As an avid fan of Blackmore’s Night, I have
often admired their efforts to present their music with scenery,
props and stage clothes that befitted their music; all playing their
integral part in "something that would move the soul; transcend
people into a majestic world" as Ritchie Blackmore once said.
I have taken much delight over the years in wondering how the scenery
and costumes were designed or chosen and what practical considerations
influenced their inspiration.
What follows, are my own thoughts on the matter.
Given my limited perspective, I would not define this as a "definitive
work" but I would encourage the reader to interpret this as
my own tribute to the efforts of the Blackmore’s Night stage
set designers and clothing suppliers, whose efforts surely merit
acknowledgement and praise?
The stage backdrops used by Blackmore’s Night
are always (in artistic terms) very impressive and seem to evolve
with increased quality as the tours and years unfold. The "Live
in Germany ‘97 – ‘98" video (plus other photographic
sources) shows the "Shadow of the Moon" CD cover replicated
on the design of the stage backdrop (or at least a portion of it:
the segment with the castle on!). The shining moon on its surface
is occasionally made to appear more prominent when the appropriate
lighting effect is used. Apart from the limited use of "foliage"
(discussed later) on equipment stands, the artistic backdrop itself
seems to constitute the only stage scenery during this tour (?),
impressive though it is.
The "Under a Violet Moon" tour witnessed
the not unexpected introduction of a stage backdrop based on the
second CD’s front cover artwork, approximately the upper 60%
of that cover’s artwork. If you compare the artwork to the
backdrop, you will notice some slight differences (a few simplifications
in regards to the painting of the buildings, that were obviously
done for practical reasons, that in no way detract from the overall
effect). The "Castle Tour 2000" video again shows the
familiar shining moon effect achieved on the backdrop, with the
nice added touch of adding the silhouette of the witch flying on
her broomstick, as depicted on the back cover artwork of the second
Further study of the "Castle Tour 2000"
video seems to suggest that the band possibly had the choice of
at least two scenic backdrops on this tour? A second backdrop, depicting
a forest clearing at night (with prominent hills on its horizon
and clouds passing over the face of the full moon) seems to be apparent
on some of the video footage?
The "Fires at Midnight" tour witnessed
a change in backdrop ideas. This time (in keeping with the new CD
cover), the band appeared to be performing in front of a large castle
wall and gateway. As I recall from the Liverpool gig (22nd September
2001), the top of the apparent Medieval wall was adorned with hanging
medieval banners. Mounted in the front of the castle backdrop were
a series of burning torches, very much in keeping with the "Fires
at Midnight" CD artwork theme!
The stage scenery revealed on the 2003 "Ghost
of a Rose" Tour, must surely represent (for the band’s
stage-set designer) the greatest triumph so far? The design of this
latest generation of scenery is clearly the product of much planning,
preparation and effort. In my own words: "in artistic terms,
it seems to have been designed to incorporate all that the band
have learned from previous stage set ideas; and thrown in a few
more surprises as well". When I walked into the auditorium
at Buxton Opera House (4th November 2003), I was "absolutely
overawed, delighted and gob-smacked" (my words) when I saw
the mass of medieval scenic imagery incorporated into the stage-set
design. It took several shows worth of viewing (and occasionally
studying many of my photos for some time after) for me to fully
absorb and appreciate every detail of it – there being so
much detail to take in.
I now interpret the stage scenery as representing
the view through a medieval town gate, showing the houses either
side of a road that is going through the town; the road at this
point being the stage. Then (depicted on the painted backdrop),
the road exits the town and goes up to the top of a hill where a
castle is perched high on the crest. I remember stopping in my tracks
when I first saw this and saying "Oh wow, that’s brilliant!"
I also then thought that the quality of this stage scenery set was
so good, that they could tour with it for at least a couple of years?
This thought seems to have been confirmed by Paul Deblond’s
photos of the Stockholm concert (8th June 2004).
I would define the first two "layers" of
scenery as respectively being "The Town Gate" (nearest
the audience) and "The Medieval Houses". These are constructed
from a series of large (but relatively light?) scenic panels that
are painted incredibly convincingly to represent the medieval structures.
I would define the third "layer" of scenery as being the
huge "Medieval countryside scenic backdrop" at the rear
of the stage itself.
