'I'm surprised that some people don't wanna change anything'
Ritchie Blackmore is busy with his second youth. The magic master of the Stratocaster surprised already last year with his resuscitated group with a fresh sound, on his new album he takes a totally different way.
Armed with an acoustic guitar knight Ritchie fights the good fight with medieval themes and folktunes. He's supported by synthesizers and occasionally a drummachine plus the pretty noblewoman: singer and lyricist Clarence Night (- yes, this is what the interview says, later on they do name her Candice, Ed), with whom he shares life for 7 years now. The result evoke memories to Mike Oldfields - Moonlight Shadow and also the renaissance-period of our own Jan Akkerman. Leaves us with the question: is this a one off or a planned - career-move?
'A logic step,' thus the never so very communicatively Ritchie, who even gave in to promote this CD by doing interviews. "I played these songs so often in my head. This is the music I listen to when I'm at home and I play for friends, when I'm hosting a party. I only never thought I would play this publicly, didn't have the impression that the masses would be interested in such a specific musicstyle. Besides I was fine doing rock & roll and had commitments to the band I was part of.'
- What made you change your mind?
'Pure despair. On a certain moment I needed this kinda music so bad that I didn't give a shit if they would accept it or not.'
- I must admit I was shocked when I heard it the first time, but I have to admit there are no bad songs on the CD.
'I had this idea so long in my head, I have worked long enough on it. In contrast to my rock & roll-songs, that I usually write in the studio, on the moment supreme. I have so many rock & roll ideas that I can choose what's best for the band. The sound is also very important. On acoustic guitar a rocksongs sounds often very different.
Like you play it on acoustic guitar it also sounds that way on CD. The CD has a relaxing, healing effect so even I play it. Normally I never listen to my own CD's. I'm almost never satisfied with what I play, certainly the solo's. Always get confronted with imperfectly. When I know I get recorded, it's stiffen me. I get very self-assured, analyse what I'm playing while I play it. I play best when I'm relaxed and can come up spontanious with things. When I do a good solo in the studio, it's always the same, the technician didn't have the right sound or I break a string. Then we have to do it again. And you take less risks, you start playing a bit sterile. With live recordings you know you have to do it in that one take. That no technician is going to say: can you do that riff again? That's why I like live recordings."
- What where the possibilities on this CD for improvisation?
'Most of my improvisations I play in minor chords, the basis of the blues and rock & roll. Minor-chords breathe out a lot of misery, or at it's best they have a melancholic feel, what joins good with my character. I'm a very serious person, a pessimist, and very negative. This CD is almost overall in major, a happy key. I hardly play that. Before, when I was about fifteen, sixteen I used to do it when I played a lot of country & western. I also worked out many of the solo's this time, something I never do in rock & roll. But this was a very personal project so I spend a lot more time to the preparation.'
- This project is called Blackmore's Night. Night is the surname of your girlfriend and musical partner. With this name it looks she's your property.
'You can look at everything from a chauvinistic point of view. It's the same when you talk about your car, or your boat. In the present world we want to be too much politic correct. I don't see Candice as my property. Better said: I think she has more control over me than vice versa. Candice determines for at least fifty percent the result. Many people are touched by her voice, more than my guitarplaying. But with this CD I didn't want to impress the guitarplayers. I don't like to play for musicians, they are too snobbery. Even friends of mine, who play professionally music from the 15th century, were stunned. The repertoire is not brought on a puristic way. But that was for me exactly the challenge! I'm surprised that some people don't wanna change anything'.
- I can figure out that the puristics are shocked by the synthesizers...
'I must admit that the original plan was to replace the synthesizers by authentic instruments. But when producer Pat Regan and I listened to the result, we didn't thought it was necessary. We should have sounded like any medieval band. Besides now we might can get the attention of people who are not really interested in medieval music. So far I got more fanmail and compliments than in the past 30 years together.'
- The medieval guitar playing reminds me of Jan Akkerman.
'Jan was one of my real favourites. I've seen him play with Focus in Los Angeles and still listen to that music. Fine stuff! And Akkerman had the nerve to leave the band on the moment they were big, because it wasn't the music he was willing to play any longer. More people should be doing that. Unfortunately a big name means security. People stay too long together while they have noting to tell anymore. I was guilty of that too, so I know where I'm talking about. I hope Jan will be as successful as before. There is a garish need for guitarplayers like Jan Akkerman.'
