If Sunflower Jam 2011 was the unofficial crowning glory for Jon and his career, then this year’s Sunflower Jam at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Sunday Sep 16 was both the wake and the afterparty. Jon’s singer Steve Balsamo paid a moving tribute to the missing maestro, and everybody else made sure the music stayed vibrant.
Rasmus Heide’s report:
Planet Rock‘s Nicky Horne introduced the evening’s musical programme and pointed out that all of the music would be dedicated to ‘someone who sadly can’t be here, Jon Lord.’
The Temperance Movement opened the show followed by Margo Buchanan (who has also sung backing vocals for Jon), Brian May (of Queen), Uli Jon Roth (ex-Scorpions) and classical tenor Alfie Boe who did – among other things – a hair raising version of Led Zeppelin‘s Rock And Roll.
Then Steve Balsamo and violinist Anna Phoebe entered the stage. Steve had mentioned he was going to say a few words for Jon and would try not to cry.
Explaining how he’d first met Jon at one of the early Sunflower Jams where he sang a few songs, a couple of weeks later Jon had given him a call:
‘Dear boy, I quite liked what you did, do you fancy coming on tour with me? We can travel the world, we can have some great fun, drink some great wine and meet some lovely musicians.’
Steve replied ‘Yeah! Let’s go!’
– So for the last five years or so I’ve toured with Jon along with Kasia Laska, a friend of mine, and Doogie White who’s with us tonight, Steve said and also mentioned that ‘the beautiful Anna Phoebe’ came out to play on Jon’s tour of Russia last year.
Then the Albert hall listened in moved silence as Steve read out his letter to Jon:
(click to open/read – report continues below)
Along the way Steve made little pauses to compose himself. It was obviously a difficult situation for him, but his warm message of thanks shined beautifully. And then came the song.
Wix Wickens on piano recreated wonderfully what Jon used to play. Anna Phoebe did a violin solo and Brian Auger came in with snatches of Hammond. Jon’s own Hammond organ in actual fact. More on this later.
It was all very emotional. Not in the least because as the music played, the large video screens showed slow motion footage of Jon onstage throughout the years; with Purple at the California Jam; rocking the Hammond on the Perfect Strangers tour; at the piano in the 2000s; and rehearsing the Concerto in 1999.
Watching Jon on the screens, the sad reality came up hard; tonight was not the first time that so many people had gathered because of Jon – but it was the first time we were all there without him.
Mixed with words of honour from Jon’s peers, the footage finished with a splendid moment from 1999 where Jon spots the camera and silently mouths for it to ‘Go away!’ In true spirit of Jon, the tribute ended on a high note with smiles and even laughter from the crowd.
After another moving song – this time from The Big C, a triumphant choir of men and women currently or previously battling cancer – the mood changed again. Mark King (of Level 42) did a short set and was then followed by the evening’s ‘other house band’; Ian Paice joined at various times by Led Zeppelin‘s John Paul Jones (bass), Brian May (guitar and vocals), Brian Auger (Hammond), Iron Maiden‘s Bruce Dickinson, Alice Cooper, Uli Jon Roth (guitar), Micky Moody (ex-Whitesnake, guitar), Nick Fyffe (Roger Glover‘s paternity leave bass understudy in Purple a couple of years ago) and Alfie Boe.
Black Night was an exciting all-out jam from Paicey, Jones, Auger and May with Dickinson doing his best Gillan-ish vocals. This was quickly followed by Brian May on vocals for Since You Been Gone – the Rainbow track he had often done with his Brian May Band, which counted the late Cozy Powell on drums.
Alice Cooper pushed the Albert Hall crowd into full-out party mode with stupendous versions of Elected and School’s Out, and then everybody gathered onstage for the grand finale of Smoke On The Water. John Paul Jones opted for cowbell on this, and musical director Wix Wickens strolled the stage, appointing solo spots to everyone, concluding with an understandably crowd-screaming drum solo from Ian Paice.
Thus ended Sunflower Jam 2012 on high note, after it had paid suitable tribute to one of its own. Jon was one of Sunflower’s original backers and most staunch supporters. It had been an evening almost like that Deep Purple concert Jon himself once introduced with the words; ‘we’re going to start really quiet – and then send you home deaf!’
Worthy of a special mention is Brian Auger, who did a fantastic job throughout. Ian Paice had mentioned how Auger would fly in from L.A. to take care of Hammond duties, and playing Jon’s old Hammond, it was like the instrument remembered. However, with all due respect, it was also apparent just how brilliant Jon’s playing was, completely unique and impossible to recreate.