Knight Of Silence

He is it indeed, in Footballstadiums playing Smoke on the Water and smashing up his Fender-Guitars. Rock-Legend Ritchie Blackmore, eccentric Deep Purple and Rainbow guitarplayer, plays today rather Minstrel songs in castles between Harz and Bayern. A meeting with a passionate Germany tourist.

It's raining in Berlin, the Passionskirche is still closed. For the gates is a joyful queue waitin' to get in. Under raincoats there are men legs in tights. Women fold their velvet clothes, shoes are dancing and puddle around, featherhats are protected under the overcoats, castle ladies protecting their head coatings with supermarket bags. Some of the jesters and maidens are eating quickly a german sausage, others are making pictures, breast elevated, proud expression, with a wooden sword in their hands. This night will be idolised for a long time. All because of the honour of their idol. Ritchie Blackmore, the guitarplayer of the hardrock formation Deep Purple - the loudest band in the world. With violent songs like Smoke on the Water or Highway Star he let shake the big halls in the 70's, often that strong, that seismologic institutes gave warnings. A thundergod on the guitar.

The Passionskirche is in the mean time filled. Between men with their woolen hoods we also see faded t-shirts. "Rainbow - European Tour 1982", "Deep Purple - Reunion-Concert 1985". The sound of horns are coming out of the speakers, the crowd stares fascinated to the stage in front of the altar. A backdrop simulates castle walls, torches are burning, fog appears, when Candice Night, Blackmore's life companion and muse, in white garment like the maiden of the people starts walking over the stage.

Followed by the man, for which ten thousands used to get into ecstasy. His black hair falls down on his black linen shirt, a large leather belt around his stomach. In black tights Blackmore stands with knock knees and gets from his acoustic guitar the first graceful melody. The people start cheering.

They celebrate their master like everywhere in Germany. It's him who, gives young and old their fantasyworld: the music from the medieval and renaissance. Blackmore's Night is what Blackmore and singer Night call their dreamfactory, and they bring it year after year to many castles. Especially German castles are favorite of the 57-old Englishman.

There's no year or he plays somewhere between Harz and Bayern through the provinces. Rarely he get past his dislike of big cities, most often though for the fans in Berlin. For the seventh time Blackmore's Night is this night guest in the Passionskirche, and while after the three hours concert the roadies pack in the torches and several knights are lookin' to the stage in ecstasy, Blackmore disappears through the backdoor in a car, that drives him fast through the city to his hotel. "The atmosphere in the Passionskirche is always excellent", he would state later, "like a fabulous family party."

The man, once proud to be the loudest and fastest guitarplayer on the world and didn't give a shit about anyone, has left the rock'n'roll circus. And when he's not playing in castles, he takes a holiday in Germany. Every year he flies three times from his residence New York overhere, walk through the woods and drinks Wehlener Sonnenuhr, his favorite white wine. Ritchie Blackmore is a German tourist out of passion.

Mr. Blackmore, every year holiday in German castles, isn't that getting boring?

Certainly not. I know in the mean time all the German castles. Just name a big city and I'll tell you all the castles in the neighbourhood in which you can stay the night.

Well allright, Frankfurt.

I'm always happy when I don't have to be in Frankfurt. I don't like big cities. In the neighbourhood of Frankfurt although it's okay. When we play in Frankfurt, I often have stayed in this castle in Taunus, it's about 700 years old, and it's between Frankfurt and Wiesbaden, in Kronberg, I think. I also often went to Wiesbaden und stayed am Rhein. You look sceptic.

We just listen attentively.

I know, that the Germans prefer to fly to the sun in Spain. But I like to come overhere, because all the great music of the last century originated in a surrounding of 600 kilometers from Berlin. In Poland, in France, in Austria, in Bayern, in the Frankenland. Nothing against Spain and Italy, you ofcourse get also good music from there, very passionate, they have something of the gypsy music. But then again the celtic music has something lightly.

The German music of the 15th century is rather gloomy.

Exactly, that's why I like it very much. It's more intensive, deeper - it has something dark. And when we're here in Germany, then we get a feeling of this mystic time. We often put our hands to the walls of a castle, to receive the energy out of it. And the stones tell stories from the old days. Overhere in Germany everything is good preserved: the houses, the medieval towns, the castles in the mountains, everything is like it was originally. That's were I can be. There are the roots of our music.

Don't your guitar-strings go out of tune all the time in the castles?

Nonsense. The castles today don't have dampy walls anymore, they have all heating. Or fireplaces. The guitar only gets out of tune when you get outside. I also can't write our medieval songs or our renaissance-pieces in a normal studio. I always like to escape from a studio. There's so much pressure, like I'm back at school.

