"I’ve actually fired myself once or twice. I don't fire musicians anymore, I just set fire to them."
Blackmore’s Night have now been with us for almost twenty-four years, and ‘Nature’s Light’ is their eleventh new studio album. The venture has been more financially, and I would suggest psychologically, rewarding than either Deep Purple or Rainbow. With Candice Night, Richie Blackmore is in a good place, so much so that he has successfully revisited the Rainbow days, and continues mesmerising on his Strat, and all kinds of stringed instruments many of us have never heard of. Fireworks was honoured to be the first publication to be granted an interview with the couple, prior to the album’s release in March.
It’s a long time since we spoke with you guys. Are you, the children, and Carole doing okay, and managing to stay away from everything that’s flying around at the moment?
RB: I wanted time off but it’s beginning to be too much time off now ... starting to get antsy and I want to play!
CN: All okay here. Dealing with the restrictions and new guidelines and trying to stay safe and healthy.
You live close to New York, which was pretty bad with the Coronavirus. Has it impacted on you in any way?
RB: Candice and I spend a lot of time at home so it suits me to be away from any form of company, as I don’t like talking to people anyway. Over here, like probably where you are, there is a lot of confusion as to what the real story is – whether it’s with masks or who has or doesn’t have Covid, who’s going to get it, why we’re getting it. We pretty much know where it's come from although they’re trying to play that down. So there’s so much mystery involved you have to wonder who’s telling the truth.
CN: We are about an hour and a half away from the city and we hardly went into NYC anyway, so what happens there normally doesn’t affect us. But it is on Long Island too, although there is a lot of misinformation. We know people who have had it. And we know people who were misdiagnosed with it. Recently where the kids go to school, they tested all the high school athletes and the tests all came back negative but then the health department switched the results somehow and listed them all as positive! I mean, you have to wonder what’s going on.
It’s nice to see you back, but why has it taken so long? I know one or two reasons, but that was a while ago now.
CN: We actually released our CD in 2016, then in 2017 we rereleased ‘Winter Carols’ with new tracks making it a double CD, and that same year we released a double CD called ‘To The Moon And Back’ which was a twenty year retrospective of the twenty years of Blackmore’s Night. One of the CDs was a compilation of our best of songs and on the second CD were new songs or new takes of old songs as well as unreleased video footage of the band. Then in 2018 we had a hard time: my Dad lost his battle with cancer, Ritchie’s brother passed, our cat of sixteen years passed, as well as losing Ritchie’s best friend from his early band days, Jimmy Evans – so that whole year wasn’t very inspiring to play or create. We started recording again in 2019 and tried to release in 2020 but the pandemic hit so everything was put off. We did release an EP of Christmas songs called ‘Here We Come A Caroling’ this past December and we did two live-stream concerts on Ritchie’s Facebook page, so we have been busy each year.
As the children are growing, have they shown any real interest in music or playing music? I would be surprised if not.
RB: Yes, Autumn is playing cello in the school orchestra and I’m also teaching her the guitar. She has a brilliant three-and-a-half octave range, pitch-perfect voice and Rory has a great voice and a very good sense of rhythm, so he has a drum kit set up. So they are both musically inclined.
CN: Autumn has her daddy’s improvisational gene. That girl can make up songs about anything, anytime, it’s amazing. He only has to show her something once on the guitar and she remembers it for life. I am clueless with guitar. I picked up Ritchie’s guitar the other day and put my fingers on the fretboard in a mock playing position; she just rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, that’s not even a chord.” And Rory can do things rhythmically that are amazing. He just feels it naturally.
Having said that, would I be correct in saying there are younger voices doing the ‘La la la’ bit at the end of ‘Going To The Faire’?
RB: Yes, those are our little ones.
CN: Autumn also sang the high parts on our Christmas EP on ‘Silent Night’.
Its origins come from a 16th-century Italian song ‘FuggiFuggiFuggi’
I remember when you played over here as Blackmore’s Night; Autumn wasn’t phased at coming out on stage at all, although she did run straight to her mum and sort of ran away from you Ritchie, which was quite amusing.
