3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
It seems like eons ago that Ritchie Blackmore earned his reputation as one rock’s more petulant and short-tempered guitar gods. One of the founding members of Deep Purple, it was Blackmore who decided that singer Rod Evans and bassist Nick Simper should be exorcised as the group shifted from progressive to hard rock. Evans, one of the most polished frontmen you’ll ever hear (it’s his voice on Purple’s biggest hit, “Hush,” as well as “River Deep, Mountain High,” Lalena,” and “Kentucky Woman”), was getting too much ink and Blackmore simply hated the snippy Simper and his overactive bass. So while Evans and Simper were finishing recording the group’s third album, Blackmore was rehearsing with a new singer, Ian Gillian, and a new bassist, Roger Glover. To this day, keyboardist Jon Lord says he regrets the callous way Evans and Simper were dismissed. Deep Purple sloughed their way through three more tepid albums with Gillian and Glover before hitting reaching the top of the heavy metal ladder with “Machine Head.” Ritchie soon discovered he should have been more careful about what he wished for when Deep Purple’s second go round at fame found him at loggerheads with Gillian for control of the group.
After the tension filled album “Who Do We Think We Are?” it was Gillian and Glover’s turn to be sacked. Mad Ritchie and the Purp’s solicited and tested half of England, including Spooky Tooth’s gravel-throated frontman Mike Harrison, who politely declined (for a second time). The group took a huge gamble by selecting novice singer David Coverdale and Trapeze bassist Glenn Hughes as the centerpieces for Deep Purple Mark III. Somewhere between the new recruit’s first and second platters with Deep Purple, Blackmore began to lose his Machiavellian hold on the group. Coverdale and Hughes were R &B fans, a style that Blackmore was woefully poor at playing, (witness his axe butchery on “Hold On” from “Stormbringer.”). Frustrated with the band’s new direction, Blackmore continued to threaten, glare and smash guitars. His destruction of his Stratocaster at the California Jam concert was captured on film in 1974, putting Blackmore’s guitar abuse in the same league as Jimi Hendrix torching his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival. Now the odd man out, it was Blackmore who decided to exit Purple before he was asked to leave. Founding Rainbow, Blackmore toiled with some success, despite hiring midget screech machine Ronnie James Dio as one of his singers. After more than a dozen Rainbow albums, a blood-pressure popping reunion with Gillian and Glover back in Deep Purple, Blackmore had an epiphany, courtesy of his new girlfriend. Why not drop the electric guitar, pick up a mandolin and play medieval music? It made perfect sense…Well, to him at least.
“Paris Moon” is Blackmore’s Night’s newest DVD, with over two hours of medieval music and shenanigans, and while this band of knaves and scallywags will never match the grandeur of the Evans version of Deep Purple or the funky power of the Coverdale/Hughes axis, it’s obvious that Blackmore has carved out an esoteric niche he’s happy with.
The group’s name is a take off on the unholy alliance between Blackmore and Candice Night, a stunning former model from Long Island, who looks like a young Britt Ekland or a pre-cocaine huffing Stevie Nicks (minus the nanny goat vocals, thank you). It’s not necessarily a good rule of thumb to name a group after its participants – had I done that with one group I was in we would have been called Jefferson’s Lipchitz. But in this case, “Blackmore’s Night” also serves as a descriptive title for the group’s sound, a peculiar combination of renaissance, folk, blues and rock. Like the dour Blackmore and the optimistic Night, the group’s music is sometimes dark and sometimes light.
Night is one of the most stunning lead singers in music, which shouldn’t hurt sales of the DVD. Her considerable physical attributes aside, Night commands the stage. She’s a theatrical ham, using her hands like a Medieval Vishnu to help frame the music while flirting with the camera and the audience with her expressive eyes. She’s also graced with a smooth, crystal clear voice that sounds a great deal like Annie Haslam, the lead singer for Renaissance. And if that wasn’t enough, she’s capable of tooting a number of Renaissance era woodwind instruments. She’s no Chris Wood, but gives the music an authentic centuries old colouring. One instrument sounds dangerously close to a bagpipe, which is never good, but did I mention that Candice Night is a knockout?
