Fireworks Magazine

Interview: Andy Brailsford
Intro: Bruce Mee

To readers of our magazine, Ritchie Blackmore needs no introduction. His legacy is etched into the annals of rock history, his songs and music infusing its very heart and soul, and no-one can ever take that accolade away from him.Fireworks #18

Ritchie has always had a love for classical music, as has been musically well documented on albums throughout his musical career, especially his many instrumentals, most obviously with Beethoven’s 9th which he performed as ‘Difficult to Cure’ with Rainbow.

So it was not really such a shock when along with his girlfriend, the delightful Candice Night, he formed Blackmore’s Night in 1997. With a musical style best described as medieval/Renaissance, many of the Deep Purple and Rainbow fans were rather confused, and not a little concerned. But if they would put aside any preconceived judgements, they would find that the delightful melodies and intricate musical passages that abounded in Ritchie’s previous work are still present in abundance, with Candice Night’s ethereal vocals bringing a haunting and spine-tingling quality to the songs.

Sure, I miss the guitar too, but as Ritchie attests in this interview, each album has been progressively more rock orientated, and he promises the new one next year will be even more so. Personally, I can’t wait to hear it.

Andy Brailsford got on the phone to both Ritchie and Candice to purportedly discuss the recently released Blackmore’s Night compilation, but such was the warmth and friendliness that it became much more than that. This conversation took place the day after Chelsea’s 3-1 European triumph over Porto, the news of which pleased Ritchie no end. Who would have guessed that the ‘man in black’ really was a man in blue?

Candice was happy Ritchie hadn’t known about the match, as she reckoned he’d have been glued to the TV rather than out playing together the previous night, a local show which seemed to have gone down pretty well...

Candice: "We surprised everyone with medieval and renaissance music. It was kind of a culture shock to them. It's surprising. We’ll get up and play completely unplugged and have a good time with it, and then we’ll go out on the patio of the restaurant, just sitting out, and so many people will come outside and ask ‘What is that music?’ They seem to really, really like it, especially if they don’t know what it is. I think as soon as you mention ‘renaissance music’ people get a certain idea in their head and automatically think they’re not going to like it. We just get up and play – nobody knows who we are, so it’s interesting to see the reaction. People are entranced by it."

So do you really enjoy that – the fact you can get up and play and nobody knows who you are?

Ritchie: "Yeah, especially when we advertise we’re going to play somewhere, and nobody knows who we are. You’re dealing with people who could just walk out or think you are great – you just don’t know which way it’s going to go. You’re not playing for fans. So yeah, I like doing it."

I know you do that a lot abroad and go to festivals. Have you ever thought about doing that over here, or do you think that wouldn’t work, as far as you’re concerned?

R: "Over here they have a lot of what they call ‘Renaissance festivals’. Of course the Americans, if it’s worth doing it’s worth over-doing. It’s like totally blown out of proportion – villages that are made especially for the festival, and you’re talking about 250,000 people, and they’re gigantic compared to say, Germany, where they have festivals where like 300 people turn up.

C: "But they’ll have it at a real castle, but then only have a couple of hundred people show up, and they’ll make it more like for kids, with puppet shows and things. But over here it’s really more for the adults, like an adult fantasy land."

R: "Everybody’s living in that fantasy of Robin Hood."

Okay, on to the new album. I’ve always been a fan and I’ve followed Blackmore’s Night since you started and seen you all the times you’ve played over here, and the material on the album, although it’s not new apart from the one track, it sounds new because of the way it’s been put together. It works very well as a whole. Was that what you were intending, and how difficult was that to achieve?

R: "I think it was that we wanted to hold back on writing. We’d put out so much product quickly and I wanted to hold off for a year. A lot of people kind of missed out on our early stuff. They started buying the later stuff and didn’t know about the early stuff... Plus, we had a lot of people telling us they were getting married to our music, so it was good putting together a romance orientated CD so they could have something to play at weddings."

So why do that at this time of year? Wouldn’t that have been better suited towards Valentines Day?

R: "I know, but you can never get something like that organised with a record company [laughs]. And they are a good record company – they don’t tell us what to play, but they’re a bit untogether when it comes to other things."

C: "We did a couple of Christmas songs in there too, so they thought it was a good idea to release it now and promote it and push it for the next couple of months.

R: "Did you get any Christmas songs on your version?"

Actually no, there isn’t. But it’s just a promo, and doesn’t have the DVD tracks either.

