"I'd probably be totally miserable playing in a hard rock band, if I didn't had met Candice"
Well, this was it – one of those 'once in a lifetime' opportunities to ask questions of one of the founding fathers of modern-day music, Ritchie Blackmore. The possibility actually presented itself, following the recent release of the new Blackmore's Night DVD, 'Castles & Dreams', which you should all be rushing out to buy right now if you do not already possess it. Oh, and just in case you were labouring under the misapprehension that Blackmore's Night is all about Mr Blackmore, this is definitely not the case – his partner in crime, Candice Night, takes centre stage on many occasions, as you can tell from her gracious responses below.
Forgive me for being a little Starstruck!
The new Blackmore's Night DVD, 'Castles & Dreams', could be described as a must-have for all lovers of good music. Did you enjoy recording it and how much input did you have regarding the content, especially the extras?
Ritchie: Thank you. There was a lot of work put into the choice of footage for this DVD. We filmed about 5 shows over the past 3 years and the night of the show in Schloss Veldenstein in Neuhaus was the best of the lot. The castle was great, the atmosphere and the medieval market that afternoon was a really nice touch by the castle owner. So the feeling was very good that day. The worst part about it was that a few days later when we were viewing the footage, the engineer told us that they had forgotten to record the electric guitar! Luckily our producer Pat Regan was able to find another microphone- the hurdy gurdy mic was actually left on by accident, and Pat was able to enhance the sound of that microphone and that's how you can hear the electric guitar on the DVD. That was a strange way to go about that process!
Candice: We were very hands on as far as choosing the material that ultimately wound up on the DVD. I think this is the strongest band line up that we have had so far and it was the right time to complete the filming. I went through home video footage from the past few years and compiled it for the record company and we worked very closely on every aspect of this project.
What is your opinion of the current promotion of the new DVD? Are you satisfied with the interest it has generated?
Candice: We can only be pleased with the hard work that we put into it. When it comes to the promotions, that is the record companies responsibility, although we do interviews to support their efforts. Some territories have chosen to promote the DVD well, some haven't and some haven't released it as of yet. Our greatest response is when we hear from the fans how much they love it. That's our reward.
Is the next Blackmore's Night album already in the making? If yes, will there be any surprises on it?
Ritchie: Yes, we have completed the recording of 14 tracks and the final mixes on 8 of those. We'll break from the process to do a tour of Germany and then continue to work on the album when we return in August. There will be a few surprises on it, but if I told you what they were, they wouldn't be surprises.
Your music is a mixture of classic Renaissance sounds, accomplished through the use of instruments from that period, and more modern rock, which could lead one to the conclusion that Blackmore's Night actually play 'Renaissance Rock'. Do you believe that there is a logical link between these two styles of music?
Ritchie: I do think that there is a strong connection. I think that the pageantry music of the renaissance times was actually the rock music of its day. The music that was played on the bombastic renaissance woodwinds had very strong riffs that would translate well to electric guitar today. I have incorporated the medieval harmonic structures of the 4ths and 5th that were used so often in those days, into my songs since 1971- like the riff from Smoke On The Water. That is why the riff sounds so dark and ominous, because of those harmonic structures.
How did you meet the rest of the musicians in Blackmore's Night? What are your criteria when choosing musicians with whom you wish to play?
Candice: We have met them through a wide variety of ways. Bard David came to us through a mutual friend who also played in the band at one point. Our manager found Sir Robert. Squire Malcom was a stand in for a drummer we were using that had to rush home at one point, and we liked the good Squire's percussion elements better than what we had before him. Tudor Rose was introduced to us through a woman who is the head of a recorded consort here in the USA. Her background is much more traditional purist than the rest of us.
Ritchie: There is a long list of criteria: they must have long hair, or look the part; they must be willing to wear tights; be able to leave their homes for a month at a time without their other halves going crazy about it; they must be generally good people that will get along with everyone – and occasionally they must be able to play an instrument. Actually musicianship is very important- this music has elements of so many varieties of music within it- you must be very disciplined and remember a lot of material to be able to be in this band.
Do you have a vision for the future of the band or do you take each day as it comes?
Ritchie: We pretty much take each day as it comes. We are enjoying what we are doing so much right now that we like to live in the moment.
Candice: Besides, each step has been very exciting and you never know what's coming next around the corner. I think when you don't plan for it, when you are surprised by the success you appreciate it more.
The feeling projected by Blackmore's Night when performing is that of a group of friends or even family, playing for the audience, which is also accepted as part of that 'family'. It is not often that a band can establish such a rapport with the audience. What do you think is the secret of your success in this respect?
Candice: I think that because we are doing music that is so different, that isn't hyped or commercialized, people seek us out. Those are the people that are looking for something new, different and fresh- a sort of escape from what you can hear on the radio or on MTV. Because they have found our music we feel that they are like minded to us, they believe in the things that we do and there is a strong unity or community sense at our shows. It is a wonderful sense of belonging to people who don't follow fashion- those who brave their own paths and have a strong sense of individuality. But they also appreciate the beauty of nature, they believe in romance and in magic. Our music tends to be a beacon for those people- usually if they listen to Eminem, you won't find them at our shows. Plus we enjoy our fans. We try not to have boundaries between us.
Ritchie: Plus our fans befriend the other fans and it makes it like a family reunion when we play and they come to our shows. It's an excuse for them all to get together.
It is also apparent from the DVD that you are all living a dream, something that most of us can only briefly immerse ourselves into. Do you feel privileged, being able to live the life of a troubadour?
