Return of the Black Knight

"Ritchie Blackmore can be a very difficult man", Deep Purple keyboard maestro Jon Lord once said, using all the vast resources of understatement at his disposal. All these years later, Blackmore remains a law into himself, having spurned the hard rock that made him a household name with Deep Purple and Rainbow in favour of the medieval strains of his current group Blackmore's Night. Classic Rock were promised an interview with Ritchie and singer Candice Night during their recently completed debut UK tour, so we invited readers to email us their questions for the duo. So far so good, huh?

Then things began to go wrong. There were backstage gremlins at the London show where the meeting was originally to have taken place. Traffic jams, stolen luggage, a dangerous water/equipment interface and a 10.30pm curfew all combined to scupper the interview and threaten the show itself. Tellingly, when Blackmore was informed of the venue's curfew towards the show's end, his reaction was to keep on playing until the plug was pulled. This from a man who once incited a riot at Wembley Arena for refusing to play an encore. A post-show invitation to his hotel followed, where the interview was a possibility 'if Ritchie is in the mood." Reading between the lines we attempted to set it up on the phone instead, a succession of calls were made and then, just as all hope had been abandoned, the blower rang late one Thursday afternoon...

Until your recent UK tour, British fans had no idea what to expect at a Blackmore's Night gig. Tell us, does much thrashing of lutes go on? Rob Fletcher, South Wales

RB: "Not really, because we don't play any lutes in the act. Even if we did, we wouldn't thrash our lutes. But hopefully there's some thrashing of other instruments going on."

Have you heard the re-mastered Mk 2 Deep Purple CDs with extra tracks, and if so what do you think of them? Steve Richards, Deal, Kent

RB: "I haven't heard them because I had enough of Deep Purple when I played with them. But various people have told me about them, if you're referring to the ones that [Purple bassist] Roger Glover altered people's solos on. I believe he altered a couple of mine. That is ridiculous, and I'm kinda looking into it legally at the moment. Nobody has the right to mess with any of that stuff. It bothers me a great deal that someone has the audacity to start changing people's solos without asking first. If he wants to change his bass solos that's up to him, but leave my work alone."

Tell us a little of the circumstances of how you and Candice met, and of your initial impressions of each other. Derek Digby, Derby

RB: "We met at a soccer match. Candice was working for an American radio station, and we were friends for a long time afterwards. We were always talking about music before we became involved. She struck me as an angelic person who was very, very bright. We work well together because she has qualities I don't. For instance, my musical strength is improvisation and sometimes I rely on the other musicians to guide me, but she's the one that remembers all the arrangements."

CN: "I went up to Ritchie after the soccer game to get his autograph and he sent three of his roadies to go through the crowd and get me to meet him at a bar afterwards. We wound up just sitting in the bar and talking all night long. I was so taken by his eloquence, worldliness, spirituality and mystery that after it closed at four or five o'clock in the morning I wound up back at his hotel in New York. This was not planned, and although it was hot I kept on my jacket - really kept myself covered up - for the whole time because I was convinced people were gonna read about me in the paper the next day, 'Rock star kills girl in hotel room' I was terrified of being alone with him, but he was the perfect gentleman. And slowly he won me over."

We're lead to believe that you composed in a very spontaneous way with Purple and Rainbow. Blackmore's Night tend towards a more thoughtful, structured method. If, or when, you return to a hard rock direction, will you reprise your traditional method of working? Roy Davis, Kidderminster

RB: "Probably not, I like working this way. Rock is a much looser affair, you tend to just go with the band. I'm usually inspired to write a riff on the spur of the moment. With this type of acoustic music, every note has to be written out."

The two Blackmore's Night albums are soothing and extremely enjoyable. Can we expect a live video at some point? Paul Newbold, Cleethorpes

CN: "Yes, we're working on that at the moment. There are two already available from the fan club as we speak, but we'd like to do a more professional one."

RB: "I wanted to wait until the personnel and the identity of the band had been established before we recorded ourselves live, and there are still a few flaws to be ironed out, but we're getting close. What are the flaws I refer to? Well, actually we're probably going to fire Roger Glover."

The fluctuating line-ups of your previous bands have passed into rock folklore. Do the members of Blackmore's Night enjoy any more job security than their predecessors? Clinton Mortonson, Humberside

RB: "Absolutely not. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. My music is very important to me and if I think somebody is slacking then I will change them, or change myself, accordingly. "Sometimes it gets me into trouble, but the people who are paying to watch and listen are always more important than whether somebody is going to get upset if they're replaced. No-one wants to fire anybody and everybody's very secure with the same old faces, but sometimes you have to move on, be cruel to be kind if it's not working properly."

