"The scent of cremated steaks and exotic gateaux lingers in the air": Revisiting the secret launch of Deep Purple's Perfect Strangers

Deep Purple in 1984
(Image credit: George Bodnar Archive/IconicPix)

Bangkok. Barcelona. Beijing. Berlin. Bedford?! Deep Purple have always been a contrary band but this is pushing contrariness to the limit. It’s October 1984 and I’m travelling in cackling PR Roland Hyams’s knackered old Saab 900 up the M1 to the markedly unremarkable capital of Bedfordshire, namely Bedford. My mission is to interview all five members of the reunited Deep Purple Mk II. In a pub. In Bedford. 

The official word is that they want to rehearse their live show in an unassuming location, away from big-city scrutiny. So it is that I find myself loitering inside a Berni Inn (Google it), with the scent of cremated steaks and exotic gateaux lingering in the air. 

Hyams ushers me into an annexe full of mock Tudor beams, horse brasses and paintings of fox-hunting scenes. There are no tables or chairs; no laminated menus offering Succulent Golden Fried Fillets Of Plaice. Instead, the place is packed to the gills with musical instruments and amplifiers. Thick woollen blankets are stapled to window frames to absorb noise and keep Bedford’s glistening sunlight at bay. Tellingly, there is a plaque above the entrance that reads: ‘The Antico Room’. 

Now, a lot of water has flowed under the bludgeon bridge since Mk II’s acrimonious break-up in June 1973, shortly after the release of the Who Do We Think We Are album. The NWOBHM has come and gone. The likes of Mötley Crüe and Metallica – plus a bloodthirsty new combo called W.A.S.P. – are currently in the ascendancy. That’s not to mention a recently released album titled Purple Rain (no relation).  

Still, to compare Messrs Gillan, Blackmore, Lord, Glover and Paice to the aforementioned plaque – i.e. to describe them as ‘antiques’ – is harsh (Jon Lord is the eldest of the quintet, at 43.) Despite the lure of filthy lucre – each member reportedly pocketing $1 million to partake in the reunion – the vibe in the Bedford badlands is overwhelmingly positive. Purple have a point to prove; a burning desire to inject a touch of class into mid-80s rock’n’roll. 

As Lord states: “Most of the modern-day metal bands have taken Purple, Sabbath and Zeppelin as mentors, starting points… but in doing so have somehow become very insular and narrow-minded. They don’t seem to be going anywhere.” 

Ritchie Blackmore adds: “Without wishing to revel in my own artistic values, there is an art to playing heavy music. It’s no use just being loud. There’s a trick to it. There are dynamics and certain progressions that you can play. You don’t hear much of that today.” 

So to Perfect Strangers, Mk II’s comeback album. Does it live up to the hype? Opening with Knocking At Your Back Door, the band step into their groove with deceptive ease and nary a creak of the knee joints. The dense Under The Gun follows, Nobody’s Home keeps the temperature at boiling point, and Mean Streak recalls the lightning-fast glories of Speed King. 

The brooding and, yes, Zep-like title track is the undisputed highlight of Side Two. It remains a mainstay of Purple’s live set-list to this day. But – here’s a question for ya – is there a single song here to rival the mighty Woman From Tokyo, from 1973’s maligned Who Do We Think We Are? Let the discussion commence. 

To conclude, Perfect Strangers was, and remains, neither a major revelation nor crushing disappointment. It reached No.6 in the UK chart, No.17 in the US. The classic Purple line-up returned not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with something in between. We’d say a ‘wang’, but that would be a tad too Ted Nugent for comfort.

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.