Blackmore’s Night

Interview for DPRP by Menno Von Brucken Fock

When Candice Night and Ritchie Blackmore (formerly of Deep Purple and Rainbow) met some 23 years ago, their lives changed for good. Ritchie said farewell to Deep Purple and after one more adventure with Rainbow he disbanded the band in 1997. Soon after Blackmore’s Night was born and Ritchie was able to pursue his passion for medieval and Renaissance music with his partner Candice Night. Being together already for about 20 years, they finally married on the fifth of October 2008. Especially in Europe the project proved to be hugely successful and Ritchie and Candice have been touring in Europe for the last 15 years. The band has released seven studio albums and until recently two live albums. Recently BN released a new live DVD A Knight In York, shot in The Grand Opera House on September 30, 2011. It’s not very often Blackmore’s Night performs in the Netherlands but on July 11 Ritchie and Candice played with their band of minstrels in “De Vereeniging” in Nijmegen. Though not in a castle, this building is very stylish and dates from 1882, but had been rebuilt in 1915 in a neo-classical style.

Menno: From one of the most distinguished rock guitarists or “guitar gods” you seem to have traded your Fender for the Mandolin, at least for 80+ %. What drove you to make this decision in the first place?

RB: I didn’t trade it for the mandolin. You may mean the mandola which is a different instrument. Lets just say I added a few more strings to my bow and arrows. I still play the strat and do hard rock solos in a lot of my songs. I found playing the electric guitar all the time, I was getting stale and beginning to bore myself. To me playing these other instruments is refreshing as I am not that adept at playing them so it’s a constant learning process.

Menno: Have you been playing the acoustic guitar or rather the mandolin and the lute before you formed Blackmore’s Night?

RB: Not particularly. Like I said I don’t really play the mandolin hardly at all and I certainly don’t play the lute. I play other stringed instruments, like mandolas. A set of 4 double strings.

Menno: How do you choose your instruments, depending on the composition, the sound or other reasons? Do you own any original ‘antique’ instruments and if so do you use them for recording purposes?

RB: Sometimes I’m not sure whether to use acoustic guitar or electric guitar or electric mandolas or hurdy gurdys or to modernize it and give it a hard rock sound. Sometimes we do both and take out whatever doesn’t suit the track. No, I don’t own any original antique instruments.

Menno: Since when did you develop such a keen interest in minstrel music?

RB: Starting in 1972 listening to David Munrow and the Early music consort of London. Playing Tielman Susatto’s music, a musician from the 1500’s. He worked in Antwerp. I had been playing for audiences of 20.000 people with Deep Purple for so many years it kind of had an interest to me to play in some sort of a courtyard of a castle even to 50 people. After a while that thought fell apart but that was the initial thought we had: let’s do something that brings in the concept of being in a castle and being in a courtyard and playing acoustic music to a small audience. Old castle walls still have something enchanting for me and we feel it’s the ideal place to play our music.

Menno: As for the DVD why York?

RB: We play in England not too often, every five years or so also because I’m wanted by the police …. (grinning). We chose York also because of it’s memories and it’s extensive history: York was the capitol of England before London; not many people know that, because I just made it up…….. uhm…. No I didn’t! (During his stay, the Emperor Severus proclaimed York capital of the province of Britania

Menno: How about the Medieval; way of life?

RB: I’m a 100% obsessed by the medieval lifestyle and the music, and the Renaissance. The 1500’s, that’s where I live, where my spirit is: a lot of warfare, a lot of futile things going on. Just to be around a Gothic castle is a wonderful experience, to touch the walls….
CN: We would rather be sitting around a bonfire than in a sport’s park, you know what I mean? So we incorporate a lot of things, visuals and moments of those medieval and Renaissance times. We don’t live it all the time but there are special things and moments we’d like to infuse in our live today and make our lives so much more exiting and interesting.
RB: We like to take the spirit of the 1500’s with air conditioning….

Menno: The music of Blackmore’s Night seems to develop in the direction of being more acoustic along the way. Do you agree and is there an explanation for this?

RB: No there is no explanation for this because we change from day to day. One day acoustic, one day electric. One day folk, one day rock, one day pop. We’re now incorporating some Russian scales into our music too.

Menno: Your music has been described as electric folk, renaissance, minstrel….. looking back what descriptions do you think covers your music the best way?

RB: All of those actually. It comes down to to the mood of the day. I personally play a lot of purest renaissance and medieval music at home and although a lot of our ideas start out as purely renaissance we sometimes turn it into electric folk along the way. We have no box.

Menno: Both with Rainbow (tracks by Russ Ballard) and with Blackmore’s Night you record “covers” as well as a lot of traditional folk songs, adapted to your own style. How do you choose these songs and how do you find these folk songs? Are there libraries with written notes?