C: "That’s part of the whole package. There’s five DVD tracks that we recorded about two years ago. And we also included three bonus Christmas tracks. All that should have been in there... We did covers of two traditional Christmas songs: ‘We Three Kings’ and ‘Emanuel’. And then we did an original Christmas song that is called ‘Christmas Eve’ and I think that’s going to be the second single released from the album. So that’s one of the reasons that we released the album at this time., so they could push the album and single over the next few months up to the Christmas season."

Why did you decide to put the new track ‘Once in a Million Years’ on the album?

R: "I think, from my point of view, we wanted to give something extra, not just all the old tracks.

C: "We found that a lot of our fans have almost the old school/hippy kind of mentality, like communing with nature. A lot of people these days are also rebelling against organised religion, or they have their own issues with that. But a lot of our fans are having these Renaissance themed weddings, sometimes in the middle of the forest and they're tying different coloured scarves to the trees and dressing up in Renaissance garb and lighting bonfires. So we thought it would be cool to put this out as a sound-track for a Renaissance-themed wedding, and when we wrote ‘Once in a Million Years’ we made it as romantic as possible to add to the repertoire. We got that from a German song.

R: "That’s right. I tune into the German channel a lot that I can pick up over here. I heard that played about five years ago by this woman, and I had no idea who she was. It took me five years to track down who she was and what the song was. So we didn’t write that one, we just covered it."

C: "Well we wrote the words. And we re-arranged everything. If you heard the original it’s completely different. Like, you wouldn’t even know that was the basis of where Ritchie got the melody from."

The Blackmore’s Night albums have been successful, probably more so in Germany than over here. But have you been surprised at the success of the albums, and at the end of the day, does the commercial success really matter to you?

R: "I think yes. We all have an ego, so we’re all aiming for something to be accepted by the public. So when we first started, everybody thought we were crazy. Well, they thought I was crazy anyway, but it was like ‘What are you doing?!’ And I’d reply ‘We’re doing Renaissance based music’ and the reply was ‘Oh, you’ll never go anywhere with that.’ And I think that kind of turned me on, if anything. I felt that was a challenge. I just loved the music and I’d done obviously 30 years of hard rock. And I’d never really taken any time to do something that I really wanted to do other than the rock and roll stuff. I was always too busy, and this time it was perfect because I wasn’t doing anything. So I thought now is the time to do this. So I wasn’t going to be put off doing this kind of music, and I’m glad I did. It was a big challenge though because you go on stage and you don’t have the Marshalls all revved up. You have a tiny acoustic amp with an electric acoustic guitar, and it’s all toned down a lot, so you’ve got to try that much harder to make it work. And when it does work, it’s very rewarding."

Every one I’ve been to, there’s a big party atmosphere. Although it has to be said, when you pick up the white strat, the sense of anticipation...

R: "We try and make it like in the old days, when the minstrels played for royalty. We try and adopt that kind of attitude in a way ... like you said, a party, and get requests, rather than coming in like the rock and roll artists and ‘You’ll get what we’re going to play you.’

So was the Renaissance and medieval music bubbling under the surface in you earlier days, when you were with Purple and Rainbow?

R: "It was all I listened to. It was an English guy called David Munro. He was playing music for the TV series Henry VIII, and I heard it and was really taken by that music... the majestic sounds of the brass and woodwind – much more so that the lute. People seem to have a tendency to think I’m interested in the lute, and I’m really not. It’s the more bombastic, pageantry type of dance music of the 1500s that I follow. So that’s how I first got interested in this music, back in ’73. And when I wasn’t playing rock I would always listen to this music, all the time. I never thought I‘d play it, or play anything like it or interpret it, I was just happy listening to it. But of course, after 20/30 years, I started fiddling on the guitar and playing more ‘finger style’ playing, and I acquired a certain technique with the right hand, picking , so things started falling into place. And Candy would sing these melodies – and it all made sense. And I suddenly thought wow, it’s a big departure from going on stage with a rock guitar but it’s something that I want to try and do, if I can pull it off. I was also inspired ... because I’m always visiting Germany and going around the castles. And I was staying at one castle, and this German Renaissance band was playing, and as soon as I heard them I thought ‘I have to do this.’ I asked to join them, and they turned me down immediately."

So they didn’t know who you were?

