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