Deep Purple at Knebworth – Mud and Bottles in ’85

Deep Purple Knebworth 85

It rained all day…and Meat Loaf was on the bill. Little wonder people lost their patience.

The comeback concert that Deep Purple played at Knebworth in 1985 went down in history as one of the muddiest rock concerts of all time.

As Blackadder once remarked about a girl with the worst personality in Germany – that’s up against some pretty stiff competition. It rained all day. The mud was six inches deep. Chemical toilets were in their infancy. You get the picture.

Luckily I listened to it all on the radio in the comfort of my own home.

The same year as Live Aid, the BBC for once excelled itself with another outside broadcast of a rock concert, and this time I had my tape recorder at the ready.

Not just any tape either. In anticipation of a perhaps seminal moment of rock history, I had splashed out a couple of quid for a Chrome tape – Chrome being apparently better quality, albeit I never understood why, if they were that good, they needed their own special button on tape players to eliminate the background hiss. I digress.

Radio One’s Friday Rock Show rather splendidly had decided to record all the support bands too. In these pre-internet days, you couldn’t look up an album review on Amazon or hear a snippet on iTunes or wherever, so buying a bad album was a genuine and potentially expensive risk. For someone with limited cash and limited knowledge of whether Mountain was a great new band or an old bunch of has-beens (the latter, I decided) this was an unmissable opportunity to hear some live bands for the first time.

The broadcast started late evening: the “stellar” line up was Mama’s Boys, Mountain, Blackfoot, UFO, Meatloaf and Deep Purple, at least half of whom were pretty obscure even then. The Scorpions also played the gig, but had a live album out, so chose not to be part of the broadcast, probably quite sensibly given my own recording activities may well have been replicated up and down the country.

The whole radio broadcast went on until 2 or 3am and I’ll confess to finding it tricky to stay awake during Mountain and Blackfoot’s sets. So as not to keep the household awake, I plugged in my dad’s headphones and huddled close to the stereo whilst checking whether the tape might run out mid-song.

By the end of the night I had heard five bands for the first time (how often has that happened?).

I had also heard Meatloaf, although I couldn’t make out which bit was the sound of him being bottled offstage.

The ritual of “bottling” was an interesting phenomenon of the seventies and eighties, and is the reason why organisers pour beer into flimsy plastic cups at gigs nowadays (although why it took fifteen years for them to realise this I don’t know – the Panda Pop induced carnage at Marillion’s Milton Keynes Bowl show in 1986 was an extraordinary sight to behold – there must have been a thousand bottles in the air at any one time for a good hour or so).

Essentially a way for a heavy rock crowd to express displeasure with bands that played with too many keyboards, “bottling” involved the crowd collectively throwing (usually) empty plastic bottles onstage to annoy the performer (to be fair – usually Meatloaf) to the point where they were annoyed enough to cut the set short. It relies upon a temperamental artist and a collective decision from 40,000 people that it would be more entertaining to see the performer throw a hissy fit than see them perform.

The only time I saw it backfire on the audience was when Motörhead played Donington in 1986. After ducking a well-aimed  missile, Lemmy stopped his set, told the protagonist that he hadn’t worked for twenty years for some idiot (he may have used stronger language) to use him as target practice, and would someone in the crowd please take matters into their own hands if they saw it happen again?

He continued his set unmolested. Moral of the story? Don’t mess with Lemmy.

Record #17 – Deep Purple – Speed King



Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. That Knebworth gig sounds it was a great day, even in all the rain. Blackfoot was one of those bands I would have loved to have seen but never have. I did go to Donnington 1986 and remember the fireworks narrowingly miss Lemmy. I remember his referring to the culprit as an a**hole. Lemmy was better on that day than when I had seen him in New York in December 1985. All he did through the entire set was complain about the sound. An account of that gig appears in my book Rock And Roll Children. The link is on my blog.

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  2. I can’t help feeling that Adam Lambert is at risk of finding out what being bottled offstage feels like when Queen play the Sonisphere festival at Knebworth this year. Not that we approve of that sort of thing….

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  3. Knebworth 1985 was one of the best concerts ever, Purple blew the rest of the bill away, Donington 86? All I remember is the terrible sound quality.

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  4. Loved Knebworth that year Blackfoot, UFO, Scorpions and Deep Purple where all excellent. Who could forget Meat Loaf with a leg in plaster slipping over on the wet stage . It rained virtually all day but who cared , fond memories .

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  5. I was there, but I don’t remember the mud being as bad as it was this Saturday at Guilfest!

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  6. Nice one.. Good memories.. Was at a business friend’s
    wedding last weekend and at the reception they played Smoke on the
    water pretty much all the time..had no idea he loved DP and so
    reminded me of that day I went to Knebworth.. Was in my first car..
    A banana yellow Renault 5 that ran on 2.5 of the intended 4
    cylinders!!, think may have only had my provisional licence, but
    that was cool..in those days the law didn’t apply to students
    apparently 😉 Was my first rock concert and was a bit in awe..
    Remember the other acts like Meatloaf, UFO and Mountain..think was
    their ditty that Weekend World used as their signature tune back in
    the day.. Don’t remember Loaf’s plaster or The Scorpions as later
    really got into their stuff, but there was a lot to take in for a
    firat timer. Do remember the bottles flying around.. Some or most
    containing various bodily fluids.. One landed near me and threw it
    on hitting a rather big hairy bloke who wasn’t too happy.. Think I
    looked around pretending came from behind. Then were waiting fir
    ages for Purple to come on, but was delayed due to excessive bottle
    throwing.. Tommy Vabce came on and pleaded with the crowd that they
    won’t come on until it stops.. Think at that stage got an
    interesting reply.. Eventually they came on and was great. At the
    time had no idea was a BBC live broadcast, so guess that’s why he
    came on stage to speed things along.. And yes it did rain a lot..
    After the music stopped, was interesting trying to find the car
    again and as did..no joy moving it.. stuck in the mud. Had some
    blokes come along, gave me a push out and sadly covered them in the
    stuff as wheelspun out. As they didn’t look overly pleased I just
    got out while the going was good.. So to those that helped push out
    a conked out banana yellow R5, belated thanks for helping out and
    sincere apologies for covering you head to toe!!