R: "It’s funny, because 2 years later they were asking me to join. But now they open for us all the time, and we’ve established a great rapport. They’re kind of heroes of mine, in that what they do, they don’t look for a commercial angle... they just remind me of real minstrels who have come out of the hay loft, and they’re always drunk. Like the Three Musketeers kind of thing. And that was very inspiring to see that, and I really felt that people should be exposed to this way of life, instead of the cocky rock attitude that you see all the time – it never ends. You know, everybody screaming and yelling, and the angry thing. Angry is all right... I suppose I started the angry thing, but it’s getting boring now."

C: "I think Renaissance music was almost the rock music of that day anyway. You have the Pageantry being played on all those double reed woodwinds – if you play that on the electric guitar you’ve got an incredible riff right there. So it kind of translates, even though it’s hundreds of years later."

Having heard what you said about hearing this music back in 1973 Ritchie, wouldn’t you have liked to be a member of Jethro Tull?

R: "They were like my favourite band, and again they inspired me to get more into this kind of music. ‘War Child’, which came out in ’74, was one of my favourite albums. I saw their show and I was really taken by the show and Ian’s showmanship. And I remember talking to him and saying ‘You must be really into that Renaissance/Medieval music.’ And typical Ian, he says ‘Nah, not at all.’ I would never have joined them, they’re too complicated – from the point of view I could never remember what Martin [Barre] remembers. I don’t know how he does it – all those timings and things. He’s brilliant at that."

A lot of the music on the albums that you’ve done is traditional, rather than original compositions. How much background work do you have to do there, and do you actually see the day when that well will be exhausted, and there’s nothing left that you can adapt to a modern-day arrangement? And how do you actually decide which ones you’re going to do?

R: "People have asked me that before, but I have such a ridiculous Renaissance collection that I could probably make another 20 CDs of stuff that I think is worth playing. A lot of the times I just don’t want to cover other music from the 1500s. I get inspired to write my own 1500 stuff. People hear certain music and they think it is traditional, and I say ‘No, we actually wrote that.’ And again, when we do our music, to a Renaissance purist, they probably say ‘This is nothing like Renaissance music.’ We’re trying to interpret Renaissance music and make it more palatable to the everyday person in the street.

It would be nice to see it get a little bit more popular. Especially over here in America – they have this country music, rock music, jazz and blues. And that’s it. And of course the hip-hop, but to me I don’t even think about that. So there’s all these categories, and if they hear medieval music they’re like ‘What the hell is this’. But now fortunately there is this incredible movement. It did start in Germany about 10 years ago, but there’s so many bands doing this kind of music now, adapting Renaissance themes and playing it with bag-pipes, and wearing kilts or whatever. And it’s catching on in America too, so it’s only a matter of time before there’s a category for ‘Ren music’ as they call it. What we call it is like ‘Ren & Roll’ or ‘Rock & Ren’."

You’ve also done a couple of modern day covers. Bob Dylan’s ‘Times They are A-Changin’ and Joan Baez’s ‘Diamonds and Rust’. What was it about those two that attracted your attention?

R: "I’ve always had this side to me that loves certain pop music. I loved ABBA when they were playing – anything that has a good melody, I’m always captured by it. So that Joan Baez song, I’ve always loved that tune. And the great thing about this project that we’re involved in is that we can cover anybody’s song, we can do anything we feel like doing, and invariably Candy will always think the same way I do about a certain melody, and we’ll just play it and do it, because it’s fun to do. Whereas I’ve been in bands that wouldn’t dream of doing that. ‘It’s somebody else’s material. Why are we playing it?’ And I’m like, well why not? If it’s a good tune... A lot of people are taken by the money that writing creates, but I believe the most important thing about the end product is a melody and a good song, not how much I’m going to make on writing credit."

Judas Priest did a version of that back in the 70’s, but it’s a lot heavier.

R: "I never realised that until we covered it, and people asked ‘Have you heard the Judas Priest version’ and we said no. And we spoke to Joan Baez just the other day, and she was funny because she said ‘Nobody covers my stuff’. And of course Bob Dylan is another hero of mine. I just love his stuff. There’s a lot of his songs I love. And I love the early Byrds stuff, like ‘Tambourine Man’. There’s a big pop side to me that sometimes gets out of control."

For those that don’t know, can you tell us how you two actually met and teamed up and how the Blackmore’s Night idea came into being.

