Ghost Of A Rose 2003 UK Tour

Mike Garrett presents an overall summary

Set Lists:

Buxton Opera House, Tuesday 4th November 2003

Susatisimo, Cartouche, Play Minstrel Play, Minstrel Hall, Under A Violet Moon, Past Times With Good Company, Soldier of Fortune, Home Again, Diamonds and Rust, Sixteenth Century Greensleeves, Mr. Peagram’s Morris and Sword, Fires at Midnight, Durch den Wald zum Bachaus, Violin Solo, Ghost of a Rose, Renaissance Faire, Village on the Sand, I Sill Remember, Hurdy-Gurdy Solo – The Clock Ticks On, All for One, Difficult to Cure – Self Portrait. (First Encore set: Piano Solo – Writing on the Wall, Second Encore set: Beyond the Sunset, Now and Then).

Workington Carnegie Theatre, Thursday 6th November 2003

Susatisimo, Cartouche, Play Minstrel Play, Minstrel Hall, Under A Violet Moon, Past Times With Good Company, Soldier of Fortune, Avalon, Sixteenth Century Greensleeves, Diamonds and Rust, Mr. Peagram’s Morris and Sword, Home Again, Durch den Wald zum Bachaus, Violin Solo, Fires at Midnight.

This was not the intended full gig. Due to Candice suffering from a severe throat infection, the show ended rather abruptly and without explanation to the audience, at the end of Fires at Midnight.

Edinburgh Queens Hall, Friday 7th November 2003

Due to Candice still being ill, the Edinburgh gig was allegedly cancelled at 3 p.m. that afternoon.

Birmingham Alexandra Theatre, Sunday 9th November 2003

Susatisimo, Cartouche, Play Minstrel Play, Minstrel Hall, Under A Violet Moon, Past Times With Good Company, Soldier of Fortune, Home Again, Diamonds and Rust, Durch den Wald zum Bachaus, Violin Solo, Wind in the Willows Mr. Peagram’s Morris and Sword, Fires at Midnight, Sixteenth Century Greensleeves, Ghost of a Rose, Renaissance Faire, I Sill Remember, Hurdy-Gurdy Solo – The Clock Ticks On, All for One, Difficult to Cure – Self Portrait. (Encore set: Mid Winter’s Night – Dandelion Wine).

Reading Concert Hall, Monday 10th November 2003

Susatisimo, Cartouche, Play Minstrel Play, Minstrel Hall, Under A Violet Moon, Past Times With Good Company, Soldier of Fortune, Home Again, Diamonds and Rust, Mr. Peagram’s Morris and Sword, Fires at Midnight, Durch den Wald zum Bachaus, Violin Solo, Ghost of a Rose, Renaissance Faire, Wind in the Willows, I Sill Remember, Hurdy-Gurdy Solo – The Clock Ticks On. (First Encore set: All for One, Difficult to Cure – Self Portrait, Second Encore set: Rainbow Blues, Sixteenth Century Greensleeves, Black Night).

Cheltenham Town Hall, Thursday 13th November 2003

Susatisimo, Cartouche, Play Minstrel Play, Minstrel Hall, Under A Violet Moon, Past Times With Good Company, Soldier of Fortune, Home Again, Diamonds and Rust, Mr. Peagram’s Morris and Sword, Durch den Wald zum Bachaus, Violin Solo, Wind in the Willows, Renaissance Faire, Fires at Midnight, I Sill Remember, Hurdy-Gurdy Solo – The Clock Ticks On, (Encore: All for One).

The Great Hall, Exeter, Friday 14th November 2003

Susatisimo, Cartouche, Play Minstrel Play, Minstrel Hall, Under A Violet Moon, Past Times With Good Company, Soldier of Fortune, Home Again, Diamonds and Rust, Mr.Peagram’s Morris and Sword, Durch den Wald zum Bachaus, Violin Solo, Renaissance Faire, Ghost of a Rose, Hurdy-Gurdy Solo – The Clock Ticks On, (Encores: Village on the Sand, All for One, Fires at Midnight, Wind in the Willows, Now and Then).

I personally attended the gigs at Buxton, Birmingham, Reading and Cheltenham. I have thus made use of my own notes as much as possible, filling in small gaps in my narrative with other information from the Blackmore’s Night yahoo news group, Issue 24 of "More Black Than Purple" and other notes from Richard Gillitt. Where my information clashes with that stated by others, I have used my own notes as this at least reflects my personal perspective and memories of the tour.

