Shedding Daylight On Blackmore’s Night

Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night talk with Pollstar about their medieval/renaissance group, Blackmore’s Night, saying it was the guitarist’s “escape from the rock ’n’ roll world” as well as a “labor of love.”

A couple for more than 20 years (they married in 2008), Blackmore and Night formed Blackmore’s Night to showcase the guitarist’s longtime passion for medieval and renaissance music. Touring and recording for 15 years, the former Deep Purple/Rainbow guitarist and his wife have accrued a fan base that not only listens to their interpretations of music that dates back hundreds of years, but often dresses in garb reflecting the music’s era.

Blackmore’s Night recently released a CD/DVD/Blu-ray package featuring the group performing live. Called A Knight In York, not only does it give fans a platform for reminiscing about their favorite experiences with the group, but it also serves as a great way to introduce others to the world of jesters, minstrels and Blackmore’s Night.

Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night

How would you describe Blackmore’s Night to someone unfamiliar with the group?

Candice: I think that, with our music there’s such a vast variety within it, that’s one of the things that draws people to our music in the first place. We don’t fit neatly into a little box with a nice little label on it so people can put us specifically into a genre. Sometimes that works against us because, of course, radio doesn’t know where to put us and they kind of push us aside.

For the fans who are looking for something new, something different, it’s refreshing to them. When they pop in a CD or come to one of the shows, they’re going to hear a rock song next to an instrumental next to a tavern gypsy song, or a full-on renaissance song. So it’s really hard to put a label, specifically, on this type of music. We call it “folk rock,” “fantasy,” “castle rock” sometimes.

Ritchie: It’s interpretations of medieval folk, rock, ballads. Covers everything but jazz and blues.

Candice: If you look back on how genres have changed, or categories have changed, throughout the decades, Fleetwood Mac would be considered “classic rock.” But if you look into what some of the classic rock bands are, and compare them to Fleetwood Mac, it’s hard to put Fleetwood Mac in a category.

It’s that kind of thing. We dress in interesting garb and encourage the audience members to do the same. We even try to give them incentives. We’ll offer the first 10 rows to whoever will dress up in renaissance fantasy garb. Now we’re giving 10 percent off the merchandise at the merchandise table if you come dressed up. It really adds to the event. It winds up being like a costume party wherever we go and we have a great rapport with the fans. We take requests from the audience and change the setlist every night. It’s really a very different type of show.

Candice, you modeled before meeting Ritchie. From a model’s viewpoint, that is from a fashion and beauty viewpoint, what’s your take on the medieval and/or renaissance clothing you wear on stage?

Candice: There’s a very interesting Shakespearean quote that I read that kind of sums it all up. I’m paraphrasing here – “The mask is not to conceal, it’s to reveal.” I love that as a quote because I find, not only for us onstage – renaissance or fantasy garb that we chose to wear, obviously it’s not historically accurate, it’s more of a fantasy take – but I find, not only from our perspective but also from a fan’s perspective, when you look out and see the different people in the audience and what they choose to wear, it’s almost as if they’re finally wearing their personalities and their individuality on their sleeves. For me, when you look out and see everyone in baseball hats, T-shirts and jeans, it’s very easy to become anonymous, to look like everyone else.

When you come and get to choose what it is you feel more akin to in your costume, you’ll see people who are kings and queens next to peasants next to little girls in faerie costumes and little boys in Robin Hood outfits, knights in shining armor, I’ve seen 85-year-old jesters with full bells on. So it’s always interesting to me, not only from a fashion perspective, but, much more importantly, from a personality perspective. It’s sort of an analysis of what their personalities really are.

When did you first feel that Blackmore’s Night was going to work?

Candice: We’re still waiting for that moment (laughs).

Ritchie: When we put this whole project together, it was a labor of love. I just wanted to play this kind of music. I’ve always been obsessed by medieval renaissance music. Ever since I heard David Munrow and the Early Music Consort Of London back in 1972. I would be playing rock ’n’ roll on stage and going back to the hotel and playing renaissance music, much to the disdain of the rest of the band (Deep Purple) who hated it. So I’ve always been fascinated and struck by renaissance music.