C: "We met on a soccer field. He would arrange these charity matches between Deep Purple and whatever radio station he was visiting at that moment, and I was working for a radio station, probably the biggest rock radio station at that time. They had their charity match, and of course I was standing on the sidelines cheering my team on, and Ritchie had stocked his team with a whole bunch of ringers – there was only him and one other guy from Purple, I think it was just Roger that was playing. Anyway, they beat us mercilessly, and I went over to him afterwards, to actually ask for an autograph, and to congratulate him on his win, and we wound up just talking. We spent all night at a local pub just talking about everything from music to the supernatural, everything.... and we just met on so many different levels that it was like talking to an old friend, even though we had just met."

R: "Talking to a blonde girl that had this brain...."

C: "What does that mean?!"

R: "You were so eloquent it was amazing."

C: "What was it that got you? The girl part, or the blonde part [laughs]. Or the American part?"

R: "I think you were 18 at the time......I was 80."

C: "That was in 1989. I moved in with him in 1991 and went on the road with him with Deep Purple in 1993 with ‘The Battle Rages On’. I would be singing just around the house, or the hotel room or whatever and he heard that I could carry a tune, and he asked me to sing over his guitar solo on the ‘Difficult to Cure’ part when they were playing in the Czech Republic one night. They had me hidden away behind a stack of amplifiers, and I did this very high background part ..."

R: "The band didn’t even know that she was singing. We read this review. The critic said there was this high female voice that was...

C: ”...sampled into Jon Lord’s keyboards. That was me! [laughs]. And then after that he left Purple and started to reform Rainbow again. At that point I think they were having a hard time coming up with some of the lyrics, so he would call me and play the backing tracks over the phone. I remember on one piece, I think it was ‘Wolf to the Moon’, I came up with about 14 verses in like 20 minutes, and they got to choose whatever four they wanted... and that’s how it wound up becoming a co-writing experience. And while he was recording all the rock stuff, when they didn’t need him in the studio he’d be with me in the sitting room with an acoustic guitar, just playing and singing and writing our own stuff. Not that we ever thought that we’d put it out there for the rest of the world, but really just as a relief and kind of escape from what he was doing at that point. Like a mini-vacation. We started playing those songs at our parties – just among our friends. And when those songs wound up being more requested than the old standards that we used to perform, we realised that maybe other people would like to hear it too. So we put it out and it’s been this kind of whirlwind kind of adventure journey ever since."

So since Rainbow fizzled out, have you ever considered doing a melodic rock album together, but not necessarily under the Blackmore’s Night banner?

R: "No, because I think on our next record we’ll probably have a lot more rock orientated songs.

C: "Well I think this kind of music also affords Ritchie the luxury or freedom to play the rock tracks if he wants to but also to play hurdy-gurdy or mandolin or anything, so he’s not pigeon-holed. He was pigeon-holed in the rock and roll world for about 40 years, so at this point I think he’s breaking out and he’s having so much fun that I think if he wants to play electric, he can and it’s great, but no-one’s telling him that’s all he can play."

I was reading an old interview you did in Sounds, back in 1980. At that point you were saying that you were losing your classical influences and listening to rock again. You had been listening to nothing but classical and church music for four years, but then you got your taste for rock back. Now when I got ‘Fires at Midnight’ it struck me as being a heavier album – there was a lot more rock influence in it. So is this how your musical tastes work – cyclical phases?

R: "Yeah, that’s right. Now that we have the acoustic thing down now, I kind of dabble in the rock thing again."

C: "But I think also, all of our albums are kind of reflective of where we are at that moment in time, and I think with the very first one we did, ‘Shadow of the Moon’, at that point he’d been playing rock – and only rock – for such a long time, that I think that was his kind of rebellion against what he had been doing for so long. So that’s why is probably the most mellow album of ours. Besides that, we were still kind of feeling our way and not really knowing what we were doing, but the songs were pretty strong songs."

R: "I remember thinking the other day of my favourite times of recording, and one of them is obviously ‘Machine Head’ – that was done very quickly. ‘Deep Purple in Rock’ was the first time we got into the rock thing. And ‘Burn’, I had a good time. ‘Perfect Strangers’ we had a good time. And then ‘Shadow of the Moon’ comes along, because we did it in our house. We have our own studio, so it was very comfortable having the cats running around, and things like that. So ‘Shadow...’ was such a fresh thing. I‘d never recorded like that before, and doing so many acoustic songs – it was all new and exciting."

C: "And we had to write more upbeat songs for ‘Under a Violet Moon’ because we realised when we went out on the road, all we had were these mellow songs [laughs]. So the concerts we were doing were very relaxed, and Ritchie wasn’t used to that, so we had to supplement the next album and bring up the tempo a little bit. And then, like you said, the third one had more rock guitars. So each one is a different stage, a reflection of where we are. At the moment."

