There is always light beyond the dark. And for all my sticky-fingered stories from the past, there are just as many that bring me joy. And often laughter. Working with superb musicians like Jimmy Page and David Bowie, sitting round the campfire listening to the stories of Phil Lynott, Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy… priceless moments spread over many years. I was first published as a music journalist 40 years ago this year. Then worked in music PR, management, and for major record companies. Spent a lot of time with the heavy end of the spectrum… the righteous Iron Maiden, the fabulous Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, Metallica, Dio and etc.
Easily one of the most fascinating musicians I ever encountered though was Ritchie Blackmore. As a teenager some of the first albums I ever bought were Fireball, Machine Head, Made In Japan and Burn. Then later my good friend Pete Makowski introduced me to the Blackmore-Dio line-up of Rainbow. Went to see them and said goodbye to my mind. Ritchie liked to play fast. He could burn a hole right through you with his guitar. But he also knew how to put the wind under your wings and send you soaring to the heavens.
There was obviously so much going on behind that inscrutable expression on his face, not just the multi-level music, but… something more.
When Purple reformed and made their UK comeback appearance at Knebworth in 85, I was supposed to do a phone interview with Ritchie Blackmore, to publicise the show. Then was told that, no, Ritchie had decided he didn’t want to do a phone interview, he would only speak in person. Only snag: I would have to fly out to New York to meet him. When? Uh, right now.
Oh shit. Really?
Fuck it, let’s go! I got the plane later that day from Heathrow, and landed at JFK that evening, NY time, a few hours later body-clock-wise for me. I was told which hotel to go to and that Ritchie would be waiting for me in the hotel bar at 8pm. On the dot of eight, I went into the bar, did a thorough scour of the room – no Ritchie. I waited half an hour, sipped a beer, then sloped back to my room thinking maybe I’d got the wrong time.
I went down to the bar again an hour later and checked again. Still no Ritchie. I waited another half hour. Still nothing. By now it’s 3.00am UK time for me, and I am v-e-r-y-t-i-r-e-d. So I give up and go to my room thinking there might be a phone call and…zzzzzzzzzzz.
Until the phone rang. It was around 2.00am US time. It was Ritchie’s manager on the phone berating me for not showing up to meet Ritchie. “He waited for you all night in the bar!”
“Well, he’s pissed off at you now and says you’ll have to come to him.”
And where was that?
“Long Island, where he lives.”
(For those of you that don’t know, Long Island is about 50 miles from New York.)
But, but… how on earth would I get there?
“You’ll have to get a train.”
“Oh, and he says you’ll have to play football with him. He’s got a game on tomorrow. He’ll lend you some boots.”
Then he hung up.
Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep after that. Long Island… train… boots… Ritchie pissed off…
Looong story short… They eventually sent a car to ferry me out to Long Island. It was after the football match. I was taken to a beautiful restaurant where they clearly knew Ritchie and had saved him the best table in the place. I’d been there about 10 minutes when in he came – the man in black – along with a couple of friends. We sat down together, had a wonderful dinner. I got out my old-fashioned cassette recorder, and he gave me one of the best interviews I had ever done.
I laughed quite a lot because Ritchie Blackmore has a wonderful sense of humour – blacker than blacker, but of course – and when we were done I was taken in my very flash car back to the airport and flew back to London.
There were other occasions our paths crossed, at Purple gigs, until he finally bailed. Not for Mr Blackmore the inanities of stringing out a career based on past triumphs.
When he formed the marvellous Blackmore’s Night in the mid-90s, it was thrilling. Yes, he received a certain amount of WTF from hardbitten rock crits, but for me what he was doing with the obviously incredibly talented Candice Night was astonishing – brave and bold. I even loved the stage outfits. Medieval? But of course. Why not? I caught the show at a venue I don’t recall the name of but in Aylesbury (I think), somewhere in the mid-00s, and it was fantastic. Candice not only sings, she charms, she radiates. While Ritchie also radiates but in his own deeply individual fashion, that is, unique.
Then just when you thought you had it figured out, out came Blackmore’s singing electric guitar, sounding better, more mellifluous than ever.
I love traditional music. My father played it, my mother sang it. Albeit with more Irish and Scots emphasis. But so much of the sound and instruments – the deep spirit and ancient magic – overlap. It was sitting listening as a child to the stories my father and mother would tell deep into the night after a gig, laughing and drinking with their other beardy muso friends, that I acquired my taste for storytelling. How I became a writer – and lover of music.
Cut to now and we have Blackmore’s Night touring and Rainbow. Why doesn’t he get more credit? No offence to certain other guitarists of Blackmore’s generation but where are their bold new musical directions? Their risk-taking? Mayhap they are all Wind-Suckers! Hufty-Tufties with Noses of Wax. (Look that one up.)