It’s a natural progression for me to play this type of music, although I was just happy to listen to it. I never thought I’d actually be doing interpretations and playing it. I’ve since learned to play certain instruments. I play the mandola, the hurdy-gurdy as well as guitar, Candice plays all the woodwind instruments. I’ve just recently taken up nyckelharpa which was a birthday gift. We were celebrating my birthday about three years ago in Germany. Our hobby is to go to most of the castles and stay there. Again, that’s one of the reasons we put this together.

We were in a castle one day and we thought, “It would be great to play this castle.” But I was in Deep Purple or Rainbow – I’m not sure – but it couldn’t be done. The castle couldn’t hold more than 300 people. But we thought it would be perfect if we took on an acoustic angle and played this type of music that I was listening to. That’s how it kind of started. The first album came out in 1997.

Like I said, my hobby was to visit these castles and stay overnight. Then, when I met up with Candice, she was pulled into this, and had to stay at these castles with me and listen to medieval music.

Candice: A lot of people don’t realize we’ve been in this band for 15 years. I think, with everything good, what really completes you and makes you feel spiritually sound, it’s all natural evolution and progression.

When we started this band, I think it was Ritchie’s escape from the rock ’n’ roll world and the corporate stranglehold major labels had on the creative process at that time. I’ve been with Ritchie, I guess it’s going to be 24 years this year. I went on tour with him in 93 with Deep Purple and was in the studio with him in 1995 with Rainbow. This was a man who came from, basically, being such an important part of creating a genre of classic rock and incorporating classical themes like he was doing with the progressions of “Highway Star.” He added so much to that genre of music.

Back then, in the 1960s and ’70s, it was all about individuals and creativity. You could turn on the radio and hear the identity of the band in the first couple of seconds. Everyone sounded so different whether it was Procol Harum, Hendrix, Cream or Deep Purple, and they really kind of reveled in that creativity, that spark and energy.

A few decades in and all of a sudden there are quite a few corporations saying, “You have to make demos again and send it to me and I’ll approve it or not approve it.” Or, “I don’t like this title, change the title of the song.” Or, “I’m not crazy about this lyrical content.” And Ritchie is like, “What are you talking about? How can you get involved with the creative process like this?” I think he was having a difficult time with that kind of thing.

There was a farmhouse in Massachusetts where Rainbow was recording tracks in. There was about six feet of snow outside of this beautiful Massachusetts farmhouse and Ritchie and I would sit by the fireplace watching the raging fire and he would have these acoustic instruments. While the other band members were playing their tracks, their parts on the songs, Ritchie and I were sitting by the fireplace creating music ourselves, obviously an escape from the rock ’n’ roll world and what it really had become for him.

We originally never thought we would put this music out there. We really wrote this music kind of selfishly, for ourselves. Then we started playing the songs that we wrote for some of our friends at parties at our home. And our friends said, “If you put this out on a record or a CD, we would buy it. We love this music. We’ve never heard it before.”

So, we thought if our friends liked it, other people would, too. That’s where the whole thing started. Since then, it’s been a natural progression. We’ve kind of learned with every album. We teach ourselves the musicianship changes and we’ve expanded our instrumentation. We’re picking up new instruments and we’re adding new band members and arrangements. The last one didn’t have enough upbeat songs, we add new upbeat songs, a new rock track a new orchestral thing. Every time we put an album out, we’re kind of learning a little more about ourselves as musicians and we’re still braving this journey through the musical woods. It’s all natural.

“It’s a natural progression for me to play this type of music, although I was just happy to listen to it.  I never thought I’d actually be doing interpretations and playing it”

Ritchie, you mentioned playing new instruments. Does learning a new instrument come easy for you?

