Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow

The O2, London UK   June 17, 2017

Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow at the O2, SE10

The rock guitar virtuoso presided over a rather scattershot night
before a well-oiled crowd, yet when he was good he was imperious

He may have been one of the defining guitar virtuosos of rock's classic era, but Ritchie Blackmore's 20-year detour into medieval folk music has suggested a terminal loss of interest in a form he helped to pioneer. Why he has suddenly decided to enjoy a "brief intermission" from the mandola, heading back into arenas to play fully electrified Rainbow and Deep Purple, is anyone's guess. Yet at the close of the Stone Free festival the crowd's euphoric response to his introductory slide refrains of Over the Rainbow, after a burst of Land of Hope and Glory, indicated what an event this is.

Of course, with the lesser-spotted Blackmore, the word "enjoy" is a relative term. Who knows how much fun this tricky character was really having as he stood impassive and stock-still, cranking out a jukebox miscellany of Rainbow and Deep Purple staples with just the odd wristy gesture to direct his all-new band? Dressed, as ever, in black, he showed he can still play beautifully, if with less of the volatile intensity of old. Absent were the lightning-fingered, Teutonic arpeggios (his solo on Deep Purple's Child in Time was a subdued affair compared with its forebears); more noticeable were his tasteful embellishments to Catch the Rainbow, for example, or the elegant acoustic curlicues on Soldier of Fortune.

It was a rather scattershot night, the well-oiled crowd hollering approval of the chart-friendly (All Night Long and Since You've Been Gone) and the classic (Black Night) alike, and sportingly enduring the spectacularly passé. The preposterous neo-classical Difficult to Cure featured the kind of keyboard wig-out that should really have been left in another era; a couple of connoisseur's choices from the back catalogue instead seemed too much to ask.

Yet when things were good they were imperious. The Chilean singer Ronnie Romero was every bit the macho-blues measure of David Coverdale on Mistreated and yelled with authority throughout. Stargazer had undeniable majesty, while a closing Smoke on the Water crunched down hard on its eternal fortissimo riff. The fans got what they wanted. Blackmore? As he swiftly departed the stage with the most cursory of waves, one can only guess.

© James Jackson - The Times / photo by Marilyn Kingwill

Guns N' Roses, London Stadium;
Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, O2 Arena, London
a tale of two rock legends

Gigs from the veteran bands provided a contrast in styles

This past weekend, pigs — playing air guitar with their trotters — flew over London. Guns N' Roses played their first London shows with original guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan in almost exactly 25 years, while the legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, after a career interlude that saw him dressing as a wandering minstrel to play renaissance music, convened a band he called Rainbow — despite it featuring precisely no one who had been in Rainbow first time around — to headline the O2 Arena.

And what a contrast it was. Guns' reputation was forged on their swallowing rock'n'roll's most pernicious myths whole, bones, gristle and all, with the result that their debut album Appetite for Destruction made them the most convincingly dangerous mainstream rock band since the Rolling Stones in the mid-1960s. Rainbow, meanwhile, were anything but dangerous, no matter how unpredictable Blackmore might be. Where singer Axl Rose used Guns as a musical manifestation of his own insecurities and anger, inspired by punk, Blackmore, a generation older, was in thrall to technical excellence.

The danger now seems sapped from GNR, who took to the stage promptly at 7.45, rather a surprise after a quarter of a century of Rose keeping crowds waiting long past the point at which they had an appetite for hanging around, let alone destruction. These days, Rose is several shadows of the man he was: rather portlier than he used to be, and his odd hip-swivelling dance looks less like a come-hither move than an attempt to relieve lumbago. Slash, still in shades and leather stovepipe hat, seems determined to make no concessions to his waistline. Of the original three, only McKagan still has the rock star physique, albeit with added lines. They were, nevertheless, fearsomely good, and when the trio lined up at the lip of the stage, it was impossible not to thrill to the sight: whether or not they even talk to each other offstage, they know how to look like a gang, which is what great rock'n'roll bands are.