Having seen the success of Jon Lord's concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Albert Hall last year, have you considered the possibility of staging a similar event with your own music? David Glennie, Billericay

RB: "Not really. What I'm doing right now is very successful to me. I don't really know much about what Jon Lord did."

Rainbow's 'Catch The Rainbow' would work brilliantly accompanied by an electric violin player like Vanessa-Mae or Ben Mink, who worked with Rush. Would you and Candice ever collaborating with an artist like that? Stewart Eadie, Glasgow

RB: "Yes and no. I'm sure that song would sound great if it were played by Yehudi Menuhin, if he were alive, but there are certain things you just don't do. That track's yet another ballad and there are lots of ballads that Rainbow did that would suit this band, so maybe we'll get to it. I know of Vanessa-Mae, but I wouldn't particularly want to work with her because we have our own Vanessa-Mae that plays on our records in New York, but we don't take her on the road with us." [Ritchie's referring to Miri Ben-Aril.]

Do you still play the cello? Ann Wahiström, Uppsala, Sweden

RB: "No. Once I got more into Blackmore's Night's style of music I found myself playing guitar more. Before, when maybe I was frustrated with what I was playing, that's when I began picking up other instruments. I play the hurdy gurdy quite a bit, though, but I'm not that good at it."

How did you come up to the riff to 'Smoke On The Water', and has the song now become an albatross to you? Mick, Didcot

RB: "It was just something that was going through my head at that particular moment. The Graham Bond Organisation always inspired me, things like 'Wade In The Water', which was an instrumental that was played in parallel fourths. It's a good tune but I simply refuse to let it become an Albatross for me because I never play it in concert anymore. So when I do play it, it's refreshing. The riff and the vocal were both great, and it had a good melody, but there were a lot of things that Purple did that people tend to ignore, and I often wonder why they pick up on 'Smoke On The Water. It's the same for my hero, Ian Anderson [of Jethro Tull], who gets lumbered with one of my least favourite songs of his, 'Aqualung', all the time."

Free have just put out a boxed set, and it has been reported that you tried to get Paul Rodgers in a band with you on a couple of occasions. If Free decided to do a reunion tour to promote it, and they asked you to be their guitarist, would you agree? And if not, who would you recommend for the job? Stephen Wells, Woolley, Wakefield

RB: "Yes, we did want Paul in Deep Purple, but I think he heard all the screaming that went down and said he couldn't handle it. So, unfortunately, we never got together with him, which was a shame because to me he's probably the best rock singer in the world. As far as playing with Free, not that they would even ask, it's just not my style of guitar playing. They'd need a very good, basic, rhythm guitar player that doesn't do all the fast runs up and down the fingerboard, and that's a very old school way of playing. Someone with a good right hand. Paul Gilbert [Mr Big/Racer X, now solo] springs to mind but he might be almost too technical for the job. I'd have to think about it."

Whatever happened to the huge illuminated rainbow stage prop that you used to take out on tour with you in Rainbow? Paul Cropper, Liverpool

RB: "It's in storage in Upstate New York. We're trying to find someone who wants to buy it, I don't think they'll even take it away as scrap metal. Do I envisage using it again? No, not that one especially. It was always going wrong. All the bulbs went and it looked so tatty."

If the pair of you have children together, would you encourage or discourage them from entering the mad and crazy world of rock 'n' roll? Wayne Harris-Johns, Liskeard

RB: "It'd be left entirely up to them, but we'd try to guide them. I'm more concerned with the anger that goes on in society as a whole than anything the crazy world of rock 'n' roll had to offer. The world outside is much crazier."

CN: "There'd be no television in our house. We'd try to instill a lot more childlike innocence into them, that sense of wonder and awe that seems to be missing in children today. I'd probably still be playing make-believe with them until they were about 20."

