When Deep Purple broke free of the British underground at the beginning of the 70s, they had with them one of the most dynamic sounds in heavy progressive rock music - Jon Lord's fiery Hammond organ duelling with the guitar virtuosity of one Ritchie Blackmore.
Throughout the years, Blackmore would go on to define British heavy rock guitar playing, firstly with Deep Purple, and then with Rainbow. But in the mid-90s, that all changed. Teaming up with his partner, Candice Night, Blackmore's musical direction altered course. Bringing in a largely acoustical sound, combined with medieval and renaissance influences, the music of Blackmore's Night is a far more mellow affair. We caught up with Ritchie and Candice shortly before they came to Newcastle on their UK tour:
Tell me about the current line-up of Blackmore’s Night. Who is in the band for this UK tour?
Ritchie: There are eight people in the band at this point. We have the keyboardist Bard David of Larchmont who has a great operatic voice as well. The harmony singers: Sisters of the Moon - Lady Nancy and Lady Madeline - again operatic singers; Sir Robert of Normandie on bass and rhythm guitar. Tudor Rose on woodwinds and violin; Squire Malcolm who is from Newcastle on percussion. And of course Candice Night does the singing and renaissance woodwind accompaniment.
|"I might think about doing one or two shows with Purple but their management couldn’t be involved. It wouldn’t be for recording - just for the fans."|
Candice: And these days Ritchie is not only playing his electric but an assortment of acoustic instruments, including mandolas, lauds, and even the hurdy gurdy!
What can we expect from the setlist? Will you be playing some new material? Will you still be throwing in the odd Deep Purple or Rainbow classic? Are you planning any surprises?
Ritchie: We have a tendency to do a different setlist every night depending on the energy we are getting, not only from the crowd, but from the place we are performing in. It keeps the band on the edge. We do play some old Purple and Rainbow tunes if we feel like it.
Candice: I think that’s one of the greatest things about being in this band: The freedom to play anything that we want to whenever we want to. There is so much variety in what we do, whether it is beautiful heart wrenching ballads, renaissance based music, upbeat pub songs or rock, so we never know what Ritchie is going to pull out of his hat next. The element of surprise is there in each show for all of us.
Your fifth studio album will be called The Village Lanterne. What can Blackmore’s Night fans expect from this new album? How does it differ from the last studio album, Ghost Of A Rose?
Ritchie: I think that some of the songs have a bigger production to them. But then there are some that have a really organic feel. And Candice’s voice gets stronger with each album. I think this one came out very well. It’s hard to reflect on a comparison between albums though. It’s as hard as it is to say what direction you’re going in musically. You never really know - its all about the journey of creating that music and the journey is different each time.
Candice: We have about 15 songs recorded at this point. There are some surprises on there too. Some of the songs from Ritchie’s past will emerge on the album with a whole new perspective. This album really runs the gamut of everything from rock to pop to instrumentals to folk. It’s a perfect balance.
Where do you get the inspiration from for your music? Describe the process when one of you brings an idea to the table. What happens next? How do you bash it around so that a song comes out of it?
Ritchie: I usually come up with the music and the melody line. Then I’ll ask Candice to come in and sing along with it to see if it is in her range and if it sounds like its worth following through. If it is then she’ll go in another room and come back a few minutes later with words and sing them to me. If we feel it reflects the song right then the next step is to figure out if we want it to have a big production or to keep it “sitting around a bonfire” organic. Sometimes that’s the hardest part because we get lost down the crack in the middle. I prefer the more organic sound but most people like to hear bigger tracks. It all depends on what fits the song.
Candice: Ritchie’s melodies are so visual that it is easy to come up with lyrics for them. Even if you listen to some of his instrumentals and close your eyes - the music will paint a picture in your mind. I always feel as if the music will tell you what it wants to be about – if you just listen to it. So I do and that’s where the words come from.
To Ritchie: The last time I saw you guys play was in Newcastle back in 2000, when you put on a fantastic show. However, one or two fans still called out for the old Deep Purple classics like Highway Star and Burn. How has the reaction to the music of Blackmore’s Night changed over the years amongst your old rock fans?
Ritchie- I think that at this point people know what they are coming to see and they come with open minds to appreciate the show. Maybe the people coming to see the show at the beginning weren’t really sure what they were getting themselves into but now I think we’ve gone beyond that point. Besides, many of the old rock fans have matured over the years and are now looking for something melodic. They also are bringing their wives to the shows because of the girl singer singing about different subjects so we’re hitting a whole new group of people. But we still play some of the old rock songs for the people you mentioned.
Back then, you also had a fledgling band supporting you, called Mostly Autumn, who have since gone on to do very well for themselves. Do either of you still keep in touch with the guys? And are there any other young bands around who have caught your eye or imagination?
Candice: Actually, yes, we’re close with Angie and Heather and Brian from Mostly Autumn. They are a great group of people and we really enjoy spending time with them.
Ritchie: I think the operative word there that you’re using is “young” and unfortunately that seems to be the only group of people that get played on the radio these days. It’s ironic that you need years to be able to play an instrument well and yet all the bands these days are 17 and know 3 chords. We don’t listen to the radio – the bands we’re interested in play music for its honesty, not to be on MTV. The commercial scene in England is actually the only place that’s worse than in America.
To Candice: A little while ago you had gone into the studio to record a couple of solo tracks, Alone With Fate and Call It Love, and rumours of a solo album abounded. Have you recorded any more tracks, and should we expect a solo record soon?
Candice: I do still have these songs that are sitting on a shelf that I would love to breathe some life into by recording them. But it seems hard to find the time these days. We just used one of my solo songs, Once In A Garden, for the album, and this year has been so busy between touring, recording the new album, releasing the DVD Castles and Dreams and - this is new for this year- I’m also the official “Princess” of a park here in the USA called Magiquest. Plus I just did a duet with the band Helloween. So I am hoping next year to be able to get back into the studio and dust some of my own songs off. Of course, I’d always like for them to appear on a Blackmore's Night album if that’s possible.
To Ritchie: Now I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t ask the following question, so apologies in advance. Rumours of a Rainbow reunion still crop up once in a while. Can you see yourself ever returning to the hard rock world, either with a Rainbow line-up, or with a new project?
Ritchie: I’m enjoying myself so much with this band that its hard to see that happening. I might think about doing one or two shows with Deep Purple but their management couldn’t be involved. It wouldn’t be for recording - just for the fans for nostalgia. But we do play some rock in this band so its not like I’ve abandoned that genre completely. It’s just that its not all we play.
What advice would you both give to young musicians looking to follow in your footsteps and get a foot in the door of the music industry?
Ritchie: After you learn the first two chords, get yourself a good lawyer.
Candice: Never try to sound like anyone other than yourself. Fads and fashions come and go but be true to your own individuality – its timeless.