As I said, I’ve seen you on all the tours you’ve done over here, and I have to say that Candice has become far more confident as she’s gone on, and even has a dig at you on regular occasions Ritchie. So was it nerve-wracking for you when you started Candice, particularly in this country, because obviously this is where Ritchie’s from originally.

C: "Oh God, it was terrifying for me. I had never been on stage as this front person before. And I know a lot of people kind of have this dream or vision where they want to be a rock singer or any kind of singer. They start out and they form their own band, play their local clubs, get up and do acoustic nights, karaoke – anything. I’d never done anything like that. Never sang in front of a group of people that were just watching me. And the very first time that I had to perform as a lead singer was with Blackmore’s Night, and it was in Japan in front of 5000 people – that was my first audience. Which was terrifying. I don’t think I stopped shaking for the first six numbers. I was holding on for dear life, with white knuckles to the microphone stand [laughs]. I was in denial until 2 seconds before I stepped on the stage, thinking this was all a dream and I’d wake up any second. But with that kind of thing, you can’t just build confidence over night. It’s the kind of thing where you have to get used to it for years, and the nervousness is never really going to go away 100%. If you’re not used to that and you haven’t done that for years and haven’t got used to that whole frame of mind, then it’s a really difficult thing to be completely thrown in at the deep end, and come to terms with that – and come to terms while everybody is watching you. And especially when you have such big shoes to fill and you’re standing next to a legendary guitarist – even if he is your other half, he’s still a legendary, incredible guitarist who people expect certain standards of.

So there were all these things hitting me at once and I think now I’ve really kind of taken a crash course. It really kind of makes you go within yourself and do these major therapy sessions and figure out what you can do within yourself and how you can become more comfortable with the situation because really, at the end of the day, you love it more than anything, so you can’t be ruled by fear or by nervousness. You have to step out there and relax and talk to the people like they’re your friends. So it’s a really strange kind of mentality. And when Ritchie and I talk to each other on stage, that’s how we are in everyday life – whether we’re at the dinner table, or at a party of ours, or we’re on stage – we’re always kind of joking around, because we have that kind of relationship.

And it has taken a long time, not only to build my voice up to be confident enough to sing some of the harder, louder songs, but also to just feel comfortable enough to stand on that stage and bring everybody with us to this other realm that we want everyone to be magically entranced by."

R: "We’re now at that stage where we’re a lot more confident and more experienced – both of us. But in the beginning we only wanted to play to a hundred people, because I could hide behind the guitar.

C: "Plus at the beginning, I think that because this was the first thing we did, a lot of people were very judgemental, and I wasn’t sure what I was doing, and you, even though you’ve had so many years on stage, it was a whole other kind of music, a whole other kind of instrumentation, everything. And a lot of people were fans from the Purple and Rainbow days, and they had certain expectations. And now, I think we’ve been doing it for so long that people know what they’re coming to see. If they’re not into this side of the music, they just don’t show up. So that’s great for us, because then we have the core group of fans that are really, really into it. So again, you get to feel that everybody is basically your friend instead of sitting there with crossed arms saying ‘Okay, impress me.’

R: "It certainly took off much more than we thought. We were happy to play to a few hundred people. I think people notice when you’re enjoying what you’re doing. They know – as well as knowing when you’re not. And I think the vibe was that we were having a good time, because it grew and grew."

So when are we likely to see you over here in the UK again?

C: "Well the record company are working out some schedules where we can do something for the Christmas songs, but it depends which countries have the most promotion lined up. That will be end of November, beginning of December. Otherwise we’ll be back in England playing next year, probably for the DVD as the new album won’t be getting released until August/September. But they’re doing this multi-level DVD where it will have footage from acoustic shows and press shows in caves and castles we’ve done for the last couple of years, as well as personal handi-cam footage that we’ve been collecting over the years, and interviews and special videos that nobody has ever seen, and animated stuff. So that should be out in January."

Well, what can you say. A supposed thirty minute interview that ended up being an hour and a half, and a delightful insight into the lives and workings of Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night. Put aside any pre-conceived ideas you may have about the band, and check out the DVD and live shows next year. A rewarding experience that certainly won’t leave you disappointed.

In Part 2 of this interview next issue, Ritchie gets introspective on his relationship with the press - and with himself, explains how during his Rainbow days he ended up in a German prison cells for four days, and waxes lyrical about one of the other passions in his life - vacuuming!

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