A few weeks ago I was looking at the Blackmore's Night website when I noticed they were playing in Italy while I was on holiday there. So I took a few details, and decided to see if I could make it happen on my arrival.
The show was in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast, so I drove over there en famille a couple of days before and picked up a ticket without problem. (That's no reflection on the band, there were still tickets left for an Oasis show). I hadn't actually seen Blackmore's Night before, indeed the last time I saw Ritchie was with Rainbow on the Stranger In Us All tour at Hammersmith (great show by the way). I was put off by the first album which just wasn't my kind of music, so I travelled to Viareggio on a glorious Tuscan evening thinking it would be a pleasant evening whatever, and also hoping that he would strap on the Strat if only for the encore!
The venue was strange, the idea was that they were supposed to be playing in castles (the name of the venue may have made it sound like it was a castle!...). Well, this was possibly the strangest venue I've ever been to; it was a piazza set in a semicircle of hangar-like buildings which contained floats for the local carnival, (and very impressive they looked too!) The support band were an Italian medieval outfit, somewhat like the Corrs ... three attractive women and a guy. The music was what I would assume to be relatively authentic and therefore left me somewhat cold. It was all very well executed, but I would have to say not my thing. The one thing it did point out was how un-medieval the music of Blackmore's Night is, but more of that later.
At this point the whole shebang was running a good hour late, which became a little irritating, but finally Blackmore's Night took to the stage, just in time for the rain to begin spitting down. This, it has to be said, was not setting itself up for a great night, with many of the Italians running for cover from the drizzle under the overhang of the hangars, meaning that the number of people remaining in their seats was down to a couple of hundred at most. As I don't know the full Blackmore's Night catalogue I can't really comment on individual songs, but I can impart the overall feel of the show. Given the fiasco that the concert was turning into by this point it's worth saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. And I had most definitely approached it with a sceptical eye. My overall impression was that the material they play is much the same kind of stuff that Jethro Tull did circa 'Songs from the Wood' / 'Heavy Horses', but (unfortunately) with less bite in the lyrics.
You do wonder how many people are turned off by the somewhat heavy handed renaissance bit! The songs I found OK, though I have to say I found the lyrics very corny, and the band took themselves too seriously. However the songs certainly came to life more on stage than they did on the first album. Ritchie's playing was great, he never did strap on that Strat but he really seemed to be enjoying himself. The set seemed to change at will, with Candice announcing changes almost on a song by song basis. Later in the set the heavens really opened up and everyone went to stand at the foot of the stage, all 100 or so of us, and we were treated to our own private concert for another 45 mins plus. The only thing that ended the concert was Ritchie's guitars getting wet.
All in all this really proved to be a special concert in adversity. Much as he was at Hammersmith in 1995, Ritchie was doing what he wanted, and I have to say his playing was superb, and much more melodic than the "noise" period of House Of Blue Light. With a lighter touch on the lyrics, (and maybe some of Ian Anderson's cynicism) the band could really reach a much wider audience.
Review: Allen Gibbons