Guns N' Roses became so big, so quickly, that their musical journey from amphetamine-lean to bloated-by-coke happened in the space between their debut and its follow up, the two simultaneously released Use Your Illusion albums. But while the tracks from Appetite — especially "Paradise City", "Night Train" and "Mr Brownstone" — were blisteringly taut, the meandering slowies from Use Your Illusion were the moments of communion. "November Rain", a power ballad whose sole purpose is to overpower and outballad all other power ballads, was overwhelming.

A night later, Rainbow might have sounded timid in comparison, but they didn't. Blackmore's new singer, Ronnie Romero, might have none of Axl Rose's charisma, but he has an extraordinary voice, capable of delivering the magnificently ridiculous swords-and-sorcery epic "Stargazer", a selection from Blackmore's Deep Purple days, as well as the pop-rock hits that took Rainbow into the singles chart — "Since You Been Gone", "All Night Long", "I Surrender". Nevertheless, it was very much Blackmore's show — he remains a wonderfully lyrical guitarist, not too prone to self-indulgence — which was evident in the peculiar mix, in which he was significantly louder than everyone else on stage.

Guns became stars 30 years ago because their music seemed to express their unpolished personalities — it actually sounded like horrible drugs and unsafe sex — and that has not changed. A band should not be able to sound filthy in a stadium on a midsummer's night, but GNR did. Rainbow could never manage that, but as Blackmore finished with "Smoke on the Water", rock's most famous riff, it was a reminder that Guns N' Roses would not have been possible without him paving the way.

© Michael Hann - The Financial Times

Catch The Rainbow

I made a rare pilgrimage to the O2 Arena last night to see a life long hero, Mr Ritchie Blackmore. I say a rare pilgrimage, as I find the sound and vision at the O2 to be generally appalling and I was not disappointed at this concert. O2 have previously caused my son untold problems over their legendarily bad administration and I freely admit that I therefore have a grudge – see O2 OMG. That aside, I find the acoustics and size of the O2 quite inconsistent with a live band experience and had previously vowed never to go again after seeing Prince there in 2007. In this case I felt I had no choice, so I got on my bike and cycled 30 miles for the experience and am overall pleased I went to see a man who remains a major influence on my approach to music and, indeed, my overall attitude to

. But all is not lost – thanks to the generosity of a fellow traveller we have some better quality sound and visuals from the front of stage. See Rainbow Rising at the O2. But I want to move on to a story, as Ritchie Blackmore was influential in helping me secure my first job offer at Shell ....

I went to a Grammar School, essentially a factory for Oxbridge students. But I did not want to go to university. My parents were 45 and 67 when I was born and were not especially affluent – my dad was 85 by the time I was 18 and I felt I needed to get a job rather than go to University although there was no pressure from them to do so. Of course, I was completely ostracised by the Grammar School for making such a decision. The so-called "careers master" (also the gym teacher) said "well, laddy, tell me when you have got a job" when I told him I did not want to go to University. So I set about looking for one ...

I was mad about Chemistry and Music as a child. So I applied to the two major employers in the area – Shell and The Wellcome Foundation. I was invited to an entire day of interviews at Shell (who were noted for extremely progressive employment policies at that time). Looking back at the day I was sat before PhD after PhD, who showed me complex chemical reactions on a chalk board and asked how I would solve their greatest problems. Needless to say I doubt I answered any of the questions correctly! When asked about my interests, I recall boring them endlessly about Ritchie Blackmore's use of medieval "modal scales" as a differentiator in Deep Purple's music and the 16th Century in general. In other words, I bored them with my obsession and they theirs. I used to spend hours at the top of the stairs with my record player slowed down to 16 RPM trying to figure out what he was playing ... until my mum shouted me to come down and eat my fishfinger sandwiches ...

To my surprise I was offered a job at Shell, having bored them rigid with my music obsession and not really been able to operate as a PhD chemist with an A Level, although I eventually took the one at Wellcome (another story). I suspect that they felt my passion for the music and nerdiness. They must have given me the benefit of the doubt that I could actually do the work. Thank goodness that there were no HR people in sight.