Sounds like you were not going to school with pleasure.

School is a cold, sterile place. My sportteacher told me once: "Blackmore, you better watch it or you become a criminal, you look so guilty." I never forgot that.

After the concert in the Passionskirche. It's one o'clock in the night. Blackmore's room in Hotel Esplanade looks like untouched. Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night sit in the dull light of a candle on a two-seater. They talk quietly, sometimes Ritchie Blackmore raise his tender voice, and looks very severe, like he wants to hypnotize the person towards him. From the outside the sound of a car-alarm gets inside. It's very difficult to get rest these days, says Blackmore, spread his legs and put one over the lap of his wife. The loud discos in the hotels, the stamping of the thousands till the early mornings, the hotelbars, in which the music is so loud so you can go relaxed get together, the rush in all the corridors, all the loud lights: we want to get away from all that. "We love the loneliness", says Candice Night, "and we like the modest way of life of the 16th century."

Their most recent album Fires At Midnight was recorded at Schloss Eggersberg in Bayern. We know the owner very well. He likes them. And he likes their music. At their last visit he played their songs over and over again, till it got too much for Ritchie Blackmore. "We don't like to listen to ourselves anymore." Then the owner said: "But this is your own music, you have to like that."

Candice Night smiles. Yes, the owner of Schloss Eggersberg is a typical case. Schloss-inhabitants love Blackmore and his entourage. "They are on the same level as us", says Candice Night. In other places it would give the people a fright because of the long black hair, the black clothes, the guitars and the amps. "They usually think, we take drugs and make noise till 4 in the morning." Apart from them Ritchie is a very quiet, reserved person. "That's why we feel in a castle very secure - like in Eggersberg, Rabenstein or Waldeck." Candice Night smiles softly, and Ritchie Blackmore decrease his voice even a little more - and idolize his favorite castle in Waldeck even more.

Mr. Blackmore, what has Waldeck, that other castles don't have?

Waldeck in Hessen is proberly the most beautiful place anyway, the castle is fantastic. And in the evening, as soon as the moon appear at the heaven, you can hear at your window the prisoners, how they slap their chains against the walls and moan with deep voices.

The prisoners?

Yes. That goes on and on, this high tone of clattering chains and the deep "Oooohaaaahooooh". Burg Waldeck was a prison, and there was a court of justice. Next to the court was a witches bung, a deep hole, in which they then threw the witches and where they were tortured. One day we ask very friendly if we can go down in the witches bung, there were the torture took place. The man of the castle said: "No problem. I have to pick up something and will be back in a moment." We thought, he's going to get the key. Then he returned fully dressed up, hangman cap, earrings, simply insanity. Then we went down there with us and showed us all the torture devices - at one o'clock at night.

Did you find ghosts in the other castles?

Continuously. The formerly owner of Burg Rabenstein is also a good friend of us. We once asked him if he had photos of ghosts. And he had some. Two tourists have apart from each other taken photos of the same ghost. A ghost with a unexplainable, very rare shape. These photos were shot with a difference of six months from each other, and the shape of this phenomenon was exact the same. I have seen many photos with inexplicable phenomenons, but with these photos I'm certain that it was a ghost.

How can you be so sure that it is a ghost?

One day we were outside on the cliff of the castle and we took photos, and weeks later we found out there was a ghost on these photos. He was the whole time close to where we were. We send a copy of the photos to the owner. Now he has three photos of this ghost.

What did the ghost look like?

Like a sparkling energy, like a gigantic white coil. A giant, that turns himself in himself, and himself continiously change, but everytime returns to his original shape - like hectoplasma. The hectoplasmatic movements you ofcourse can't see on a photo.

Don't you get frightened?

There's not to get frightened for. There are some amusing stories: The owner didn't go to bed for some time, he sat the whole night for the fireplace and drank quite a bit. He was waiting for a ghost.

The one from the photo?

No, another one. One night, when he was in bed, he heard rustle in one of the rooms, and suddenly a thing opened the door and ran through the corridor. He ran right away after this thing, and the thing opened at the end of the corridor a door, got through it and slammed the door behind it - and it was vanished. The way, how the thing moved, made the owner doubt, whether he has seen a person or a beast. He can't tell, even not today. He told me, this thing skipped very rarely, a bit like a dog. And in this night there were no guests in the place. Nobody who want to scare someone could go in.

