Ritchie Blackmore: Medieval Times
GW Has your study of this music included a look at written manuscripts of medieval and Renaissance music, along with listening to various recordings?
BLACKMORE Yes, and what I find fascinating—amongst a lot of other things that I find you can hear so many different versions of the same piece of music. I follow this type of music very closely, and I’ll hear the same tune played in many different ways, with different notes. So this type of music was always open to the interpretation of the performer. In that era, it seems that as long as you were within two notes of the actual note, it was okay!
CANDICE NIGHT Even when we are working something that is based firmly on an old Renaissance song, Ritchie is such an improvisational player that, every time we play it, he interprets the music in new and different ways. He breathes new life into these songs with the way he relates to the music, and expresses himself within it. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing with him; it’s just the way he plays.
GW So, for example, on a song like “Locked in a Crystal Ball,” are the single-note lines you play between the verses and vocal phrases improvised?
BLACKMORE Yes, that’s right.
NIGHT So much of what Ritchie plays is improvised, and I think that’s one of the biggest challenges. Renaissance music, in its purest form, is so rigid and regimented. It’s very strict.
BLACKMORE To me, one of my weaknesses is sticking within a rigid musical form. So I’m attracted to that challenge of trying to play within the structure while still operating as a free-form type of player.
GW Is finding your own angle and approach to this music part of the endeavor, as opposed to sticking to faithful recreations?
BLACKMORE Absolutely. I wasn’t schooled to play this music in the traditional sense, but it really excites me when I hear it played in its purest form. My contribution is to take it into another realm, which is a little bit of rock and blues thrown in there, disguised. I don’t do a lot of string bending when I’m playing this music, but I’ll certainly be thinking almost like a blues/classical player. If anyone is really into this music, they usually stick to how it was played, or how they think it was played, back in those days.
Candice and I will often sit down and play this music like a real purist medieval band. I’ll be playing the mandola [an eight-stringed instrument having four paired strings tuned in unison] or the nyckelharpa [a stringed instrument played with a bow and fingered with keys rather than a fretboard], and she’ll be playing the shawm [the oboe’s predecessor], and we’ll say, “This is exactly what the purists would want.” But then we’ll say, “Ah, let’s make sure there’s a drum thing in there, and let’s add synthesizers and flutes,” because we really would rather be interpreters than recreationists. One of the strangest compliments I ever got was, “I don’t like Renaissance music, but I love your band!” Yet we’re playing Renaissance-inspired music.
GW Your interest in the incorporation of classical themes with rock is well represented by many Deep Purple and Rainbow recordings, one such example being Deep Purple’s 1969 release, Concerto for Group and Orchestra, recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
BLACKMORE That was an experiment, and that was more Jon’s [Lord, Deep Purple keyboardist] world. It wasn’t my world; I felt very awkward. I was supposed to play a 24-bar solo with the violins behind me, and of course I ended up playing like 52 bars instead. So I even messed that up! The conductor had to bring in the violins after my solo, and he was just looking at me, hovering…[laughs], “We’re now into the 52nd bar; it was supposed to be over at 24. When is he going to stop?!” And of course the violinists were all holding their ears!
GW In the YouTube videos of that performance you can see that some of them were actually smiling.
BLACKMORE They were smiling because they were thinking, Who are these… Everyone was complaining about my amplifier being too loud.
GW Have you had to change anything in regard to your playing technique in order to play the music of Blackmore’s Night?
BLACKMORE Yes, I have. I’ve had to come to terms with some real challenges since taking on this endeavor. It can be incredibly exhilarating and also incredibly depressing, because I have now adopted a different playing technique. In the old days, I always played with a pick, and that was the end of it. Nowadays I’m playing mostly fingerstyle because a lot of the time I am accompanying Candi’s singing, without the band, and I have to cover the bass lines and the chords simultaneously. So this plays its part in everything I write, because I write with the application in mind that I have to cover all of the parts.
What’s complicated about it is that I now have two styles: one is fingerstyle and the other is electric plectrum-style. I utilize both onstage, and it takes a few moments to get comfortable switching from one to the other. If I’m playing fingerstyle and I have to switch immediately to using a pick, my picking takes a minute to kick in. It’s like, “Wake up!” The truth is that I never practice picking anymore, because I’m usually playing fingerstyle when I play at home.
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