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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Blackmore's Night: A Knight In York


1) Locked Within The Crystal Ball; 2) Gilded Cage; 3) The Circle; 4) Journeyman; 5) World Of Stone; 6) The Peasant's Promise; 7) Toast To Tomorrow; 8) Fires At Midnight; 9) Barbara Allen; 10) Darkness; 11) Dance Of The Darkness; 12) Dandelion Wine; 13) All The Fun Of The Fayre; 14) First Of May.

Another live album, and about as exciting as the pun they chose for the title (not very funny even if we forget that Ritchie is, stereotypically, a «traveling minstrel» rather than a «knight»). The difference this time is that, for some reason, Ritchie and Candice seem to believe that their new stuff is of just as high a quality and in just as much demand as the old stuff. The second belief may be indirectly supported by the warm welcome that they receive from their York audience (the show was recorded in 2011 at the Opera House there), but the first belief had always been questionable, and these live renditions of selections from Secret Voyage and Autumn Sky do not really make a serious effort to confirm it. On the whole, there are just four things I'd like to say about the album, and then we'll make no effort to forget it.

First, there is such a thing as «too much friendliness», and the sheer amount of honey and sugar dripping off the lady's tongue and diffusing out of all the rest of her pores as she cuddles and pampers the audience quickly becomes unbearable. Perhaps they intentionally set it up in sharp contrast with Ritchie's classic image of a brutal, antisocial beast, but in that case, it would have been more fun if he periodically whacked some poor slob in the front row over the head with his mandolin, or at least put that pair of boots to good use. As it is, all we get is one end of the story, and occasionally it begins to sound as if this were your loving, caring, understanding mother talking to you from the stage rather than a performing maiden. (To be fair, Candice was a mother, and talking about her little daughter makes up for a large portion of the banter, but I'd rather prefer to congratulate her on the occasion in a separate story).

Second, ʽLocked Within The Crystal Ballʼ remains a great song, and so does ʽFires At Midnightʼ, the only nod to their more-than-recent past on the album that glaringly dwarves all of its sur­roundings. I understand that they did not want to duplicate and triplicate their live catalog, but still, two or three more classic oldies like ʽHome Againʼ couldn't hurt.

Third, ʽToast To Tomorrowʼ, the Russian dance tune from Secret Voyage, is unpredictably merged with a section off Lady GaGa's ʽBad Romanceʼ, as Candice announces that they have a «special guest from another universe» with them tonight. No, Lady GaGa does not make an actual appearance (not her caliber, apparently), and the joke seems like a silly attempt to either cash in on a modern trend or to send up a modern trend (not funny, considering how much Black­more's Night themselves are in need of being sent up), but it does remind you that at the heart of ʽBad Romanceʼ lies a rather generic gypsy dance melody, and that, in a way, everything is con­nected, and nothing is really new under the sun, and from that point of view, it even makes sense to listen to a Blackmore's Night album every once in a while.

Fourth, the show is concluded with a cover of the Bee Gees' ʽFirst Of Mayʼ that, if this is at all possible, is made to sound even slower, sweeter, sappier, and more sacramental than the original (and the original was one of the sappiest Bee Gees songs from their early classic period). I have no witty comment on this point — think of one yourself — but it does make me wonder if this is not some sort of veiled pass at Barry Gibb. Everything right in the family, Candice? No marital problems? Please to remember that Barry is not available at the moment, since Linda Gibb seems to be doing all right...

...anyway, A Knight In York is a good proposition for anybody who sees no distinction what­soever between any random studio record by Blackmore's Night (and I can see where that could be possible), but it is so far removed from my ideal vision of a live album that I have to express it formally: thumbs down, that is.


  1. Alas I totally agree. This album was a huge disappointment to me. Usually Blackmore even in bad times was capable of improving enough on stage that the performances at least become interesting. A fine example is Deep Purple with JLT live in Budapest 1991. But not here. I'm afraid I'm even harsher. Fires at Midnight is inferior to the Past Times version of 2002.

    As I'm a sucker for Russian folk music (I can point out almost all usages in the works of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Mussorgsky, Borodin plus several in the works of others) I like Toast to Tomorrow. But the Lady Gaga interlude is totally misplaced.
    Unfortunately Blackmore seems to be very happy with what he's doing (just check the footage), so chances are zero that he is going to change course once again.
    The only positive thing I can say here is that the opener Locked within the Crystal Ball is excellent. That only increases the disappointment with everything that follows, as it makes me realize that there still is potential left.
    You can find a live version of Home Again on Paris Moon from 2007. It's great fun to watch, but it doesn't work that well without the visual aspects. There is not much lost with GS skipping that one. While it isn't as boring and saccharine as Knight in York it already reveals the decline compared to Past Times.

    So get Crystal Ball and forget the rest.

  2. "— but it does make me wonder if this is not some sort of veiled pass at Barry Gibb."
    So, she's trading one aging English pop star for another? At least with Ritchie she'll get a good guitar riff now and then. Creepy.