bernie’s immense solo. Ian’s knack for tricky lyrics crop up yet again in the melodic rock of ‘Sleeping On The Job’ and the grandiose ‘On The Rocks’ is just mind blowing. The two minute keyboard intro precedes a huge riff as the song heads off into ‘Mr. Universe’ like time changes. ‘If You Believe Me’ is a sumptuous heavy ballad with a roaring vocal. Colin is given the chance to shine with a solo keyboard slot midway. The song was written at a soundcheck and played live that night. ‘Running White Faced City Boy’ picks up the pace with dominating stabs of keyboards and the album closes with the bass heavy ‘Nervous’.
Glory Road came with a free album called ‘For Gillan Fans Only’ that certainly lives up to its title that sounds like it was done in one take in the studio with ad libs left in here and there. Highpoints are ‘Your Mother Was Right’ with Ian counting the band in to a smouldering hard rocker. “And now on the drums, Mick Underwood” precedes the mini instrumental ‘Red Watch’. ‘Abbey Of Thelema’ soothes with sparse keys and vocals in the verses as the band heavy up the choruses. ‘Come Tomorrow’ is a full on bruiser with thundering bass runs followed by the quirky keyboard drenched instrumental ‘Dragon’s Tongue’. Standout track is the lunacy of ‘Egg Timer’. Its a piano lead lounge music parody with Bernie kicking it into life midway with a frenetic guitar solo.
1981 saw the release of Future Shock and gave the band their highest UK album chart position, reaching number two. The title track opens proceedings with a bass heavy almost NWOBHM feel by its raw power. Other choice cuts are the Uriah Heep tinged ‘Night Ride Out Of Phoenix’ that smoulders along with Bernie’s strat wailing throughout. ‘(The Ballad Of) The Lucitania Express’ zips along on a joint guitar/keyboard riff with more clever wordsmiths from Ian, like “Pass the bottle from under your poncho, I’m gonna drink till I fall unconcho”. The tongue in cheek ditty ‘No Laughing In Heaven’ has simple but effective grooves backed by a preacher like vocal delivery. The Lieber/Stoller classic of ‘New Orleans’ is given a heavy revamp and there is no pause for breath as Ian pushes his voice to another level in the drum driven turbocharged ‘Bite The Bullet’. ‘If I Sing Softly’ is a beautiful from a whisper to a scream ballad and the light to heavy dynamics including some deft piano work in ‘For Your Dreams’ is a strong way to end the album.
Double Trouble, so named as it is a double album was released in 1981. One studio album of new material and a live album. It was also the first studio album to feature Janick Gers (ex-White Spirit) on guitar following the departure of Bernie Torme. Opener ‘I’ll Rip Your Spine Out’ is as potent as the title suggests as Janick lets rip with intense riffing and Ian gives a spleen venting vocal. ‘Restless’ is a fine example of chart bothering heavy metal with some great hooks and a chorus that gets under your skin from the off. ‘Men Of War’ is all about the jaw dropping vocals highlighting that this is one of Ian’s strongest albums. Four tracks in and still no sign of a ballad as ‘Sunbeam’ gives out more commercial hard rock vibes and should have been a single release back in the day. ‘Nightmare’ lets down the side a bit but is saved by some great choruses. ‘Hadely Bop Bop’ also does what the title suggests as its uptempo boogie grooves get the feet tapping. ‘Life Goes On’ is almost progressive rock with a gritty vocal and the album closes on a high with nine minute epic ‘Born To Kill’. The mood is set by a lengthy piano/vocal intro that builds into a solid pounder as the needle goes into the red during the feisty mid section.
The accompanying live album is mainly made up from their set at the Reading Festival on August 29th 1981 along with ‘If You Believe Me’ from the Rainbow Theatre in London, March 4th 1981, featuring Bernie Torme on guitar. Highlights from the album are a heavy run through of ‘No Easy Way’ and a spine tingling ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’.
1982 saw the release of Magic, one of the bands’ most cohesive albums which sadly proved to be their last as Ian broke up the band after the resulting tour due to vocal problems. ‘What’s The Matter’ is a manic opener even by their standards but ‘Bluesy Blue Sea’ is more laid back as it surges along with a barked vocal. ‘Caught In A Trap’ is a bit of a filler track saved by Janick’s guitar solo. In complete contrast, ‘Long Gone’ is superb! The melodies wash all over you and it was rightly released as a single. ‘Driving Me Wild’ is a mid tempo chugger as album highlight ‘Demon Driver’ smashes along after a haunting intro. There is no let up as Janick piles on the riffs to close the song. ‘Living A Lie’ is a touching, heartfelt ballad and ‘You’re So Right’ keeps the emotions running high on its uplifting grooves. A heavy cover of ‘Living For The City’ gives Ian the chance for one last powerful vocal.
Gillan band line up :-
Ian Gillan – Lead vocals.
Colin Towns – Keyboards.
John McCoy – Bass guitar.
Mick Underwood – Drums.
Bernie Torme – Guitar on Mr.Universe, Glory Road and Future Shock.
Janick Gers – Guitar on Double Trouble and Magic.