Blackmore's Night - A Potted History

Ever wondered what Ritchie Blackmore did after the breakup of Rainbow in the late 1980s?

Well, AFAIK, we caught neither hide nor hair of him until 1996, when he re-emerged with a lute, mandolin, or some other Renaissance instrument in one hand and a blonde who was about half his age with a killer voice called Candice Night in the other, not to mention an assemblade of increasingly stupid looking hats (seriously, check out his headwear in the inlay to Ghost of a Rose. But that's by the by.) The resulting duo, who, along with a healthy entourage of instrumentalists and session musicians, named themselves Blackmore's Night and set about conquering Renaissance Fayres the world over, with mediaeval/hard rock fusion songs and reduxes on various 16th/17th century ballads and world music. Including, of course, Ritchie's infamous white Stratocaster, of which he still can't resist making full use.

Their first album, released in 1996, was entitled Shadow of the Moon and was a solid hour (almost) of hypnotic voice-driven melodies, raucous singalong ballads, and riffage. Of this album, in my opinion, the highlights have to be No Second Chance, the title track, Shadow of the Moon, and Renaissance Faire. The tempo of the album is quite slow, and I have to say that on some tracks, the pair sound a bit, well, anaemic. Far too many instrumentals as well - now don't get me wrong, a nice heavy metal instrumental can be better than a proper song, if you will. But... they don't seem to work that well without the vocals in my mind. And at this point Ritchie and Candice had yet to develop the true singalong factor that they would acquire in other songs.

Now, come 1998, this would all change with their second album, Under a Violet Moon (which, as a brief anecdotal comment, I always seem to want to call it Under a Violent Moon) had far less dreaminess and far more sing-along value to it. Indeed, the song Under a Violet Moon seems to be, in my experience at least, one of the public's favourites for them to perform live, but more on that later. What really increased here was the heaviness, not to mention a much richer atmosphere than Shadow. As well as covering various traditional songs such as Past Time with Good Company, which, apparently, was penned by Henry VIII, as was Greensleeves (though I have to say, I am not enthralled with their arrangement of it, much preferring Asha Quinn's version.) While Spanish Nights is an intense and, dare I say it, rather exotic, track, and Gone with the Wind is not related to the 1930s film of the same name but is a heavy, orchestral-led song of quite some intensity.

There's some weak spots on Violet, though; the instrumentals are still too much like Ritchie showing off with an acoustic guitar, and Now and Then is a bit flat compared to other vocal-led songs such as Avalon or Castles & Dreams.

Now by this point Blackmore's Night were increasing rather in popularity - especially, for some reason, in Germany - and accordingly the production values began to increase, as well as presentation. So, in 2001, along came their third album, entitled Fires at Midnight. Now this one, if I recall correctly, was available initially as both a standard CD-in-jewel case jobby, or a "Special Edition," which was the same CD, plus a few extra odds and ends, in a lovely little velvet-covered box. This was the out-and-out heaviness album, if you will. Much more electric guitar work here; well, that was how it came over to myself at least. Songs such as Written in the Stars and Storm and Village on the Sand just go to show that Ritchie's not lost the knack at strummin' the Stratocaster at all. Indeed, immediately after the UK release of Fires I went to see the band in concert in a medium-sized hall in Reading, and during both that song and Shadow of the Moon Ritchie broke out the Fender for far longer than was necessary, yet it worked, and the crowd lapped it up.

Fires at Midnight also featured a cover of the Bob Dylan song The Times They Are A-Changin', which, IMO, wasn't as good as the original, even though Blackmore's Night released it as a single. The album also contained their first forays into world music in a way; the track Benzai-Ten contained heavy Japanese influences, and the first half of Mid Winter's Night was, apparently, based on a traditional Occitan song (or possibly Catalan, I'm not entirely certain. If anyone can confirm which, please /msg me.)

So, in 2003, along came their fourth - and latest - studio offering, named Ghost of a Rose. Now my first impression upon looking at how this album was presented was Ritchie's hat in one of the photos of the pair of them. It was truly horrendous and very ill-advised. It was a green felt jobbie with a feather in it shaped like a blunt pencil. You have to see it for yourself to encompass its sheer fallacy.

But I digress. Stupid hats aside, Ghost of a Rose had a larger influence of world music than any of their previous releases; specifically, a Middle Eastern atmoshpere to some of the tracks - Way to Mandalay, Cartouche. The rest of the album consists of a bit of a melange of the various other "themes," if you will, to previous Blackmore's Night albums, with out-and-out rockers like Rainbow Blues, which, incidentally and narcissistically enough, appears to be about Blackmore's old band Rainbow putting on a concert (but then again, the classic Deep Purple rock anthem Smoke on the Water was about recording a song at Lake Geneva, apparently, so that's par for the course really.) And, of course, sing-along spectaculars and traditional ballads, including Three Black Crows - which, thankfully, is not a rehash of the Scottish ballad The Twa Corbies - and Loreley. Still, it was up to the usual Blackmore's Night standard, apart from that hat...

