Fireworks Magazine

Interview: Andy Brailsford
Intro: Bruce Mee

Last issue we ran the first part of our long-awaited Blackmore's Night interview, where Ritchie and Candice spoke in length about their new compilation album, the beginnings of the band, and Ritchie's love of Renaissance music. In this concluding part, we look more closely at the man himself, his relationship with the press and some highly amusing stories from his time in Rainbow. Fireworks #19

As we talked about last issue, the press certainly didn't get it when you started Blackmore's Night. Quite a few of the fans didn't get it. And to my mind, the press, to a large extent, has been quite unfair to you on some occasions. Do you ever care about how you are perceived or is the intrigue all part of the game?

R: "I think it depends on what day it is. Sometimes they get to me, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they give me the impetus to carry on, just to annoy people. I think there's a part of me that likes to annoy people, and the more that they put it down, the more I'm going to put it in their face. Which is a kind of sadistic way of looking at it. I'm motivated by myself, deep down, so if I think it's good, I know it's good. If I'm in one of those days where I'm not sure about this particular song or something, that's when I'm kind of vulnerable to someone else saying 'Oh, that's rubbish'. Then sometimes I have this other side of me that agrees with all the critics and I go through that 'Yeah, everything's rubbish', you know. But there again, I listen to all the other bands and think well they're all rubbish too."

C: "I think one of the greatest compliments we ever got was that our music wasn't bad enough to be on the radio [laughs]. Kind of made us feel a little bit better because really, if you're sandwiched between Beyonce and Geri Halliwell or M&M, then you're completely right, we don't belong anywhere near any of those people. Today's music scene is pretty bad, so in a way I'm glad our stuff gets spread more by word of mouth."

R: "And I suppose too, I do find that if I have a critic that criticises something I've done or am doing, I like to talk to them and say 'Now, who do you like?' And they know exactly where I'm going with that. You can tell that they're figuring out that as soon as they say who they like, then I'll tear them to pieces. And go 'If you like them obviously you're not going to like us.'

C: "And the thing about the press is that Ritchie doesn't play the game. We've found that a lot of people that are in the press all the time are the schmoozers who basically invite the heads of certain media to their summer homes or whatever, and Ritchie is just so real and so honest, and always has been in everything that he's ever done. It's him, and if you don't like him then forget it, and if you do like him that's great, but he's not going to bend over backwards and play that schmoozing game just to get press."

R: "I'm not the sociable type. I am with a few friends. And that introvertedness comes across as being aloof and arrogant. People do get the wrong impression. I'm not arrogant, and I'm not an egotist. It's introverted, and sometimes I'm moody."

C: "And you're also not a salesman. Whenever he gets asked to do interviews, he often says 'I don't want to wear a sandwich board', you know, saying 'Buy my latest product'. And he'd rather do an interview and talk to somebody over dinner and having a nice glass of wine so he can share his stories, and bring that interviewer into his life. But record companies want you to do 25 interviews a day, and each one 5 minutes, and it's the assembly-line of interviews, and it's just a strange thing for him.

R: "It's like we're doing an interview with you and it's like a normal conversation, whereas some people, they say to us, "Now what is this all about, this project. Prove to me that I should buy it. What's good about it?" It's like wait a minute, I'm not a salesman. No way. Yet there are some people in the business - and we all know who they are - that are always selling themselves. They're always at the right parties... the Ascot set...certain people who always turn up."

It's funny you should say that actually because one of the questions I wanted to ask you Ritchie was about this show coming on at Wembley - the Miller Strat Pack, and it's all to do with the celebration of the Fender Stratocaster. And I'm amazed that you're not on the bill.

R: "I was asked to do it, but I think we're in Japan at the time. I must admit, I'm pretty lazy when it comes to stuff like that. I have a bad habit of just not turning up to things. I feel uncomfortable in those situations. Even if I hadn't been playing, I don't know if I'd have even turned up. I speak to Fender quite often, and play their stuff and everything ... have meetings with them. But I just feel uncomfortable."

So how does the creative partnership between you and Candice actually work? Does Candice ever do any of the music and do you Ritchie ever do any of the lyrics?