Back to the concert. For me, Blackmore's guitar style has matured over the years, with rather more Bach that Screaming Lord Sutch about his performance these days. Many more melodic classical progressions inspired by his love of classical music, rather less random improvisation and brutality. The sound, as I said, was hampered by the size of the venue, which is why I'm so grateful to the man at the front who filmed it. I think The O2 would have helped themselves by training three cameras on the stage and back projecting the results on the screen to give those far away at least some opportunity to see the action, especially given the quality of the visuals for the show. You can find the set list and many of the performances at Rainbow Rising at the O2. A great highlight of the show was "Soldier of Fortune" played on acoustic guitar, although marred by whoops and shouting from the crowd. An added bonus was to see The Sweet, a band who were strongly influenced by Blackmore when they were playing their own songs such as "Sweet FA." with a wink and a nod to "Hard Lovin' Man" by Deep Purple. Lest we forget the majesty of Mr Blackmore.

© Peter Cook - The Music of Business / Peter Cook's Musings on Business and Music

Stone Free Festival 2017, 02 Arena

'BOO!' exclaims my friend Marianne upon collecting her tickets, 'they've put the bloody seats in!' Which, basically translated, means another day, another under-attended rock festival. Let's be honest, the combined organisers of this event couldn't really have picked a worse date if they tried: what with a certain Mr W.A. Rose and his (partially) reunited bandmates doing the biz literally 2 miles across the river, and the 'other' Roses (you know, the Mancunian ones with the fishing hats and the frontman who can't sing for toffee, yet who still somehow manage to pull about 20,000 punters regardless) plying their trade up the other end of the Jubbly Line, this show was always destined to come a cropper attendance-wise. And duly, it did.

Then again, that might also have something to do with the fact that yet again, the bill simply didn't boast enough truly outstanding names- or, at the very least, the kind of names liable to make the more casual punter want to part with his or her hard-earned. Sure, the main selling point (ie of this being the first Rainbow show in the capital since 1994) had been amply promoted- but considering that (a) a great many of that band's hardcore fanbase had already seen (and, allegedly, been left rather underwhelmed by) their Birmingham gig last year, and (b) the current line-up features literally no-one of note whatsoever bar Ritchie Blackmore and his missus, the whole enterprise still sounded (well, to me anyway) like an extremely chancy undertaking.

All of which talk of endless enigmas leads us neatly to Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow: the principal question being as to whether this recent "reformation" (which they repeatedly told us would never ever happen) has any long-term creative future, or if it's little more than a final pension-fund stockpiling exercise before the Man In Black and his good lady wife/backing vocalist Candace Night skip off unto yon merrie woods of retyremente for ye fynal tyme with a hearty forsooth and a hey nonny tooralay. Whichever way one looks at it, I suppose, it's definitely (in principle, at least) a fun night out for those of us who thought they'd never get to see the likes of "I Surrender" "Stargazer" "Since You've Been Gone" "All Night Long" or "Man On The Silver Mountain" performed live by something with the word 'Rainbow' in its name: as with the previous year, there's a fair bit of Purple tuneage thrown in too, including Coverdale-era tunes like "Burn" and "Soldier Of Fortune" and finally being allowed to hear them live (even though some unctuous prat behind me insisted on yabbiting all the way through the latter) was similarly, for those of us under 50, a genuinely magic moment.

This precise same spirit also allowed vocalist Ronnie Romero to pull off every word, note and shriek of a green-lit, mist-shrouded "Child In Time" in the very manner its creator Ian Gillan hasn't had the balls or lungs to attempt for what seems like centuries: likewise, a shimmering "Catch The Rainbow"- yeah, sure, we know it's a rip-off of "Little Wing", clever clogs, but it's got a better melody- was simply sublime to the point of tearjerking, and even the pillock in front of me who insisted for some unfathomable reason on drumming along to almost all of it on the plastic part of his seat. (pray tell, is there perhaps a Variety Club Sunshine Coach Company somewhere that lets these people out of their padded cells for the duration of the festival season?) couldn't manage to ruin it. Yet even so, underneath all the theatrics, neon lights, dry ice and (extremely) random back projections depicting shots of the late Ronnie James Dio, Cozy Powell and Jimmy Bain next to artwork from several albums not even represented in the set, one still couldn't help noticing a disheartening undercurrent of detached cabaret about the whole affair- and, more importantly, feeling at several points as if we were watching a huge dress rehearsal rather than an actual concert.

