Blackmore's Night

Philharmnic Hall, Liverpool

22 September 2001

Q: What's the connection between Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall and Deep Purple?
A: Next month, the Philharmonic Hall is hosting Sir Malcolm Arnold's 80th Birthday Concert.

Oh, and last night Deep Purple's old guitar player performed there. What was his name...?

Funny things about Blackmore's Night, #1: In the hall's foyer are several large potted plants. Well, there were. As I watched, they were carried off by several large men. The plants in question were later seen masquerading as part of Blackmore's Night's stage set.

Funny things about Blackmore's Night, #2: The merchandising stall was selling official Candice Night scarves, shawls, and "sparklies" (?). That's got to be a first. And people were buying them.

The good thing about the merchandise is that the T-shirts come in sizes other than XL and XXXXL. So, for the first time in ten years, I actually found found a concert T-shirt small enough to fit me. Amazing.

A handful of people had bothered dressing up in period costume, and as promised they got preferential seating. It's good to see people getting into the spirit of things, but I don't think I could do it. Even for a front row seat. As the guy next to me remarked: "How could I go home on the number 47 bus like that?"

The Philharmonic Hall seems bigger than any of the venues on last year's tour, but the top two circles were empty. A crowd of about 1000, I estimate.

Best surprise of the evening was the support act: Mostly Autumn. I had no idea they were on this tour. Is there anyone left out there who hasn't heard me enthuse about Mostly Autumn yet? Ok, listen: Mostly Autumn is the best new band for 20 years. They played as a trio last night: flute, bodhran, and acoustic guitar; and it's interesting to see how they adapt their songs to this format. They played the obvious tunes for the instruments (if you know their music you will know which I mean), but also some surprise ones, such as a brilliant re-arrangement of Evergreen. The only thing wrong with their set was the length: much too short at 20 minutes.

Ok, I've talked about everything except Blackmore's Night themselves. So, what did I think of their set?


This was not the best concert I have ever seen.

Oh, it was good. But there was something missing. I don't know what. Maybe my expectations were too high. The shows last year were so good, and their new album is their best yet, so I was just expecting something... magical. Instead, I got merely "good". Enjoyable, but no magic. So, let's look at the package...

The stage is as expected: olde-worlde. The back-drop is like a castle gate, there is foliage placed around the stage (remember the potted plants?), and the keyboards are hidden behind fake stone walls. Oh, and they have "torches" of those fake flickering flames, which is actually a pretty nice effect. And at either side, to remind us that this is a rock band, is a 15-foot stack of speaker cabinets.

Ritchie has half-a-dozen instruments on his side of the stage: lute, mandolin, and an assortment of guitars. And, yes, one is a white Stratocaster. The band is a seven-piece. Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night you already know. They are joined by a new drummer and new bass player, the same keyboard player as last year (my mind is blank on his name) and the multi-talented Chris Devine on violin, mandolin, guitar and recorder. There is a female backing singer who plays second guitar whenever Devine is playing something else. Candice Night, incidentally, plays tambourine, shawm, electric bagpipes (still the only person I have ever seen with this instrument), and a couple of whistles.

The concert starts almost identically to those of a year ago. The intro tape (possibly Das Geyers) plays trumpet fanfares, interpolating the Smoke on the Water and Black Night riffs; thunder rumbles as the stage grows dark and Ritchie strolls casually to the centre, his guitar wailing in the waily sort of way that his guitar does. Candice comes on and they play the first verse of Written in the Stars (but with the old lyrics), leading into Shadow of the Moon. And it's a good song, but... but there's something I can't put my finger on. Something not quite clicking.

The instrument mix is not great. Ritchie is often too far in the background. And he's playing well throughout the concert — at times breathtakingly well — but it feels like he isn't really stretching himself. Sometimes, it feels like the violin player is the star of the show and Ritchie is just backing him. Chris Devine is an excellent violinist, certainly, but where last year Ritchie worked with the violin to produce some stunning duets, he's now standing back and letting Devine play the solos.

Case in point: Fires at Midnight, half way through the set. The one song I was really hoping they would play. And the live arrangement is good — Candice Night's shawm and Chris Devine's violin carry the tune very well — but where's the guitar solo? Replaced by a violin solo. It's an excellent piece of violin work: clever, inventive, and capturing the spirit of Ritchie's playing perfectly; but when it finished I wanted Ritchie to pick it up and improvise for another 10 minutes. But, no...

At one point, Candice says that this is the first night of the tour and these are unique arrangements that will never be heard again. By which she means, presumably, that they haven't got it right yet. And indeed the whole band seems a bit hesitant and unsure what they are doing. Each member plays well, but the whole is lacking. Maybe they are under-rehearsed, or it's first night nerves. But I know they can do better, and I expect great things later in the tour after they have settled down.

Candice makes reference to 80% of the band being from New York, and thanks everybody for the good wishes they have been sent. She says that the reason they didn't cancel the tour is that they want to "bring some music and love into the world to drive out the evil". And I think we all know what she's talking about.

As usual, Candice jokes a lot with the audience and tells long rambling stories to introduce the songs. (At one point, Ritchie plays a different song to the one she had just introduced. And in fact for most of the set nobody seemed quite sure what he would want them to play next.) Candice is very charismatic and does a good job of involving the audience in the sing-alongs, but her jokes don't get any better. Example: As Ritchie sets up a waist-high microphone for his mandolin, "Oh look, Ritchie has Ronnie Dio's microphone."

I wish Candice would work within the limitations of her voice better. She sounds fine when she sings, but every now and then she's shouting instead of singing and it doesn't work at all. She sang much better last year.

The set runs about 2 hours 20 minutes, including encores. I have a terrible memory for set lists, but it included the following (though not necessarily in this order):

Written in the Stars
Shadow of the Moon
Under a Violet Moon
Durch Den Wald Zum Bach Haus
Fayre Thee Well
(all-guitar instrumental)
Home Again ("written so you can swing your beer mugs in time to it"!)
The Times They Are a Changing ("Ritchie plays this around the house; he's an old hippy")
16th Century Greensleeves
Soldier of Fortune
("it's a David Coverdale song; we don't sing Ian Gillan songs". Ha! Can't, more like!)
Fires at Midnight
Spanish Nights
(good guitar playing — but not enough of it!)
Past Times with Good Company (traditional arrangement, then again with a modern arrangement)
Catherine Howard's Fate
Hanging Tree
Renaissance Fair
Midwinter's Night
(mmmmmm French singing. Also features electric bagpipe. Very nice.)

Encores: I Still Remember You
Gone with the Wind
(real guitar! woohoo!)
Wish You Were Here
Spirit of the Sea
Now and Then

I felt that Ritchie finally woke up during the encores (so a good thing there were so many of them!) and they were the highlight of the set. As for the rest, well, it was a good concert, I had a great time, and the audience seemed very satisfied. But could have been better. Should have been better.

I'll let you know how they do in York.