R: "The latter part, I think I did two lines in 'Renaissance Fair' and a line in 'Good to be Back Home Again', and that was it. Candice has written three or four songs...'Ivory Tower', 'Now And Then'...It usually starts with me sitting around, fiddling on the guitar with invariably a Renaissance melody. And I'll say, 'Candy, can you just sing this a minute,' and she'll sing the melody and we'll see if it has potential to go anywhere. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. I have tiny recorders all over the house that are full of material, and half the time we go to record I don't even play them back, because I just like to make music up as I go along. And it's amazing how some people make demos. I could never make demos. To me, if I'm in the studio I want it to be fresh. We'll have a basic, sketchy outline of something, but I never like to finish anything until we're in the studio. And sometimes that works against it, because all of a sudden, half-way through the song I'm confused as to where the Hell we're going, as to what should be the instrumentation - that gets me sometimes."

So who does all the housework?

R: "I do all the hoovering."

C: "That's the best bit - he loves to vacuum. And I love that he loves to vacuum."

R: "Yeah, I'm on the floor cleaning the floors and stuff like that. We don't have a maid. We tried it and every time we have maids in they always come at the wrong time or they're stealing things. The wardrobe just disappears. It's amazing - these people just steal stuff all the time."

C: "Ritchie's really good at doing the floors, and I do everything above floor level."

R: "It's kind of a purification process. You see something getting clean and you feel good about it. I remember an old story in Rainbow: Bobby Rondinelli came to my house when I was living in Huntington, New York. He knocked at the door and asked 'What are you doing?' And I was there hoovering. And he said 'You're hoovering?!' thinking that I should have a maid or something, and I said 'Yeah.' So he came in and we talked a bit, and he left and I carried on hoovering. And he was quite perplexed that I had been vacuuming. And then we got to this hotel in Denmark, and I couldn't sleep because the guy next door was making a racket. So I decided to move the bed, and then I had to move the gigantic wardrobe. And of course, underneath the bed and wardrobe was all this caked gunk from years of not cleaning underneath. So I went outside and got the maid's hoover, and I was hoovering, and of course who knocks on the door other than Bobby and he says 'What are you doing?' And he saw the hoover in my hand and says 'You're not vacuuming in an hotel?!' and I went 'Yeah.' And he said 'You're weird,' and he just went down the corridor shaking his head, [thinking] all I ever did was to hoover things."

We were talking earlier about how you play these castle shows. Is that likely to happen over here at all, or is that difficult to arrange?

R: "It is more difficult to arrange, but the weather doesn't help. When we do these castles we tend to go south of Frankfurt. There's kind of an invisible line - if you go south of Frankfurt into Bavaria, the weather is always sunnier. You start going north of that and it's always raining. So that can kill the even right there. But we still want to play the castles, and we've done Lumley Castle in Newcastle. We did three days there once, and that was great fun. We'll have to do it again. We're always very dubious when we come to England as to who is going to turn up. We're always very pleasantly surprised that people actually know who we are and turn up, and get into it. I mean, if you were to believe the press... I believe that the people in the streets of England love this music, and love any good music. That media thing - they give the impression that unless you're doing the latest Dance thing, you're just out of it. If you're over 30 then you should really just shoot yourself. That ageism thing is really rampant, I've noticed, in England with the media. Yet when you speak and play to the people in the street, they love it. There are other 50 year old people around that love this music, but you would never think so if you listened to the media or believed BBC1. Getting on a TV show is nearly impossible for us....because I'm this dinosaur and Candice is something else, and it's all very bizarre.

C: "I'm sure I'm Yoko Ono."

R: "I wish they'd get over that ageism thing. It is worst in England. You go to Germany, and they have lots of shows for older people. Here it's Top of the Pops and that's the end of it."

One of the things I've picked up on - and I have an affinity for this - that Ritchie, are you the type of person that's never confident in your own ability? Because for instance, Candice asks you to get up and play sometimes when you are out, and you won't, and you said you wouldn't feel comfortable in the Strat Pack situation. Is it that somehow that you don't believe you are as good as you are?