The show duration time at each of the respective venues was 145 minutes, 75 minutes, 0 minutes (the gig was cancelled), 130 minutes, 132 minutes, 90 minutes and 117 minutes. The support band for the first four venues was La Zag; the support band for the last three venues was Albert Dannenmann and Thomas Roth from the Geyers

The Stage Set and Lighting Effects

The design of the stage set was very impressive. In keeping with the medieval theme of the music, the stage was made to appear as if the band is playing in a medieval village street. Backdrops that look like the sides of medieval buildings camouflaged the "wings" of the stage. A large "stone arch" was also positioned over the very front of the stage and this had imitation fire-torches, one in each side.

The main backdrop was painted so as to resemble a road going up to the top of a hill, where a Castle was perched on the very crest. By the use of different lighting effects during the show, the main backdrop sometimes appeared to be either a day time or a night scene (though I’m not sure if that was always intentional). My favourite lighting effect 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.

During the song I Still Remember, the entire stage area on several occasions, had thousands of tiny specks of light rotating around it (to tie in with the vocal line "A thousand stars lit up the sky"). It was 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.

The microphone stands etc. had imitation foliage wrapped around them, to give the effect of being at a garlanded summer faire (though at Workington, it seems that potted birch trees were positioned on stage?). Other attempts at camouflaging equipment involved putting straw bails infront of monitors or covering them with white sacking that presumably was meant to be imitation sheep fleeces?

Also in keeping with the stage scenery, the two on-stage road crew also wore medieval clothing. One had a brown waistcoat and a funny pointed hat; the other wore a huge cowl and cape. The audience laughed on several occasions when these two came on stage to move things about.

The Performance of the Songs on Stage

Certain songs were performed every night on the tour, whilst others were performed only once. The pre-recorded Susatisimo (a medieval tune with excerpts of Smoke on the Water and Black Night in it) is a well-established favourite these days. Played out of the sound system for several minutes before the lights go down, its purpose is to both subtly inform the audience that the band will be coming on stage and also help to build up the atmosphere.

Then the synthesised sounds of Ritchie’s fender breaks out in the darkness, the atmosphere and cheers build up, more huge cheers as Candice appears on stage, then the band launches into Cartouche, the opening song used on each night of the tour. These shows were the first time that I had heard this track done "live" and I personally wasn’t disappointed, it being one of my favourites from the new album. The rough notes I made at the Cheltenham gig in regards to this song performed "live" read: "More up tempo than in the studio and stomping along!" Also, it is apparent from the very first song of each show, what a superb difference the addition of the beautiful and talented Sisters of the Moon makes to the overall sound of the band on stage. Admittedly, Lady Madeleine and Lady Nancy generally "just do the ooh and ahs when required" (my words) but this comment in itself, is too clinical a description; they use their voices and body gestures to generate the required magical-mystical atmosphere on stage.

The next two songs, performed every night, are the much-established quiet songs, Play Minstrel Play and Minstrel Hall. I personally think that these numbers are always played at this point to allow the band, Ritchie especially, to "gently get musically warmed up and eased into the rest of the gig" but of course, this point is purely my own personal perception. On both my Birmingham and Cheltenham rough notes, I seem to have noted the excellent flute contributions made by Lord Marnen during Play Minstrel Play. At the end of the performance of Minstrel Hall at Birmingham, Jez Shelbourn (another Blackmore fan from Lincolnshire) was so moved by it, that he turned to me and said, "I would’ve gone through all that travelling and paid the admission price, just for that one track."

Under A Violet Moon was also performed each evening, it being used as a way to get the audience to sing along. Before singing the song at Birmingham, Candice said: "I hear that Birmingham is noted for its singers", to which some joker shouted in reply "Yeah, Ozzy Osbourne!" At Cheltenham, Candice’s question as to whether Cheltenham had the best singers, was cut short by Ritchie, who jokingly shouted "No, Weston-Super-Mare!" From my own personal point of view, the version of the song sung at Reading was my favourite. Richard Gillitt and myself were sat at the very front in medieval costumes. Candice as usual kept hanging over the stage with the microphone and it was into this microphone that Richard and I had the honour of shouting the very last "Hey!" of the song – brilliant!

Past Times With Good Company always came next. In the case of the Cheltenham gig, I seem to have noted how Squire Malcolm provided "an excellent thumping introduction" into the main part of the song, easily inducing the entire audience into synchronised clapping. These days, the songis performed as presented on the Blackmore’s Night double-live CD; a slow rendition of the original song, then a speeded up "Blackmorised" version afterwards. Soldier of Fortune (or Soldier of Fort-chun as Candice actually pronounces it!) usually came next. Candice’s introduction, stating that "rumour has it that Ritchie used to be in a couple of bands before this one" was always greeted by loud cheers, though at the Birmingham gig, Candice had to point out that one of those bands wasn’t Abba! The song is always performed with a superb emotional atmosphere, a spotlight on Candice at the front, with the castle in darkened silhouette behind, with a purple skyline! At the conclusion of the song at Birmingham, two Lincolnshire fans that had never heard the song sung by Candice before, remarked on "how moving and exquisite" the vocals had actually been.

