Tag Archives: Ritchie Blackmore

Desert Island Disks

The long-running BBC radio series “Desert Island Disks” asks the guest celebrity of the week to choose eight of their favourite records. The premise is that if you were marooned on a desert island, and you had just eight records to listen to, what would they be?

I’m treating “records” as albums, and for this exercise, I’ve imposed a rule of no compilations, and no live albums. So with no further ado…

pink-floyd-meddlePink Floyd – Meddle

The first album I ever bought was Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. But although that album means a lot to me, there’s only room in this list for one dark angst-ridden concept album, and that’s coming up further down. And though “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” are undisputed classics. they’re so overexposed that they’ve just been worn smooth. If I’m in the mood for some Pink Floyd nowadays it’s most often either “Meddle” or “Animals” that gets played. If forced to choose, we’ll go for Meddle. It’s worth it for the extended dreamy atmospherics of “Echoes” alone, but there’s more to the album that that.

blue-oyster-cult-secret-treatiesBlue Öyster Cult – Secret Treaties

Blue Öyster Cult have been one of my top bands ever since a college friend played me the live version of “Astronomy” from Some Enchanted Evening when that live disk was still almost a current album. But since live albums are against my self-imposed rules, so we’ll go for their classic third album. Fan consensus is their Secret Treaties is their best, and fan consensus isn’t wrong. It’s the final album of the so-called “Black and White trilogy” combining richly layered music with a raw garage-like sound, with high weirdness lyrics hinting at the magical origins of World War Two. Blue Öyster Cult were always far more that just a metal band, and this album is proof of that.

Rainbow RisingRainbow – Rising

Hearing “Eyes of the World” on Nicky Horne’s show on Capital Radio radio changed my life. Ever since then Ritchie Blackmore’s music has been part of the soundtrack of my life, either with Deep Purple or with Rainbow. He was at the peak of his powers when he made this record along with the greatest hard rock singer of all time in the shape of the late Ronnie James Dio, and a sheer force of nature in Cozy Powell on drums. With just six tracks and a running time of less that forty minutes it’s all-killer-no-filler, with the monumental “Stargazer” as the centrepiece of the record.

220px-MarillionBraveMarillion – Brave

The three previous bands had been long-established by the time their music first appeared on my radar, but with Marillion I was there from the start. Not quite to the extent that I was seeing them play to thirty people in pubs before they were signed, but I did see them at the 1982 Reading Festival and bought their first album of the day of release. Since then they have released many great albums both with Fish and later with Steve Hogarth, but the favourite has to be their dark and intense 1994 concept album. As the sleeve notes say, play it loud with the lights out.

mostly-autumn-the-last-bright-lightMostly Autumn – The Last Bright Light

Anyone who knows me knows that Mostly Autumn are one of my favourite bands. I’ve seen them something like a hundred times live now. Which doesn’t make it easy to choose just one album, especially when their music has evolved of the years along with changes in the make-up of the band. But if forced to choose just one, it will be their third, the high point of their celtic-folk-prog era on Cyclops records. It’s now sadly out of print, though many of the best songs appear on the retrospective compilation “Pass the Clock”.

porcupine-tree-in-absentiaPorcupine Tree – In Absentia

It’s not easy to choose one Porcupine Tree record. Sometimes it seems as if their best album is whichever one I’ve just listened to. But if forced to keep just one, it would be have to be this album, because it’s sheer variety covers many of the bases of their sound. In just the first three numbers it goes from the Zepellinesque riffery of “Blackest Eyes”, the song-focused pop-rock of “Trains” and the psychedelic atmospherics of “Lips of Ashes”.

opeth-waershedOpeth – Watershed

Perhaps more than any other band, Opeth have redefined what a metal or progressive rock band can be, with deep roots in the classic rock of the 1970s on one hand and a contemporary attitude and desire to avoid repeating their own past on the other. Few other bands can match their sense of dynamics and compositional skills. All their albums are good, but Watershed is the best, seamlessly combining intense heaviness with mellow atmospherics, often in the same song, and would be the last time Mikael Åkerfeldt would use his death-metal growling vocals on record.

Panic Room - SKINPanic Room – S K I N

Along with Mostly Autumn, Panic Room are my other favourite club-level band, and I’ve seen them live almost as many times. Indeed, the two bands were joined at the hip at one point with Anne-Marie Helder and Gavin Griffiths doing double duty in both. All their albums have their fans; there are even people who think the first was the best, but for me the favourite has to be their third, which goes from hard rock to jazz-tinged adult pop to epic soaring ballads while still adding up to a coherent work. It may well be that their best is yet to come, but for now this album is their masterpiece.