In terms of the inspiration for it, "The Town
Gate" itself, seems to be a development from the relatively
smaller arched gate idea, used as the backdrop for the previous
"Fires at Midnight" tour. Being at the front of the stage,
it is by necessity, higher and wider than its earlier scenic predecessor;
it does however, retain one imitation "fire torch" on
each side. Each torch is directly below a shield; the coat-of- arms
on the right-hand shield shows a key, the left-hand shield side
shows a red rose. It may have been a technical hitch but (on the
2003 UK tour dates at least), the left-hand torch was not "lit".
Instead, a small spotlight seemed to illuminate the red rose. Was
it perhaps, that the rose looked better - illuminated in this manner?
Below each "torch" (halfway down each side of the arch)
could be seen painted-on medieval weapons, each pair of weapons
looking as if they were mounted on the wall, each pair forming a
St. Andrew’s cross pattern. These painted-on weapons also
seemed to be a strange amalgam of real-life weapons - lance, halberd,
bill and sword components being prominent. Also, the same "pattern"
for the crossed-over weapons was used on each side of the arch but
the pattern on one side had been reversed, to make the two sets
of painted-on weapons look symmetrical. These scenic factors, as
well as the excellent painted-on masonry, helped to make the "The
Town Gate" arch scenery a success in terms of being viewed
by the audience.
Yet, despite the intricacies of the decoration on
the arch sides, it could be suggested that the most important part
of the arch, was the top segment. Why could this long section of
plain "masonry" scenery be so vital? My suggested answer
is: "…may be because the primary purpose of this scenic
archway is to hide the stage’s overhead lighting rig from
the public gaze?" Admittedly, one could try to suspend some
form of covering in front of the lighting rig but it would still
look "suspended". Given then, that it was best (to appear)
to support something from the bottom, rather than suspend from the
top, one can thus understand why a large piece of medieval-theme
scenery, ("The Town Gate") was devised?
next layers of scenery -”The Medieval Houses” are also
an artistic joy in them selves. They are good representations of
the typical two-storey "stone and timber-framed" buildings
of the period; each "house" being painted with some feature
that makes it slightly different to the others. Each "house"
has its roof tiles drawn in a slightly different pattern (i.e. each
has darker tiles located in different locations when compared to
the other scenic panels. Also, each tiled roof has a tile loose
on its lower coarse but at a different location on each occasion).
There also major differences on the "walls" of each panel.
The front left-hand side panel (viewed from the audience) has no
window in the lower storey; instead having a tethering ring for
animals on its lower part, and a large chain dangling from the horizontal
(middle) external timber support beam. The rear left-hand side panel
has a rectangular window on each storey but also has crossed-over
halberds on the lower storey wall, mounted on the vertical timber
support beam. The rear right-hand side panel has its upper floor
window bulging further out (in the "Oriel" fashion) and
the window is also painted to look as if it contains highly decorative
segments of stained-coloured glass. On the lower wall of this same
panel, a sword can be seen mounted on it, together with a white
shield (that has a red border and a red-coloured cross in its centre).
The front right-hand side panel has arched-shape windows and has
a treasure chest painted at its base. It is also the only panel
that is painted to resemble an all-stone building?
I ask the question about "all-stone building"
scenery, as I believe that the band may have some "spare scenic
panels" that are slight variations on the designs that I described
being used on the 2003 UK "Ghost of a Rose" tour? Toby
Treichler’s photograph (taken at Trier, 17th July 2003) published
on page six of "More Black Than Purple" Issue 23, shows
an all-stone scenic panel (with two arched windows, one above the
other), which seems different to the panels that I have photographed.
As a slight aside, one should perhaps mention that
in terms of portraying weapons hung up on the "outside"
of buildings, this would not be advisable to do in real life. Unless
of course, one wanted the enemy to take the weapons in the middle
of the night and then use them to murder you in your bed! Perhaps
we can excuse this scenery-painting quirk, given that we accept
that what we are being presented with, is a scenic fantasy, the
hanging weapons being used as yet another well-known piece of Medieval
imagery to help the audience feel that they are being transported
back in time?
