On This Day (March 28)…Kharkiv, Meet Mark VIII!

…Memorable for Ian Gillan donning a tutu he found in a dressing room cupboard and proclaiming himself “Deep Purple in Frock”, for the gear arriving at 7pm and somehow the show starting at 8pm, for an old apparatchik single-handedly trying to make the young audience sit back down during the set with such zeal that he had a seizure, and next day on the way back to the airport my asking about a statue ”Is that Lenin?”, Roger Glover replying, “Well it’s definitely not McCartney”.

Don Airey recalling the concert. Retrieved from here.

Deep Purple performed on this day in 2002 at the Kharkiv Opera House in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Photo from the show. Retrieved from here.

Deep Purple were at this time on their first tour with Don Airey as an official member. He had joined the band on a temporary basis the previous summer after Jon Lord sustained a knee injury. With Lord’s retirement, Airey took over full time, and has been with the band since, only missing a single concert during his tenure with the group.

This date in Kharkiv was the second of two dates in Ukraine. This tour was only the second time the band had visited Ukraine, with their first concert there occurring in 1996. It was also their first time ever performing Kharkiv. They have since performed in Kharkiv only once.

This tour saw the group implementing some of their then-recent material, including “Ted the Mechanic”, the somewhat less-played “The Aviator”, and the brand-new “The Well-Dressed Guitar”. They also performed some of their less-played older songs, notably “When a Blind Man Cries” and “Fools“.

While in Kharkiv, Deep Purple also held a press conference. The images, some of the first official ones with Don Airey, were subsequently used on posters. One of the most famous images of the tour occurred there courtesy of Ian Gillan.

Retrieved from here.

Fantastic, great, incredible, unbelievably, magnificent!

Alex Kipot, an interpreter for the group during their time in Kharkiv, about the performance. Retrieved from here.

The band apparently suffered from some equipment issues, which according to a note from their Ukrainian interpreter forced them to delay their travel to the Baltic nations.

The reviews for the concert that I was able to read were overwhelmingly positive. Many made note of the emotional impact of seeing Deep Purple, who were well-regarded during the era of the Soviet Union, in Kharkiv. One reviewer also noted that Don Airey mixed classical standards from Mozart and Bach with Ukrainian and Russian folk songs, as he commonly does when playing in local environments.

This concert is known to have been recorded at least in part, and is in circulation online.

The Venue

This was the first–and due to recent events will be the only–time Deep Purple performed at the Kharkiv Opera House. It was initially built in the 1920s and inaugurated with a performance of Modest Mussorgsky’s Sorochyntsy Fair in 1925. It had two halls, one which seated around 1500 people and one which seated around 400. While not made clear which hall Purple was in, one can assume it was the larger of the two.

Interior of the theater. Retrieved from here.

While the hall apparently specialized in Ukrainian and Russian works, some Italian opera was performed as well. Not many rock stars made it to the Kharkiv Opera House. Setlist.fm lists only Deep Purple and Nazareth, the latter whom appeared there twice.

The opera house was severely damaged during the 2022 attack on Ukraine by Russia in early March, when Freedom Square was hit by missiles. When Deep Purple sent out a joint letter condemning Russian acts of aggression, Don Airey specifically mentioned the destruction of the opera house.

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