Over to you. What eight records could you not live without?

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Rainbow – Genting Arena

The announcement that Ritchie Blackmore was to perform a handful of shows with a new incarnation of Rainbow came as a complete surprise. With the exception of power-metal stalwart Jens Johansson on keys, the band was made up of relative unknowns, including Ronnie Romero on vocals. In recent year Blackmore has devoted his creative energies to the medieval folk-pop of Blackmore’s Night, and it’s been many, many years since he last played a hard rock gig on a major stage. So there was much anticipation and speculation as to what to expect. Would the shows be a triumph, or turn out to be a complete car crash? Enough people were willing to take a risk that the sixteen-thousand capacity Genting Arena in Birmingham sold out within 24 hours of going on general sale.

Opening the show, for one of the biggest gigs of their career, was Mostly Autumn. To be strictly accurate is was four-sevenths of Mostly Autumn; the restricted space available on the stage meant there was only room for a cut-down foursome comprising Bryan Josh, Olivia Sparnenn, Alex Cromarty and Iain Jennings, covering the bass on keys. Bryan told us how he’s been a fan of Blackmore since he was 10, and never expected to be the opening act for Rainbow in an arena.

A fusillade of drums and Bryan’s Blackmore-like spiralling guitar figure of “In for the bite” opened their six-song set, which included the standards “Evergreen” and “Heroes Never Die”, more recent hard rockers “Drops of the Sun” and “Deep in Borrowdale”, and a spine-tingling “Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts”. Even though the arrangements lost the layers of the full band, the songs chosen still worked remarkably well in cut-down format, and there was plenty of Bryan Josh’s soaring lead guitar. Aside from an unfortunate pause when a string came loose mid-song, it came over well and the band deserve to have won over new fans with that one.

Rainbow began with that familiar opening from the classic 1977 live album; the intro tape of Judy Garland from the Wizard of Oz and Blackmore playing the main theme from “Over the Rainbow”. Then he launched into the intro of “Highway Star” with Ronnie Romero repeating the opening line over the intro before Blackmore hit the opening riff and launched into the song proper.

Over the next two hours it was greatest hits from across the Rainbow and Deep Purple songbook. “Spotlight Kid” and “Mistreated” early in the set didn’t quite catch fire, but from then on things got steadily better as the show went on and Blackmore loosened up. At 71 years of age he doesn’t have the speed of decades past, for example “Catch the Rainbow” had a slower more melodic solo rather than the blur of notes of his 1970s performances. But that distinctive classical phrasing is still there.

Ronnie Romero proved to have a fine voice, and came over best on Ronnie Dio and David Coverdale songs, though his dark take of “Perfect Strangers” impressed a lot, and he succeeded in projecting himself to the crowd as a frontman. Two backing singers including Blackmore’s other half Candace Night filled out the sound.

Once or twice things faltered; in particular the somewhat butchered version of “Since You’ve Been Gone” didn’t quite come off. In contrast, the acoustic version of “Soldier of Fortune” was a delight. The rocked-out version of Beethoven’s ninth, “Difficult to Cure” became a vehicle for solos, first a drum solo that was short enough not to outstay its welcome, then, horror of horrors, a bass solo, and finally an interminable keyboard solo. It actually started out well with jazz flavoured Hammond, but lost its way with an overlong classical style piano section and blasts of every differed keyboard effect from 70s parps to pipe organ. It’s Blackmore the audience paid to see, and this sort of thing should have been left in the 70s where it belonged.

The best came towards the end. After an impressive “Child in Time” with the two backing singers adding another dimension came a truly monstrous take on what has to be the definitive Rainbow song, “Stargazer”. Romero nailed the vocal and Blackmore himself was on fire for the solo. They finished the main set with the early Purple hit “Black Night” tailing off with the audience singing the riff over and over as the band left the stage.

Any worries that Blackmore would throw one his legendary strops and refuse to do an encore proved groundless; they were back with a rendition of “Burn” as monstrous as Stargazer before it. But still they weren’t quite done. Romero led the audience through an a capella first verse of “Smoke on the Water” before Blackmore came in for That Riff after the first chorus.

Despite a slightly shaky start this ended as a triumphal gig; the power and intensity of the last few songs in particular sent the audience away feeling they’d had their money’s worth. Here were songs few thought they’d ever hear played live by anything other than tribute bands a year ago, and for some, Stargazer alone was worth the price of the ticket. These shows were initially going to be one-offs, but Blackmore has since hinted that they may be further shows next year.