One should also remember that Blackmore’s Night
perform on wide variety of stage sizes (and varying sizes of venue,
ranging from spacious to very confined). Thus the development of
their stage scenery as I have described, very much represents the
"ideal" situation (i.e. in a theatre venue, where space
allows the full scenic stage set to be assembled as intended). There
are obviously some venues (and smaller stages) that oblige the band
to use only part of their scenic repertoire, in a correspondingly
simplified arrangement. Referring again to MBTP, Issue 23, Toby
Treichler’s photograph taken at Glauchau (12th July 2003)
shows such an arrangement; the band using just their scenic "house"
panels to create the Medieval backdrop they require? Commenting
on the 25th July 2004 gig at Esslingen, Steve Pearson said: "The
stage had a black background, onto which was projected a moon, plus
an occasional revolving field of stars; the latter being a lighting
effect used on the 2003 UK tour. The other scenery consisted of
simple panels that each looked like walls with two square windows."
A final example of "simplified stage scenery"
that I would cite, is the 7th August 2002 gig at Schloss Wertheim.
Again, a photograph by Toby Treichler (MBTP, Issue 21, page eight)
seems to indicate that the "Fires at Midnight" backdrop,
(showing the castle wall and gateway) was used, but the hanging
banners were omitted due to the protective stage awning being erected
not too much higher than the performers’ heads?
It is thus a tribute both to the scenic panel designers
and to the band’s road crew that assemble them each night,
that Blackmore's Night over the years, have always had a good enough
selection of scenery to support their act. This is regardless of
how much (or in what combination) they have actually chosen to make
use of it.
As with any other band, Blackmore’s Night use
either an overhead rig of lights at larger venues or stands supporting
small clusters of lights in much more intimate venues. At the theatre
venues at least, they make use of different special lighting effects
during the show, the main backdrop sometimes appearing to be either
a day time or a night scene (though I’m not sure if this is
always intentional). One of my favourite lighting effects (on the
"Ghost of a Rose" 2003 UK tour) was when the castle on
the hill appeared as a night silhouette but the moon in the sky
was full and shining. This was used to create the right atmosphere
for some of Candice’s more emotive vocal performances.
The full, shining moon has always been an image (and
lyrical subject) associated with Blackmore’s Night since their
very beginnings. To see it shining on the scenic backdrops is perhaps
seen by the fans as both a trademark and a joy! The later simple
addition (from the UAVM tour onwards), of the witch silhouette flying
on her broomstick, is a fun item that is viewed with humour and
affection by the fans. A new version of it can be seen on the present
stage backdrop that Blackmore’s Night introduced in 2003?
Another lighting effect that occasionally is tried,
is some form of simple rotating imagery that can be seen reflecting
off the back and sides of the stage scenery as it turns around.
The "Castle Tour 2000" video ("Fires at Midnight"
song, last concert song on the video) shows albeit fleeting glimpses
of what appear to be "flame silhouettes" rotating behind
the back of the band. Brief glimpses only (and the fact that these
flames don’t contrast all that well with the backdrop behind)
make this effect difficult to spot on this occasion but at least
it shows when this rotating light effect was first being tried out?
The perfection of the technique mentioned above,
seems to have been proven during the recent 2003 and 2004 shows.
During the song I Still Remember, the entire stage area on several
occasions, has thousands of tiny specks of light rotating around
it (to tie in with the vocal line "A thousand stars lit up
the sky"). It is obviously created by reflecting some sort
of light off a revolving ball of some kind but I must say on a personal
note, that this simple technique lends a superbly enhanced atmosphere
to the song in question.
It is readily apparent to fans of Blackmore’s
Night, that the designers of the band’s stage scenery are
acutely aware that their Medieval theme scenery is being fronted
by a band that use predominantly modern instruments? This concept
in itself is not condemned as being too contradictory however, as
band members and fans alike know that Blackmore’s Night is
deliberately based on an idea of (my words): "an entertaining
musical fusion of the Modern world, meeting that of the Medieval".
this, the use of artificial foliage (and potted plants) to either
camouflage modern microphone stands, drum kits etc. is a common
occurrence at Blackmore’s Night concerts. Perhaps it is reasonable
to assume that the only way to truly hide modern musical equipment
from view is to keep them behind small painted scenic panels placed
on stage? This however would be totally unsafe and unpractical;
the musicians could not easily move around them on stage and far
more storage space would then be needed in the band’s truck?
One can then perhaps imagine why instead, the decision to "keep
things simple" with re-usable artificial foliage came about?
