The Prince Of Darkness
An interview with Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night by Stig Myhre
Ritchie Blackmore is the man we all know and love from Deep Purple and Rainbow. The man in black, the prince of darkness who will go down in history as one of the most talented and influential guitarists of his generation. We salute his original style, aggressive and epic, a brilliant mix of improvisation and discipline, the ultimate sound of symphony vibes and a solid dose of hardrock, usually playing his solos with his eyes closed and being at one with the instrument.
However, there are NO MARSHALLS on 'Shadow Of The Moon' by Blackmores Night, his latest album with Candice Night, his fiancee singer, lyricist and equal partner. Now we're talking about being obsessive about the music of the medieval era and being moved by the renaissance music. At one time the album was supposed to be called 'Medieval Moons and Gypsy Dances'. The sixteen hundreds are their favourite time 'Shadow Of The Moon' has got haunting melodies and reflective lyrics.
'Play Minstrel Play' is about the power that a musician has over people, and you'll definitely surrender after listening to the album. We met up with Ritchie and Candice at their home in Long Island, New York, the Minstrel Hall. We talked about everything from their encounters and mysterious experiences which inspired the album, the 'Shadow Of The Moon' tour to weird experiences on stage with Purple and Rainbow, the art of improvisation, being a guitar hero and playing soccer.
After thirty years in the rock 'n' roll business, how does it feel going acoustic?
I'm so wrapped up in 'Shadow Of The Moon'. This kind of music is a big challenge, it's inspiring and it's refreshing. 'Shadow Of The Moon' is to me a very heartfelt thing.
It isn't just another album. I have been wanting to do this for probably about 25 years. I'm at a cross road in my life and I feel like I can go in any direction. Rainbow and Purple have been like anchors around my neck for the last thirty years. I'm very thankful for Rainbow and Deep Purple but maybe it's time to move on. I love to play electric guitar and blast you know, but when I get home I just want to play acoustic guitar for the next year. The album is a collection of some simple but very good songs. I just love it because it is renaissance music with a pop-overtone, a bit like Enya and Mike Oldfield.
How would you describe your fascination with doing séances and exploring the spiritual world?
Séance just means a gathering of people who are into the spiritual side. We are communicating with spirits. We do them with all our friends and we have a pile of books- about it. A lot of people don't believe in it, they're not really ready but the spirits are all around us all the time. It depends if you are sensitive enough to pick up on it. They usually have the respect not to communicate with us, because they know it could be a big shock, as most people would be too alarmed if they saw a ghost. Maybe we all would take a step back if we saw a ghost, but they are all very real in their own realm even though they're not 'for real' in a physical sense. They say that when a person dies, they measure the person and it's like three quarters of a pound lighter. I started doing it in Deep Purple. Nick Simper used to do it, but then I wasn't into it. I used to observe the experience and I thought 'there must be something in it', so I did it over the, years and it depends on who you are with. You have to get the right chemistry more than anything else. Sometimes you see people who want to talk to Jimi H.endrix, but that's not what it's all about. It's about communicating into a world of its own. Time doesn't really come into it. Don't misunderstand me, we're not saying 'in the spiritual world we know everything about what's really going on'. In that respect, we're almost in the darkness as much as anybody else, but we're observing. We know it takes place but we don't exactly know how it takes place. The sense of time is really strange. People often say 'is this recreation, is this someone from another life?', but it can be that all this life's been going on simultaneously. Time is almost man-made and it suits the scientists, because if there was no time there would be anarchy, chaos might rule the universe, we don't know. I don't think our scientist can work out what's really going on, so he had to put it into simpler terms. When we're communicating, some spirits will say 'Knowledge is a slow and tedious animal'. It's very difficult to get the more educated personalities to talk to us completely to our terms. It's like talking to a 2 year old kid. They get very frustrated sometimes trying to get a situation across. They will often say 'have you been born' and I say 'not as you know it, there are other ways of existence'.
Why do you think people may have a negative attitude to these séances?
Most people would laugh at it because they don't understand it and are afraid that their friends will think it is sickening. It gets very confusing for most people, they just want to come home from work, put on the television and they really don't give a shit.