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  7. I drove down from Scotland to see this concert & I was not disappointed. After Queen Live Killers tour this is the best concert I ever attended. It did rain and it was muddy but not crazy muddy like some outdoors events.

    I wasn’t that impressed with Mama’s Boys or Scorpions but I did like Mountain (who I’d always wanted to see) and Blackfoot who are always a superb live band.

    On the approach to the crowd (I turned up a little late) there was what appeared to be a large cloud of flies hovering above. Not so, it was thousands of plastic bottles. Big ones too. Due to having to walk through 80,000 people to get to the bogs, most people had a wee in the empty 2L bottle they’d just finished. Unfortunately some people thought it’d be a laugh to throw them, sans bottle top… don’t ask me how I know.

    There was a long delay for Purple coming on & I don’t know what the original delay was but the crowd was losing the rag waiting and that’s when they started throwing clods of grass & mud onto the stage. This prompted Tommy Vance to request that it stop and everyone, in a very weird moment, all shouted exactly the same thing at exactly the same time… “F*CK OFF”. It was a genuinely freaky experience. To be fair, they was a genuine concern that Purple might not come on. There had been rumors all day of Blackmore stomping off in a snotty fit, so tension in the crowd was understandably high.

    Eventually Purple came on and what a show it was. Truly electrifying performances from all concerned. Topped off by fantastic (for the time) laser graphics & (I believe) the largest fireworks show ever seen in Britain to date. I honestly wondered if it would ever end.

    A superb show only marred by having to sleep the night in the car with my 3 friends and then having to drive all the way back to Glasgow.

    I saw Purple again in Edinburgh, Manchester & Glasgow. Sadly the Glasgow show will be my last.
    Glover & Paice were at the top of their game the whole night but while Don Airey is a fine keyboard player his style doesn’t suit Mk2 Purple and was at best, at odds with the music.

    Finally and most sadly, Ian Gillan’s powers had left him completely. He was dreadfully thin and seemed to have some sort of involuntary movement condition. And he clearly couldn’t sing that well either. He genuinely looked too old & ill to be on stage.

    A bit of a sad end to my Purple concert going.

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  8. I remember it well. I travelled from Scotland too. The overnight bus journey from Edinburgh seemed to take forever and I didn’t sleep a wink. It was quite an ordeal, broken only by a stop for refreshments at Washington Birtley were I forked out for a meal which I wasn’t able to enjoy due to a load of inconsiderate bleeders smoking round me.

    I’ve got many memories from the gig itself. One of the highlights was UFO, an all time favourite band of mine who had just reformed after a two year hiatus. For a couple of glorious minutes while they were playing the sun actually came out.

    I recall Mamas Boys being distinctly lacklustre, apparently they had flown in from a US tour the night before and flew straight back out there afterwards to resume the tour.

    I was impressed with the guitar playing by Leslie West of Mountain though he was pretty fat and immobile on stage. The Scorpions blew me away. I hadn’t known much about them at all but was very impressed and have been a fan ever since.

    I’ll never forget Meat Loaf getting pelted with a non stop barrage of mud bombs. It even got to the stage where I felt sorry for the fat git. I was quite impressed when he did a one handed catch of one, especially as he had a leg in plaster at the time. The cast was under his trousers but you could tell it was there from the way he limped on the stage.

    Deep Purple were superb and yes I remember all the rumours doing the rounds that Ritchie had stormed off. I seem to recall the reason for the delay in them coming on was due to all the water that had accumulated on the stage throughout the day. I remember scores of people frantically trying the brush it all off.

    The mud was horrendous squelching round my ankles all day. For a short while I was able to get some relief by getting onto a pallet that had been left on the ground before being forced off by the weight of the crowd. By the time I got back on the bus my jeans were caked in a layer of mud an inch thick right up to the waist.

    Oh yes, nearly forgot I even snogged a girl there, she was from Wales and it was during Blackfoot I think. Quite a feat for me as I never usually had much luck with the opposite sex back in those days. All factors considered, definitely a day that sticks in the memory even after all these years.

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  9. I can remember the rain and fires that everyone made to keep warm. I still have my original ticket.

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  10. Exactly 30 years ago today. I still recall every second of this day from arriving during Mountain’s set to the firework display and a tractor pulling our coach out of the mud afterwards. I finally arrived home (In Grimsby) mid morning on the Sunday! I remember buying ‘The Anthology’ on vinyl the following week and the four 12″ singles that were released around this time. Happy days but home time flies!

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  11. I’ve just conjured up another memory from the day. Legendary Prog Rockers Emerson Lake & Palmer had just announced their reformation at the time. At Knebworth I saw this studenty type young guy (pudding bowl haircut, glasses, army jacket etc) walking round with a flag he’d made. The flag had the ELP logo and underneath the words “Welcome back my friends and please tour Britain”. I remember being impressed because this guy was obviously a dedicated fan of the band. It was only years later I discovered that “Welcome back my friends” was also the title of an ELP album. Made the guy’s flag even more poignant.

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