By studying the video (and magazine photographic
evidence), I get the following impressions: Initially, the use of
artificial foliage seems to have started in a modest way. The front-of-stage
microphone stands were deemed as most in view by the audience. After
that, the drum kit, being the largest object behind Ritchie and
Candice (and thus by default, also the most often in the audience’s-line-of
sight and concentration?) was probably considered the most necessary
to have its outline "broken up" by the use of foliage?
This also helped to ensure that the appearance of the modern drum
kit did not then clash too much with the Medieval scenic backdrop,
immediately behind? The decision to try and camouflage the back
of the keyboard (by the use of foliage or a scenic panel), seems
to have been made a little later?
The other "quick fix" method of putting
additional foliage around the drum kit and the immediately-in-front-of–the-backdrop-area
generally, is the use of potted plants, which has survived as an
on-stage practice to this day. (At Workington, 6th November 2003,
it seems that potted birch trees were positioned on stage?). One
imagines that the vast majority of these are not generally transported
around by the band (being perishable); rather they are pre-ordered
by the venues that are to host the shows? One could suggest perhaps,
that the band acquires a few large replicas 16th century pots, which
the modern plant and pot could be then dropped in to? Of course,
this is all extra expense (and takes up more room in the truck),
so perhaps these factors, together with the knowledge that the correct
16th century pottery in one country would look wrong in another
country, may explain why the band have stuck to more simple solutions?
The use of foliage and flowers on stage admittedly
does look "appropriate". If one imagines the band as a
famous wandering troupe of 16th century minstrels, then a village
that hired them to perform at their summer festival would cover
its buildings and streets generally with many beautiful flowers
as part of the celebrations. The use of flowers (together with the
images of stars and moons at other points in the show), are all
elements of "the forces of nature" that Candice enjoys
so much to incorporate into the subject of her lyrics.
Another stage equipment disguise is the use of hay
bails (and straw strewn about generally). I am not sure when these
were introduced precisely but photographic evidence would certainly
confirming their use during the "Fires at Midnight" tour.
Obviously, the audience knows that it is viewing "modern straw
bails" but the knowledge that hay would be in a 16th century
village, in anticipation for the arrival of cart horses, perhaps
helps one to think in general terms "that would be the sort
of thing that would’ve been around". Incidentally, at
Cheltenham (13th November 2003), I photographed some presumably
imitation vegetables lying in the straw (Where they pumpkins?).
This is evidently another new stage prop idea being tried out?
most difficult objects for the band to camouflage on stage are the
monitors at the front? Studying the Blackmore’s Night videos,
I come to the conclusion that at first, the band simply decided
not to address the problem. Shortly after however, they seem to
have changed their minds and strewn a bit of foliage around them?
If you look at some of Steve Mill’s photos ("Fires at
Midnight" tour, MBTP, Issue 18), one can clearly see foliage
at the base of the monitors on the audience’s side. This is
clearly what one might call " a step in the right direction"
but it was not the perfect solution that the band wanted. By the
time of the "Ghost of a Rose" 2003 tour, the monitors
were instead covered with what I call "white fibrous sacking".
I personally think that this material was chosen because it could
be interpreted as "imitation sheep fleeces"? Admittedly,
any attempt to camouflage the monitors will ultimately be labelled
as "something put over the monitors". It is a credit to
the band however, that they have tried to address the problem with
something that looks vaguely appropriate? This seems to be the method
chosen to disguise the monitors on the 2004 tour also.
One can perhaps suggest then, that Blackmore’s
Night have continually striven to improve the appearance of the
stage area (making it look more authentic) over the course of several
years? The fact that several different methods to disguise modern-looking
equipment has been used, makes the stage look far better than if
one method had been used all over.
As a final note on this subject, I would like to
point out that most photographs taken at concerts (and film footage)
concentrate for obvious reasons, on the band members themselves.
This makes a study of the band’s scenery that much harder.
What I have tried to outline in this section, is thus again "an
ideal situation" as I interpret it. Although generally, the
standard of the Blackmore's Night on-stage "equipment camouflage"
has improved, there must be occasions when the band arrive with
too little time available to place foliage or straw around the stage
area as they would like. Thus they might have to say "just
a little bit will have to do for tonight". They are fortunate
however, that the fans appreciate their efforts all the same.
Part 2 of this article will discuss the band’s
stage clothing and also the appreciated part played by the costumed
audience members in the front rows.