Life is hard and everybody has to get money. The pressure of life means not all of us are able to sit down and do séances.
Candice - They're not with the masses. Everybody is afraid to do something for themselves. It's strange. A lot of people don't want to be associated with these things because 'you can't feel it', but Ritchie is always saying 'you can not touch music, you can not grab the notes, you can not touch love'. Can somebody prove to you what love is? It's hard to take yourself out of what we see as reality, because all that people see is 'physical'. We are very limited.
People may believe in it, but don't want to get involved?
That's true. I noticed that Ian Paice for instance believes in it, but keeps a distance. Jon Lord believes in it and gets involved sometimes, but not often. Ian Gillan doesn't want to get involved. Ian had an elemental running out of his house and he wasn't drinking. Gillan was really upset. He asked me about it and said 'You know about this stuff, what the hell was this little creature that ran past me?'. I didn't know it at the time, but it was wood-elementals and it happens all the time, especially in the woods. All these things like fairies, pixies and trorls have their own little realm. People laugh and think 'they're just trolls', but there is a reason for it all.
If someone asked you 'Why are you doing this', what would you tell them?
To me doing seances are a way of communicating and trying to find out why we are actually here and what life is all about. That to me is one of the most important things you should know about. It's enlightening for me to know that there are spirits.
Candice - We are doing the seances for different reasons, just like you have a conversation with a person for different reasons. Sometimes we want to help a spirit get to where they are supposed to go. We've heard a lot of stories of people having spirits in their house and they're moving things around. Some spirits are very upset. We'll go to that situation trying to help the spirit, to move them on. In a lot of spirits, when people die, they don't realise they're dead. They think people are just not paying attention to them, they're just being ignored. That can be very difficult. Sometimes they just need to talk. Even though we don't have 9-5 daily jobs, you are dealing every day with the competition part, this band is trying to better than that band this is trying to be more fashionable than the others who's friends with who and that is why they get played on the radio etc. Spiritualism makes us come home at the end of the day and just break out of that and get a separate sense of being.
The ugly music business?
The music business is very superficial. It Gan drive you nuts because one minute you are up and suddenly you are down again. There are all sorts of bad news. There is too much emphasis in music on marketing it's unbelievable, it's so corporate.
I guess the record company is like a bank?
Yeah, the record company finds an artist that they want to put a lot of money behind. They pay the radio stations to play the music and put a lot of money behind the advertising. When that artist is big, like Alanis Morrisette, who's talented, they go 'Why not make another Alanis Morrisette?'. You have all these copycats signed to the big record companies. That goes on for another two or three years until someone new comes in and history repeats itself, so consequently music doesn't really have much to do with it. We were looking for a record label in the States. Now we have found it but earlier on we had about six record company people interested and they were big names. One of them went 'this is one of the best LPs I've ever heard'. We were going 'Oh so you like it' he said 'yeah, but we don't know how to market it.' I said 'What do you mean?'. He said 'It's fantastic music, I love it and its so refreshing" but we cant use it' I said 'Why not?' and he was going 'We don't know how to go about selling this music to the public'. The guy is still playing it and that's his favourite LP but he can't accept it because its too different. Maybe in six months time if Alanis Morrisette and everybody were singing renaissance music then they would be going 'Oh, we can use that because now we know how to market it and MTV will play it because it's been done by enough bands'. Marketing is the important work, not music. It's not the music business, it's the marketing business and that's why I go 'This is ridiculous, this is just music and why can't you just give it to the people?'. Most of the record companies will be saying 'No you can't do that, we must have an angle and it must be fashionable'. Then you are going 'My god, what am I dealing with, music or fashion?'. It seems like we're dealing with fashion. Yngwie Malmsteen is very misread. A lot of people are going 'Yngwie is a nasty guy', but he's not, he's a very nice guy. He just knows the bullshit. People bullshit and when you bullshit back to them they don't like it'. When the management or agencies give you a hard time you give them a hard time back and you are labelled as 'difficult'. The music business has an amazing 'ranking list'. You have the record company, then it's the management, then it's the agencies, then it's the promoters and the last person on that ladder is the artist 'because they just wrote and performed the songs'.
Looking at today's music scene, do you see any hope?