CN: Yes, that’s when she was mommy’s girl. But as I’m the one who cracks the whip on healthy eating and homework and staying on schedule, they happily run to Daddy to escape me now [laughs].
Are you still keeping an eye on English football and Chelsea, Ritchie? They have just sacked Frank Lampard as manager and put in someone who was sacked from his previous team. It’s the only job I know where you can look forward to getting fired before you actually get there. Do you think you made the wrong decision to be a musician instead?
RB: I’ve actually fired myself once or twice. I don't fire musicians anymore, I just set fire to them. I do follow football but over here, we pick up the Spanish league and they’re obviously very good players. Of course, my favourites were always Bayern Munich because of Franz Beckenbauer; I liked his technique of dancing with the ball.
With regard to the album now, when I saw the title ‘Once Upon December’ I thought it was going to be a Christmas song, which would have been a bit disorienting in March, but it’s not is it? Having said that, once you reach March, Christmas is only a blink away isn’t it?
RB: And who’s to say when Christmas really is? They say that Christmas is the celebration of the birthday of Jesus but then the story goes that he was born in March and not in December.
CN: That song was originally done by a Renaissance Faire performer friend of ours, Owain Phyfe. Its origins come from a 16th-century Italian song ‘FuggiFuggiFuggi’. The record company did release that song in December as a preview of the ‘Natures Light’ album to come, so at that point the title of that track worked perfectly.
There is also some really nice interplay on ‘Darker Shade Of Black’, with the acoustic guitar and piano just prior to the Strat lead. Did you play to the keyboard, or was the guitar laid down first?
RB: Guitar was laid down first. And some opera singer was passing by the studio….
With ‘The Twisted Oak’ I wrote, ‘If you shut your eyes you can just imagine people in castles, long ago, dancing with each other with the band playing at the end of a large hall.’ Do either of you get images like that while putting the songs together?
RB: Yes and we were going to call it “our left behind” which we included if you listen carefully. My life consists of many visuals of castles, courtly dances, and minstrels in the gallery.
CN: I always think that Ritchie’s melodies are so visual that they instantly paint pictures in my mind when I hear them. Then I just try to channel the pictures I’m getting into storylines which become the lyrical content.
Why did you decide to re-record ‘Wish You Were Here?’
RB: A lot of people request that song, especially over here, so we decided to re-record it. It’s one of my favourite songs.
CN: Plus we’ve been performing it since 1997 so we added some new instrumentation and a new vocal performance, as my voice has strengthened over the years. It sounds truer to the way we perform it onstage now.
Are there any ‘new’ instruments that you introduce us to on this album? How long does it usually take you to get to grips with new/old instruments, either stringed or woodwind?
RB: I’m still practising the nyckleharp. I leave all the shawms and woodwinds to Candy. She’s already very good at them even though she doesn’t practice.
CN: I don’t have time to practice! But at this point I’m playing rauch-pfifes, recorders, penny-whistles, shawms, gemshorns, crumhorns, bombards – so I don’t think I need to add any more. But it’s nice to be able to pull on any of these sounds or make our own ensembles by multi-tracking the parts when we’re recording.
Are you always looking for new/old instruments you can explore, or are there none left?
RB: We do have a lot of old instruments, but there is always instruments I’ve never heard of that go way back.
One thing I saw not too long ago, said that you were a film score writer. Is that true? I did not know that, and if so what films were they?
RB:I do write a lot of film music but unfortunately they never release the films. Probably because of the music [laughs].
‘Der Letzte Musketier’ has a deep sense of Jon Lord at the beginning, and I know you had great respect for him. Was there some thought behind that or is it just coincidental?
