Ritchie Blackmore Goes Medieval

Go into a guitar shop and before long you are bound to hear the opening bars of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water," a 41-year-old riff that still inspires beginners to pick up their first instrument. A riff of such simplicity and raw power, it's likely that it will continue to stand the test of time and keep Blackmore on the store clerk's most wanted list (along with Jimmy Page and Jack White). It is fitting that Blackmore should influence so many musicians younger than the riff itself, since he takes his own inspiration from Medieval music.

Blackmore's band Rainbow, formed after he left Deep Purple, began as a neo-classical metal outfit, before becoming increasingly commercial with a pop, rock sound, notably in the popular cover of Russ Ballard's "Since You Been Gone." Since 1997, however, with the formation of Blackmore's Night, the guitarist has been able to fulfill his passion for Renaissance music, which apparently occupies over 2,000 CDs in his personal music collection.

The titular "Night" refers to Blackmore's wife, Candice Night, lead vocalist and lyricist for the duo. They met in 1989 and began living together, finding they had an affinity for Medieval music. They already had their debut album, Shadow of the Moon, in the pipeline whilst Blackmore released Stranger In Us All, a record that, up to now, marks his final Rainbow album and his final hard rock album.

The duo's latest single, "The Moon is Shining (Somewhere Over The Sea)," is a return to Blackmore's rock roots. The song is "based on an old folk Czech melody which Candice and I thought were very melodic and haunting" says Ritchie Blackmore. "We adapted and arranged to suit more of a rock structure. We also played it as a ballad as it was originally intended. We asked several of our Czech friends what it was called but they couldn't tell us, so it remains a mystery." The song features the guitar licks Blackmore became famous for in his Deep Purple days and a driving electronic drum rhythm. It is much harder to detect the medievalism here than in the earlier albums.

However, though Dancer and the Moon features a similarly punchy cover of Randy Newman's "I Think it's Going to Rain Today" and Rainbow's "The Temple Of The King," their eighth record remains fairly consistent with the Celtic influences that marked previous efforts. This is the third of the duo's albums that references the moon, along with the debut and its follow up Under A Violet Moon. The records with the most lunar themes seem to also be the most neo-medieval in genre. The debut lacks any of the fusion that characterized early rainbow records, mainly being interpretations of traditional songs. It also features Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson on flute and was certified gold in Japan.

Each record demonstrates Blackmore's instrumental prowess as his personnel credits increase: he plays the hurdy gurdy, mandolin, mandola, and the nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish fiddle. The duo even put out a traditional Christmas album in 2006. But even though Blackmore's Night have been accused of failing to progress or experiment with their sound, their albums are peppered with seemingly left-field covers, such as tracks by Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Rednex, most famous for Techno-Folk hoedown "Cotton Eye Joe."

Blackmore Night's albums have become increasingly successful in Russia and Eastern Europe, which feature on their tour dates this summer. Fans can watch the group perform in medieval costume, and often dress up themselves, as the duo's performances frequently invite audience participation. Of course, there are always the disgruntled rockers who want Blackmore to step back on the distortion pedal. One fan has even set up a petition on activism.com to get Ritchie Blackmore to "put down the lute," claiming he has turned his back on the "power of rock and roll." Luckily for Blackmore, there are no signatories.

~Richard Law
June 24, 2013
Get more at blackmoresnight.com.

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Comments: 2

  • Tara Martin from Northern ColoradoMiss you both, was great gigging at the renfairs with you and still wish we could have made it overseas to film in the castles with you! Give me a shout on facebook
  • Aleksandar from SerbiaI was on their concert in Belgrade in 2006., i think. It was simply stuning to listen to him, Candice and the rest of the gang of merry minstrels playing medieval music and old hits on medieval instruments. God i wish they come back just once more :)
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