Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Genting Arena, Birmingham June 25th 2016
It’s nearly 20 years since Ritchie Blackmore hung up his trusty white strat to play medieval music. The man in black is a bit mad or if you’re being kind he’s just a little eccentric. Whatever he is he has been involved or is responsible for some of rocks greatest riffs and songs. So when he announced he was making a return to the stage to play the songs that had a major impact on my formative years in music I had to go.
So with 3 like minded old rockers we headed down to Birmingham with a sense of anticipation and probably a little trepidation. Could he still produce the goods after so many years, was his band going to be up to the job. Was he going to do a lute solo?
After a day of football, beer and some paint stripper called fireball (thanks Mike) we headed out to the NEC or Genting Arena as it’s now known. T-shirts duly purchased and seats taken we awaited the arrival of the legend. As the lights went down we were greeted with the intro music of Land of feckin hope and glory. A dirge at the best of times but in the current climate it was rubbing salt into the wound but it was replaced by the traditional intro from the Wizard of Oz. ‘Toto, I’ve a feeling were not in Kansas any more, we must be over the rainbow (Rainbow, Rainbow) and we were into the first classic of the night, on a night when just about every song would make classic status, Highway Star. Any fears or doubts about the band and Blackmore were soon dispelled. There were worries that instead of going for more well known musicians he surrounded himself with relative unknowns and members of his band Blackmore’s Night but the band sounded great although it was Blackmore we’d all come to see and he didn’t disappoint. He reels off some of rock greatest riffs with consummate ease and you have to remind yourself that he’s now 71. He may be using the Grecian 2000, probably some cosmetic work done and sports a ridiculous moustache but boy can he play guitar.
The man with the hardest job of the night was singer Ronnie Romero who had some big shoes to fill. We counted songs from 5 different vocalists in the set including Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan, David Coverdale, Graham Bonnet and Joe Lynn Turner. Some formidable singers in there but Romero did a fantastic job. He did justice and more to the classics that were rolled out and didn’t try to sound like the original singers but kept true to the feel of the songs. There were three particular highlights for me. Soldier of Fortune, Romero maybe didn’t have the deep resonance of Coverdale’s voice but this version was just as spine tingling, Child in Time was a song I first heard on Purple’s Made In Japan over 40 years ago and was a real WTF moment, Romero proved beyond any doubt he was more than capable to take on this classic and the highlight of the evening was an incredible Stargazer where the whole band excelled and although it would have been great to see Dio up there I think he would have given Romero the seal of approval for his vocal performance.
The gig of course finished with one of rock’s greatest songs and riffs ’Smoke on the Water’ and you were left to reflect how many great songs Blackmore has contributed and then started to realise how many more he could have played that wouldn’t have been out of place in the set. It will be interesting to see if he does indeed retire once again from rock music and go back to wearing a funny hat and playing music from the 16th century or if he may have reignited a long dormant itch for playing loud music or if that itch has now been scratched. Whatever he does his place in the history of rock music is assured and if this is the end it was a pretty special way to say farewell.