By the time it comes to playing Home Again, it is apparent that Ritchie is warmed up and in a bit of a humorous muck-about-on-stage mood (the improvised leg-kicking dance being one sign of it!). In the middle of the song, he improvises a brief excerpt of Rule Britannia and all the audience begins to laugh and then sing along. The rest of the band also seem to enjoy this one: Lord Marnen’s violin playing seems to be that little bit more "jolly" (my phrase) and (according to my Cheltenham notes) the Sisters of the Moon laugh, clap and swing their hips from side to side! At the pointin the song, when Candice asks: "It’s good to be home again, where?" the inevitable shout from the certain characters always in the front row was "Chester!" (It got to the stage where they even had the name written on a home made sign!) On one occasion (Cheltenham), on hearing "Chester!" being shouted for the umpteenth time, Ritchie said "Not Weston-Super-Mare? What’s wrong with him?"

When Diamonds and Rust was performed, the prominent solitary moon on the backdrop, combined with Candice’s vocals that definitely sounded especially powerful from the Reading gig onwards, all served to make this song very successful on stage. Despite this however, Niall Hall, one of the Lincolnshire fan club members remarked to me that he personally still preferred the version by Judas Priest!

The track Mr. Peagram’s Morris and Sword (Candice explained at Buxton) is named in honour of a teacher at Ritchie’s school who taught the boys to Morris Dance; though Ritchie missed most of it as he was always in the Headmaster’s office for being naughty!" As the tour progressed around the country, this joke-introduction got more embellished. Ultimately, the fans were not quite sure if the Headmaster gave Ritchie a damn good thrashing, the Headmaster deserved a damn good thrashing; or even that the Headmaster insisted that he himself be given a good thrashing from Ritchie! As Candice remarked, Ritchie seems to have gone to a very strange school! As for the instrumental itself, it provided a delightful opportunity for Ritchie to showcase his talent with the Mandolin.

In Fires at Midnight, the noticeable added embellishment was Lord Marnen playing a second traditional-sounding tune (on a wind instrument) in synchronisation with the usual tune played by Candice on her shawm.

Ritchie’s long guitar solo in this song had his audiences sat in silent awe; his playing being gentle, atmospheric and haunting; anyone with the double live "Past Times With Good Company" CD will know what I am trying to say! I also love the way in which Ritchie and Marnen build up the speed of the solo finale, heralding the return of Candice for the last verse and chorus. At the end of the song at Birmingham, Jez Shelbourn (sat next to me) whispered "It was the best thing he ever did, leaving Deep Purple; it has given him a new musical lease of life!"

The delightful instrumental Durch den Wald zum Bachaus, a much-established crowd favourite (and always performed with a fast and happy tempo), acted as a precursor for Lord Marnen’s "stand-on-stage-alone" violin solo. It may be my personal perception only but at Buxton, it seemed that the violinist played several wrong notes. It could’ve been due to his consternation at being alone on stage, a case of first night nerves? In retrospect, I can now say that this was the case. Marnen put that "slightly off night" behind him, very professionally and delivered some superb performances during the rest of the tour. Having witnessed his solos at Buxton, Birmingham, Reading and Cheltenham, it was apparent that he was doing different and complex variations within them, each evening. The Cheltenham solo was particularly memorable, due to an excellent ending with an up-tempo version of "English Country Garden" – an unexpected but very apt and pleasing choice I thought.

Ghost of a Rose when performed on stage is simply brilliant! It sounds very different, enhanced in a similar way, as were other tracks on the first three studio albums when they were re-presented on the Past Times With Good Company double-live CD. I think that maybe the keyboard parts were enhanced differently live (?); the Sisters of the Moon’s backing vocals certainly enriched the song’s overall sound.

Renaissance Faire is always going to be superb show highlight, again sounding like the version on the "live" album mentioned earlier. It is the one song when the (costumed) members of the audience are encouraged to stand up; though everyone is especially encouraged to clap along. On some occasions, the emergence on stage of the Geyers for the finale, made a superb finish to the song.

The performance of Wind in the Willows, in some shows, came as a pleasant surprise. I had thought of the studio version as "a pleasing novelty track" but yet again, Ritchie and co. proved just how well this song could be presented live. My rough notes indicate that enhanced keyboards and backing from the Sisters of the Moon seemed to be the magic ingredients needed to give it that improved quality.

The Fender-dominated Village on the Sand (studio version) was performed at Buxton and Exeter. I was at the Buxton gig and can thus confirm on that occasion at least, that Ritchie played the song with a mandolin. It thus sounded a lot more folk-orientated as opposed to rock-orientated and yet it did seem to work excellently, much appreciated by the audience.