A couple of issues ago in Classic Rock, Ronnie James Dio told a fascinating story about how Rainbow used to hold seances during the recording of 'Long Live Rock 'N' Roll'. Was it as terrifying as it sounded, and do you still believe in poltergeists? Vivian Bartlett, Norwich

RB: "You'd have to be stupid not to believe in poltergeists, but it wasn't that frightening. Seances are what you make them. It depends on the chemistry of the people there and what you're looking for as a reaction. If you have the right people you can get incredible insight, but if you leave the wrong people sat around the table it'll bring the Hollywood B-movie reaction, which is things crashing and people screaming and yelling. You have to retain your neutrality, not just assume that who you think you're in touch with is really that person. At the studio in France where we did 'Long Live Rock 'N' Roll' we found that anything we did in the daytime always worked, but at night things would always go wrong. Some nasty stuff was at work. So we had to change our routine and work as fast as we could before the sun went down. If we recorded on channel six the playback would come out on channel 13. The 24-track machine started working on its own. Things like that."

Your our knack of signalling for an extended jam onstage is well known. Do you still control the more improvisational moments of the Blackmore's Night live show? Austin, Gwent

RB: 'Yeah, although we're not so prone to improvising unless it's a particular tune that requires extended guitar playing. The signals are very similar, I have a hand movement that signals cutting someone's throat if they don't watch."

Which band member did you take the most pleasure in dismissing? Steven Rodger, Croydon

RB: "I don't remember taking any pleasure in dismissing anyone, it was just one of those things that sometimes had to be done to save the music. There was always a reason, I never sacked anyone because I thought the music was great."

Have you ever regretted parting company with a band member? David Glennic, Billericay

RB: "No, I know where he's coming from with this question, but the decision has always been made for the right reason."

Why do you always wear black? Glenda Baron, Skegness

RB: "On the road you don't get to wash your clothes too often, I suppose, but I've always liked the colour black. To me, it represents sincerity and depth. It's probably a psychological thing that goes way back."

Have you ever sung on a record? Paul Giles, Sheffield

RB: "No. I don't think I sing very well, although I'm getting better. And doing anything in public sometimes bothers me, I'm extremely selfconscious. I like to hide behind my guitar."

Do you wish that you had started Blackmore's Night sooner than you did? Garry Thirlaway, Co. Durham

RB: "I suppose so. It's very rewarding and fulfilling to play that kind of challenging music. I'd gone through quite a few years of just flip-flopping around, not knowing what to play. It's the same with any art. You can never find your way on cue. There was many a night when I loved playing the guitar, but sometimes I didn't feel like playing - and that caused turmoil. Sometimes in the hotel or whatever I felt in the mood to play, but not when I got onstage."

Apart from each other, who are your best friends in the music business? Leon McCorkle, Nuneaton

CN: "Annie Haslam of Renaissance. She's a fan of our band and we're huge fans of hers, which is why we covered her song 'Ocean Gypsy' [on 1998's 'Shadow Of The Moon' album]. She's been a great help to us, she's so well-known in this style of music whereas Ritchie's renowned for rock'n'roll, and if we had any questions on places to play or musicians she was always there for us."

RB: "I don't have many friends. I'm wary of them cause they always want something in return. My friends in the music business are not well-known, they're people that I play renaissance music with, bagpipers and people like that."

What are your opinions on the way you have been portrayed in the media? Have they treated you fairly? Brendan O'Booticy, Greenwich

RB: "Very fairly. In fact, I used to like watching the music papers would tear apart nearly every band they came upon, it's been going on in the English media for the past 20 years. The English press crucify people very methodically and very sarcastically which can be very funny - until it happens to you. After a while you get used to the knocks, though. Have I almost encouraged it myself? Yes, I do well on that negative side. If they want someone to write about, I don't want to be the goodie two shoes next door. I've always been inspired by Christopher Lee and the nastier, weirder things in life. I'd hate to be thought of as a nice, normal guy. We know that the English press jury will have been out during the dates we've just played, but we were very pleased indeed with the reaction of the fans. The media police aside, we were happy with how it all went so we're probably gonna come back in September. I couldn't believe how quiet the audiences were for the shows, which was nice. In fact, we have two different acts worked out in advance - one that's more rock-orientated for the rowdy crowds and another that has more ballad and renaissance music for the very quiet ones. It's great to have audiences that'll listen and not just yell and scream."

To the best of my knowledge you've never been to Ireland, which is strange as Blackmore's Night's music has a slight Celtic twist. I know you'd enjoy it here, so why haven't you done so? Nigel McAlinden, Co. Amagh

RB: "Actually, I did come to Ireland with Houston Wells and the Marksmen back in 1964. And I was also there for a month with The Outlaws. But we don't play Celtic music, basically it's Teutonic, very European. There's a big difference. I couldn't begin to tell you why I've not played Ireland for so long, there's a lot of places like that around the world."

