BLACKMORE'S NIGHT: PAST TIMES WITH GOOD COMPANY (2001)
1) Shadow Of The Moon; 2) Play Minstrel Play; 3) Minstrel Hall; 4) Past Times With Good Company; 5) Fires At Midnight; 6) Under A Violet Moon; 7) Soldier Of Fortune; 8) 16th Century Greensleeves; 9) Beyond The Sunset; 10) Morning Star; 11) Home Again; 12) Renaissance Faire; 13) I Still Remember; 14) Durch Den Wald Zum Bachhaus; 15) Writing On The Wall.
I do not have much to say about this live album, recorded at a May 2002 show in Groningen, except this: the only real reason for Blackmore's Night to exist is in its live incarnation. It's not as if their live performances were much less stiff than studio ones — it is simply that this particular type of music, all these medieval dances and feel-good ballads, are «party music» by definition. This shouldn't even be played in clubs or concert halls: this should be played in pubs, next to those long wooden tables, creaking and groaning from the weight of roast pigs, stuffed rabbits, fresh fruit, wine bottles, and whatever else there can be found on your average Brueghel painting. And nobody should be listening, of course, leaving it to the minstrel to command attention by singing it ever so loud, proud, and with boundless energy...
Somehow this only struck me when listening to these live renditions of songs from the duo's first three albums — performed quite faithfully to the originals, but in an even more «pseudo-authentic» setting, as Blackmore very rarely uses the electric guitar (even the outro solo on ʽFires At Midnightʼ is replaced with acoustic passages), and the listeners' attention is frequently focused on violin improvisations from one of the band's members. There is an implicit (sometimes explicit) call for everyone to join in — the clapping and stomping starts with the very first performance and is then renewed on every second or third song. This is not «Folk Music» as a carrier of the Sacred Heart, or of Sanctified Traditional Wisdom, or even of Pure Beauty, as folk revivalists sometimes envision it. This is simple, robust, healthy entertainment to help that mug of ale go down easier and that leg of lamb digest with extra juice.
All the more respect to the band for really putting some work in this, especially Candice: she may not be a great singer, and her stage image may be too forcedly cartoonish, but what she is capable of doing, she is totally giving out 100% — no bum notes, no trying to sing outside of her range, and a very hearteningly welcome, unpretentious attitude that should disarm any criticism. As a side bonus, Ritchie re-arranges two golden oldies for her, the Deep Purple ballad ʽSoldier Of Fortuneʼ (where she is very welcome in the place of David Coverdale) and the Rainbow rocker ʽ16th Century Greensleevesʼ (where nobody can replace Ronnie James Dio, but she does not even try to compete with him on the song's ferocious "we will dance around the FIRE!" coda — although it is fun to see her add a little bit of snarl every now and then, so contrary to her regular image). Additionally, on ʽGreensleevesʼ Ritchie even agrees to brandish the old axe: the main melody has been funkified, and its original riff deleted (quoted just once for the song's coda, to be precise), but at least he can still deliver these maniacal leads like few others can.
No wonder, then, that it all culminates in ʽHome Againʼ, performed here with a far greater sense of purpose than in the studio version — even if you do not like this stylistics in general, it is hard not to get caught up in the overall merriment, so contagious is the laughter in Candice's voice. Yes, there is also a small share of «intimate» performances (ʽI Still Rememberʼ), but usually they function as «breathers» (along with several instrumentals showcasing The Master), allowing the audience to get some rest before getting them back up on their feet again. And then the show is over with a rip-roaring version of ʽWriting On The Wallʼ, stripped of its rather unsettlingly modernistic production, although the disco bassline is still naggingly hanging out there.
Bottomline: if you have no interest in a detailed assessment of the ups and downs of the first stage of Blackmore's Night, Past Times With Good Company is your best bet. The setlist contains almost all the relevant highlights, performed at least as well as in the studio and sometimes better. The band and the audience connect totally in their little medieval fantasy game. The sound quality is perfect. And if you enjoy it with a roast leg of wild boar and a keg of mead on a pleasant European evening, the experience is so complete, you'll never want to get back to the 21st century again. Thumbs up.