The candle on the table is halfway down. Blackmore tells with passion about his small escape in the 16th century. It's not everyone's case. His formerly colleagues of Deep Purple have every now and then displeased reacted on Blackmore's already at that time love for the medieval and his interest for spirituality. For example in 1988, when his record company the launch of a live-album gave at Burg Frankenstein near Darmstadt. 300 Journalists from many countries had to dress in adjusted clothes. Blackmore himself came as a nobleman with a beard. Only one was not present: Jon Lord didn't want to take part to this carnival and stayed stubborn in the hotel. Ian Gillan was after a lot of drinks so well filled, that he dropped his trousers in front of Blackmore and the rest of the party. A clear message. The feud between both came to the boil again on stage. Blackmore, egocentric and perfectionist, couldn't take it, that through the years Gillan couldn't reach the high notes and crowed like a cock with bronchitis. In 1993 the guitarplayer had enough of Deep Purple and got himself after a short episode with his other band Rainbow only into medieval tones.

You're in the castles also that unyielding with your colleagues?

Candice Night: We often sit down with friends round a fireplace, dance and sing out of pure joy. But in the beginning Ritchie had often problems with that, because at that time there were no good musicians. I remember, we were all together playing and singing Christmas songs, and Ritchie left at some point, because someone in tone or beat was pretty well away from the rest. He stood up and left: "You must concentrate more, you sound awful", and he went.

Ritchie Blackmore: That's right. I can't stand it when people play out of tune, even if it's in a loose circle.

Candice Night: Still he became more loose since then. But often it gets too much for him. He wants everything to be perfect all of the time, that was always his claim anyway.

Tonight the man in black stays calm. The light ditty of his voice, his accentuated English give you more the impression to talk with a history-teacher than of a rock rebel. The recalcitrant taming. Also in the Passionskirche he limited himself to kontemplatives picks. Only once, when he picked up his electric guitar for the legendary Black Night, we got a little look at his old wildness. In the old days he attacked TV cameras with guitars or bottles. Legendary are also his stage setting of the loud strong end of the world sounds, when he put the neck of his stratocaster in the gigantic wall of amps and then threw the rest in the air. A roaring like the crash of a plane.

What went on in your head, when you smashed up your guitars?

I did that always indeed. I was often on the stage on a point, that I couldn't increase the music anymore, I was at the peak, and as a sign I destroyed the guitar. The most interesting was the moment of smashing the guitar into pieces, on a moment the audience it didn't expected. They looked then quite amazed: "Hey, why did he smash his guitar into pieces right now?" It was not a trick, it was just an impuls that came out.

Have you smashed already an acoustic guitar at a castle concert?

No. Today I make music with controlled energy. The dynamics have to come all from the music. That was a different story before. I have to keep sensible these days for the different moods of the music, that I musically want to reach and I have to concentrate myself also on the others in the band. Besides that it's now fashion to smash up guitars. For most of the people it's just part of the show. I've seen it so often on TV, and I often get the impression that some people only go to see a concert just for that. Perhaps these people think they have seen something special. For me it was something special anymore on a certain point. Since then it's all behind me.

Is it right, that you during your Hardrock time already prefer to stay in castles, instead of hotels with your colleagues?

Whenever it was possible I was gone. You know, often I hated it to play for so many people. I stood on the stage and played the songs mechanically - Smoke on the water, dam, dam, dam. And then I thought: Okay, one more hour to go, and then you can go to your castle and you're alone. I checked before if there was a castle in the neighbourhood of the city in which we played. I had often my own car. The band was at first surprised, when I simply disappeared: "You leave us and drive to your castle?" Sometimes they wanted to join me, but often they told me the night before: "Ritchie, we prefer to go to the hotel, because there's a bar, and that's open the whole night." In your castle we don't have that ofcourse, in fact there's nothing.

Your denial to the decadent Rock'n'Roll circus?

When you want it. I can remember the reunion concert of Deep Purple in 1985 in Mannheim - for 60.000 people. We stayed the night in the Frankfurter Kempinski and were flown to the stage in a helicopter. Can you imagine. After that I had to get away from it all for some days. I drove to a castle near Mannheim. You've got loads of them in that area.

You changed from the loudest band in the world to a very quiet band.

We're a quiet band, a very quiet band. We're only playing with acoustic guitars. And it took me quite some time, till I got changed from electric to acoustic guitar. Electric I always played with a pick, for an acoustic you must be very good with plucking. In the beginning I scratched very often my fingernails, sometimes my fingers were bleeding. The technique is bloody hard. With rockguitar you grab a chord and it sound great, especially with echo and a huge amp. In a stadium nobody listens that careful. When you're playing acoustic for a small audience, it gets to every damned note. And this challenge is what I like.

When it get too boring, you always can play Smoke on the Water in a castle.