There is a whole underground movement which is very refreshing. All our friends usually say 'I DON'T listen to the radio', they have their cassettes. There is a whole underground movement of people listening to different music. The Spice Girls might be the biggest selling act but thank god, there is all these other great bands that you never hear of playing throughout the world. I think the underground movement soon will rule over the commercial music, because the commercial acts are selling less. People are getting tired of the same ice-cream, people want to hear a bit more substance. People are looking for acoustic music, mediaeval music etc. It's amazing whereas ten years ago it seemed like you only had two options, rock and ballads. Now it's rock, ballads, medieval music, acoustic music, country music, Celtic music etc. People are tried of being force fed by the radio stations who play the same commercial stuff. At the same time, a lot of public broadcasting stations are getting very big over here and they're playing a lot of acoustic and classical music.
Would you kind of like Blackmores Night to remain and underground act?
In a way, I kinda like it that it stays that way. Some of the bands I really like I would hate to see them put in the same position as the Spice Girls. I am prepared to play this type of music to a very small following but I shall be content.
'Shadow Of The Moon' Live
Do you have a 'been there, done that attitude to playing in arenas
I have done that with Deep Purple. It is good for the bank account and it is good for the ego, but it is not a lot of music involved. It becomes a 'Show'. I personally like to play in front of between 200 and a thousand people. You will get into a big party atmosphere with those people, you will play well and you're not overloaded with wrong acoustics. People are like 'Ritchie is crazy, he's playing small halls', but that's not true. I love to play at smaller places. You'll get more attention in the smaller halls. Usually, all those people who are interested in the music, I notice that they don't go to ten thousand seaters. You can see that maybe two thousand out of ten thousand people will be interested in the music. If you go to a Rolling Stones concert, you will see that there are a lot more, than two thousand people who's not really interested in the music. They're only there because their friends are there. I've spoken to several people about this. I said 'Why do you go to a Rolling Stones concert? They say 'because everybody else are going'. I will go 'do you like it?', and their answer is 'no'. A lot of people will be looking at the exit signs and leave when you're playing in a big arena, but when you're playing to a thousand people, they're locked in to what you're doing. Going on stage as a rock 'n' roll act, screaming and yelling, playing really loud and asking the audience 'do you wanna rock 'n' roll', its like it is so cliched. In the sixties it was great but now in the nineties I'm very suspicious when the bands are going on stage shaking their fists to the audience. I did that twenty years ago, why would I want to do it now?
What kind of audience do you get live?
We'll get the Deep Purple/Rainbow fans plus, believe it or not, there's been a lot of thirty, forty, fifty, sixty and seventy year old people who have never heard of Deep Purple as well as some nine year old kids. As well as the renaissance material and 'Shadow Of The Moon' we're playing 'Street Of Dreams', 'Self Portrait', 'Ariel', 'Man On The Silver Mountain', 'Sixteen Century Greensleeves' and sometimes even 'Smoke On The Water' semi-acoustically. Candice does a great version of 'Smoke On The Water'. Nothing is like out of the boundary.
The Rainbow and Deep Purple fans are still applauding?
Candice - That's right, even the guys in leather jackets with long hair wearing Rainbow and Dio-shirts are singing along with 'Be Mine Tonight' and 'Renaissance Faire'. That was so great. We're trying to involve the people by shouting out requests. We encourage people to wear renaissance costumes, so we now have a lot of people turning up in these clothes. These people sometimes get in free if they're wearing costumes.
We did one show in Berlin in a church and it was one of my favourite shows. The church is a holy place and the vibe is very positive. I don't necessarily believe in that religion but that's not the issue.
At the end of the show we do all the rock 'n' roll stuff for the hard rock fans. Normally people would go crazy, but in Berlin people were actually leaving once we started to play rock 'n' roll. That was a change for me. We stopped playing rock 'n' roll and went back to the acoustic material.
Have you established a closer relationship with your fans?