Filmed at The Olympia in Paris and directed by Perry Joseph, the DVD is expertly shot, and yes, the camera dwells on Night. But there are pinpoint shots that bounce between Night at the mike and Blackmore’s hands, angles of bassist “Sir Robert of Normandie” (former member Robert Curiano) during his solo and behind the back “you are there” shots of drummer “Squire Malcolm of Lumley” (Malcolm Dick, smart move on the name change). The packaging of the DVD and its accompanying CD are worth mentioning too – both discs are encased in an ornate box resembling a dog eared ancient text, and the colorful booklet has lyrics to the Blackmore/Night penned songs done up in fancy Medieval calligraphy.
As for the music, fans will be over the moon. There are 20 songs on the DVD, 9 of which appear on the CD along with 2 new bonus tracks. Those of us who’ve never heard Sir Blackmore’s “new’” venture (he’s now been at this for 10 years) will be disappointed Ritchie doesn’t strap on his Stratocaster until the fifteenth song (“Ariel”), but up until then, the slightly loopy Renaissance faire is surprisingly enjoyable. And did I mention Candice Night is the Helen of Troy of the Middle Ages? Yes, I’m sure I did. The music itself can be likened to English folk roots groups like Renaissance, Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Curved Air. For the cinematically inclined, a better point of reference would be Monty Python’s “Holy Grail.” If you remember the wandering minstrel singing about Brave Sir Robin, you’ve got the gist of how this ancient style of music sometimes hits the ears (“Brave Sir Robin ran away, bravely ran away, away. When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled. Yes, brave Sir Robin turned about, and gallantly he chickened out.”) There are lots of lords, knights, knaves, wenches and a whole lotta moonlight in this unique blend of music that will transport you back to a time when men were men and wore tights and funny hats.
Among the concert highlights are the aforementioned “Ariel,” in which Blackmore kicks up the energy of this renaissance hoedown by dusting off his Strat. Watching Blackmore play acoustic guitars and mandolins is like tying Sonny Liston’s left arm behind his back and asking him to take down Mount Rushmore. It can be done, but why ask an assassin to hold back his best weapon? “Ariel” has the strongest rock influence of any of the tunes, and Blackmore plays it with menacing relish. He breaks the cardinal guitar solo rule (playing for over five minutes), but he’s still one of the few axe grinders who can make a lengthy guitar passage sound interesting. Bravo, Sir Richard.
Blackmore and Night have a five album cache of songs to pick from, and judging from their fans reactions, apparently they chose a lot of crowd pleasers. “Under A Velvet Moon,” is a stomping, beer stein raising sing-a-long, and “Renaissance Faire,” is a filmy ode to Fairport Convention’s carefree, fa-la-la brand of English folk that’ll put some joy in your codpiece. Setting a mystical tone, Night plays a medieval woodwind device that sounds like a snake charmer’s flute (is there anything she can’t do?). “Home Again,” a renaissance cousin to Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days,” gets a thorough workout. Keyboard player Bard David of Larchmont contributes an operatic verse of “Drink, Drink,” Night delights in adding in a verse of “Knapsack” (falder-ee, falder-a) and Blackmore stirs in “Hava Nagila” and pops in a pleasing piece of nostalgia by plucking out the chicken picking part from Deep Purple’s “Made In Japan” version of “Strange Kind of Woman.” It’s a mad hatter’s mix of snippets and styles, but no matter where the group ventures musically, Night always brings them back home again. She even coaxes Blackmore and Sir John to do a brief jig.
The group boldly takes on four covers and does a “faire” job with two of them. The first, “Soldier of Fortune,” is from “Stormbringer,” the last album Blackmore recorded with Deep Purple before his first departure from the band. Originally a power ballad sung with great emotion and depth by David Coverdale (long before he became a parody of himself in Whitesnake), Blackmore’s Night renders “Soldier Of Fortune” as a tranquilized acoustic puff piece. Night is a great singer (and I like her hairdo better than David’s), but without Coverdale’s convincing emotional investment, this comes across as Medieval mush. They joust with Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust,” and not even Night’s anguished expressions can save this overblown lump of coal. The band is more at home venturing down Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London,” a folker closer to their wandering minstrel style. The background wenches, Lady Madeline and Lady Nancy (former members Madeline and Nancy Posner, who I gather are twins as well), contribute soaring vocals that frame Night’s finishing school diction. Night smartly mentions to the Parisian crowd that McTell had originally titled the song “Streets of Paris,” and changes the last line in honor of the city. (Nice move playing to the crowd, Candice.) As their first encore, the group charges headlong into Joan Osborne’s “St. Teresa.” It’s a bit of a stretch for everyone but Night, who regulates the excessive amount of air needed to pull off the vocal quite easily. Blackmore re-enters carrying his Stratocaster and plays with more abandon than before, detouring to play a passage from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Throw in a heavy Uriah Heep influence and you’ve got a dragon coaster musical ride that delivers its share of thrills.