Blackmore, for one, looked a lot of the time as if he didn't want to be there at all, more or less refusing to even acknowledge the audience- while both Romero and the bassist- who, in homage to the ancient days when Kerrang! was a good read, we'll just call Ken The Bass Player- seemed distinctly ill at ease with each other, almost as if the instructor from their Rock Idol school hadn't informed them prior to going onstage that they were actually permitted to interact with other people. Bizarrely, only ex-Stratovarius keyboardist Jens Johannsn provided anything by way of real personality, especially on 'Difficult To Cure': furthermore, it became increasingly obvious as the set wore on that not only was the frontman in increasing danger of challenging Marc Storace and Klaus Meine in the "bad broken English" stakes, but that his raspy tone, particularly on the heavier numbers, was still largely at odds with the melodic sensibilities of all four of his predecessors.

Ultimately, though the show came close to enrapturing me on several occasions (particularly the bit where Russ Ballard turned up, or the moment where the band slickly left the stage one by one as the audience chanted the riff to "Black Night" by way of shouting for an encore) the set list itself repeatedly lacked cohesion or flow: all too often, as with the jarring medley of "Woman From Tokyo" into "MOTSM", several songs barely got going before they jumped unannounced into another, only to be followed by moments of twiddling and silence. And, from a personal standpoint, I would have happily traded the pedestrian 'Spotlight Kid' and the plodding 'Mistreated' for rampaging renditions of 'Lost In Hollywood' and 'A Light In The Black' anyday. But then I'm a pernickety cunt: it's what comes of working in this industry for over twenty years at (far) less than minimum wage...

© Darius Drewe - The Carouser / Photos: P.G. Brunelli

Richie Blackmore's Rainbow – Stone Free Festival 2017

Rainbow's new 2015 line up is a flag of nations – keyboard Jens Johansson (Sweden), bass Bob Curiano, drums David Keith (both USA) and vocalist Ronnie Romero (Chile).

I had high hopes of this being a blinder, alas for me it ended up being a real damp squib. The sound was piss poor, his amp does not turn up to 11 apparently!. In this day and age you'd think they could have spent a few £$ on some big screens, but no – so all the poor sods at the back and high up in the gods couldn't really see what was going on (as it happens not much as I think Rickie's red shoes had Velcro on them so stuck he was in one spot for inordinate amounts of time!). And don't get me going on about the minimalist stage set-up – they must have spent just shy of £50, or Richie still thinks he's living in the 70's playing Budokan – times have moved on mate and your audience expects a show!

We all know Richie is a bit weird and difficult to work with, perhaps all that medieval renaissance crap has sent him over the top. That said he is still a great guitarist. The backdrop had some pretty poor graphics throughout the gig. Photographs of old Rainbow ticket stubs and the late great Ronnie James Dio (let's face it that was their greatest period). The eccentric Blackmore didn't say a word throughout and communicated with the band and the audience via hand gestures. Interestingly I gave him my own 2 fingered hand gesture but he couldn't see me (tee hee)!!

For 'Since You've Been Gone' we had a guest appearance by its writer Russ Ballard – they eventually found him a guitar! OK so there were some highlights – i.e. they played some good songs but these fleeting bits of brilliance were let down by mind numbingly boring and unnecessarily long solos by the keyboardist and drummer – big yawn. Plus the lead singer had real problems communicating with the audience (his accent and lack of talent come to mind) but he did hold a tune in places.

All in all the Rainbow and Deep Purple back catalogue were done a grave disservice on the night – you'd get a better evening out watching a tribute band. Much better were 'Long Live Rock 'n' Roll', 'Burn', and 'Black Night' during which the band walked off the stage leaving those of a more passionate persuasion singing along to the riff. A quick snippet from 'Woman from Tokyo' was woven into 'Man on a Silver Mountain' but for me it missed the mark.