R: "Exactly. I have confidence now and again, but I don't have the basic, overall confidence that I probably should have. I always tend to underestimate myself I suppose. I tend to withdraw from situations if there's any pressure. I'm always searching… I think that was instilled in me at school by my dad. Like you could always do better, better, better….That's the way my blood runs in my veins - it's always trying to do better. I very seldom listen back to our music because I'm always, in a way, disappointed because I know I can do better. But then I'm frustrated with knowing how am I going to do better because I get the 'red light syndrome' sometimes too - in the studio and all I'm doing is just playing not to make a mistake, which is ridiculous. I'm not emotive.

C: "The great thing is that he looks at everything as a challenge. Even a new instrument. Ritchie never sits back and rests on his laurels and thinks 'Okay, I mastered the guitar'. Every day for him is a whole new challenge - the guitar is teaching him something, and it's like a puzzle or an enigma that's he's got to try and figure out, or at least come to terms with at that moment. So he's never comfortable with where he is at any level, it's always a challenge for him and I think that's what keeps him on the edge, and keeps him so great."

Is that why you've never done a solo album? You could say Rainbow was a solo project, but you've never really done a true solo album. Is that the reason?

R: "Yes, in a way. Sometimes I don't think I could carry that, that I don't have enough ideas or talent to pull that off. And I sometimes wonder whether a whole instrumental album is valid. I like to hear a lead melody. I like to hear someone singing somewhere along the line. So there's a lot of reasons, I suppose. But I do tend to be introverted and shy away from [that idea]. I'm the opposite of these people who kind of push themselves, and maybe I need to go on one of these 'self assurance' courses.

C: "Well I think even if you don't do a complete solo album - which I think would be brilliant anyway - even if you do a compilation of all the incredible instrumentals you've done over the years, that would be amazing."

R: "I will do one day because now I have probably 12 or 14 instrumentals I could put altogether. I do have quite a few instrumentals I play around the house but I've noticed when I go in the studio I don't play to the standard that I would want to. I find myself not taking too many chances. So I kind of shy away from going in the studio, I don't know why. I think when I'm in the studio, music is no longer music. It's becoming this kind of work, whereas if I'm just playing around the house, or even on stage, it's more fun. If you make a mistake, it doesn't matter, because it's gone. But if you're in the studio, you're so conscious of not making a mistake that I sometimes get 'analysis paralysis'."

You're a perfectionist, so that's the root of the problem.

R: "That's another thing - I would say that I'm not. I'm very particular, but I haven't reached that standard of perfection. So I'm at odds with that too."

What I meant by that is that what you do, you would like it to be ultimately the best you could possibly do.

R: "That's right. I think if I'm recording something then it should be the best. Invariably, it's the most mediocre that I ever play is on record. Which is counter-productive. So I kind of get a little disillusioned with the studios, and it's only my own fault because it's up to me. I've become very self-conscious in the studio, and I have to learn to … just get drunk, I suppose [laughs]."

Having done all that you've done, do you actually have any musical goals left?

R: "Yes, I do. I mean, I can't put them into tangible words, I just know that there's better music out there and I'm still reaching for it. I'm still trying to come to terms with what I'm doing. Often, when we tell people we do Renaissance music, it's not really Renaissance music because it's covered and it's blushed over. Sometimes I'm torn between doing the real orthodox organic stuff and playing with the real instruments and not glossing anything over, but I'm a little bit timid because I think that people would just think 'What the Hell's that?' But to me, my favourite kind of music is again just the purest medieval, Renaissance music. Fortunately, or unfortunately, not too many people like that. But then again there's that other side of me which loves to play the rock and roll guitar, so I'm always at odds with myself I think."

So is there anyone in the business that you would like to perform with, or write music with?

R: "Again, the people that I look up to, I'd be terrified of. So I'm back to square one. And I have… I suppose a high standard, or a different standard, where I don't like too many people in the business, from a musical point of view. I look up to someone like John Williams or Gordon Giltrap from a guitar point of view. But I'd feel very ill at ease in their company."

With the Blackmore's Night thing, I can remember Midwinter's Night. Would you ever think of working with someone like Enya, who has that great Celtic sound. Would that be of interest?