I Sill Remember is normally re-arranged on stage to become more of a dual guitarist/violinist epic. At Buxton, Ritchie perhaps had the better performance but from Birmingham onwards, I thought that Lord Marnen seemed keener to enjoy himself and throw himself into the musical duet. I would also like to reiterate again (because I liked the effect in this song so much!), that the entire stage area on several occasions, had thousands of tiny specks of light rotating around it (to tie in with the vocal line "A thousand stars lit up the sky")

Ritchie’s atmospheric stand-alone-on-stage hurdy-gurdy solo (which he clearly enjoyed) acted as an introduction sequence to The Clock Ticks On. This was another superb show highlight, with the support band (either La Zag or the Geyers), coming back on stage to join in, all the audience singing and clapping along too!

Performed live, All for One is an absolute rocker of a track, an instant crowd favourite, partly due to the chorus tune’s distinctive combination of Ritchie’s Fender and Candice’s shawm. Performed towards the end of each show, it is a chance for the fans to go a bit crazy, clapping and singing along too; I should know, I did it four times!

Difficult to Cure was played as a long introduction sequence that led into Self Portrait, also a surprising but very pleasing addition to the shows that it appeared in. As Ritchie began to strike up the first few bars of Difficult to Cure at Birmingham, I glanced at the faces of Miles and Paul sat next me; the big beams of delight appearing on their faces said it all. As Ritchie hammered away with Difficult to Cure, I noticed Miles wagging his plasticdrink bottle in front of him (in time with the music), like a little drumstick. I don’t think he fully realised that he was doing it but he was obviously enjoying himself!

Sixteenth Century Greensleeves was (like the two tracks mentioned above) not performed at every gig but when it was, was performed absolutely brilliantly, as it always is. The tracks Rainbow Blues and Black Night were only played at the Reading gig. I was in the front row, totally overtaken by the excitement of it all (thus not likely to analyse the music objectively), so to me, it was all absolutely fantastic! Then it was all over and I felt as if I had just been released from the grip of some euphoric magic spell. Outside, some fans said that Ritchie had ended Black Night abruptly; not taken the opportunity to extend the solo, do some spectacular guitar playing down on one knee etc. Well maybe, but it all seemed okay to me!

The first encore set at Buxton began with a piano solo that was highly competent and transformed into the introduction to Writing on the Wall. Ritchie was again on fine form. Another superb long guitar solo ensued, which incorporated Burn, played as an instrumental sequence within it. The cheers from the crowd (especially me!) when that was played, again said it all!The second encore set at Buxton featured an excellent version of the very moving Beyond the Sunset. This was then followed by the now traditional show closer Now and Then; everyone was singing along! The song Now and Then was also used to end the show at Exeter. At Birmingham, the show-closer began as Mid Winter’s Night then transformed into Dandelion Wine – another opportunity for the audience to sing along to a very sentimental song.

Some final thoughts regarding the musical performances on the tour

The opening night at Buxton was really good, despite a few (though perhaps forgivable in retrospect?) first night nerves. With Candice falling ill at Workington, the shortening of the gig (and the cancellation of Edinburgh the next day) was unfortunately inevitable. Though this had somewhat taken the momentum out of the tour, the Birmingham gig (despite Candice still being ill) was another personal tour highlight for me, as was Reading the night after. The final two gigs, Cheltenham and Exeter were a bit shorter in duration (was Ritchie himself under the weather at this point?) but the overall standard of performance remained high; I should know, I was at Cheltenham!

The fact that illness affected several dates on the tour was very unlucky but also it was an occurrence that no band can dodge forever. Possibly, it influenced one song or another to be played shorter or deleted but the overriding point was, that whatever was actually played (regardless of song duration or playing style), it was performed to the professional standard that the paying audiences expected.

Security, Photography and other Anecdotes

Ever since I instigated the "Ritchie Blackmore Fans In Lincolnshire" project, I had kept Carole Stevens informed of how we were progressing; by email, telephone and by post. Each of course have their advantages and disadvantages. Emails are quick to send but due to the popularity of Blackmore’s Night, Carole’s office can receive up to a thousand emails from fans per week. This is why it is often impossible for her to reply to the majority of the messages that are sent. Similarly, the Post Office box number address that is advertised, is inundated with so much fan mail, that it is again impossible to guarantee to respond to specific items. I myself had sent copies of our Lincolnshire fanzine to this address but this first batch is probably still "buried somewhere in the huge pile of stuff" so to speak. I have of course spoken with Carole on the phone but the thing to remember is that the telephone number quoted is primarily for "Business Calls" so I have to make my calls very brief, with specific relevant things to discuss only.