- The singing on this CD tends to Mike Oldfields Moonlight Shadow.
'That's a good observation, because that's one of our favourite songs. When we started this project we listen to that song a lot. For the other songs we kept this footstep. I consider this comparison as a compliment.'
- Moonlight Shadow was a big hit in the Netherlands. Was it also in America?
'No. there's too much melody in it. Americans have trouble with melody. Mike Oldfield never reached the American people. just like ABBA, while they were giants everywhere else. Americans don't like the European melodic way, they prefer R&B. And the radiostations play overhere 90% of own releases. If it's not American, you hardly have a chance to get played here.'
- How did Candice then got involved with these European music?
'I only play European music at home, so she couldn't escape it. So she started to enjoy it and because I took her often to Europe with me she started to like it better and better. She got interested and picks up the melodies faster than me, she can tell the notes of the melody she just heard. Then I know what to play. She plays piano and recently started with the flute. And she plays better than most people who play already their whole life. It's scary.'
- Did you ever sing yourself?
'Yes. But only on moments others couldn't hear me. Making music demands so much concentration and you can't do two things really good. In my heart I know I never could concentrate that much on singing as I can on playing guitar. But when I'm doing a solo, I sing along with it. That's why I've lost my voice often after a show. I'm very demanding to my singers so I'm too uncertain and critical about my own voice. That's why I prefer not to sing. Besides I just learned how to talk...'
- You just learned how to talk?
'I don't like to talk about things. That's the reason why I started to play the guitar when I was young: I wanted to bring something you never can say in words. That's the story of more guitarplayers.
Brian May is also an introvert person, who prefer to speak through his guitar rather than to talk. That's why I do not so many interviews. I leave the talkin' to the people who has got to say something. Like singers. They like to talk about themselves, they like to give themselves a pat on the back. I try to avoid that. Talking is my last remedy. Feelin' or doing something, that's more my way.'
- On stage you looked often distantly, brusquely and egocentrically.
'Yes. But I even wasn't centrically, so definitely not egocentrically. I just didn't know what I was. I turned my head down and started to play. Shyness was the main reason I felt uncomfortable. It was a weird situation to be onstage with my introvert nature. It's in my system. That's why I -when people are talkin' about me- can talk about myself as if was a third party. The Ritchie Blackmore you see on stage, is not the same as the one who eats a bun at the breakfast table.'
- Are you a difficult person to be with in a band?
'I think so. When a musician is not good enough, or he isn't useful I'm the first one who tell him.'
- In Deep Purple you had more than once crashes with Ian Gillan. Why did you return in 1984 to play with him and put an end to it not too long ago?
'I just don't like the man. His singin' is not too well, I prefer bluessingers. But the way he behaved on stage, was annoying me heavily. I had the feelin' I was backing up a clown. Especially when he lost his text again. It was his fault Deep Purple became more and more a cabaret-act. I did ask Ian sometimes: wouldn't it be fun to practise the words to a song. It got so far that at a point when he lost the words again I switched off my guitar and played the game along: I can be as unprofessional as you!"
- You know on such a moment that you made a fool out of him.
'But he made a fool outta all of us! I felt sorry for the audience. They all knew the words and Gillan not! And he didn't give a shit either!'
- Gillan had to go and your old Rainbow-singer Joe Lynn Turner took his place. Was that the best option that moment?
For me it was. Only the others didn't wanna have him in the band. I forced that decision on. That Gillan had to leave was obvious for all of us. Ian lost his voice for a period of six months. When someone is losing his voice, you normally feel sympathy for him. But in this case he didn't change his lifestyle. He went out every night on the booze. Like there was no relation between those two things. I couldn't take that anymore.'
- But with his replacement Joe Lynn Turner it also didn't work out.