Candice: Everyday I think it's a dream. I can't believe that we are playing music that we love to create with the support of companies that are able to get it out for the rest of the world to hear- and these companies aren't dictating to us what we should be playing. Our tours are to incredible places, playing in front of fans in Renaissance garb and performing in some of the most beautiful castles in the world. We have no boundaries and are able to play such a variety of music: folk, rock, renaissance, whatever we want. It's a wonderful freedom.
What have your most memorable performances been to date with Blackmore's Night?
Ritchie: There are so many. We have some great memories to reflect upon. Schloss Abenburg is a great castle that we played at, Schloss Rabenstein we did a fan show there and had a great time.
Candice: I just love the strong identities of each of the places- I mean the ancient amphitheatre in Bulgaria, the castle ruins in Turkey, the opera houses of England, the castles in Germany or the historic salt mines outside of Krakow, Poland. All so different- but each equally awe inspiring. It is hard to narrow down the choices to a favourite.
What other countries, save Germany, where you are obviously very popular, would you like to play? Does it have to be a country with medieval castles in order to qualify?
Ritchie: No, it doesn't have to be- although we do choose the places that we like to play at this stage. We enjoy going to many different countries. It's just that castles have the right atmosphere, especially gothic castles or ruins, but we will also play other historic places or old theatres. We just don't feel that any venues with modern influences have much to do with our music and what we are trying to get across.
Where do you find the Renaissance instruments that are used by the band? Are any of the musicians skilled at making such instruments themselves? How difficult are Renaissance instruments to play?
Candice: We usually get our woodwind instruments either over the Internet or when we get to England we go to the Early Music Shoppe. Ritchie gets his hurdy gurdy from a German maker. But it's not like you can walk into a normal music shop and ask for the shawm section. They'll look at you like you're crazy.
Ritchie: Although we have been lucky to find some on the shelves in a shop in Prague, Czech.
Candice: The instruments can be challenging to play- you have to find your own way because it's impossible to find a teacher especially in America. But the fingering varies and the reeds can be tricky too. Then of course add the fact that these instruments were made to pitch to themselves and go out of tune when outside, and that you're layering them with perfect pitch electrical instruments like keyboards and things can get pretty crazy!
From some of the extras present on your new DVD, as well as from your stage presence, it seems apparent that both you and Candice are equally active in the creative process. Do you feel that you inspire each other?
Ritchie: Yes, Candice is always around try out new ideas. That's one of the good points about living together is that if you are somewhat inspired you can try the ideas out immediately. You don't have to wait for rehearsals.
Candice: In our creative process Ritchie usually starts out with writing the music, and then his music is so visual and inspiring, it sort of makes my job easy. The melody lines tell me what they want to be about. Then I just fit that into rhyming schemes and words and the story goes from there. Before you know it you have a completed song.
Both you and Candice gel perfectly on stage; your presence could be described as 'yin' and 'yang'. Do you feel that you have met your perfect musical partner in Candice?
Ritchie: Yes, but its more like yang and yin- I'm yang and she's yin.
How do you think your musical career and your life would have progressed, had you not met Candice?
Ritchie: I'd probably be totally miserable playing in a hard rock band.
In musical terms, how do you see your career has progressed over the years? Do you see each stage as a step forward or do you think that there has been cross-referencing throughout the years?
Ritchie: Both, you can't get to where you're going without knowing where you've been. Each step in my musical career has been a learning process that led me up to this point. Without any of those steps I wouldn't have made it here. You use what you learn along the way.
What originally inspired you to write music and did you have to struggle at the beginning of your musical career?
Ritchie: Yes, I did. It took me forever to learn the 1st couple of chords. The music teacher was not too impressed. I never practiced at the beginning. I was inspired to write music because I didn't want to work for a living. A friend of mine brought a guitar to school. I immediately fell in love with the look and feel of the guitar. I had to have one. So I pestered my parents to get me a guitar. Then I would watch people like Tommy Steele sing and play and I joined a skiffle group. I played the dog box as well as the guitar. We played tunes like It Takes a Worried Man and Tom Dooley. We played down at Chiselhurst Caves at first and also at various pubs in the area when I was 15.
When you started writing music, would you have thought that you would end up playing in a band, such as Blackmore's Night?
Ritchie: No, I was just happy to play anything I could then.
Do you sometimes believe that you were born in the wrong epoch? Would you have liked to have been a troubadour and to have actually lived in a period where the comforts of modern life would not have been available to you?
Ritchie: No, I like to play Renaissance music but I like air conditioning too much as well.
Describe your ideal day to us, please...
Candice: We get up around 12pm and play music. The I go into the garden and sit amongst the flowers and Ritchie usually goes for his walk into the forest. Then we write some new songs, play with our cats and have friends over for a bonfire and a drum circle. At midnight we go into the woods in search of owls.
What other 'Renaissance' artists, past or present, would you recommend to fans of your music?
Ritchie: Freiberger Speilleut, Des Geyers, Terra Nova Consort, anything by David Munrow and the Early Music consort of London who was my 1st inspiration.
Do you have a message to give to the ever-increasing Blackmore's Night fanbase and the readers of getreadytorock?
Ritchie: Hopefully we'll see them on the road and to boycott MTV. Don't be disillusioned – there are so many good bands out there but they are never on MTV!
Candice: Thanks for your support and for listening! We'll see you soon...
Interview by © Emily Dgebuadze, Get Ready To Rock - July 2005