It turns out that Donovan wasn’t the only hurdy gurdy man – Blackmore cranks one up for “The Clock Ticks On,” creating a sonic scenario where the Middle East meets middle earth. Night dips into her stash of medieval horns, playing something that bears a disheartening resemblance to a bagpipe, then surprise! She’s joined on stage by Thomas Roth and Albert Dannemann of Die Geyers, who squeeze and coerce a few shrill squawks from the real thing. The only time a bagpipe sound has ever worked for me was when Big Country incorporated it – unobtrusively – into their sound, and they used an E-bow, not the Highlander’s version of a vacuum cleaner bag. (I forget if I’ve mentioned this before, the bag o’ air worked for AC/DC in one song – “It’s A Long Way To The Top,” but they were smart enough not to ever attempt an oral peace treaty with a bagpipe again.)
The band saves one of their new tunes, “The Village Lanterne” for their second encore. The lanterne is focused squarely on Night at the start of the song, which borrows the atmospheric gloom of “Streets of London.” (Sorry, Mr. McTell, but all musicians “borrow” from one another without notice. You probably don’t want discuss a plagiarism suit with a guy who bashed his Strat against an amp and a mike with no regard for his own safety, anyway.) “Lanterne” is an uplifting ballad, and the camera work capturing Night and Blackmore is worthy of an award (or at least a pint of mead). Night’s major lung busting hits its peak with three high notes no ex-model should be able to make. Don’t hate her ‘cause she’s pretty -- you’ll come away with a great deal of respect for Ms. Night after she lights up this lanterne.
The few times yon jolly faire bogs down in the heather is when Night leaves the stage and the band plucks, plinks and pounds their way through an instrumental. “Durch Den Wald Zun Bachaus” is as daunting to listen to as it is to pronounce. Bassist Sir Robert (who looks a little like Brave Sir Robin) tries his hand at soloing. With the help of Squire Malcolm, (who does an effective imitation of Ginger Baker rattling out the beat to “Traintime”), and a runaway classical music piano solo from Bard David, Sir Robert explores more musical passages than King Arthur’s castle has bricks. There are a few bars of the French national anthem, some classical brushstrokes, and a brief excursion into Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Outside of Jack Bruce, Andy Fraser, Chris Squire and Rick Grech, there are few bassists worth focusing ye olde lantern on, and although Sir Robert is game, his fingers aren’t. David of Larchmont (Larchmont, New York? Maybe. He was educated at SUNY in Purchase) is obviously an accomplished keyboard player, but do we really need to listen to his imitation of a silent movie soundtrack? (Creatively entitled “Keyboard Solo.”) There are a number of incongruent influences pieced together, much in the way Garth Hudson’s “Genetic Fever” served as his spotlight in The Band’s act (and it didn’t work for him either). The rest of the group takes a break and you should too – it’s definitely head to ye olde lavatory tyme when Bard David’s self indulgence feels as if it’s been going on for a fortnight. Blackmore’s extended instrumental spotlight is “Minstrel Hall,” in which he eloquently flicks at a Spanish guitar. Ritchie closes his eyes and gets lost in his own playing – he should have focused a bit more because “Minstrel Hall” meanders more than Sir Belvedere searching for the Grail. And if Ritchie had his eyes open, he would have noticed a man dressed in a rabbit outfit walk across the stage in front of him. No explanation is given for Bugs Bunny’s presence, but you can bet Mr. Warmth would have caved in Bugs’ skull with ye olde acoustic if he’d had his wits about him.
Zounds! There Be Extras
“Paris Moon” abounds with extras – including a documentary featuring an interview with Blackmore and Night, as well as a photo gallery. Blackmore speaks! And he does so without slogging Rod Evans or Ian Gillian. Blackmore takes an articulate stab at explaining the band’s wide array of styles, and Night explains the “Blackmore-izing machine” – the guitarist’s intuitive ability to take a song and make it sound completely different.
Ye will be doing ye-self a solid to expand thine horizons gazing at “Paris Moon.” So dance merrily to thine closest entertainment faire, pick this up and gaze upon yon talented Night.