In 2006, the pair's fifth studio album appeared, entitled The Village Lanterne. It features the single Olde Mill Inn, as well as a cover of the old Rainbow track Street of Dreams. I'm pleased to report that Ritchie has given up the horrendous "look at me, I'm in the SCA" hat from the Ghost of a Rose period and has resorted to a double-necked, 12-string mandolin... Bizarre magazine in the UK derided this album, incidentally, saying that there was too much "hey nonny nonny" nonsense, but then again, Bizarre magazine gave a positive review to a My Ruin album, so take that with a very large pinch of salt.

So would I recommend them? Well, despite how silly and absurd I might have made them seem, they're actually really really good. Candice Night is one of the best female vocalists I have heard and most importantly, she fits the music as well, both the guitar-led rockout tracks and the more melodic, softer stuff as well, including the sing-alongs. Musically, it's not hard to see Ritchie's influences; listen to the old Rainbow tracks such as Gates of Babylon and Stargazer and then some of his current project's offerings, and all will become apparent.

Now I'm perfectly prepared to admit - nay, I'll be the first to admit - that Blackmore's Night may well be an acquired taste. But for those who have acquired that taste, it never leaves you. At the gig I went to on their Fires at Midnight tour in Reading, one individual had come all the way from Japan just to see them perform live, and that person received a special mention from Candice about this (incidentally, Ritchie Blackmore is very much taciturn here; I doubt he spoke once throughout the entire performance.) The only other band I can think of that inspires such loyalty in their fan base is Manowar (of course, fans writing letters to Joey DeMaio in their own blood is pretty hard to beat as an act of loyalty) and, in my mind, the dedication shown to the duo of Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night is well deserved.

For the Blackmore's Night virgin, the disc to get is, without a shadow of a doubt, Under a Violet Moon, or possibly Fires at Midnight. While the other two are good, Ghost of a Rose can be a bit inconsistent at times, and Shadow of the Moon is a bit anaemic, and besides, I get the impression that they were still learning the ropes of Renaissance folk rock, so to speak.

Thus, to conclude, in their own words:

"Raise your hats and your glasses too,
We will dance the whole night through,
We're going back to a time we knew,
Under a Violet Moon!"

- Blackmore's Night, Under a Violet Moon.


Discography (excluding singles and compilations)

Shadow of the Moon (1996)

1. Shadow of the Moon
2. The Clock Ticks On
3. Be Mine Tonight
4. Play, Minstrel, Play
5. Ocean Gypsy
6. Minstrel Hall*
7. Magical World
8. Writing on the Wall
9. Renaissance Faire
10. Memmingen*
11. No Second Chance
12. Mond Tanz*
13. Spirit of the Sea
14. Greensleeves
15. Wish You were Here
16. Possums Last Dance**

*=Instrumental
**=Bonus track

Under a Violet Moon (1998)

1. Under a Violet Moon
2. Castles & Dreams
3. Past Time with Good Company
4. Morning Star
5. Avalon
6. Possum Goes to Prague*
7. Wind in the Willows
8. Gone With the Wind
9. Beyond the Sunset
10. March the Heroes Home
11. Spanish Nights (I Remember It Well)
12. Catherine Howard's Fate
13. Fool's Gold
14. Durch Den Wald Zum Bach Haus*
15. Now and Then
16. Self Portrait**

*=Instrumental
**=This is a cover version of the Rainbow track of the same name. Not having heard the original Rainbow song, I cannot comment on its quality relative to the original.

Fires at Midnight (2001)

1. Written in the Stars
2. The Times They Are A-Changin'**
3. I Still Remember
4. Home Again
5. Crowning of the King
6. Fayre Thee Well*
7. Fires at Midnight
8. Hanging Tree
9. Storm
10. Midwinter's Night
11. All Because of You
12. Waiting Just for You
13. Praetorius (Courante)*
14. Benzai-Ten
15. Village on the Sand
16. Again Someday

*=Instrumental
**=Bob Dylan cover.

Ghost of a Rose (2003)

1. Way to Mandalay
2. Three Black Crows
3. Diamonds & Rust**
4. Cartouche
5. Queen for a Day, Pt. 1
6. Queen for a Day, Pt. 2
7. Ivory Tower
8. Nur Eine Minute*
9. Ghost of a Rose
10. Mr Peagram's Morris & Sword*
11. Loreley
12. Where Are We Going From Here?
13. Rainbow Blues
14. All For One
15. Dandelion Wine
16. Mid Winter's Night (Live)

*=Instrumental
**=Joan Baez cover.

The Village Lanterne (2006)

1. 25 Years
2. Village Lanterne
3. I Guess it Doesn't Matter Any More
4. The Messenger*
5. World of Stone
6. Faerie Queen, Faerie Dance
7. St. Tereza
8. Village Dance*
9. Mond Tanz/Child in Time
10. Streets of London
11. Just Call My Name (I'll Be There)
12. Olde Mill Inn
13. Windmills
14. Street of Dreams**

*=Instrumental
**=Rainbow cover.

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