Tickets for this sold out in about five seconds, so I had to use my ticket guy to get me in. He came up trumps, with a second-row VIP ticket (free parking and free meal thrown in).
The last time Ritchie Blackmore played rock was almost 20 years ago, but up till then he made his reputation as the main man in Deep Purple and Rainbow (they were his bands at the time). Since then, he’s pursued his love of folk and mediaeval type music with his band, Blackmore’s Night.
No one imagined he’d come back to rock – always aloof, with a reputation of being difficult to work with, he had always said he never would. Then, last year, he suddenly announced three one-off gigs around Europe (don’t get me started on Europe), one of which was in the UK, nice and central in Birmingham.
You have to put this into perspective. Ritchie Blackmore doing this show was pretty much equivalent to Led Zeppelin’s one-off gig in 2007. Perhaps not exactly the same, but definitely up there. The cosmopolitan nature of the crowd showed this, if nothing else: there were Americans, Japanese, and many Europeans present. Deep Purple and Rainbow were that big in the 70s and 80s, and Ritchie Blackmore is considered a guitar-god in the rock world.
The support band was Mostly Autumn (well, mostly – four of the six-strong line up). I’ve seen them before, at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham, but this was a huge step up from the couple of hundred capacity there to a sold-out 15,500+ arena. They did bloody well, too.
Ritchie had caused not a little consternation in the music world by refusing to use any of the people who’d been in either Deep Purple or Rainbow in the past in this new incarnation of Rainbow. Some quarters of the music press were suggesting he’d go down like a lead balloon as a result. Ever outspoken – but logical with it – Blackmore had explained his reasons, which were sound if you looked at them objectively, objectionable if you hankered after the past. I initially had an open mind on the subject, but sided with Ritchie when I read that he doesn’t like hip hop music (well, not in 1995 he didn’t).
It should come as no surprise to learn that the media were wrong. As the band came on stage to the strains of Over the Rainbow, and to rapturous applause and cheers, they burst into Highway Star. In vocalist, Ronnie Romero, there is someone who could match Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner, or anyone else, note for note. And it quickly became clear that keyboardist, Jens Johansson, they have a player who could definitely do justice to the late, great Jon Lord’s legendary finger work.
Over the years, I’ve read a lot about Ritchie Blackmore, and something which always intrigued me was how many previous band members (Deep Purple) have said that Ritchie would go off on lengthy improvised solos, and it became a skill to work out when he had finished and they should come back in. A lot of years have passed since those days, but obviously – in order to duplicate classic songs – there had to be some showboating. You could see Ritchie keeping an eye on his band, and then giving them the nod when he was coming to a point where they should continue with the song.
The full set list was as follows:
- Over the Rainbow (intro)
- Highway Star
- Spotlight Kid
- Since You Been Gone
- Man on the Silver Mountain
- Soldier of Fortune
- Difficult to Cure
- Catch the Rainbow
- Perfect Strangers
- Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll
- Child in Time
- Black Night
- Smoke on the Water
The light show was also quite spectacular. And one of the backing singers was Ritchie’s wife, Candice, with whom he works in Blackmore’s Night. You can hear a bit of the show here – this is Since You Been Gone/Man on the Silver Mountain:
I got my usual collection of great pictures, and I’ll always be able to say “I was there”.
Ritchie had originally said these gigs were “just for fun” and not to be repeated. More recently he’s been quoted as saying he wanted to see if he could “still do it” (after his reception at one of the Euro gigs). It appears that he isn’t now against doing a full tour.