RB: No, I wanted an organ beginning to it, which our producer made up on the spot. But the story is I used to be in a band called the Three Musketeers and we played in Hamburg, Germany where we were based and we were only together for about a year but in that year that band became my favourite band of all time. Unfortunately, the other two members have since passed on and so that makes me the last Musketeer. We used to play very fast instrumentals in Germany in 1964 or ’65 – most of the audience wanted to dance to the music but we always had complaints that our music was too fast and they couldn’t dance to it, so consequently we didn’t work very much. Our drummer, for instance, was an incredible drummer who could sight read brilliantly. I was there when another drummer asked him if he could sight read a piece of music, so Jimmy Evans proceeded to read that piece of music upside down and backward and forwards. So the other drummer was immediately a giant fan of our drummer and followed him everywhere because he was so in awe of his talent. His stage name was Tornado Evans and he played with me on some Lord Sutch recordings – my favourite all time musician friend.
"My life consists of many visuals of castles, courtly dances, and minstrels in the gallery."
It’s a while since you played Blues, so what inspired you to do this track in that style?
RB: Waiting for Candy, who was shopping for groceries [laughs]. So the producer and myself threw it together. Some days I like to play the Strat and some days I like to play the acoustic, depending on my frame of mind. They’re two different animals completely – The Strat and the acoustic, not Candy [laughs].
‘Second Element’ doesn’t sound like it is based on medieval music, which makes it not immediately identifiable as Blackmore’s Night. If it wasn’t for Candice’s voice, Blackmore’s Night wouldn’t have sprung to mind until the guitar came in later on. I also think it is very memorable and would make a good single. Any thoughts on that?
RB: Yes, we’ve always liked the song and it was written by one of our friends in Hamburg, who happens to be engaged to Sarah Brightman. He and two or three of his friends wrote the song and we decided to do it because it’s a great melody.
CN: It was originally on Sarah Brightman’s album ‘Dive’. There are two versions of it, one is a love song and the other one is ‘Second Element II’ which I instantly fell in love with because it’s about the element of water being the source of life; very nature magic based. And I love Ritchie’s guitar on this track!
One quick question about politics, as that has been firmly in our faces recently. Bearing in mind you played with Screaming Lord Sutch, if he had ever been successful in his attempts to be elected, you could have become an MP, Ritchie. How cool would that have been, and what would you have been minister of?
RB: Minister of Transport. And I’d make everybody ride bicycles. I’m glad you didn’t ask me which side I would vote for.
I have always thought your style and sound are instantly identifiable with you, and I remember the first time I heard your version of ‘The Snowman’ on Fluff Freeman’s Rock show one Saturday afternoon. I didn’t turn it on until part way through, and remember thinking, ‘That’s Richie’s sound,’ then, ‘Hang on, that’s ‘The Snowman’, that’s not a Ritchie tune.’ That sound is still immediately identifiable today, so do you still use much of the same equipment, or have you started to utilise profilers and such?
RB: No, I was using Marshall Amplification then but for the last twenty years I’ve been using Engl amps. Same strings, which are D’Addario – a Long Island manufactured string, where I live. Funnily enough, I just got a couple of 100 watt Marshalls out of storage and blew the dust off of them; I haven’t played a Marshall Amp in years. When I used to play I would play onstage with four 4x12 Marshall cabinets but I was only going through one Marshall cabinet. Now I enjoy playing through small amplifiers – how I really started out. I never really felt comfortable with all those cabinets behind me; it was always too loud.
When you play live, I notice that there’s one thing on stage that you have used for an eternity that looks like an old Teac reel to reel recorder, which, if so, I assume you use for echo effects.
RB: It was an AIWA tape deck that was lying around the house, so instead of wasting it I used it as a pre amp. Instead of many preamps that squash the sound, it actually opens up the sound which is unusual.
Do you still miss the Ginster’s meat pies and English chocolate?
RB: I still eat too much English chocolate because I can get it down the shop at the end of the road. The Ginsters was more for Candy, yet I love them too.
CN: He is able to get Cadburys but we both miss Flakes and Crunchies! Luckily we can get Branston Pickle, though, and Horlicks [laughs].
I was at your Rainbow shows, at Birmingham on the first run and the Stonefree show on the second. What encouraged you both to reinvigorate that after so long? Was it something you felt you had to get out of your system?
