When Ritchie Blackmore said that he was putting Rainbow back on the road waves of shock and delight rippled across the globe.
Very happily and successfully leading his band of strolling players Blackmore’s Night, it seemed some twenty years ago that he had ostensibly moved on from Rock to fully embrace his long-held passion for renaissance folk music. A chance YouTube find of vocalist Ronnie Romero by his wife Candice Night sparked an old ember into a roaring fire and, like a phoenix, Rainbow arose once more in 2016.
Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Memories in Rock – (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Release Date: 20 November 2020
Words: Paul Monkhouse
This new, beautifully presented green vinyl triple disc set, taken from two shows in Germany, sees the band powering through a collection of classics cherry picked throughout the guitarists career with both Rainbow and Deep Purple, a stroll through time bound to please all those who welcomed his return to a more harder edge style.
Throughout, Romero proves himself to be the right man for the job and the rest of this newly formed line-up are certainly up to the high standards of those who came before them as Blackmore, ever the perfectionist, chooses all those around him with extreme care.
Even on record, there is a chill of excitement down the spine as those familiar opening words spoken by Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ come from the speakers before the band hit the stage and, with the delicately rocking opening passage of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ moves seamlessly into the adrenaline surge of ‘Highway Star’.
There is such a huge vitality here, the band flying as Romero attacks the lyrics with gusto, the rough edges of his voice adding a cocksure swagger to the song.
A man of taste and sure of his himself, yet always pushing for perfection, it is a treat to hear Blackmore on the first solo of the evening, each note meaning something and never a vulgar display of showy histrionics. That pattern is repeated throughout and, whilst his playing is never less than enthralling, the man in black is never a man to let the rest of the band stay in the shadows and each and every one gets their fair share of the spotlight.
It is a perfectly paced and constantly shifting set, the Deep Purple classic followed straight away by the insistent riff of ‘Spotlight Kid’, the Rainbow favourite featuring some great interplay between the Blackmore and Jens Johansson’s keys.
‘Mistreated’ is a smoldering and elegant exercise in how to perfectly build tension and throughout you bear witness to this focus on the material as art, not just entertainment. From the all-encompassing commercial popularity of ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ through to the chance for the musicians to have individual lights shone on them during ‘Difficult to Cure (Beethoven’s Ninth)’ there is a laser sharp focus on the joy the music and playing rather than the massaging of egos.
It would be a mistake to think that the sets rolls along on some sort of happy go lucky attitude as, whilst this is all done in the best of spirits, there is a healthy competition seemingly at work here, each person on stage bringing their ‘A Game’. Additionally to this, it is a nice touch when Romero, the ever confident frontman, acknowledges the legacy and power of his fore runner Ronnie James Dio during ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’, the crowd roaring in approval.
‘Perfect Strangers’ shares the same wonderful sense of drama and dynamic as Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ and ‘Stargazer’ still remains not just the highlight of the ‘Rising’ album but its place as one of finest Rock anthems of all time.
After this titan it would be nigh on impossible for any band to match it, but with a final disc that contains a stellar run of ‘Long Live Rock ‘n Roll’, ‘Child in Time / Woman from Tokyo’ and ‘Black Night’ it just goes to prove that Blackmore’s back catalogue is surely the envy of every sane Rock artist out there.
It could be argued that, barring the Beatles, Elvis and Queen, few musicians of the 20th Century equal the tally of having written and played on so many bonafide classics.
By the time that probably the most familiar riff in all Rock music rings out from the Strat and the band launch into ‘Smoke on the Water’, all resistance is absolutely futile and the massed thousands gladly surrender to the euphoria of this final number of the evening.
It is a model of crowd participation but, in parallel with all great live albums, ‘Memories in Rock’ captures not just the interaction between band and audience but also the sense of dynamic at play onstage too. The rhythm section of Bob Nouveau on bass and David Keith’s drums power things along with a natural energy and the backing vocals of Candice Night and Lady Lynn adding a wonderful colour and warmth to the whole.
Of course, though, the main focus is Blackmore.
Whilst he is always surrounded by top-flight players and singers, it is the guitarist who inevitably finds himself at the centre of the excitement. A consummate musician, he is the craftsman who molds and directs what is heard, his playing full of feel, soul and the knowledge that you do not have to fill every spare moment with notes or show off your dexterity and speed.
Indeed, it is his understanding of the spaces between the notes being as important as what is played, that is part of his brilliance and this new set demonstrates that admirably.
Not only is it his ability to write huge riffs and songs that have become canon that are his claim to eternal fame but, just as importantly, he will continue to be admired by his peers as someone whose style and class puts him in a league of his own.
A joy to behold and listen to, ‘Memories in Rock – Live in Germany’ is a great souvenir of some stunning shows and if you have ever truly enjoyed guitar driven Rock music, then this is a vital purchase. Absolutely superb.