For the Buxton gig (November 4th), I put together a package for Carole containing the various Lincolnshire fan club stuff, including the guide-book for Lincoln Castle and the brochure for Theatre Royal Lincoln, so that they could be considered for venues in the future. I also had a notepad, and pen with me to write down the set list. Obviously, these items had to be carried around in my trusty plastic carrier bag, which is why it is so easy for Jerry Bloom at "More Black Than Purple" to spread the tongue-in-cheek rumour that I attend every Blackmore gig with my week’s shopping! My reply is "Of course I attend every gig with my shopping; I find it comforting!"

We arrived at the Buxton gig just before the support band (La Zag) was finishing. There was just time to see a few friends at the bar which included Heather and Bryan from "Mostly Autumn"(and try and get my package delivered) before Blackmore’s Night came on stage. It was the opening night of the tour though, so the chances of seeing Carole in person were about zero. Having a seat in the Stalls, it was easy for me to walk up to the Stage Door near the front. There was no one immediately near the open door but my advice to anyone in this situation is do NOT go through the threshold; stand outside patiently. There will be someone watching the door from nearby, either just inside or close by on the outside. If you thus went through the door without authorisation, you immediately land yourself in trouble and jeopardise the goodwill you are trying to establish with the relevant powers-that-be (and you are also breaking the venue’s Insurance and Safety regulations!)

Sure enough, a venue Security Guard (whom I had not spotted) immediately appeared and asked what I wanted. I explained who I was. The fact that I had written on the package what it contained; helped to get it accepted and taken backstage by someone else with authority to do so. Thus by "keeping within the rules" regarding Safety and Security, I had achieved my little objective for the night. There would be other opportunities to meet Carole Stevens and co. on the tour. I could thus spend the rest of the evening enjoying the gig and I certainly did!

As the fans were leaving the venue at the end of the gig, the more avid memorabilia collectors started to make off with the posters outside. Quite a lot, were in glass cases however. These could thus not be "abducted" (no matter what bizarre methods people tried!) I asked the manager if people could have these venue posters mailed to them if they left their name, address and money towards the postage cost. He replied he would do that but of course, people wanted them either immediately or not at all, so my suggestion was not taken up.

The second gig that I attended on the tour was Birmingham (9th November). Due to Candice’s throat infection, the band had abandoned the Workington gig part-way through and cancelled completely, the Edinburgh gig, allegedly three hours before they were due to go on. Thus, the early evening of 9th November, resulted in myself and my particular carload of Lincolnshire fans, finding ourselves in "Burger King" at Tamworth Services; there at the side of the M42 (the rain pouring down, outside!); not knowing whether to head into Birmingham or turn back because of cancellation. It all hinged on whether or not Candice’s doctor allowed her to perform that night. I made the crucial telephone enquiry, knowing the decision deadline for the evening’s show had passed. Miraculously, no "cancellation" order had been given. We were thus going into Birmingham for the gig – yes!

Thanks to some good navigating by Paul, sat in the front passenger seat, we got to the venue (with its NCP car park adjacent to it) in good time. This gave me chance to get to the bar and write on the front of yet another large envelope for Carole Stevens; containing the outstanding back-issues of our Lincolnshire newsletters that I hadn’t got printed up in time for the Buxton gig. Yet again, it was easy to get someone to take the envelope backstage for me (after all, they were getting to know who I was by now – thanks guys!)

I also had enjoyable conversations with Dave Owen and Ray Hunter (the Security Manager for Blackmore Productions on the tour). In Ray’s case, it was quite funny to find out who he was; I had previously thought that he was Mr. Alec Leslie (Tour Promoter) overseeing the tour in person!

Then again, it was show time. I actually thought the Birmingham gig had the edge on that at Buxton. The band were clearly wanting to "go for it", to make up for the previous Workington and Edinburgh disappointments. In the case of two particular Lincolnshire fans who had travelled with me in my car, this was the first time that they had actually heard any Blackmore’s Night material but they enjoyed the show thoroughly; asking me which were the best CDs to buy when they returned home.

After the show, we found ourselves outside the venue, now playing at being "autograph hunters". My particular group found our selves near to the point where Ritchie and Candy were to emerge. Ray Hunter and some security staff came up to us and asked us to stand back. It was a shame that we were to be "so near but yet, so far" away from Ritchie and Candy but that was the situation we had to comply with.

I must at this point "confess" as to why I have an obvious empathy towards security staff in general. Besides organising a little Blackmore fan club, I also organise a longbow archery group in Lincoln Castle. This involves shooting with it but also drafting risk assessment documents and assisting in doing the safety marshalling for it. I also do the safety marshalling for the Lincoln Castle Jousting Tournament. Thus, when Blackmore’s security staff, ask my friends or myself to stand back, I have to console myself in the knowledge that they are "just doing their job"; stopping people from all suddenly rushing forward, which is a potentially dangerous situation in any circumstance?