RB: Again just a frame of mind. I didn’t realise so many people were so interested in seeing the old Rainbow songs, but I was very surprised at how many people came out to hear it. I love nostalgia too.
Did you derive any inspiration for ‘Nature’s Light’ from doing those tours, or was some of the album already mapped out?
RB: No, playing with Rainbow is a completely different situation. I wouldn’t be insured to write something for Blackmore’s Night from the Rock situation .
I also saw somewhere on the internet where one of the styles of music you played was described as ‘Neoclassical Metal’. I thought the first part was right but I’m not sure about the second ‘Metal’ bit. Would you say that was right?
RB: I’ve never played Metal. Obviously, with Blackmore’s Night I play wood, and with Rainbow I play Hard Rock Blues.
"Medically, I had to have pain-killing injections into my spine so that I could stand onstage for two hours."
Did those Rainbow dates re-enforce your relationship with the Strat, Richie, as I notice you use it quite a lot on the new album?
RB: Those Rainbow shows, I was never quite comfortable on stage until we played about our fifth show, then I started to feel more at ease. But having not played Rock for more than twenty years, it was a bit of a stretch. Medically, I had to have pain-killing injections into my spine so that I could stand onstage for two hours, whereas in the Blackmore’s Night show I am usually on a stool for two and a half hours, so that helps my back. I think when we played the Czech show I only did one encore because my back was hurting so much.
In retrospect, did you both enjoy doing that, or did you feel like Phil Collins after he had done Genesis in 2007?
RB: I liked it in parts, but felt a little bit uncomfortable in other parts.
Do you record in your own studio at home and do the production yourselves, and are you digital, or do you go out to a studio and let someone else deal with that?
RB: We have a producer that flies in from LA. We spend most of the time talking about politics, but then we do a little bit of music and we have the equipment for recording but neither Candy nor I know how it works. I do know that there is a bar which I had built next to the studio, so I often sit in the bar room and write tunes before I go into the studio to put them down. There was a time when I wanted to be the one to never have a studio in the house but I succumbed to having the necessary recording equipment. I’m also a cat lover so whenever we went to the studio or lived in a studio setting, like we would usually do with Purple or Rainbow, I would miss my cats. So having a studio in the house, the cats can come downstairs and tell me if they like the music or not [laughs].
How involved do you get Candice, with the instrumentals?
CN: I don’t, really. Just to sit on the sidelines and watch and be in awe and be supportive. If he asks my opinion, I’ll give it. Otherwise I’m happy to just watch him do his thing – it's brilliant.
In my review, I wrote, “It’s uplifting, more than capable of cheering us up during these dark days, and much better than going to the chemist.” Does it ever get difficult to achieve a cheery feeling in music?
RB: You go through every emotion when you are recording. Happy, sad, and sometimes I just think that I can’t play very well at all. I have those moments when I seriously question my guitar ability.
CN: I think writing happier songs is actually more difficult for me. Somehow the darker songs have more dimension, but I do hope that in these times, as in any time, our music provides an escape from any stress or darkness that they are experiencing, especially in these crazy unprecedented times.
You are a great admirer of Eddie Van Halen, who we sadly lost last year. I believe you met him, but did you ever get any indication that you inspired him to any degree?
RB: Yes, he asked me how I got a few sounds on some of the Deep Purple stuff and what effects I was using and I remember once when he asked me about the effect on a song, which I don’t even remember, and I told him it was just the amplifier and I didn’t use any effect. He was insistent that I used an effect when I didn’t even use an effect on the song he was talking about, but very nice guy and brilliant guitar player. Reinvented the guitar technique with tapping.
What is your opinion regarding the revival of vinyl discs. Do you not think it’s going back in time?
RB: Anything that goes back in time is okay by me. I think it’s a good idea. People miss that hiss when you put that needle on the groove; there is a certain hiss.
CN: I think there is a warmth too, to that sound. Digital is too crisp. Maybe its nostalgia