'I think it did. Slaves And Masters is one of my favourite albums. But Joe had problems. Not in the last place because the rest of the band was against him. So Joe had to go. After a month the rest told they wanted Ian back. He had his life again on the right track, he was singin' good. They said. So I told them: OK, let me hear it! Gillan did two songs on tape. It still sounded horrible. But the other three convincingly wanted him back. So I agreed. We did an album. And then I had to go on tour with him. I couldn't stand it any longer. So I decided to quit. For a while it was like they would pack it in. But I understand everybody is happy now. I'm happy I'm no longer in that band.'
- Both times you left Deep Purple your next step was Rainbow. How is the situation with it now?
'Rainbow is put on ice again for a while. I'll definitely replace the singer, bassplayer and keyboardplayer. I can't give you the names of the new people. We won't start talkin' before February or March next year. I was fed up for a while to play constantly very loud on stage. On a large stage it doesn't matter, but it's very difficult to hear the things in their perspective when you -during rehearsals- play so loud with the whole band in a small room. A Marshall is like a Ferrari. If you turn it quiet, you loose the power. My eardrums are now grateful for this new CD.'
- What are the chances you ever will do something together with Ronnie James Dio again?
'I don't think I will start working permanent again with Ronnie. But there are plans to do a short tour, maybe followed by a live album.'
- Are there problems from the past that have to be solved?
'There were not that many problems. Ronnie's departure from Rainbow was that quickly so the pain didn't got time to evolve. One moment we were playing together, the next no more..'
- In the Middle Ages you had minstrels and troubadours. What are you?
'Here in the States you have renaissance-fairs. At these occasions I often dress up as a minstrel or gypsy. That's an escape possibility for me from computers and things like marketing and software, all this tension that's building up in the modern world.'
- Do you believe in reincarnation?
'Yes. It might be a very romantic theory, but it's true... It would explain a lot. I would like to have lived in the 15th century, if we could pass all the diseases. I would like to choose the good things from that time: the country life, in the woods. Today that's no longer possible, because of ticks and other, little insects which could give you bone cancer and might kill you. You didn't had these in those days... A lot of men have the feelin' they were Henry VIII in earlier times, women are thinking to be the reincarnation of Cleopatra. But I would like to believe that I was a simple farmer. Normal as could be, on the back of a haycart and all that. I think I would have been busy with music, or maybe magic. I do a lot of séances. That brought up I should have been a wizard. Séances are an escape for me. When I do a séance I got the feeling that I'm coming a step closer to God. It's a strange, harmonic feeling. That is not easy to get hold of in my normal, social surroundings.'
Focus was cabaretmusic on testosterone
Jan Akkerman about Ritchie Blackmore
Jan Akkerman about Ritchie Blackmore's Night: 'I listen hardly ever to the radio, but when I was speedin' home last time from Italy, I heard a bit of Blackmore's new album. I've heard this before. And better. It reminded me to the music I recorded about 30 years ago. They didn't like that at the time. But this is a compliment in disguise. Blackmore has given his own turn to it. The vocals must make it more accessible for a wide audience. That's completely legal. I myself never thought in vocals.
I once made a song and someone built his flute career on that. We could do a festival in Las Palmas. Turned out to be a songcontest. I climbed there a mountain with a airhostess with a pair of great wings and then I wrote - House Of the King. We do had a flute in the band (- Jan Akkerman is talkin' here about Thijs Van Leer, as 'a flute', who he probably hates more than Blackmore hates Gillan, Ed) that should be used as well.
Focus was cabaretmusic on testosterone. I have met Blackmore in the past, in a lobby of a hotel. He had heard I was interested in Bach. And Renaissance and Bach he was really into. I think it's great he finally got around to it. Congratulate him with the fact that he finally took a wise decision. Maybe he's got metal fatigue. Otherwise you never start playing this kinda music?! It sounds very sweet, very nice. Blackmore assumed from sphere. Reminds me of the old times with knights. This is not evolution, but involution. It goes back a long time. Even for Renaissance. The music sounds harmonically not awake enough. There are records with songs from the time of the knights, complete with lyrics and music. But Ritchie is on his own way artistically busy. The music is indeed spiritual. Blackmore finally gave in. I don't think it was made on a cup of tea. I think there was quite some smoke. If not, he should do something like that.
© Hans van den Heuvel, Oor no 17 - 23 August 1997
Original version published in Dutch language, this is a translated, slightly edited, version.