I was knackered by the end of a full day of RnR – especially after standing for 5 hours in the Indigo. I enjoyed most of the day but was really disappointed with Rainbow. There were plenty of empty seats and closed sections – the pulling power is simply not there anymore. I'll live of my previous memories of Rainbow when they were good!

© Marko - Marko's Gig Archive

Stone Free Festival - London O2 Arena 17/6/2017

Like The Sweet, headliners Rainbow are another band in the 'only one original member" zone with Ritchie Blackmore continuing to keep the flame alive since the band reformed a couple of years ago. I do like a lot of Rainbow's old stuff though, so was interested to see how they would bear up. The big surprise comes when they chuck out their biggest hits very early on in the set with I Surrender being the second song in and Since You've Been Gone (in an annoyingly much-shortened version) following it just a couple of songs later. With the best known songs used up so early, it makes for a bit of a frustrating set to be honest though the likes of Man On The Silver Mountain, All Night Long and Black Night (as you could probably have guessed, there's a few Deep Purple songs in there also) do work well.

However, the constant breaking up of the set with solos (something which was also a bit of a downer when I went to see fellow Deep Purple alumni Whitesnake last year at Ramblin' Man) often kills the momentum stone dead. Guitar solos for Blackmore are to be expeded obviously, but a five minute drum solo followed by a five minute keyboard solo? No need. It's frustrating because combined with some of the lengthier (though still good) songs such as Child In Time and Stargazer, it makes the set feel like it's absolutely plodding by at times. New singer Ronnie Romero gives a decent account of himself (and lets be honest when you're stepping into shoes previously filled by the likes of Ronnie James Dio and Graham Bonnet it's not an enviable position to be in) but a lot of the time the other band members, especially Blackmore, just look bored, and it's a bit of an anticlimax to end the night on.

Overall thoughts then? Well, as an afternoon's entertainment it was okay I suppose. And to be honest given the competition elsewhere in town tonight this was always going to be a bit of a struggle, especially with the bill consisting in the main of much older bands than last year's did. Certainly, The Sweet gave a good account of themselves and were probably my band of the day, with BOC and Gun both being enjoyable also. It'll be interesting to see if Stone Free survives into its third year, but if it does, there's probably quite a bit to think about as to how they can make it a bit of a better draw next year. We await with interest...

© Andy Close - Pure Rawk / Photos: P.G. Brunelli

Stone Free Festival, London 17 June 2017

For the second successive year the Stone Free festival took over the whole of the 02 complex for the day: targeted at a discerning classic rock audience not wishing to slum it in a muddy field, and drawing inspiration from the Country 2 Country concept here, last years' two days was reduced to one, but the headline act could not have been more classic rock worthy.

After his triumphant return to heavy rock for the first time in 20 years at Birmingham's Genting Arena last year, Ritchie Blackmore had reassembled his latest Rainbow line-up for more dates and the UK tour kicked off with this festival headline. Before then, there was a variety of activities ranging from comedy to a record fair, and a stage in the 02 foyer for up and coming bands, and an afternoon of the main supporting cast in the Indigo2.

There was a sense of expectation whether Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow could build on last year's tentative but triumphant return, as a Union Jack backdrop and their recent 'Land of Hope and Glory' remake gave way to the usual intro tape of 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' as they took the stage.

One of the biggest criticisms of those shows, that Deep Purple oldies outnumbered Rainbow ones, was instantly rectified, as Ritchie Blackmore, the spotlight shining on his stooped figure, played the classic opening riff on his cream Stratocaster to 'Spotlight Kid'- though it was more of a showcase for the keyboard wizardry of Jens Johansson – swiftly followed by 'I Surrender', though Ronnie Romero's voice was ill-suited to the song compared to Joe Lynn Turner's original AOR tones.

At Birmingham last year I had been mightily impressed by the Chilean frontman but on this occasion less so: he had the unenviable task of working a huge stage with the other band members all rooted to the spot, and covering a range of songs originally sung by some of rock's greatest ever vocalists.

However he was hindered by a rather raspy voice – on a respectable 'Mistreated' he sounded like the older, croakier Coverdale and an idiosyncratic grasp of the English language (opening with 'good night London') made it harder to build a crowd rapport.