RB: Yes, if we hear a good song we’ll copy it and there are ways of learning melodies without knowing the notes by just listening. I also listen to a lot of old music and obscure bands from Europe. When we are on our travels we try to take in songs that we wouldn’t get back in America.

Menno: Most artists want to write and record only their own creations. What are your reasons to use songs written by others?

RB: Most artists want to use their own creations because they want the writing credits and the money. I believe in covering whatever is the best song for us that we discover at the time. I have been in bands that didn’t want to record other songs by other artists because it means giving away that portion of the money.

Menno: Are all the songs you use for your music from UK origin or are there songs from the mainland or elsewhere too?

RB: We do hardly anything from the UK. Most of our music is from middle Europe, Flemish, Hungarian, Czech, Spanish, French, German.

Menno: It’s been 15 years since the two of you started Blackmore’s Night and you’ve seen a lot of places in the world. Any countries where you would like to go to and where you didn’t have a chance to go to so far?

RB: No, we always go to where we want to go. Not where the management or agent sends us blindly. We are very lucky to go to where we want to go to and play there. I remember a time in DP when we would go from one continent to another and I really wasn’t interested in traveling that much. I don’t like traveling. Especially with the current situation of punishing the passengers that fly so we limit how much we travel especially by plane. Flying used to be so easy 30 years ago- now it’s become a headache. In fact in a America, if we can’t drive to the show I don’t do it. I won’t fly internally anymore. It’s become nearly impossible.

Menno: Candice used to be a background vocalist for Rainbow and that’s how the two of you got hooked on one and other I presume? How did Candice get that job in the first place?

CN: Actually I was working at a radio station in New York when Deep Purple came to town and asked our DJs to play a charity soccer match. I went to cheer my team on but Ritchie’s team won. So I went over to congratulate him on his win and ask him for an autograph after the game. He asked me to meet him at a pub later on and we talked all night. It was like meeting an old friend again. We had so much in common. That was in 1989. The relationship developed like any other. Friendship then the natural evolution into a romantic relationship. He asked me to tour with him in 1993 with Deep Purple and he knew I could sing since he asked me to sing songs while he played guitar at his parties in his home, so when he needed a backing vocal part on Difficult To Cure, I was the one who got to sing it. When he reformed Rainbow in 1995, he knew that I was a closet poet and when the singer was having a difficult time coming up with lyrics that the band liked, before they hired and flew in a professional lyricist, they played the backing tracks to me and I would come up with about 14 verses. They would then choose the verses they liked and they now had the song complete. That’s how I got to co write 4 songs on the Rainbow CD and do the backing vocals from there. It was all a natural progression of events that if I was asked a few years before that if I had seen myself in those positions I would have said absolutely not. I would never have imagined that fate would’ve twisted my path, and now I can’t imagine ever not having gone down that pathway.

Menno: Who’s idea was it to form Blackmore’s Night and how did you choose the name? Were there any alternative names from which you made that choice?

RB: More or less my idea.
CN: In the beginning when we first started writing songs together, it was more for ourselves, for an escape from the rock world and the corporate industry it had become. Ritchie was involved in the rock world since the ‘60s when identity and freedom of expression was celebrated. But after 40 yrs in the industry, and heads of record companies getting involved with every step of your creativity, it lost its excitement and its pure energy. So, we would lament this for the music world and write our own songs, on acoustic instruments, sitting by a fireplace watching the snow fall while the other members of Rainbow were doing their tracks in the studio. When a Japanese label decided that they would like to put our songs out on CD we offered them the name Violet Moon for a band name. But they insisted that Ritchie’s name be the band title or no one would know that he was in it, as the musical genre was so different than what was usually associated with him. So we had to join the 2 names together so people would know it was his new project. Again, the record companies idea, not ours. But when we started playing the songs we wrote to friends at parties at our home, and they said: “If you put these songs out on a CD- I would buy it!” We thought, it may be a good idea to put them out for others who may like what we were doing musically.

Menno: Who is or are responsible for the stage show and the setlist?

RB: Me usually and I talk it over with Candice.
CN: We change the set list each night depending on the audience and on the acoustics of the venue. Some nights the audience wants to hear more upbeat songs and some times they are more of a listening audience so we can open up acoustically. But in general we give a good variety of all the songs. Our shows are on average between 2 ½ – 3 hrs long if we’re enjoying ourselves.

Menno: Any plans to change the stage set up or the instrumentation?

CN: We have 3 new band members and one of them is versed on French horn so that adds a new dimension to the songs that we didn’t have before. But as it is I am playing 3 shawms as well as an array of woodwind instruments, the backing vocalist plays the horn and shawm, we have a violinist, a keyboard player, bass/rhythm guitarist, percussionist/drummer and Ritchie is playing acoustic guitars, electric guitars, mandolas and hurdy gurdys on stage so I think that the instrumentation and lineup is pretty full at this point.

