Ian Gillan: Steve Byrd (vocals, guitar); Colin Towns (vocals, keyboards); Ian Gillan (vocals, congas); John McCoy (bass guitar); Peter Barnacle (drums).
The band that took Ian Gillan's side at London's Marquee Club in December 1978 was far, far different than the group that had accompanied him onto that stage a mere six months before. In the interim, the former Deep Purple frontman had deep-sixed his own Ian Gillan Band and tossed his jazz-rock fusion sound overboard. Retaining only keyboardist Colin Towns, the singer swiftly enrolled drummer Peter Barnacle and a pair of Zzebras -- guitarist Steve Byrd and bassist John McCoy -- and christened the new-look group Gillan. They debuted at the Reading Festival in August, and by the time the band hit the Marquee stage Gillan was already a stunningly tight unit. Opening with a new number, the blistering "Secret of the Dance," Ian Gillan deliberately drew a thick line through his recent past. At times the song almost strays into Mot”rhead territory, the ferocious "Message in a Bottle" storms between the twin peaks of hard rock and hardcore, while "Back in the Game"'s stop-start rhythm pushes towards post-punk. "So Low" was a showcase for McCoy, the soaring "Tokyo Flight" highlighting Byrd's phenomenal guitar licks. Towns' moment of glory came on "Dead of Night," his stellar jazz solos a potent reminder of what had been. For although Ian Gillan had dramatically shifted his sound, he wasn't turning his back on his career. A trio of numbers dated back to his Purple days, with the band performing an emotive version of "Child in Time" and an incendiary "Smoke on the Water," and closing the show with an exuberant "Woman from Tokyo." McCoy and Barnacle are the Rock of Gibraltar over which Towns' exhilarating keyboard dances and Byrd's guitar launches into extensive soaring, searing solos so savage that they eventually caused almost irreparable damage to his hands and wrists. But even his phenomenal work didn't stop Ritchie Blackmore from stealing the show when he took the stage for the encore, "Lucille," although Towns attempts to thwart his theft at every turn. No wonder the crowd screams itself hoarse at the end. The sound quality, while not pristine, is good enough to capture every thrill and musical chill the band delivered; Gillan at their headiest of live heights. ~ Jo-Ann Greene