'Since You Been Gone' saw its songwriter Russ Ballard, looking a very youthful 72, adding guitar and backing vocals, though I was disappointed we got Ritchie's mid-song solo but not the outro from the original, followed by 'Man On The Silver Mountain'. However with rotten timing, the very moment a poignant picture of Ronnie James Dio and Ritchie came up on the backdrop, they switched into a snatch of 'Woman From Tokyo'.

In a change of pace, Ritchie and Ronnie sat down, the former playing Spanish guitar on a delicate 'Soldier Of Fortune', then 'All Night Long' was a new addition to the set, though again it didn't feel quite right without Graham Bonnet singing, before 'Difficult To Cure'.

As a giant Ludwig van Beethoven looked down from the backdrop, Ritchie was on vintage form and reminding us of the genius way he adapted classical influences to the rock guitar in a manner which inspired countless imitators. Yet Jens' keyboard solo seemed to go on forever and killed the momentum of the set stone dead.

Indeed the pacing of the set generally lacked fluency, with long gaps between songs while the band checked they were on the same wavelength, and I am sure this contributed to what was a very subdued atmosphere, at least in the seats where I was.

However if the set stagecraft left much to be desired, there could be no arguing with the quality of the songs as two of the lengthy epics that always used to feature in Friday Rock Show or Kerrang! all-time countdowns followed one after another: 'Child In Time', with Ronnie hitting the high notes Ian Gillan hasn't been able to since the early eighties and Ritchie and Jens duelling, then 'Stargazer', where Ritchie again rolled back the years coaxing some great sounds with his slide during a mid-song solo.

In a set that stuck fairly closely to the best known songs, 'Still l'm Sad' was the nearest to an obscurity, though broken up by a pointless drum solo, before more crowd pleasers in 'Long Live Rock n Roll', with a rather jazzier swing these days, and montages of album covers and concert tickets, and 'Black Night'. Typically just as the atmosphere was warming up nicely and chants of the riff were ringing around the arena, Ritche led the band off stage.

I feared the ever unpredictable maestro had gone off in a strop at the muted response, but luckily they were back for a fine version of the admittedly overplayed 'Burn'. I knew what the climax would be, but there was one last surprise in a quite beautiful, slow burning 'Catch The Rainbow' before Ronnie rather inverted the order of things by singing the first line before Ritchie played his most famous introductory riff of all to 'Smoke On The Water', but it did feel a rather perfunctory version, not helped by the fact it was nearly 11, and many people were now leaving.

While great to see one of classic rock's legends playing the songs he made famous and doing pretty well for a 72 year old with arthritic fingers, the overall impression was of a somewhat disappointing gig. They didn't really make an arena style show work and the revivalist atmosphere that had made last year's Birmingham show so special could not be replicated.

Moreover the band were a rather plodding shadow of the great musicians that originally built these songs. With not one but two of the best catalogues in rock, it could have been so much better had Ritchie picked a band to really stretch and challenge him.

Having satisfied the demands of his rabid fans to return to the rock that made him famous, maybe the Man in Black can now return with dignity to Blackmore's Night, having scratched that itch both for himself and for all of us.

© Andy Nathan - Get Ready To Rock / Photo: Andy Nathan

Stone Free Festival

A mixed bag of young guns and veteran rockers take over London’s O2 Arena for the second outing of the indoor festival.

It must feel like the fates are colluding against you when you announce a one-day festival in east London and Guns N’ Roses decide to pitch their tent just down the road with an extra night of their Not In This Lifetime tour at the London Stadium. It’s like ordering a clown for your kid’s birthday party and then realising that next door have gone the whole hog and hired a bouncy castle and one of the cast of the Teletubbies. Cue jumbled Tube carriages on the Jubilee Line (which leads to both The O2 and the London Stadium) shuttling their heavy metal cargo – Rainbow, Blue Öyster Cult factions here, Slash and GN’R T-shirts over there – to their respective destinations. To Stone Free’s credit, it doesn’t look like they’ve taken too much of a hit – the paved concourse outside The O2 Arena is populated with men in fading tour merch and ladies in straw cowboy hats, all clutching plastic glasses of cider. Blink and you could be in a less muddy Download on a Sunday night.