Candice - When you get fan letters regarding Deep Purple or Rainbow, it's like 'I love your stuff man, I've loved you since the seventies and everything is cool and great'. When you get fan letters to Blackmores Night, suddenly everybody is analysing the lyrics and going 'I was walking through the twilight, sat down by the magical tree and that song made me cry'. It's bringing out this completely creatiye area of people instead of 'Yeah, it's cool, rock on man'. We haven't played in castles but we have stayed in castles instead of hotels. When we got to the castles, the fans had already booked in dressed up in medieval costumes.
Weird memories on stage
You've been on the road for ages. Can you share some Spinal Tap memories?
I have to tell you this story. I am talking about a good friend of mine, so there are no hard feelings. His name is Scott and I asked him if he wanted to join me on tour taking care of my guitars. All he had to do was tune my guitar, give it to me before I go on stage and turn on the amplifiers. Rainbow was playing at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. I had about 20 seconds before I had to go on stage. I am going 'Where is my guitar', Scott is saying' I knew there was something missing', the audience are cheering, the intro is over and the band is walking on stage. I was still backstage with no guitar. Everybody backstage are screaming 'Where is Ritchie's guitar?'. Now I had about five seconds to get my guitar and run out on stage. Somebody found the guitar, it was still in its case. Scott said 'Hey' and I'm like 'Hello Scott, guitar? Scott looking like a question mark, is going 'GUITAR?'. I said 'Yes, good point, WHERE IS MY GUITAR?'. Consequently I walked on stage three minutes late. That's a long time for the audience to go 'Why is Ritchie not on stage?'. I was thinking 'What is wrong with the man?'. I've had some bad roadies but I've never had someone that bad that they have forgotten my guitar. The night before I walked on stage, started playing and nothing happened because Scott forgot to turn the amplifiers on.
On stage you've always been unpredictable. What happened filming the 'Come Hell Or High Water' live video in Birmingham NEC 93, when you were throwing water at the camera men and leaving the stage?
There is a long story about that. What happened was that BMG, the record company, wanted to do a video in Birmingham. We were on tour for like two and a half months and I said to them 'Look if you want to promote a tour, then you have to do it at the beginning of the tour', and they are like 'Why?'. I said 'because Ian Gillan loses his voice after four days and if you want us to be in our best light, get in there early because Ian Gillan's voice will be good and then we'll be right on top of selling what we're promoting at that time'. You want to promote it at the beginning. I said 'Why can't we do the video in the first four days?' and they were like 'No, we can't do that, we have to wait until you're playing in Birmingham.' I'm like 'Why?', Nobody else was asking questions. Everybody else said 'Who Cares?'. I'm like 'Well, I care because what is the point of doing a video six weeks into a tour when the record that your promoting is already dead'. They didn't take any notice. They said 'Were gonna do Birmingham'. I said 'You know what?, if you do Birmingham then you can count me out, you can take long shots of me but if I see any cameras near me there's going to be trouble'. These guys come along with like six cameras and the fans have paid a lot of money to the show, all they see is the back of someone's head and a camera. I said 'If there are cameras obstructing the fans from seeing us there's going to be problems, there is going to be problems as far as I'm going not going to play'. That was my point. That was my way of saying' If BMG doesn't care about what I think I don't care about what they think'.
I came to the show and I said to my roadie' Are all the cameras off stage?' I noticed there was some blocking the view of fans. He said 'Oh yes, they're all off stage'. I said 'Okay'. I walked on stage and what do I see?, a camera right in front of the people, so I walked off. I told them 'Until you get that camera off I won't play'. The band was thinking what the hell is Ritchie doing? I felt sorry for some of the band members.
To their credit, they had no idea about what was going on. The crews roadie Colin Hart knew exactly what was going on. I said 'Colin, you just told me that those cameras were gone' and he said 'Oh, I'll get them off stage'. I said' I've now walked on stage, I had to walk off to get them off stage so please do something'. I walked on the second time and they are still there and I'm like 'What is going on here?'. At this point I'm starting to get really annoyed. To add to this, the night before I had fallen off stage in Hammersmith and sprained my ankle. My ankle was all wound up by the doctor. The doctor told me 'you can't play'. I said 'I have to play'.