When the "vehicle" destined to transport Ritchie and Candy appeared, I made a point of telling my little group to stay put and definitely not go near or touch the "vehicle". Though my friends heeded my advice, two other (somewhat drunken?) fans appeared, rushed towards the "vehicle" and tried to open the door. The security staff fended them off very quickly. The entire scuffle was over in about a minute. The repulsed fans then disappeared down the road, shouting abuse at Ray and his staff as they went. Ironically, what I had just witnessed, transpired to be the only real security "trouble" for the whole tour. The driver had also got Ritchie and Candy out of the way fairly quickly, which is understandable in the circumstances.

The nice touch at the end of this incident was that Blackmore’s security staff actually apologised to fans, for having to ask them to stand back. They also took the trouble to explain that Candice was actually still ill and thus getting her back to her hotel quickly was the best thing for her.

Though the "autograph hunting" had not achieved the results required, I was very pleased when Carole Stevens then came out of the door. We were of course, allowed to approach Carole and talk to her whilst she was waiting for another "vehicle" to come and pick her up. The astute reader will realise that I constantly use the term "vehicle", as I do not wish to divulge specific band transport details, either those that were used on this recent tour or similar ones that may be used in the future. It transpired that we were able to talk to Carole for about 20 – 30 minutes.

Speculation about Candice’s health was first on the agenda. Carole confirmed that Candice was still unwell to some extent but of course had done the Birmingham gig anyway. We in turn could only express admiration that Candice had "pushed herself" to do it. We pointed out to Carole that we wouldn’t have guessed that Candice was unwell, when listening to the performance she had just given. So all credit to Candice for going ahead with it and saving the gig!

We then discussed my idea that "It would be nice if Blackmore fans in the same area could socialise from time to time and travel to gigs together". We discussed the Lincolnshire project in some detail. She said that she didn’t mind if we sold our Lincolnshire newsletter at a cover-its-costs-only price, especially given the fact that I had spent £350 of my own money over two years, in order to provide "free" newsletters for everyone else.

We then discussed lots of minor issues (plus the new album as well!) before it was eventually time for us all to go our separate ways for the night. Thus ended a night that was definitely worth remembering and enjoying in many different ways.

The third gig I attended was Reading (10th November). For this gig, I was travelling down with Richard Gillitt (a fellow contributor to "More Black Than Purple") and had a ticket for the front row. Originally his wife "The Fair Splodge" was going with him but due to other plans, she missed this one – which thus meant it was a lucky day for me! Of course, medieval costume is compulsory in the first two rows. My costume was "The Sheriff of Nottingham" that I had hired from "Party Animal" in Lincoln. The costume was a throw-over-robe (which meant that I could wear jeans and a tee shirt underneath) with a belt and an outrageous nobleman’s hat!

I picked Richard up on the afternoon of the 10th; driving to his place of work at "British Sugar – Newark". He was already disguised as a medieval peasant, having gone through all sorts of embarrassment, trying to sneak out of his workplace without being laughed at by other work colleagues!

I myself did not change into my costume until we were in the pub opposite the venue (Reading Town Hall). I got a few bemused looks in the pub but then, I had to go across the road and queue to get in. This meant that I was in full view of many people in Reading, who were passing us by, heading into town for a night of "clubbing".

I also had decided to take my camera with me (since I was going to be in prime position to get some good photographs). When I got to the entrance however, I initially had a problem in being admitted. My own camera is an old Yashica model (i.e. It is a conventional camera that causes a "red eye" effect when a person is photographed). When the venue’s own security staff saw the size of its 28 – 85 mm auto-focus zoom lens, they thought that it had to be some sort of digital camera (which shows how little they know about cameras, I suppose). Fortunately, Dave Owen from the Blackmore entourage was near at hand and got them to let me through (thanks mate!)

I got to the front row (and was introduced to Ian Harkin and Callum Smiall; nice to meet you!) and found that the venue security people stationed in the auditorium were re-checking cameras again. I was also told that I could only use the conventional "flash" built into the camera body; not an additional flash unit, as this disturbed performers on stage (and audience members) too much. The venue security also said that we could only take photographs from our own seating positions.

Since I was in the front row, this meant that if band members came to the front of the stage, my position was perfect. If they hung back very slightly however, as they often do, then this makes it more difficult to photograph them. This is caused by the fact that, sitting in the front row, you have the stage front (and monitors) in front of you; so you always have to point the camera lens slightly upwards in order to keep those things out of the bottom of the picture. It’s okay during "Renaissance Faire" though; the one song you are encouraged to stand up for, if you are in costume!