Indoors, which must confuse the hell out of the casual O2 visitor who might have popped in to see the latest instalment of the Transformers franchise, is a vinyl fair and bands tearing it up on the so-called Big Entrance Stage. Young mothers, laden down with mewling children, a Starbucks, a pushchair and an affixed disapproving stare, push on past the hordes and into the heart of the arena, though presumably not to try any of the number of comedians and talks in the upper reaches of the building, or the Indigo stage where bands such as Gun and The Answer are thrilling chokingly full rooms.

A little too full when it comes to Indigo headliners Blue Öyster Cult. So popular are the band made forever infamous by Will Ferrell on Saturday Night Live that the queue stretches around the theatre and out of sight. It’s a strict one-outone-in policy, much to the chagrin of a parade of (rightly) furious punters.

Inside, the newly slimmed down and recently shaved BÖC are on rare form. It’s packed from front to back as the band run through their debut album in full. The haunting Then Came The Last Days Of May and the electric Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll are so good that grown men look like they might swoon. Sadly, there’s no time for Flaming Telepaths or Shooting Shark, but it’s hard to grumble when Burnin’ For You has just rattled your bridgework.

And so to the main event in the cavernous 18,000 capacity arena. Sweet have the unenviable job of warming up for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, but even if the main room is curtained off at the rear, this incarnation of the band manages to fill up at least half the floor space and a generous number of seats heading up to the eaves. It’s hard to know what to make of Sweet in this day and age, with a singer who, from a distance, could be REO’s Kevin Cronin, and last original man standing, the droll and entertaining Andy Scott. They ruin Love Is Like Oxygen by segueing into ELP’s Fanfare For The Common Man, and look terribly pleased with themselves for doing so, but the response is the kind of full-throated roar reserved for a Kiss encore.

These days Sweet are a strange anomaly – clearly the best kind of bar band, they can talk all they like about their evolution, but if they played a better song tonight than Fox On The Run then CR must have missed it. That said, if their best years are behind them (and they are), then they ascended to playing an arena set with aplomb, even without the production bells and whistles this kind of show usually merits.

Which is more than can be said of the man in black. With a band that wear a constant mask of uncertain fear, as if Blackmore has their respective families held hostage somewhere and one gesture from the guitarist might seal their doom forever. Ritchie’s clearly past caring. There’s no set list, the singer informs us nervously, twitching like a dog that’s been kicked one too many times, and no real stage show. The giant video screen behind the band and a line of what look like practice amps flicker into occasional life, like a vintage VHS machine running old pictures of Ritchie and Ronnie James Dio in what must have been happier times – it’s hard to tell from their expressions.

Ritchie remains tethered to his spot near the drum riser, dressed all in black and comfortable shoes. It’s not clear if he even knows the audience are there – he certainly doesn’t acknowledge them. At one point the spotlight shifts towards the lip of the stage, as if the guitarist might inch forward, but he shrugs the beam of light off and stands stock still, presumably marvelling at his own fretwork.

The special surprise guest of the night is the ageless Russ Ballard, who you presume was meant to be a late highlight of the show until Ritchie, with an odd combination of shifting eyebrows and an admonishing finger (not a word uttered), instructs his singer to get Russ on early. Consequently, Since You Been Gone is a spark of rare fire in a sea of diminishing returns.

That said, it’s hard to fault the mellifluous solo on Mistreated or the thunder that Man On The Silver Mountain brings, but each time you grasp for the nettle of hope, Blackmore slinks off out of sight (he stays off stage for so long during the keyboard solo that the organist appears to run out of music to play) and sucks all the goodwill from the room, probably smirking to himself as he does so.

Which is pretty much as he leaves it, sloping shoulders eventually returning to the darkness as the house lights rise, no doubt picking up his cheque as he goes, the door slamming shut behind him with one last defiant bang.

© Philip Wilding, Classic Rock Magazine - July 20, 2017 / Photo: Kevin Nixon