On an evening already rife with musical talent, Jon Lord shared the stage with Rick Wakeman for the pair’s brand new composition It’s Not As Big As It Was (allegedly about the music biz although it was preceeded by jokes about old age and prostate problems). This was without a doubt The Sunflower Jam’s musical crown jewel benefitting the good cause of helping children suffering from cancer. Donations are still welcome.
This is Rasmus Heide’s report:
Jon Lord appears onstage after almost an hour of excellent music from the likes of Danny Bowes (Thunder), Gary Brooker, Joe Bonamassa and Newton Faulkner. These gentlemen (and woman) have entertained the crowd with blues and rock classics that fare very well, particularly Gary Brooker’s rendition of A Whiter Shade of Pale and Joe Bonamassa’s Thrill is Gone. However, Jon will proceed to seize the show and push up the excitement level several notches.
“One of the greatest keyboardists in rock’n’roll, Mr. Jon Lord!” Joe Bonamassa introduces the maestro and kicks off a slowly evolving Ballad of John Henry. Bonamassa’s bluesrock signature tune is the perfect choice for the two masters to pool their forces. Building its riff to a roar before dipping to the verse – and then lifting itself up to the menacing chorus, Jon’s swirling Hammond backdrop has touhes of the quietly contemplative work he did for the band Ride some years ago.
Standing at the edge of the stage – having pushed the organ chair to a side – Jon is in great shape and form; focused and well prepared for what will turn into an absolute musical feast celebrating almost every aspect of his musical prowess – and in the stately old Royal Albert Hall where his work first came to prominence in 1969 – and again in 1999.
Bonamassa’s John Henry is taken down to a shimmer and Bonamassa steps up to the theremin to make it squeal eerily to the fascinated crowd – until Jon Lord gently takes over. His solo is stormy and intense, developing to a massive Hammond crescendo full of his trademark wails and runs. Bonamassa moves closer and teases Jon into a guitar-organ chase the likes of which we’ve not heard for nearly 20 years… Majestic and spine-shivering.
Thanking Bonamassa, Jon introduces the next piece as Bourree from his Sarabande album. The contrast is tangible. With the evening’s musical director Paul Wickens on synthesizer, Jon handles piano and then Hammond for the solo. Anna Phoebe adds a particularly mean solo violin to the piece, expanding again the range of musical flavours of an already boundary pushing evening.
“I’ve got a big ask of you. Not a big ass – although it used to be bigger – but a big ask. Into every show a quiet song must fall,” explains Jon Lord before presenting ”the rather wonderful” Steve Balsamo to sing Jon’s most popular solo piece. Balsamo delivers a particularly tender and confident Pictured Within – in his element, gazing out at the crowd, inspiring pin drop silence. Lacking the sweeping string section of its standard orchestral arrangement, in its place Anna Phoebe displays immaculate delicatesse on her fiddle. The piece is a gorgeous contrast to the previous rackets and again, Jon Lord’s musicality proves its extraordinary range.
Lord-Wakeman’s world premiere
Warm hugs are exchanged as Jon introduces Rick Wakeman as “a new old friend. I’ve known this guy since God’s dog was a puppy, but never quite got to know him. The rather unique Rick Wakeman.”
Rick disspells any pretentiousness by cracking a joke about his own sexual debut behind the Royal Albert Hall (“It wasn’t very good. It never is when you’re on your own!”). His first piece is Beatles‘ Eleanor Rigby played by himself Prokofiev-style on bombastic, staccato synth layered with effects.
Then he invites Jon Lord back onstage. “Last Wednesday Jon and I met down at the old folk’s home…,” quips Wakeman as an introduction to the evening’s musical world premiere. Unable to decide which of their own pieces to do together, they decided instead to write a new piece together. The couple share the microphone for this introduction and a bit of smart repartee. All good fun.
Then the musical fun. A stomping, blistering, bombastic band work-out stacked high with soaring keyboards including solos for Hammond organ (Jon) and Mini Moog (Rick). It’s Not As Big As It Was is everything prog anyone could have wished for – and a wee bit more. Wakeman’s bank of keyboards on the right side of the stage, Jon’s Hammond near the edge on the left, the cameras zoom in to show the finger work on the big screen above the stage.
Murray Gould does a short guitar solo, but apart from this, Micky Moody (rhythm guitar), Jerry Brown (drums) and Nick Fyffe (bass) put down a firm foundation for the two protagonists to excel over. And excel they do for around 7 minutes or so. Jon hand signals the band into the various sections, seemingly without need as everyone nails the piece effortlessly.
Afterwards, Wakeman says how excellent it is to work with Jon and promises more to come. Next up is a rendition of David Bowie’s Life on Mars with Newton Faulkner on vocals, Jon Lord on Hammond and Wakeman on piano – and the house band. This epic song rounds off the evening’s first 2 hours of music.
After a short turnover – with Bill Bailey entertaining everybody with his 6-necked guitar and an incredibly musical organ sketch – Deep Purple take to the stage. Save for Purple’s gear, everything else has been removed from the stage but the Hammond organ Jon has been playing previously. It will remain unused.
Purple zoom through an effective 40-minute set that includes two immaculate guest spots from Joe Bonamassa on Maybe I’m a Leo and Smoke On the Water. The band struts their stuff in their usual fashion, with Ian Gillan in particularly fine form on When a Blind Man Cries. And suddenly it is all over.
Bill Bailey’s mad cowbell intro to Smoke on the Water provides the evening’s best musical joke (with Ian Gillan cracking up behind him), but it is Jon Lord’s carefully crafted journey-de-force through styles and time that serves as the evening’s most musically rewarding experience, perfectly topping up a very giving evening.
The music and the players:
House band section:
Newton Faulkner, Margo Buchanan, Danny Bowes, Gary Brooker, Joe Bonamassa + The Sunflower Jam house band (Paul Wickens – keyboards; Micky Moody – guitar; Murray Gould – guitar; Nick Fyffe – bass; Jerry Brown – drums).
Jon Lord & Rick Wakeman:
Who Killed John Henry – Joe Bonamassa, Jon Lord, house band
Bourree – Jon Lord, Anna Phoebe, house band
Pictured Within – Jon Lord, Steve Balsamo, Anna Phoebe
Eleanor Rigby – Rick Wakeman
It’s Not As Big As It Was – Jon Lord, Rick Wakeman, house band
Life on Mars – Jon Lord, Rick Wakeman, Newton Faulkner, Anna Phoebe, house band
Maybe I’m a Leo (w/Joe Bonamassa)
Strange Kind of Woman
When a Blind Man Cries
Well Dressed Guitar
Smoke On the Water (w/Joe Bonamassa, Bill Bailey, Jack Moore)