n 1978 Ian Gillan had become dissatisfied with the jazz fusion style of his band called the Ian Gillan Band and dissolved it, retaining only keyboard player Colin Towns, and formed a new band entitled Gillan. He added Steve Byrd on guitar, Liam Genocky on drums and John McCoy on bass, and initially pursued a progressive rock direction, releasing their eponymous debut in 1978, although they could only get a record deal in Japan. This recording has subsequently become more widely available as The Japanese Album as a CD re-issue by RPM Records in 1994. Genocky was unable to commit to the band beyond the recording of the album and the band's live debut at the Reading Festival in 1978. He was replaced for the subsequent tour by Pete Barnacle.
The album was sufficiently successful to attract more attention and in 1979 the band secured a European deal with Acrobat Records. Before a new album was recorded, Byrd was replaced by Bernie Torme and Barnacle by drummer Mick Underwood, Ian Gillan's former colleague in Episode Six. Torme's "screaming guitar" sound fundamentally altered the dynamics and Gillan took a more heavy metal direction. This lineup's first album was released as Mr. Universe and contained many re-worked songs from The Japanese Album. The album went straight into the UK album charts but stalled as Acrobat Records went bankrupt. This led to a multi-album deal with Virgin Records.
The band caught the rise of the NWOBHM at just the right time and the group gained popularity in Europe. An important aspect of this rise in popularity was Gillan's recognition of what his audience (mainly teenage males) wanted to hear. Thus did Ian Gillan cynically dumb-down his lyrics: witness "Bright casino lights flicker as you dance. Warm Arabian nights, atmospheres of chance" from Ian Gillan Band days become "Keep Your hand on my lever. Watch it whilst I stab your beaver." on the Mr Universe album.
At Christmas 1979 Ian Gillan turned down an offer from Ritchie Blackmore to join Rainbow, but Blackmore did make a "legendary" guest appearance for Gillan at their Christmas show. It was the first time Ian Gillan and Blackmore had performed together since 1973.
In 1980 Gillan reached the peak of their success, releasing the successful Glory Road album, the initial copies also containing the free album "For Gillan Fans Only". However the band remained unknown in North America and were unable to raise any interest there despite several tours.
By 1981 the band members were becoming disgruntled that their European and Japanese success was not translating into increased financial rewards, and after the Future Shock album, whilst on tour in Germany, Torme walked out just before the band were due to fly back to the UK to appear on Top of the Pops. He was replaced by White Spirit guitarist Janick Gers (who would later go on to join Iron Maiden) and this line up released the live/studio double album Double Trouble at the end of the year. In 1982 the final album Magic followed. By this time, tension over money had reached fever pitch and Ian Gillan needed time to have nodes removed from his vocal cords. After the Magic tour Ian Gillan dissolved the band while he underwent surgery. He then accepted an offer to front Black Sabbath, to the incredulity of the Gillan band members, particularly McCoy, and the acrimony remains to the present day. McCoy subsequently released compilations of studio out-takes to which he had the rights, known as The Gillan Tapes, and ensured that revenues were distributed fairly amongst the band. Bernie Torme and John McCoy recently joined forces on the GMT band project, releasing an album in 2006.