Ritchie: Not particularly. The hurdy-gurdy is like a two-octave instrument with a handle. The nyckelharpa, which is a Swedish fiddle – that’s more like a violin … that’s a lot more difficult. Although I did play the cello for six years, or attempted to. So I do have the bowing technique. The mandola – it wasn’t until I went to Czech, the country, that I realized how they tuned it. I would tune it like a guitar, but when I met up with a couple of people who we since have become very friendly with, in a medieval band in Czech, they taught me how to tune it. I was very thankful for that.

How does planning a setlist for Blackmore’s Night differ from planning a setlist for a rock band in terms of pacing and dynamics?

Ritchie: It’s very similar. You have to have slow and fast songs, ballads, low points, high points. Songs that you know, obviously hit songs or new songs. When you release a new record you have to be careful you don’t put in too many new songs that people don’t know.

I like to look out into the audience just before we go on and kind of get a vibe from them, whether they want to play party songs, if there are a lot of drunks that want to just jump up or down, or whether there are thinkers out there thinking about what they’re going to hear.

Sometimes I’ll see a very conservative audience and I’ll come back and tell Candy we’ll keep it very subdued tonight because I can tell they don’t want to party. Sometimes I’m struck by the age of some of the people and I’ll come back and tell Candy. She’s too petrified to look at the audience before she goes on stage. I’ve usually had a few drinks, so I can do it.

I’ve caught myself saying, sometimes, “My, God, they’re so old, the audience out there tonight.” And I’ll catch myself thinking, “I’m probably older than them,” and that’s a little bit bizarre because they’re probably the same age as me.

Having done this for basically 50 years, I can usually read an audience as to what they want to hear. Some of our music is incredibly quiet. It requires a lot of listening and not to get too crazy as an audience. We are aware of some people who like the quiet moments. You might get two or three hecklers that might want to shout something out, they haven’t been to the bathroom in a while or something. We keep an eye on those people because they can ruin it for everyone else.

Our dynamics are extreme. We go from pretty loud to definitely quiet, it’s really very quiet, some of our music. Because when you’re playing [acoustic] guitar, it has to be quiet. It can’t compete with drums. It’s quite demanding. We tend to do three hours a night and we change setlists. The poor band has to know 60 melodies, which gets them nuts, sometimes. Half of them are reading, anyway, and are following it that way. For Candy and I, it’s a lot easier because we’ve written them.

I think the audience responds to that and they realize this isn’t the hour and 20 minutes that Bon Jovi might do. A typical rock band will go out there and play the set they’ve been playing for the last 10 years. We’re playing the audience a bit. If they want to hear a lot of quiet, sophisticated stuff, we can play that. If they want to party, we’ll do more tavern songs.

And we take a lot of time off in between shows. I won’t work, usually, more than two nights in a row. I want to be fresh so that we can deliver to the audience a really long show. Whereas in the old days, when I was in Deep Purple and Rainbow, I was exhausted sometimes from playing every night, sometimes five nights in a row. And the last two nights you couldn’t care less whether you got it or not because you’re so tired from traveling. I refuse to get into that avenue again.

Also, within this structure we have total control: where we play, what we play, who’s our management and agency, and everything.

“When we started this band, I think it was Ritchie’s escape from the rock ’n’ roll world and the corporate stranglehold major labels had on the creative process at that time.”

It’s good to be the boss.

Ritchie: Yeah. It’s great. I’ll do all the routing. I like routing the shows, where we’re going to play. A lot of bands are so surprised when they’re told they’re playing Brazil and the next day they’re playing Japan. That doesn’t happen with us. We won’t travel more than 200 miles in a day. Very often we’ll get an initial routing from an agency and it will be all over the place.

What are your recording sessions like?

Ritchie: I like to think they’re very cozy. We have a studio in the house. Our animals are very important to us and we hated leaving our animals to record. So we built a studio in the house and we have a guy who comes in from California. He’s a great producer and knows how to put everything together. We do it in our basement, basically, which has been turned into a medieval pub. I’ve always wanted a medieval pub and I said to Candy that I never wanted to be one of those people who has their own recording studio because everyone has that. Now we have both, we can get drunk. It’s a very cozy atmosphere. It’s not like a studio. There is a lot of tapestries and things … so we’re surrounded by this stuff and it’s a great atmosphere.

