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Rob Laing

The 1977 Rainbow gig when Ritchie Blackmore played one of his greatest performances – after two long nights in a police cell

Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore performing with British rock group Rainbow, USA, May 1978

The problem with musical mavericks is things can just as easily go south as stratospheric. Perhaps Ritchie Blackmore mused on that as he spent two nights in a Vienna police cell after the band's Austrian show to a nasty turn on 18th October 1977. An unforeseen circumstance that put Rainbow's next tour stop in Munich in serious danger.

“There was a problem with the hall manager; he had an attitude and I think when we went onstage, the audience got a bit rowdy and this manager was being a bit of a dick," remembered Rainbow bassist Bob Daisley in an interview for the Rainbow Live In Munich DVD. "I think he put the house lights on, which really p****d Ritchie off. Ritchie lashed out with his foot… and he caught him right on the jaw and down he went"

Rainbow completed their eight-song set in hall D of the Wiener Stadthalle venue. But before the band and crew could get out of Dodge the police had been called with sniffer dogs in tow. According to Daisley, it was this police asset that foiled Blackmore's attempts to hide in one of the drum cases and be smuggled out of the ensuing chaos. Sniffed out, the guitarist was handcuffed and jailed "for a couple of days". 

The crowd's patience was rewarded with one of the most compelling guitar performances captured in rock 'n 'roll history

Classic timing. Rainbow's Munich show on 20 October was a big deal; it was due to be filmed by a German broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk for a TV special on its Rockpalast show. “We didn’t know when he was gonna get out or if the tour was gonna end or what was gonna happen," remembers Daisley. "We were supposed to go on around 8.30 or nine o’clock at night and Ritchie had just got out of jail in Vienna and he’d just made it to the gig. We ended up going on at about 11.30 at night… but the audience were very patient.”

That patience was rewarded with one of the most compelling guitar performances captured in rock 'n 'roll history. Arriving for the show in the same clothes he was arrested in, three days of simmering anger in a German police cell seemed to unleash something above Blackmore's usual high standards for the era. Joined by a crack-shot lineup of Daisley, vocal powerhouse Ronnie James Dio, drummer Cozy Powell and keyboardist David Stone; the definitive Rainbow stretched out and hit hard in a masterfully delivered set.

This is a guitarist and his band lost in their own majesty. The achingly beautiful Catch The Rainbow clocks in at over 18 minutes, Man On The Silver Mountain is over 16. Never mind the 27+ odyssey of Still I'm Sad… but time becomes irrelevant here in the world of Rainbow. 

Blackmoore is compelling throughout; a true artist at work with his Strat – nuanced, aggressive, dynamic in melding gentle renaissance flourishes with proto-power metal riffage and wonderful places between them. Deep Purple is understandably a huge part of his legacy, but here it feels we're seeing Blackmore's musical vision in its clearest form and at his creative peak as a guitarist. 

He clearly felt the power, though in a not uncommon gesture for the Weston Super Mare-born showman in black, he remained onstage at the end of the set closer Do You Close Your Eyes to destroy his black CBS Strat in a hail of feedback.

He would later be fined $5,000 for his Austrian dalliance, while the widely bootlegged Rainbow Live In Munich would finally see a 2006 official release as a DVD and live album. A fair exchange for rock history. 

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