Photographing any band member is not as easy as it looks. You have to try and be quick; otherwise, you end up photographing them when they have half turned away or have them in partial darkness because the overhead stage lighting has suddenly changed! In other words, be prepared to end up with many imperfect shots, just so that you get a few that are really good to be pleased about.

I obviously tried to compose my shots, in the sense of having various combinations of group members in a particular photograph or alternatively, tried to get individual high quality photographs of either Ritchie or Candy. I think I need a few more gigs (and a better camera!) to perfect my amateur photography skills but I am proud of a few shots at least, even if I owe more to luck than judgement!

The only real photographic fiasco of the evening was that I thought I had bought two 36-shot films but in fact had bought two 24-shot films instead – bugger! This meant that I ran out of film, two thirds of the way through the gig. This gig also ended with myself and many others, literally crammed (happily) forward at the edge of the stage, singing along to the likes of "All For One" and "Black Night". Being a few feet away from Ritchie and Candy and singing along with all the other fans (with literally no one causing any trouble) had to be for me, the highlight of my "career" as a Blackmore fan, so to speak. I just wish I hadn’t run out of film!

Then it was all suddenly over. The lights came on and almost immediately, the venue security staff were ordering everyone to start leaving. I myself decided that I was so hot, that I would remove my throw-over robe, there in the auditorium (I had jeans and a tee shirt underneath, remember!) My head got stuck for a short while and when I struggled free, I realised that the auditorium was almost completely deserted! I couldn’t believe that it had been vacated so quickly. Then Ray Hunter came up to me, shook my hand and asked a few polite questions regarding whether or not I’d got some good notes and photographs. Of course I had, so I thanked him once again and said I would see him and everyone else at the next gig and made my way to the exit.

Outside, a few fans were talking about the speed with which the venue had been emptied. A few (and I stress, I personally heard it from a very few only!) said that they felt that the security staff had been "very abrupt" and had "roughly handled" the fans, in order to get them to leave. I was asked my opinion. My response was (and still is) that I was very surprised at how quickly the venue was emptied but no security staff had actually come up to me personally, to order me to leave. As to the "roughly handled" statement, I think this was an unfortunate choice of phrase, as the security staffs’ way of handling the crowd, merely entailed shouting urgent-sounding requests for people to leave; a tactic that obviously worked!

In an interview with Ray Hunter (at Cheltenham, 13th November), I asked him what his thoughts were, on the speed of the Reading venue’s clearance. He first of all pointed out that it was the venue’s own regular security staff that mainly supervised the clearing of the auditorium. He described the Reading security staff methods as "superb, very quick; working efficiently and smoothly". It was also stressed to me, that the very short time to clear the venue was not a unique thing that just Blackmore fans had experienced. Rather, this quick method was "normal procedure" followed by the venue’s security staff after every evening’s performance; they were actually noted for it, within the security profession!

For the Cheltenham gig itself, I decided to have a rest from driving and take the train. The price would’ve been no different than if I’d taken my petrol-engine estate car and there is a train from Lincoln to Cheltenham that leaves at 7.20 a.m. I spent three hours the night before (on the phone and on the Internet), trying to get a hotel room. It was also Cheltenham Race Meeting week but I found somewhere eventually, despite the low odds.

My train journey did involve changing at Birmingham New Street. On the platform, I met a character in denims and a rather flamboyant hat. This turned out to be Neil Davies (another MBTP regular whom I was glad to meet!) When we got to Cheltenham, we split up, as we each needed to do separate things. I myself checked out where the gig venue was located (the most important thing) then found out where my hotel was; about ten minutes walk from the gig venue actually!

By late afternoon, I had met various fans around the venue, spoken to the Geyers and also ran into the Blackmore entourage once again. I shall skip the details of this particular part of the day, except for repeating my sincere thanks to Dave Owen for being incredibly helpful in regards to a couple of matters – he knows what I’m talking about at this point, even if no one else does!

I then went round to the front of the venue to get my ticket. There were various posters dotted around which people were wanting as souvenirs, after the show. Remembering my own suggestion at the end of the Buxton gig, I produced a large envelope and offered it (together with a £1 coin) to the counter staff, so they could mail a selection of posters to me, that I intended to hand out as souvenirs to other Lincolnshire fans. They were obviously taken back by the novelty of this, remarking "My god, you are a fan aren’t you!" Besides the promise of certain posters and pamphlets to be mailed to me, I also got other stuff (including a large black-and-orange design gig promotion poster) that I could take there and then.

Thus, now totally sure that in terms of scrounging Blackmore memorabilia, I had "screwed everything I possibly could out of them", I went into town to get something to eat. I then went back to the venue and met up with Jon Miller (for the second time that day). He and his friend Jason (the guy with the Blackmore tattoo on his back) had been at the Birmingham and Reading gigs. This time, Jon had brought his sister, Brenda. We went into a nearby bar. Brenda went into the toilets to change into her gypsy-like costume, sending the message "I feel so embarrassed!" to Jon’s mobile. I’m sure such incidents were occurring in other nearby bars, as fans transformed themselves into folk of the Renaissance.