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Mostly Autumn to support Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

Nothing on the band’s own website yet, but according to the Genting Arena website, Mostly Autumn will be the support for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in June.

Mostly Autumn have supported Ritchie Blackmore in the past, when Bryan, Heather and Angela played as an acoustic trio supporting Blackmore’s Night on a UK tour. But getting this prestigious arena gig is still a major coup.

Update: Now confirmed by the band:

We are very proud to announce that Mostly Autumn, as a four piece, have been invited and confirmed, to be the support for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow on June 25th 2016 at the Birmingham Genting Arena.

Our most sincere and heartfelt thanks go to all in the Ritchie Blackmore camp for this incredible opportunity.  As you may well know Ritchie Blackmore has been a major influence on me ever since I was a child, in fact, one of the main reasons I picked up a guitar in the first place all those years ago.

This will be very special for so many reasons.

Hope to see you there..

Bryan Josh

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Blackmore’s Night – All Our Yesterdays

Blackmores Night All Our YesterdaysIt’s a sobering thought that Richie Blackmore has been a part of Blackmore’s Night for longer than he was with Deep Purple, and has recorded more studio albums with Candice Night than with any other singer.

Steeped in the strange world of American renaissance fayres, the semi-acoustic project actually had had about as much in common with actual renaissance music as Dungeons and Dragons has with medieval history. The first couple of albums did have their moments, with songs that displayed a sublime beauty, but there were others that badly failed a saving roll against cheese. After the first few records they reached the point of diminishing returns; making a vaguely folk-flavoured pop-rock that was neither quite one thing or the other.

“All Our Yesterdays” starts out as more of the same. A couple of early numbers come over as a poor man’s Mostly Autumn, the same mix of celtic folk and rock elements, but with none of their atmospherics or emotional depth. For example, the instrumental rocked-up Celtic jig “Allan yn n fan” resembles Mostly Autumn’s “Out of the Inn”, only nowhere near as good, while the ballad “Long Long Time” is a reminder that Candice Night isn’t in the same league as either Olivia Sparnenn or Heather Findlay as a singer.

The instrumental “Darker than Black” is rather better, especially when Ritchie Blackmore lets rip on the Stratocaster and demonstrates he’s still got it as a guitarist, recalling the instrumentals that graced late-period Rainbow albums. The other instrumental, “Queen’s Lament” isn’t as effective, Blackmore noodling about on acoustic guitar without ever going anywhere.

The album then goes completely off the rails with some ill-chosen covers. The version of Mike Oldfield’s “Moonlight Shadow” is completely unnecessary, and their take on Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” is utterly horrible.

But even worse is to come. “Where Are We Going From Here” reworks a number from their own back catalogue, and attempts to turn what had been a beautiful ballad into a uptempo rocker, but only succeeds in cruelly exposing Candice Night’s limitations as a vocalist, who ends up murdering her own song. Which is a shame, because Candice does have a decent voice when she stays within her comfort zone.

Things do pick up slightly with the spirited folk-rock of “Will ‘o the Wisp”, one of the few songs that actually comes to life, but that’s thin pickings for what is ultimately a very disappointing record. It’s hard to believe this tepid album is the work of the musician who created “Burn” and “Stargazer”.

Listening to this album it’s very difficult to escape the conclusion that after eighteen years and ten albums Blackmore’s Night has run its course. Perhaps the time is right for Ritchie to do something completely different; there have been suggestions of some rock-orientated gigs in the near future. One thing is for sure, if Blackmore isn’t a spent force and still has anything to say, the evidence here suggests he needs a new project in which to say it.

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Ritchie Blackmore – 10 of the best

The Guardian have just published my piece on Ritchie Blackmore for their “10 of the best” series.

Like some of my previous entries in this series, reducing the essence of a major artist’s career down to just ten songs is never easy. As on my earlier Black Sabbath piece I wanted to avoid a list containing ten obvious standards and nothing else, so I missed out very well-known songs such as “Smoke on the Water” to make room for a couple of lesser known and often overlooked gems.

There were a few songs that picked themselves. “Eyes of the World” was one of those songs that changed my life, so it had to be there. Likewise, the towering “Stargazer” could not be omitted. I did consider including representatives from his 1960s session work, and from the more recent Blackmores Night so as to cover his entire career. But in the end I decided to focus entirely on his prime years from 1970 to 1984.

Quite a few of the alternative suggestions in the comments did actually appear in earlier drafts of my list, including “Child in Time” which I eventually left out in place of “Speed King”, and the live version of “Catch the Rainbow” which one commenter described as the nearest thing rock guitar ever came to Coltraine.

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