Fun Fact - Blackmore's Night

Yes it's true, I am somewhat stuck in the 60's and 70's when it comes to music, but not exclusively. I'm always looking for something new to add to my playlist. Ok, maybe I'm not actively looking, but if someone puts quality music in front of me I won't say no. For example, two years ago my daughter handed me a copy of Taylor Swift Red, and I was blown away. She really is as good as the accolades and awards would suggest. All Too Well (old flame), I Almost Do (a heart breaker), Begin Again and Everything Has Changed (falling in love), Treacherous (in love and afraid), Red (passion), and more. I have since glommed onto some of her other albums, but Red is still my favorite.

Of course you already know about Taylor Swift, (unless you live under a rock), so let me introduce you to another group that you may not be familiar with, a band that received a bit of airplay in England, but none in the States. I had never heard of them until my friend gave me two of their albums, Shadow of the Moon and Ghost of a Rose. Now I play them all the time.

The story begins in the 60's with a group called Deep Purple, from England of course. You've probably heard their signature song Smoke on the Water. If for some reason you haven't, call it up on your music server and give it a listen. It was a rock / heavy metal classic for years, nay, for an entire generation. The lead singer is Ian Gillan, who, in addition to his work with Deep Purple, sang the part of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar on the original album. His performance was so masterful, capturing perfectly the anguish of Jesus as he approached and endured the crucifixion, that now I can hardly imagine anyone else in that role.

Another Deep Purple classic is Highway Star. It's the kind of song you want to crank with the windows down, as you race down the highway at age 16, having just obtained your license. Remember, when you get pulled over, and the policeman asks you what that song is that you're blasting out to the world, give him a complete history of Deep Purple and maybe he'll forget to give you a ticket.

As I write this, almost 50 years after the band's inception, they are still performing. Most of the members have been replaced, but Ian gillan is still front and center. I imagine it's a great show.

One member from the early years, Ritchie Blackmore, left early, came back, and left again. A brilliant guitarist, he wrote, arranged, and played for Deep Purple from 1969 to 1973. You can hear his guitar work on the songs I mentioned above, and others from that era. He and Gillan definitely wanted to take the band in a new direction. Regarding their 1970 album In Rock, Blackmore commented,

"I got fed up with playing with classical orchestras, and thought, well, this is my turn. … If this fails, this record, I'll play with orchestras the rest of my life. … I didn't give a damn about song construction. I just wanted to make as much noise and play as fast and as loud as possible."

Obviously they did not fail, but by 1974 Blackmore wanted to do something else. He took cello lessons from Hugh McDowell (ELO), and started the group Rainbow. The lead singer was Ronnie James Dio, with Blakmore writing most of Dio's vocal melodies. Rainbow continued until 1984, whereupon Blackmore returned to Deep Purple for a reunion of their earlier line-up. This continued until 1993, when he quit Deep Purple for good and reformulated Rainbow once again, this time lasting through 1997. Rainbow's last album, Stranger in Us All, is regarded as Blackmore's last hard rock album.

His next band, unlike any that had come before, began with a chance meeting in 1989. Candace Night, a huge Rainbow fan, approached him for an autograph while he was on tour in New York City. This led to much more than an autograph. By 1991 they were living together, and they soon realized they both had a passion for renaissance music. To top it off, Candace Night has a beautiful voice. The resulting band, which officially formed in 1997, is called Blackmore's Night, blending their two last names together. They had been developing their first album, Shadow of the Moon, since 1995, and it was released in 1997. The style is considered folk rock, and it is nothing like Smoke on the Water. Hard driving electric guitars have been replaced with acoustic guitars, and instead of Ian Gillan or Ronnie James Dio, Blackmore now writes soft melodies for Candace Night. This is quite a transition, like Eric Clapton becoming Unplugged.

When I first heard Shadow of the Moon, I thought it was "nice". A week later I listened to it again and thought it was "lovely". The third time I felt it was "beautiful". Their music seems simple, but it's not. There is more to discover each time you hear it, especially with Blackmore's guitar work. You can concentrate on it if you wish, or just let it play in the background while you do your work. Music such as this is rare. After a year I still play Shadow of the Moon and Ghost of a Rose at least once a week. I can't get enough.

When you listen to Play Minstrel Play, the fourth track on Shadow of the Moon, you might exclaim, "I know that flute! Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) is the only one on earth that can make a flute sound like that." And you'd be right. It is he, adding his signature sound to their debut album.

Another beautiful song on the album is Green Sleeves, track #14. I like to annoy, and yes annoy is the proper word, my children by asking them music trivia about bands that existed long before they were born. They sigh and put up with my nonsense. When this song came up I told my son it was a cover, and asked him when it was originally written. "1974", he guessed. That's a pretty good guess, since I am usually stuck in the 70's, but I laughed and told him he was off by about 400 years. The song was first registered in London in 1580, with several different versions soon to follow. It is a love song, at least I view it that way, in a time when women were barely more than property. "I have loved you for so long, delighting in your company." That's not how 16th century men talked to women. The melody is also lovely, especially when Night sings it. William Chatterton Dix also liked the melody, co-opting it for his Christmas carol What Child is This in 1865. Most people know the carol, but have never heard the song that spawned it. If you're a Lost in Space fan, you may recall Billy Mumy (Will Robinson) singing Green Sleeves while playing the guitar. This was filmed for the unaired pilot, (the one without Dr. Smith or the Robot, if you can imagine that), and then edited into the episode There Were Giants In The Earth in the first season. This was the first time, perhaps the only time, I heard the song in its original form, until Blackmore + Night breathed new life into it with his wonderful guitar work and her beautiful voice.

As of this writing, Blackmore's Night has released eight studio albums, one of them a Christmas album. (Hey, everyone's got to crank out a Christmas album.) with some anticipation I purchased them all, but for me, Shadow of the Moon and Ghost of a Rose stand head and shoulders above the others. apparently my friend, who gave me these two albums at the outset, can anticipate my musical tastes almost down to the song. either that or he has the same preferences.

Don't be surprised if more albums are in the pipeline. After 19 years together, Ritchie Blackmore and Candace Night got married. They had a daughter, Autumn, and a son, Rory. I hope they continue to make beautiful music together, figuratively and literally, for years to come.

Further Reading

Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple and Blackmore's Night
Jesus Christ Superstar
Green Sleeves sung by Billy Mumy