I thought that gesture of me not wanting to kind of stop the show would be more appreciated rather than going on stage and argue with all these camera people and BMG, so I thought I know what I'm going to do. I knew what would move them, so I just grabbed some water and I went over to the camera and threw it at the lince. If you're going to knock that camera they get nervous and then they fall back. By this time I was so angry that I had to absorb to all this childish nonsense that I couldn't play for like two songs.
Ian Gillan was told that I was throwing beer over his wife because what happened was that when I threw water at the camera. it hit the camera, came off and went over his wife, who was standing there, so she's saying 'Ritchie just threw beer on me'.
I'm like 'What', I heard that and then Ian came on stage and he was very good about it. He didn't make any trouble about it, but whoever told him that I threw beer over her was trying to cause trouble. If I want to throw beer over her I would go and throw it over her. It could have caused big trouble, it could have caused a fight on stage. It's typical of people who would like to see trouble, they say something and sit back and watch.
What about that time in Paris '87, going on stage alone for the encore playing Smoke On The Water?
Some times I don't want to play 'Smoke On The Water', but it was like 'You HAVE to play Smoke On The Water', so on some nights I said 'I don't want to play, we have given them two encores, why do we have to do 'Smoke On The Water? In Paris they were a really good audience, but Gillan had a problem with something, so they went straight to the dressing room.
I went 'Lets do 'Smoke On The Water', but everybody was going 'No, were not going to do it'. I thought I'll fucking do it because I knew what the audience would think 'Ritchie is in another mood, he won't play 'Smoke On The Water' so Deep Purple won't come back on'. I went back on to say 'I'm here, they are not'. That was my point because it was very easy to blame everything on me. It was like 'If there's a problem it's Ritchie's fault'.
How do you like being called a guitar hero?
No, I don't think I am a guitar hero. Sometimes I play well and sometimes I don't. It depends. There are many, many guitar players who are better than me. All I want to do is emote, make someone feel good. If I can do that, then I'm okay. I won't be the best and I don't want to be the best. There are a lot of other guitar players who are brilliant, but I sometimes think they're going down a one way street. Life and music is not about impressing people. Music is about moving people, a simple song that makes people feel good. That to me is the biggest compliment.
How would you praise the art of im provisation on stage?
One of my favourites is Bob Dylan. Whenever you see him on stage he is wonderful because he's so un-show biz. He is such a genius, he is himself one hundred percent. In the sixties Bob Dylan went on stage with an electric guitar and they booed him off, but he didn't care. He was like 'I'm just doing something different'. He could go on stage with an acoustic guitar for the rest of his life and play it safe. What I loved about Bob Dylan is that he's just strumming his guitar, he is looking into the audience, you look around and the band will go 'he's finishing' and stop the song. Bob Dylan is still strumming his guitar like nothing happened, he had taken no notice of the band. The band will start playing again, trying to cover up the false alarm. It's hilarious to watch. The band know he is going to stop but they don't know where. Bob Dylan is going to end the song when he feels like ending. It's not worked out, it's not rehearsed and it's not show biz. I love to see the spontaneity. It's like seeing an artist paint. If you see a real true artist paint, he doesn't come on stage and go 'Hello ladies and gentlemen, we are so happy to be here in Oslo and we're going to paint a picture and it goes like this.' They will probably walk on stage and go 'I don't know what I'm going to paint, I don't know where I am, in fact I don't know anything, but wait a moment, I think I have an idea'. That to me is magic. Ilike to see a bit of chaos. Without chaos you have no creativity. Although I play a lot of the same songs on stage, it's totally different every night. I may change the intro, the beginning, the middle, the end. Why do we have to go through an act every night?
Besides the music, are you still as crazy as ever about playing soccer?
Sure, Steve Harris is a very good soccer player. He's one of the better players as a musician. I can play soccer quite a bit, but I never play against musicians, it's always against semi-pros. It's like 'Where are the musicians?', they're in a bar drinking'. In a way I suppose if people know who you are they do take it easy. I've played in the over forty league, they don't know who I am and they kick the shit out of me. They always think I'm under forty anyway. 'I'm fucking fifty one' and I have to get my licence out. Those guys are pretty good too, they don't know who the hell I am and they don't care about kicking me. I like to play for the exercise, that's number one because I have a bad habit of not exercising unless I'm running after a ball.
© Hard Roxx June 1998