CN: "We actually started Blackmore's Night three years ago but it's taken us this long to get to play these five dates in Britain. We kept on asking promoters to book us for over a year, and now they have we definitely want to play Scotland, Ireland, Wales, wherever."

Apart from maybe yourself, who is the single most influential guitarist - in any style - of the modern era? Mitch, Guernsey

RB: "Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck. For me, the early influential ones were Hank B. Marvin [of the Shadows], Tony Harvey of Nero And The Gladiators and Jim Sullivan. When I heard Beck's 'Shapes Of Things' it was a milestone in rock for me. Then Eric [Clapton] and the Cream came along and opened up the doors for all the heavy guitar players. After that, I started to get more into violins than guitars."

You have become notorious for setting up musicians, journalists and members of your entourage with transvestites. Has anybody either realised their error too late or failed to take it in the spirit it was intended? If so, please name names for us. Martin Mill-Morris, Hereford

RB: 'I don't know what he's talking about. I've never set anybody up with a transvestite, ever. Would I swear on the life of my white Stratocaster? Absolutely, that's right."

What were the most ridiculous lengths that a fan has gone to in order to meet you? Paul Nicholas, Bradford

RB: 'We caught a girl in the bushes outside my house once, my dog flushed her out. I'm always in awe of that kind of devotion. It's amazing, we have lots of fans that seem to think nothing of travelling from other countries to see our shows. I'd never go any further than 20 miles down the road to see anyone."

When can we expect a brand new Blackmore's Night album? Nicholas Peterson, Dundee

RB: 'All the songs for it are written, but we really want to concentrate on the touring side of things for the moment. I don't really want to go into the studio until December. My biggest dilemma at the moment is whether to get a so-called producer in for it, or to do it very basically. We'll have to see what happens."

We know that you're a keen footballer. But which club do you support? Paul Giles, Sheffield

RB: "At the moment it's Nuremberg, I love German football. I'm not a big fan of English football, I like watching skill on the ball. That's gonna annoy people. My favourite player is Mark Hughes, and Paul Gascoigne had those moments of doing something with the ball. If you put me on the spot I'd say Chelsea because they have foreign players and a lot of finesse."

What do you honestly think of 'Purpendicular' and 'Abandon', the two albums that Deep Purple made without you in the 90's? Bill Dyson, Inverness

RB: "I still haven't heard them - honestly. I'm sure people won't believe that, but there's a part of me that really has no interest in hearing what they've been doing. You never hear those songs played on the radio or at a club, but if they did I suppose I'd listen. I'm sure Steve Morse [Ritchie's replacement] has done a great job because he's a brilliant player."

The Rainbow back catalogue was recently re-issued on CD, though sadly without bonus tracks. What are the possibilities of a series of releases rounding up any studio outtakes, taped rehearsals or live recordings? Roy Davis, Kidderminster

RB: "There probably are some tracks, but there's a conflict of interest here. The manager of Rainbow [Bruce Payne] has now become the manager of Deep Purple, and there's a lot of politics going on there - even now, believe it or not. I don't think they're likely to bring out anything that would benefit me. Those problems with the old Purple management were one of the reasons I left the band, it wasn't all to do with Ian Gillan, vocalist and long-time rival and myself."

Deep Purple's concerts at the Albert Hall were not the same without you, Ritchie. If Deep Purple were to play one final reformation tour the way Black Sabbath did, would it interest you? Anonymous Classic Rock Reader

RB: "Maybe I'd be prepared to do a couple of weeks with them because even now I still like them all as people and it would be a good nostalgia thing. Obviously, I would never go into a studio again with them - as they wouldn't with me - but it could be fun to just to play to the fans who'd want to hear all those old songs. But if I did do something like that, it would have to be a spur of the moment thing. There would have to be no management involved at all, and, as I said earlier, that would be a bigger problem than people have let on."

Would you ever consider writing a warts 'n' all autobiography, and if so who should consider doing a Lord Lucan? Dougie Freeman, Portsmouth

RB: "Of course, I do know a lot of good stories about various people, and it's a suggestion that's been made several times in the past, but I think I'll save them until I've nothing left to do. There are a lot of very funny tales that often tend to come out over a beer late at night, but at the moment I'd really rather not say anything - try to keep the mystery intact."

© Classic Rock, August 2000