Menno: I presume Japan is still a big market for you. How does the digital download age affect you as musicians and what effects does this have on your lives?

RB: I go to the doctor and get medication for it.
CN: Japan is a big market, but it is difficult to get to as it is so far away. Right now, although America is also a big market for us, Europe is probably the biggest market as we have been touring here every year for 15 years and the audiences have just grown exponentially. Besides, the European fans have this music in their blood and their ancestry so it’s almost nostalgic to them.

Menno: Both with Purple, Rainbow and Blackmore’s Night there is always the question: “which line up”? With Candice and you at the helm, is it fair to say you are constantly looking for musicians to fulfill your needs rather than strive for a real band with everybody giving input, sharing responsibilities and so on?

RB: We have no passengers in this band. We have no body that has a big name that contributes nothing.

Menno: Why this choice? Is it as simple as to say you like to be in control?

RB: Do you like writing for your editor or would you like to be in complete control of your magazine?

Menno: As a couple you now have two very young children: how difficult is it to combine living your lives as traveling artists with trying to raise your children in a more or less stable homely situation?

RB: It’s tricky but it’s possible and it’s worth it as an end result.
CN: Our children come with us wherever we go. We don’t take vacations, we go on tour and play a show then have a lot of days off to recharge our batteries before the next show so our kids love the adventure, seeing castles and seeing the concerts. They’re incredibly worldly and well adjusted at a very young age.

Menno: Do you have a family life and a social life at all or is music still the centre of your being?

RB: Both.

Menno: Ritchie must be well in his sixties (with all due respect) but I don’t see any plans for retirement yet: how come? Do you still enjoy what you are doing, you must be….?

RB: I think anybody who gets into music enjoys playing music. We play for as long as we can and that goes for anyone who is into playing music for the right reasons. They will play it for as long as physically possible I get bouts of arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome, and my back hurts but its still worth it to play the music.

Menno: Candice has a very nice album out. Ritchie is credited for support etcetera but not as a musician: deliberate choice?

CN: Yes, because he didn’t play on it. He didn’t even know that I was recording it or anything about the songs until it was complete. If he was involved in any other capacity it would be the same as a Blackmore’s Night CD.

Menno: Candice, will you be promoting your solo album by touring? Any detailed plans yet?

CN: I never planned to tour on the material. Occasionally Ritchie will choose to do a song or two off of my cd if fans request it when we tour with Blackmore’s Night. He played Black Roses the other night during a show in response to a fans request. But for right now I am only doing interviews on it, no touring is planned. It was really just to hear the songs come to fruition, nut as a separate musical path. I’m very happy with BN being my main priority, musically.

Menno: Who are Steve Gardner, Jochen Richert, Uli Wehner, Rob DeBrauwere and Jake Fine?

CN: Steve and Jochen are the point people from Soulfood, our distributor in Germany. Rob DeBrauwere is our legal advisor and Jake Fine is the accountant.

Menno: Who are the musicians on the Reflections album?

CN: Gypsy Rose played the violin, I did woodwinds sang lead and backing vocals, Pat Regan played guitar and then got other session musicians to play when he returned to LA.

Menno: You wrote the songs over the years; when did you decide they ‘had to come out’?

CN: When I realized that it had been around 15 years since I started writing and hoping that they would be chosen for a BN CD, and they still hadn’t because Ritchie is such a prolific musician. Occasionally my songs would be chosen for some BN CD, like Now and Then, or Ivory Tower, but I had so many backlogged that were collecting dust, when I thought of them, it just made me sad that they were sitting on a shelf. They were composed from the heart so they were very pure and valid for me and important for me to hear them recorded to their full potential.

Menno: Will there be a successor to Reflections?

CN: There might be. I have been speaking with a new publisher who wants me to do a specific genre CD. And I also have other songs that I haven’t recorded yet that are waiting for me to indulge them in the process as well.

Menno: How about future plans for both BN and solos career(s)?

RB: Maybe when I’m 90.
CN: I love what I am doing with my band too much to be doing anything else musically as a priority right now.

Menno: Thank you very much for taking the time to asnwer my questions!

CN and RB: And we thank you!

Note by Menno Von Brucken Fock:

This interview has been an email interview, extended with some fragments taken from a promotional film accompanying the release of the DVD A Knight In York. Most questions (if not all) were answered by Candice, partially on behalf of Ritchie. Ritchie and Candice chose not to answer some of my questions regarding non-Blackmore’s Night related issues such as Over The Rainbow and the chances of a DP or Rainbow reunion.