Ablaze On Long Island

"There are fans that actually follow us all over the world which is amazing. You can look out there and you can be in Austria or England or in America or Japan and you'll see that the first front row is the same faces. And what they have actually told me, which is a huge compliment for me and makes me feel so warm inside is that listening to Blackmore's Night's music has actually brought them together. They actually call themselves the Blackmore's Night Family. It doesn't matter where these people go in the world, they have friends and family that would put them up in their home or drive them and take care of them. And it's almost like a big family reunion coming to our shows.

So we've given them a home, and that's amazing. I love that." So begins bodice-and-blonde lead singer Candice Night of Blackmore's Night, the authentic renaissance music act that pairs her with soulmate and guitarist of some repute, one Mr. Ritchie Blackmore. The images are quite striking. The fans are urged to dress in period costume, matching the finery of the players. The venues are old European castles and churches. And swinging home (both a heartbeat and a world away from NYC), the minstrel gallery continues to play...

"Well, we live on Long Island," explains Candice. "The view is absolutely beautiful here. We are surrounded by nature which is very important to us. Although we like to go once in a while to New York City, which is about an hour away - we like to prowl the streets of the East Village - it's never a place we would be able to live in; too much concrete, too much noise. I think your senses just get bombarded and overwhelmed. On one side of us we have a huge field and the woods are surrounding the field, and we tend to go out there and have Maypole parties and huge bonfires. All our friends we tend to bring to these parties are in the same mindset that we are.

So many times when people come to our parties and just hang out in the woods with us at these bonfires, everybody brings their acoustic guitars or penny whistles or recorders or just a drum to bang on; everybody sings along. It's a very amazing thing, very otherworldly. And it's funny, there's this cliff that just kind of drops off. It's a very magical place. The backyard is actually right on Long Island Sound, so we have all these beautiful swans going by and owls flying overhead and the backyard is almost like looking out onto the ocean; very beautiful, very inspirational."

And, combined with a home designed with renaissance flair ("big, thick plush drapes, knights of armor, heraldic stuff"), said plot of the past becomes a perfect place to create Blackmore's Night albums, the third just out now, deemed appropriately Fires At Midnight.

Ritchie Blackmore: "To us it kind of represents... back in the 1500's there was kind of a revolution going on, with all the peasants going against the landowners, the people who had all the money, royalty, because they were basically downtrodden. 'Fires At Midnight', the actual title song, is a song that came from the 1400's really, but I envision peasants uprising against royalty, laying siege against the castle, almost with that Frankenstein imagery, where they are raiding the castle with torches lit, that kind of thing. That's how I see Fires At Midnight.

As well, a lot of our music is kind of organic. We'd like to think that we could sit around a bonfire, which we've often done, and just play the songs on acoustic guitar rather than have a big production. So Fires At Midnight is also keeping warm when you are living or celebrating outdoors really. It's music for the peasants. I would say the central theme is escapism, leaving today's pressures, leaving all the competition, the world, the fax machines, the computers, the tension, the stress and getting away into organic surroundings, nature."

So how does Mr. Space Truckin' Bloodsucking Speed King end up making studied, legitimate renaissance folk music?

"I got into this about six years ago I would say. But I've been listening to this music ever since I heard David Munrow. He recorded with The Early Music Consort of London. He recorded some music for Henry VIII, a TV program on BBC which I saw in 1972, and I loved the music. Ever since I heard it I've been hooked on it, but more from the point of view of listening for pleasure. I very seldom listen to rock at all. I would only listen to this other stuff, and then I would play it around the house. About six years ago Candy started singing it around the house. And I suddenly noticed and realized that it was working in the context of the melodies being so good from those days, the 1500's. She would interpret those melodies and put lyrics to them, and that was the way we put the songs together."

Going into Deep Purple in the late '60s, were you aware that you were one of the first incorporating classical music into the context of electric guitar?

"I suppose I was in a way. There was another band out at the time called The Nice, Keith Emerson's band, and they were doing similar stuff to what we were doing; they were doing classical music rocked up. So I suppose the music I'm doing now is not so different from the music I was doing then. It's just that now I'm not doing it with such a loud lead guitar, mostly acoustic. But the progressions are very similar and the arrangements are similar to what we would have done back in those days. But I've always been impressed with the classics. They have a sense of drama, a sense of depth that rock 'n' roll doesn't have for me so much."

Were you a fan of Gordon Giltrap, John Renbourn, Steeleye Span, The Pentangle etc. in the '70s?

"I can't believe you know Gordon Giltrap. He's helped me a lot, putting this whole thing together from the perspective of... I think he's a brilliant guitar player and when I started playing the acoustic guitar, probably about eight years ago, when I was really getting into it, he was kind of my model that I was listening to. He seemed to be the guy who could play, in my mind, better than most. So I was getting a lot of tips from Gordon. In fact, I used a lot of the same guitar strings that he used. I get the same guitar strings from England that he manufactures, along with his friend. So Gordon was a big influence on me and I wish he had more acclaim than he does."

Three records deep, Blackmore's Night is proving themselves for real. And with regular recording and touring, Candice is becoming more confident in her role, along with The Man In Black, as co-focal point in Blackmore's Night.

"I think every time I get on stage I learn something new," notes Candice upon reflection. "Again, the interesting thing about doing this project is that I never thought I would be the one front and center stage. I mean, I could see doing background vocals or writing lyrics but when Ritchie actually asked me to do lead vocals on this project I was completely overwhelmed because it's such an amazing request and honour of course that he thought I could carry it forth. The very first time on stage was in Tokyo in front of 5000 people. He just kind of threw me into the deep end of the pool in a way. Because I had never actually sung in front of a large group of people before unless it was friends or family at a party. So he flew me all the way to Japan and that's how we started this whole thing.

So I think with the last few albums and doing the tours I've learned not to over-analyze what I'm doing. I used to just get out there and be shaking for the first five or six numbers because I was so nervous about what people were thinking. But just being there and seeing that everybody is there rooting for you and they're singing along with words that you've written and they want to go on the journey that you present them with, the path that your present to them... you really feel that you're out there with a group of friends, no matter where you are in the world, and it's an incredible feeling. So instead of putting fear first for me, I'm getting more comfortable with the situation. And that of course will add some confidence which is probably why my voice is getting stronger and stronger. So I guess it's just not to take fear so seriously."

Martin Popoff, Hardradio, August 2001