Jaws around the world hit the floor with a collective thud many solstices ago when Ritchie Blackmore organized a band of Medieval-minded (and clad) minstrels with his wife, Candice Night. Potshots ringing along the line of "D&D dweebs" have trailed BLACKMORE'S NIGHT ever since and yet if you stop and think about things, ol' Ritchie has come out on top with the last laugh.
Officially aligning themselves in 1997, Blackmore and Night have unwittingly instigated the folk and Viking metal movement and touched even certain brackets of black metal. Hilarious when you consider BLACKMORE'S NIGHT is hardly dark much less heavy, even though you can catch wisps of RAINBOW in this band if you listen hard for it. Incrementally will Ritchie Blackmore wield electric axe ("The Circle" and "Journeyman", for instance) and there is more sugar and less spice to be found in his aural Scarborough Faire. Yet sure enough, metal acts such as ALESTORM, BATTLELORE, THYRFING, FINNTROLL and ELVENKING have merged traditional roots music from Scandinavian, Celtic, Nordic and English folklore ever since BLACKMORE'S NIGHT came into being. You can say the same about NIGHTWISH, EPICA and many of the female-fronted symphonic metal groups. Laugh if you will, but Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night deserve their portion of the credit.
Nevertheless, BLACKMORE'S NIGHT, after all these years, still isn't for everyone. For many, the mandolins, shawms, bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy accenting much of the music of BLACKMORE'S NIGHT are a put-off. Yes, there's a hokey element to this ensemble with their peasant shirts, pauper's hats and spritely bodices along with the fake stage boulders and outrageous stage names for the session players (drummer Squire Malcolm of Lumley, for instance) that summarily screams SPINAL TAP. On the other hand, it's plain Ritchie Blackmore and Candice Night were put on the earth to find one another. Easy to see the relaxed, demon-purged candor of Blackmore in the company of his wife onstage and he feeds off the aura of Candice's elegance. Whatever channel aligned them spiritually and musically, you can't take away the fact Ritchie Blackmore looks genuine happy. Good for him. His former DEEP PURPLE and RAINBOW comrades might've thought him daft at one time, but there's no denying the pleasure principle Blackmore has found by re-interpreting Renaissance music through a rocker's soul.
On "A Knight in York", BLACKMORE'S NIGHT finds themselves in York, England for a sold-out, crowd-pleasing performance and there's nothing the audience finds fault with. Even when the band interrupts the peppy ale-raiser "Toast to Tomorrow" with an, out-of-nowhere, time colliding rip on LADY GAGA, nobody takes offense. At one point, keyboardist Bard David of Larchmont (groan) whips a brilliant ode to Chopin, followed by a needless rockout take on ORFF's "Carmina Burana" and a sliver of Beethoven's fifth symphony. Bassist Earl Grey of Chimay is as goofy as his moniker, lurching and bopping around like the pretend ancestor of Angus Young.
This is the sign of a group well-comfortable in their throwback high boots and if you're already a fan, this set is going to please you plenty. If you're still a naysayer, it's quite likely you'll be won over some, despite the aforementioned dorky moments. Witnessing Ritchie Blackmore weave a gorgeous acoustic solo on "Fires at Midnight" is worth the entire endeavor. For all of his rambling, improv-filled electric solos in DEEP PURPLE and RAINBOW, Blackmore's extensions in this set are exquisite. His tantalizing intro to the British folk yarn, "Barbara Allan" is as sweet as Candice's honey-kissed vocal handling of the song. As is her subtle but powerful abstract of the BEE GEES' "First of May" to finish this set.
Apparently as many as seven songs from this concert on September 30th of last year were omitted from "A Knight in York", but what's put into the consumer's hands is a nifty CD, DVD and Blu-ray package that allows for maximum consumption. This is particularly handy for newcomers who can take comfort that the music and the execution of BLACKMORE'S NIGHT is sharp, professional and above all, welcoming. The violins of Gypsy Rose compliment the intricacy of these compositions, as do the woodwinds and shawms that are hardly nerdy when delivered with proficiency. Stand by for an onstage appearance by Ritchie and Candice's toddler Autumn, as proud and indulgent a moment in this show as the gusty finish of "Dandelion Wine" and the twizzling vibe of "All the Fun of the Fayre". You can't help but smile at it all.
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.