February 12, 2008 / 12:45 AM / 10 years ago

Kremlin rocks to Deep Purple

<p>Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister and presidential candidate Dmitry Medvedev (C), who is also chairman of Gazprom, and Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller (2nd R) pose for a picture with English hard rock band Deep Purple after a ceremony marking Gazprom's 15th anniversary in Moscow February 11, 2008. REUTERS/Dmitry Astakhov/RIA Novosti</p>

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin rocked to the sound of British band Deep Purple on Monday in a gig with a difference.

The fans wore furs, suits or war medals rather than jeans and T-shirts; they arrived in black chauffeured limousines not buses; and the front row of the audience included Russia’s likely next president Dmitry Medvedev and a top former KGB spy.

The occasion was the 15th birthday party of Russia’s giant firm Gazprom, which flew over the veteran British hard rock band to top a gala evening of entertainment -- and to keep the boss happy.

Gazprom chairman Medvedev, who is also the Kremlin’s candidate in Russia’s presidential election next month, has told interviewers Deep Purple is his favorite band. Officials at the world’s biggest gas company are eager to please him.

Deep Purple, once dubbed the world’s loudest band by the Guinness Book of Records, seemed almost lost in the vastness of the State Kremlin Palace which seats 6,000 people and boasts one of the world’s largest stages.

As they belted out some of their 1960s and 1970s classics, including their signature hit “Smoke on the Water,” the audience of mostly middle-aged men sat impassively in suits and ties, with only the odd shake of the head to indicate they were listening.

Attempts by the five-man band’s front man Ian Gillan to encourage audience participation led to the kind of slow, steady handclap which used to reverberate around the wood-paneled hall during Soviet Communist Party congresses.

It was left to a small group of students and young executives sitting at the sides of the hall to wave their hands above their heads and make the odd whistle or shout.

For most of the band’s one-hour set, the guest of honor Medvedev sat stiffly in the centre of the front row, exchanging the odd word with Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller, his head occasionally twitching.

Towards the end Medvedev became a bit more animated, making the odd handclap and tapping his feet but staying rooted to his seat.

A few places to his left, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB spy, stared at the stage impassively.

Current Kremlin chief President Vladimir Putin, perhaps mindful of Moscow’s poor diplomatic relations with London, did not stay to hear the British rockers at all.

Putin, who prefers patriotic Russian songs to foreign heavy metal, opened the gala evening congratulating Gazprom’s 430,000 workers on their achievements and hailing the company’s market value, which he put at $350 billion.

But after watching an opera singer, a banjo-strumming quartet and a bald crooner with a moustache sing their way through Russian classics, the Kremlin leader disappeared after the first interval and did not return for Deep Purple.

The State Kremlin Palace is a vast 1960s building inside the Kremlin complex constructed at the height of Soviet power. It was here that then-leader Nikita Khrushchev gave a different meaning to the phrase “heavy metal.”

During a Communist Party Congress held there in October 1961, Khrushchev ordered the testing of what was then the world’s most powerful nuclear bomb, a device nicknamed “Big Ivan” whose shockwave circled the earth three times.

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