It was soon time to head back to the gig venue once more. I decided that I needed to buy one more tour programme, a rare commodity indeed! The one thing that struck everyone, was the relatively small amount of merchandise that was on sale at each gig. There is a story connected with either the Buxton or Birmingham gig, where a fan bought a programme for £5, then sold it to another fan that would have otherwise missed out, for £15. How true that is, I cannot say but I had promised another Lincolnshire fan club member that I would get him a programme.

I went round to the front of the venue and found that a queue had started to form. There I was; camera bag over my shoulder and two "shopping bags" in my hands, crammed full with memorabilia, note book, pens etc. I thought, "Jerry Bloom is going to have a field day, accusing me of taking my shopping to the gig with me!" Getting in however, was problematical again. I willingly declared my camera but again was accused of it being a Digital. Fortunately, Ray Hunter interjected and pointing to me, said to the venue security staff; "This gentleman is known to the band and the rest of us. You are to let him in and allow him to do whatever he needs to do." (Thanks Ray!)

A brief visit to the tiny merchandise table, resulted in the purchasing of another Tour Programme. Then it was into the Bar to speak with Mark Welch, Jerry Bloom and official MBTP photographer Steve Mills. Steve had a Press Pass for the front of the audience. I guess I should’ve asked for one as well but since I had already received so much help and favour from Carole Stevens and co. during the tour so far, I decided not to "push my luck too far". I thus went to the seat I had actually paid for. It was three quarters of the way back, near to the right-hand-side wall. I had booked this ticket very late. A few unsold seat positions were also near to me (The concert being about a 90% sell-out). The advantage of this was that I could set up my notebook, pen and torch on the empty seating and I also thus had access to the "aisle" that ran down between the outer seats and the wall. This meant that (without disturbing other fans) I could occasionally move forward slightly, to take "panoramic" shots of the entire stage, lit up by various lighting combinations throughout the evening.

From so far back however, I was still only allowed to use the flash on my camera body – that being the rule. I did end up with a few good overall shots of the stage but the range and limited lighting meant that I could not scan and enlarge those particular photographs (later) with any practical chance of retaining any clarity. During the encore however, fans were allowed to go to the front, so during "All for One" (with various band members being illuminated by some helpful stage lighting – as far as I was concerned!) I made the most of the opportunity to take short-range photographs that I would be proud of.

Then all of a sudden, the gig was over – "The Red Baron" was playing out of the speakers. A few fans were saying that the gig was "a bit short" but then drifted off with the rest of the crowd that was now slowly leaving. I knew that the Cheltenham would be the last gig of the tour for me; spare cash was running out and priorities in Lincoln were calling me home. Ray Hunter was nearby, so I took my last chance to make some interview notes. I asked him why Security Staff at gigs frowned upon digital cameras, after all, one can simply develop conventional film the next morning, scan it, then convert it to a CD or an Email? He explained that the real reason for banning digital cameras (and certain mobile phones), was that some could be used to make short videos. There was never time at concert doorways to make a detailed inspection of every suspected digital camera (or certain mobile phone), to see if they could or couldn’t produce a video, so a blanket forbidding of their use was the only option open to the security staff.

I then asked what Blackmore security staff thought of the nightly appearance of autograph hunters at the stage door? Ray explained that such an occurrence "was only natural" on the fans’ part but the security staff had to put Ritchie’s interests first. Ray also pointed out that Ritchie’s job on stage was very demanding, putting him under a lot of pressure. This meant that people putting extra pressure on Ritchie to sign things afterwards could sometimes be interpreted as being unfair to him.

Finally, I asked Ray to sum up what he thought of the tour, in regards to the Security aspect. He said that "On the whole, the Blackmore fans were a good crowd and well behaved". He also added that though the role of the Blackmore security staff was to ensure that the fans acted in a safe and orderly manner, the security staff also "wanted to make sure that everyone enjoyed themselves".

Before leaving, I said my final goodbyes to Carole and co. They kindly offered me the chance to be more involved if I went to the Exeter gig but (despite being offered free tickets from several fans) I had to decline due to other priorities calling me home. Despite missing the Exeter gig however, I have to conclude that I had enjoyed myself thoroughly, having got lots of photographs, article notes and met many Blackmore fans who, up till then (to me), had just been names on magazine pages or Websites. I had also literally spent every last penny I could spare on the tour and devoted the maximum time that I could spare to it. In short, it had been one hell of a holiday!

Mike Garrett (Lincoln, England)

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