A Chat With Blackmore's Night

by Mark Uricheck

When Deep Purple's founding guitarist Ritchie Blackmore left that band in the early 1990's, few in the music world would have predicted his next musical venture. Blackmore did not turn to blues or jazz, but rather to renaissance flavored fare; complete with medieval themes of castles and kings, and other such imagery of that storied period.

A certifiable guitar legend, and coming from one of rock's most influential bands, this twist was more than enough to turn a few heads. Low and behold, it worked. Since the late '90's, Blackmore's Night has enjoyed a string of successful releases that feature a variety of horns and stringed instruments in the style of the renaissance period, interwoven with Blackmore's electric guitar lines. The mix is haunting, and the band has an incredible sense of showmanship and loyalty to the authenticity of this music.

Since its inception, the lifeblood of the band has been Ritchie and vocalist Candice Knight. The real life couple, together with their travelling band of minstrels have defied musical trends and created quite a following for themselves; most notably in Europe, where their albums have resonated with major chart success.

The renaissance based music of Blackmore's Night goes to show that sometimes the most radically different and fresh ideas can come from a very old idea; in this case, several hundred years old. This is a group of musicians who completely immerse themselves in the music, even dressing in the traditional attire of the time period.

Blackmore's Night's most recent studio album was 2003's Ghost of a Rose. Currently, the band is set to release a collection of their ballads, entitled Beyond the Sunset – The Romantic Collection. I had the chance to ask Ritchie and Candice about the band and their music recently – What initially sparked your interest in renaissance era music?

Ritchie: I originally started listening to Renaissance music back in 1972 while watching a BBC program: Henry the Eighth and his wives. The music to that program was done by David Munrow and the Early Music consort. Then in the 1980's I met a band called Die Geyers, a German minstrel band. They were playing at a castle I was staying at. I thought their music was so captivating that I asked them if they needed a guitarist for their band. They said "No." So I formed Blackmore's Night.

Candice: I never heard Renaissance music until I met Ritchie. He'd play it around the house all the time- still does. So, originally when I heard the music, it would remind me of the early days of our relationship. That excitement, nervousness, romantic ...all of those emotions wrapped into the music. And then when we started getting into playing it - I just found it so easy to transport back to a simpler time. To visualize myself there. Where castles were on every hillside and people gathered around bonfires to ponder the mysteries of the universe. We still do that now. When you first started Blackmore's Night, was it tough to gain support for the project?

Ritchie: There were promoters and record companies that thought we were crazy.

Candice: It’s a good thing we create this music for us first and foremost. We believe in it wholeheartedly. It's almost like we are braving this path through the forest and as we go through we look behind us and there are all these faces, now, wanting to be on the same path as we're on. The greatest gift is those who write to us and tell us how this music has helped them through difficult times, or how it has helped them to write, dance, draw, sing and create again. That, in turn, inspires us to create more. It’s a never ending gift. Your performing at castles must be magical, can you describe what that's like?

Ritchie: We've always loved castles. That's why we are so drawn to Germany and Europe. But we used to just marvel at them or stay in them on vacations. Now we're lucky enough to be able to perform in them. Its more than just the historic value, its the silence you get when you are miles away from anywhere, no ambient lighting, no noise, just you and the spirits of the ages gone past. We write most of our songs by absorbing the energies from those castle walls. Just putting our hands on the stone and feeling it. At your performances, you encourage the audience to dress in medieval attire. Has this been something your fans have always done?

Candice: We have always encouraged it but it takes a while before people feel comfortable enough to come in droves dressed in garb! The great thing is that it becomes this sort of community where, once you get there. Instant friendship with the others that are "brave and crazy" enough to dress up like us. More importantly to us is that it shows their individuality, their creativity. Which, sometimes in this society, if you stand out - you're made to feel like an outcast. We think that people should embrace their individuality and not feel pressured to wear the same jeans, baseball hat, designer labels, as everyone else. And you should see how people just shine when they come dressed up. It's really something magical to witness. The response to your music seems to be growing in Europe, especially with Ghost of a Rose. Is it a totally different vibe when performing for European audiences?

Ritchie: I think at this point it is only because we've really concentrated on that market. And really we've done that not only because this music is their past, their history so they feel more comfortable with these melodies- but also because the music scene there is much more open than it is in America. Here if a major label isn't putting millions behind you or if you're not Britney Spears, you don't get heard. In Europe, besides having the castles as the perfect venues for us, they still have variety shows where musicians over 40 get heard. Over here if you're over 21 you're too old. It's really unfair because I know a lot of older and incredibly talented musicians who will never get heard because all the radio and TV stations see here is youth.

Candice: That's true- and I never understand it because you have to live with your instrument for years before you are really good at it. The musical standard that people are exposed to here is really at a low level now. You have to watch PBS or listen to a street musician or listen to NPR before you hear anything vaguely interesting these days- and even some of those avenues are a closed shop. Candice, are you professionally trained in voice? Your voice wraps around this music so well.

Candice: Thank you! No, actually I took singing lessons when I was very young until I was about 12. Then just the usual chorus class in high school. But I always loved music. I lived for it- it was my great escape. I just never thought I’d be performing it. And it's taken me a long time to be able to lose myself in the song enough to express the emotions through my voice on stage. Now, I'm loving it so much, it's like a dream. Ritchie, I think your mixing some electric guitar lines into the acoustic based music adds a whole new dimension to the music. Do you feel the same?

Ritchie: Yes, its adds volume. It’s interesting to me how these melodies transcend time. By adding some new instruments, new arrangements, new lyrics - you have a completely new feel to these amazing melodies that have been around for lifetimes. Have any of you ever researched your family trees back to the renaissance era?

Ritchie: No, I can't get past 1850. My father was working on it before he passed away.

Candice: My families records were all burned in the pogroms - my ancestors all come from Prussia and Odessa, Russia. That's as far back as I was able to get. But I have a great imagination... who knows maybe we lived in the Renaissance times ourselves...

Mark Uricheck, Music Contributor

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