R: "I like the Enya productions, and she was the first that started all that mystical music, way back in the 80's. She was ahead of her time, and the production was great. I love the fact they don't use too many drums - the rhythm patterns are done on keyboards, and I like that effect. There's lots of great singers. I like Sarah Brightman. We often go and see her. And Kate Bush, who's obviously incredible. I don't know what she's doing now, but I hear so many people copying her over here. And Maggie Reilly, who sang 'Moonlight Shadow' with Mike Oldfield. That kind of direction inspires me. I went to see Mike Oldfield and I was blown away with their show. This was back in '85 I think, and I'd never seen such a precise show other than Jethro Tull.

I'm not a big fan of rock and roll bands that go on stage and yelling and throwing themselves back and forwards - you know that typical thing that bands do. So as much as I like playing rock, there's probably only a couple of rock bands that I really like - that was Mountain and Vanilla Fudge. And you've got Hendrix and people like that."

I'm quite intrigued now by what you just said there - you're not into the rock thing where you're running about and that. How many Strats have you broken in your career?

R: "Yes, hmmmm. That's my other half."

C: "They all deserved it!"

I can remember being at one of your shows in the 70's, and you broke the Strat and threw it up and the lead got caught in the huge rainbow, and I was right at the front, and it was just dangling just above me and I couldn't reach it. I was so angry…

R: "I used to do that purposely. I did it a few times. It was always a challenge to get it hooked around the rainbow. I'd keep throwing it up until it hooked, and sometimes it never did, but when it did it looked good just hanging there. It was all part of the show thing, at the end just party-time and getting crazy…"

I read a story that you dropped that big rainbow into the ocean from a plane. Is that true, or just a myth?

R: "That's a myth. It's still in storage, that rainbow. I have in storage all my amplification from all those days, and it's like a warehouse of Marshall amplifiers. And that's up in Albany, and I never see it. I haven't seen that stuff in years. I have an inventory list, but there's no need to use it. Maybe I'll sell it one day if I need the money."

I read another story about Rainbow where they had to smuggle you out of a country in a flight case. What was that all about?

R: "We were playing Vienna and the audience got a little unruly… well, not even unruly, they just got out of their seats to clap. And I saw a couple of the heavy bouncers knocking these people down, and when I saw that … I had a bit of a temper in those days so I just decided to kick the guy that knocked this person down, on the side of his head and broke his jaw. And that was it - he was the head of police. So as I played on, at all the exits I could see all these police gathering, waiting to arrest me after the show. There must have been about 500 police there. So my roadie said 'We're going to have to get you out of here,' and I said okay, how are we going to do it? He said he'd put me in a flight case. I came off stage while they were doing a bit of a drum solo, and I jumped in this flight case, and of course when the lights went up, the police were running all over the place, asking where I was. They ran back stage to look for me and the rest of the band said 'Oh, he's gone on to the station, he's leaving by train.' So it was like this Gestapo scene … all these motor-bikes raced off to the station to arrest me, and a lot of the police stayed behind. There was police everywhere, and police dogs, and I got as far as the gate to go into the truck … I couldn't see anything, all I could hear was people yelling, and dogs. We got past the first police cordon in the venue. They tried to stop the roadie who was pushing the case, and they asked 'What's in there?' and he just said amplifiers, so they let him pass. But at the second point, just as I was being pushed into the back of the truck, out came these two plain-clothes police and said 'Open up!' I was like a jack-in-the-box. I came out of the box and there was all the fans at the back of the stage that could see all this, and they're all cheering and yelling. I jumped out of the box and I was arrested. I was kept in prison and given the old Gestapo treatment. They wouldn't let me sleep or anything in the prison. I was in there four days, which seemed like an eternity. I had no idea if I was going to get out. Apparently they had done the same thing to Joe Cocker the week before. . It taught me a lesson to curb my temper."

Ritchie Blackmore is 60 this year. Over four decades in the business, and still going strong. Let's all hope for many more years to come!!

© 2005 Fireworks Magazine

Copyright © 2001-2011 All rights reserved.