I almost like recording now. I used to hate it. I wasn’t very good at school and it always reminded me of going to school. Everything had to be perfect and played properly. Although I used to do a lot of sessions when I was 17, I didn’t like it because, when recording, your scope diminishes quite a lot. You can’t afford to make any mistakes. There are no mistakes in recorded music. I like to play with abandon and not think. But once I know I’m being recorded, I have a bad habit of being self conscious and tend to freeze up a little bit. It’s very annoying to hear back a piece of music and know that you can do better – but at least you played it with no mistakes. So, I let it go. But I’m not a big recording fan.

Your band members have had names such as “Bard David Of Larchmont” or “Lady Kelly De Winter” or “Troubadour Of Aberdeen.” Who comes up with the names?

Ritchie: Sometimes we do, sometimes they do. It just adds to the flair of the message they’re trying to send.

Is adapting a medieval or renaissance name a prerequisite for joining?

Ritchie: Yes it is. They treat it like an alias. They can get away from their everyday life. The dressing up part, I love. I love medieval and renaissance outfits, anyway. We go to a lot of [renaissance] fairs. The first fair I ever went to was in California when I used to live in Los Angeles, back in 1975. Ever since then I’ve loved wearing the outfits, the boots and the big jacket, and whatever.

There were several British rock bands during the 1970s that would adapt some of the renaissance clothing for their concerts.

Ritchie: That’s true. There was always that fashion.

Candice: In Jethro Tull – Minstrel In the Gallery.

Ritchie: He [Ian Anderson] was, and still is, one of my idols. I saw them playing War Child at the [Los Angeles] Forum and I thought it was magnificent. I thought it was brilliant. He’s been quite a mentor, in a way. Pretty nice guy, too. We’ve kept in touch.

How do you balance family life with life in Blackmore’s Night?

Candice: It’s tricky. It’s what any other working parents would do. Sometimes you have to prioritize, you have to give as much as you can to each individual aspect of whatever you’re doing, whether it’s professional, personal, family or work. At the end of the day you just do the best you can do and hope that it’s enough on every level. It’s exhausting, it takes a lot out of you, but it’s also one of the most rewarding things.

Ritchie: Candy usually takes care of everything domestically in the house. Except for the Hoovering, which is what I do, vacuuming.

Is there something you’ve wanted to tell the world about Blackmore’s Night, but no one ever asks you the right question?

Candice: It’s a funny thing with this band. We don’t get radio play and we don’t get on the video stations, but we have these amazing diehard fans. They take their vacations whenever we go on the road, wherever we are around the world. We play these amazing historical venues, from 12th century castles, salt mines in Poland, amazing opera houses. So we’re pretty blessed in the venue area, but also in attendance. We don’t offer VIP packages and ask people to spend $200 or $300 extra on a ticket for a seat in the front row. We just ask them to dress up and then they get their seats in the first 10 rows or so.

We have an amazing rapport, an amazing understanding, connection and relationship with our fans. People from Australia fly into Germany, they make friends there. Then the Germans fly to England. It’s a community. It’s a really strong following, an underground following.

Ritchie: It’s like a Grateful Dead thing.

Candice: People come to the shows and meet other fans there and become instant friends. It’s almost like a reunion when they see each other every year. No matter what country they’re in, they all meet up. It’s amazing.

Ritchie: I’m asked people why they always come to see us because they saw us last night or a week ago. And they’ll say, “You always do something different and no one is doing what you’re doing.”

“We’ve kind of learned with every album. We teach ourselves the musicianship changes and we’ve expanded our instrumentation.”

Upcoming shows for Blackmore’s Night include Stroudsburg, Pa., at Sherman Theater Oct. 26; Wilmington, Del., at World Café Life At The Queen Oct. 28 and New York City at The Concert Hall At The New York Society For Ethical Culture Nov. 2. For more information, please visit