That's not interesting at all. An intro like Smoke on the Water has something very majestic, if you change the tempo a little bit like a classic renaissance composition. We have let it play before with horns, and that recall me to the time when I first heard renaissance music, that was when I perhaps was nine years old. A choirboy sang Greensleeves, and the melody caught me. I was thinking all the years why this melody meant so much to me. The simplest explanation was, that one before has lived in this time. On the other hand we proberly haven't.

As what would you have liked to live? King, Jester, Knight?

As minstrel, who behind a horse-cart sitting through the woods travels.

Service: Blackmore's favorite castles

Schloss Eggersberg

This hotel is in Riedenburg/Obereggersberg in Naturpark Altmühltal (Bayern). It was built in about 1600 in the flourish of the late renaissance.

Best time for a journey: the area makes it all year through possible (in the winter also skiing). Sportfans come from spring till autumn: there are tenniscourts, golf courses, rivers for angler, bicycle tours, as well as from the place theirselves a horse track, a horse jumping place and a charming ridingground.

Sightings: Towns like Ingolstadt, Regensburg and Munich are not that far away.

Room price (incl. Breakfast): Doubleroom cost each night 85, 100 Euro or 125 Euro. The Suites cost likewise 125 Euro.

Access Road: From Frankfurt/Main over the A3 in the direction of Nürnberg, ab Nürnberg over the A9 direction München (Munich) till Denkendorf, from there over the Landstraße over Dörndorf, Thann and Georgenbuch to Riedenburg/Obereggersberg (all together 319 Kilometer).

Information: Hotel Schloß Eggersberg, Familie Schwarz, Obereggersberg 18, 93339 Riedenburg/Obereggersberg, Tel. 09442/91870, Fax 918787
Internet: www.933-egge.schlosshotel.biz

Schloss Waldeck

The beginning of the castle, high above the Edersee in Hessen, goes back to the 12th century. The mainly derive from the 16th century building are in a trapezoid formed inner court. A museum explain the history of this castle today.

Best time for a journey: from spring till autumn the Edersee offers the best for für sailors, surfers, divers and swimmers. A few kilometers from the castle there are gliding- and airfields, sightseeing flights are also possible.

Sightings: Kavernen-Kraftwerk Waldeck. The Generators of the Pumpspeicherwerks is in a artificial in the mountain made cave installed and can be watched.

Room price (incl. Breakfast): Doubleroom depending on location 139 Euro (singleroom 98 Euro), 149 Euro (103) or 155 Euro (108). Children's bed costs 18 Euro. Suite/Maisonette 198 Euro. No extra charges for the use of swimmingpool, sauna and solarium.

Access Road: From Frankfurt/Main over the A5 in the direction of Kassel, via Alsfeld-Ost on the B62 direction Alsfeld, continue over Eudorf, Schlierbach and Walterbrück direction Wabern, then the B 253 direction Kassel, over Ungedanken, Wellen, Bergheim and Buhlen to Waldeck (174 Kilometer).

Information: Hotel Schloss Waldeck, Karl-F. Isenberg, 34513 Waldeck Tel. 05623/5890, Fax 05623/589289
Internet: www.schloss-waldeck.de.

Burg Rabenstein

This castle is supposed to got built in the 12th century. From 1975 till 1980 the backside ruins were renovated, so that the full building got a rebirth.

Best time for a journey: In the summer there are several times medieval markets in Burg Rabenstein. At Easter and An Ostern und Pentecost the medieval times are back with lively knightplays and tournaments. The many walks and private breweries and inns are worth visiting the whole year through.

Sightings: Ten minutes walking from the castle is the 500 meter long Sophienhöhle. Guided tours: April till October dailey from 10 till 18 hours, from 18.30 hours nightprogram with music and lightshow.

Room price (incl. Breakfast): The Burg rent out floorwise to groups of people. Double room 120 Euro Single room 80 Euro, Suites 175 Euro.

Access Road: From Frankfurt/Main over the A3 in the direction Nürnberg, at the crossing Nürnberg on the A9 direction Bayreuth, Trockau direction Lindenhardt, over Trockau and Poppendorf to Ahorntal (293 Kilometer).

Information: Burg Rabenstein, 95491 Ahorntal, Tel. 0911/9408948, Fax 9408930
Internet: www.burg-rabenstein.de.

Information about the other castles

Deutsche Burgenvereinigung, Marksburg, 56338 Braubach, Tel. 02627/536, Fax 88 66
Internet: www.deutsche-burgen.org

© Mark Obert & Martin Scholz, Frankfurter Rundschau - 27 July 2002