In the world of rock and roll, instruments like shawms, hurdy-gurdies, mandolas and pennywhistles are far from the norm. And that’s something that suits Ritchie Blackmore and his spouse, Candice Night, just fine.
As the creative driving force behind Blackmore’s Night, the duo has spent the past 21 years doing a deep dive into Renaissance/medieval music that has a folk-rock base, but is light-years away from Blackmore’s better-known work within hard rock outfits like Deep Purple and Rainbow. Last year marked the 20th anniversary of Blackmore’s Night and saw the release of the anthology To the Moon and Back: 20 Years and Beyond, a 2-CD collection of 26 tracks and a video that draws material from the 10 studio albums the outfit has released.
The couple’s deep-seated interest in music from the 1500s and 1600s has them and their audience dressing in garb you might find at a Renaissance faire, but grappling with the challenge of using unorthodox instruments to play music that dates back a few centuries for which there is no ability to pull up YouTube videos to see how it was being done way back when.
“We have to be the pioneers to know what the hell we’re doing. It’s guesswork, most of the time to come up with our songs because I’m used to guitar, bass and drums from the old days. And this is totally different. You have to start thinking about woodwind instruments and hurdy-gurdies and a different way of looking at music. We can’t really listen to anybody else because not too many bands are playing this kind of music,” Blackmore explained. “Sometimes I find myself coming up against a brick wall as far as being creative, because we’re not sure where we’re going. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t.”
Night emphasizes how helpful annual pilgrimages to Germany and Eastern Europe have helped shaped the group’s sound over time.
“We’ve pulled on regional folk melodies from areas around the world and we’ll hear things we’d normally never be [exposed] to here on Long Island and in America,” she said. “We’ll have fans meet us at the backstage door and hand us CDs of their own regional folk melodies from the Balkans, Viking music or things we’d never normally be exposed to. We bring that back and listen to it and find doors that get opened for us and other colors to paint with. So we’re constantly learning and evolving through this music.”
The ethno-musical ethos runs strongly through the Blackmore’s Night canon. Songs like “Shadow Of the Moon” serve as a crossroads between the modern and ancient, with subtle synthesizer washes bolstering finger-picked acoustic-stringed instruments amid Middle Eastern rhythms.
Elsewhere, the flamenco nuances of “Spanish Nights (I Remember It Well)” are juxtaposed with the rhythms of a bodhrán, a type of Irish frame drum.
Other notable cuts from last year’s release include “Coming Home,” an upbeat reel, a reworking of Rainbow’s “I Surrender” that finds Night sliding into Joe Lyn Turner’s role and a reworking of English composer Sir Edward William Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1” into a song called “Land of Hope and Glory.”
Delving back into centuries-old music is a seed that was planted for Blackmore when he was 10 years old and heard a classmate sing “Greensleeves,” a traditional English folk song that dates back to the 1500s and was rerecorded as “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” by the guitarist on 1975’s Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Exposure to early music historian David Munrow and a German band playing the same music that would later inspire Blackmore’s Night also deepened the Somerset native’s fascination with music from this time period.
“Hearing this 10-year-old little guy sing ‘Greensleeves’ just took me back to another time. Even as a 10-year-old, it was almost like a reincarnation kind of thing. And then in 1972, I heard David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London playing the music to The Six Wives of Henry VIII, which was a TV series on the BBC,” he recalled. “I think the final blow was being in a castle in Germany in 1986 and I was just sitting there and in walked this medieval band playing bagpipes, shawms, nyckelharpa and all these sorts of instruments and it was absolutely wonderful. I’d never really seen a traveling band playing medieval music. So that got me hooked completely. I’ve never looked back from that day of meeting that group. They often, especially in Europe, used to open for us. So the audience would kind of have a medieval/Renaissance-inspired evening that was echoed by all the costumes that they would wear.”
While defining the music of Blackmore’s Night to the uninitiated can be a bit tricky, Night admits that her husband’s prior Rock and Roll Hall of Fame accomplishments and respected musical prowess have not only brought over a number of hard rock converts, but also contributed to a tribal following of unlikely musical fans.
“It’s interesting because you’ll see someone who is a complete hippie, nature-worshipper hugging trees next to a lawyer next to a biker. None of these people would realize that they all have something in common in normal walks of life. But when they come to our shows, it’s so great to see all of them becoming friends. They look at it as a family reunion and wind up bonding together every year,” she said. “It’s an incredible, positive energy that we put out there and at the end of the day, seeing people walk away from the shows with smiles on their faces and still talking about the amazing experience they had that night is reward enough for us.”
Blackmore’s Night will be appearing on July 22 at The Paramount, 370 New York Ave. Huntington. Visit www.theparamountny.com or call 631-673-7300 for more information.