One of the headliners was Atomic Rooster, with Carl Palmer on drums.
As this was one of my favorite bands, I decided to watch them from the FOH position instead of the side of the stage.
About one minute into the band’s set, the reverberation of the hall became the dominant signal as the PA system died.
The soundman jumped up and started checking connections real quick. The audience was getting very impatient, and an uneasy air filled the room (I’d never seen a riot at this stage of my career).
As this was my first overseas gig, I was very nervous about assisting the troubleshooting team; after all, I’d only been in the business for 10 minutes.
The crowd was now getting ugly and the system was the same make as mine so I offered my services. “Go ahead,” said the engineer. Thirty seconds later the rig fired up, the crowd settled down and I saw one of the best bands of the ‘70s play a great set: back to the dressing room to celebrate.
One of the great things about Germany is that great beer is in abundance; it was also free to the crew. Unfortunately food was not free, and if I remember correctly, unavailable. Free beer and no food is not a good combination for a 24-hour festival.
Back in the dressing room, shared between my band and others from the same agency, enterprising musical discussions were taking place. The door opened and a slender male walked into the room.
“Hey,” I said. “Who are you? Are you with Principal Edwards?”
“Yes,” the visitor replied, and then he left, only to return a minute later with two cases. I asked him if he was the lighting guy for Principal Edwards, which he affirmed. I asked a series of technical queries but received no response.
“Can you tune a guitar?” he finally asked, handing me a Stratocaster.
“Of course,” I responded, when in fact I could not. So I held the guitar, strummed the strings, listened to the notes and pronounced, “this one’s good.”
While I was doing this, he was putting on a black silk shirt with a laced-up neck. I noticed the room had gone quiet—too quiet when a dozen musicians are present. He handed me a second guitar, and I repeated the effort—strum, listen, and pronounce it in tune.
He pushed open the door, held it with his foot, picked up both guitars, and left.
The bass player from my band, Pete Becket (more recently with Player) asked, “Mick, do you know who that was?”
“Well, it wasn’t the flippin’ lighting guy from Principal Edwards,” I responded.
Ritchie Blackmore, circa 1977. (click to enlarge)
“Mick,” he replied, “That was Ritchie Blackmore.”
In the span of two milliseconds I went from feeling as good as you can possibly feel (like when you’re mixing a top talent, they do something outstanding, and chills go down your spine) to as bad as you can possibly feel (like leaving the channel muted after a clothing change). I had messed with the headline act, and in Europe, at that time, no one was bigger than Deep Purple.
Ritchie Blackmore, Ritchie Blackmore—how could I have taunted one of the guitar gods and not known it? This wasn’t fair; there should be a warning label about the dangers of being burned.
But before I actually crashed at the absolute bottom of my world, the door opened slightly, and a black-silk covered arm snaked through the opening, extending an open hand of friendship.
We shook hands and he said something like “Hey, nobody’s given me that much grief in years, thanks.”
I exhaled, breathed a huge sigh of relief, and went out front to watch the show. And yes, they were incredible.
Mick Whelan has designed and commissioned touring and installed sound systems for more than 30 years. His credits include Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, the Beach Boys, Carole King, and many others.