Ricky Warwick, British musician, songwriter and lead singer with Black Star Riders, chats with Kevin Cooper about his fondness for Rock City, his band mate Scott Gorham, Black Star Riders latest album Heavy Fire and their forthcoming tour of the UK
Ricky Warwick is a British musician and songwriter and the lead singer with both Black Star Riders and Thin Lizzy. He is also the frontman for the Scottish hard rock band The Almighty, with whom he achieved chart success in the UK throughout the 1990s, although the band is currently on hiatus. Warwick has released several solo albums and performed with a variety of other bands and artists, and also fronts his own band, The Fighting Hearts, to showcase his solo material.
In September 2009, Warwick was invited to join the latest line up of Thin Lizzy and joined them as lead vocalist and guitarist. He took part in Thin Lizzy’s 2011 European Tour commemorating 25 years since the death of original front man Phil Lynott. In December 2012, he co-founded the Thin Lizzy spin-off band Black Star Riders in order to release new material largely composed by himself and guitarist Damon Johnson. Also in the band is guitarist Scott Gorham, bassist Robbie Crane and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso.
Whilst preparing for the release of Black Star Riders third studio album and their forthcoming tour of the UK, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hello Kevin, I’m feeling great today thanks, how’s it going?
I’m very well thank you and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Of course Kevin, not a problem, not a problem at all.
And just how is life treating Ricky Warwick at this moment in time?
Everything is great, I have no complaints whatsoever.
I have been listening to the new album Heavy Fire for a couple of weeks now and I have to say that I think that it is a great body of work.
Thank you very much, that is very kind of you.
Normally at this point I would say ‘I like this track’ or ‘I like that track’ but to be totally honest with you I simply cannot pick one single track off the album.
Brilliant! Well that’s a good thing, that’s a very good thing and I am very pleased about that.
Back in the day when bands would release a single or two off the latest album I honestly feel that you could release any track because they all stand up on their own merit.
Thanks, that means a lot to us as a band; thank you.
There are absolutely no fillers on the album which I have to say is very rare nowadays.
That’s one of the things that I find great working with Black Star Riders. We always try to make an album that contains no fillers. We do succeed better sometimes than others but I think that with this album, this is definitely the most complete body of work that I think that we have done so far.
I can tell from the tone of your voice that you are happy with the album?
You involved PledgeMusic with the album. How did you find that experience?
I have to say that the whole experience has been great. I used PledgeMusic to help fund my solo album When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues) back in 2014 and I have to say that I had a great experience with that. However, with Heavy Fire we didn’t fund the making of the album via PledgeMusic. We are currently signed with Nuclear Blast and so we didn’t need to raise money in order to make the album; that was all taken care of. We simply used PledgeMusic in order to offer incentives to the fans, such as VIP packages, being able to play with the band, certain giveaways and stuff like that.
We decided to hand all of that over to the PledgeMusic campaign and I have to say that the guys over there did a great job organising all of that. So in that way the whole experience was different. It wasn’t as though we were relying on a target which we could reach allowing us to then go into the studio and record. Thankfully for Black Star Riders we have Nuclear Blast who look after that side of things for us and they are wonderful. It’s been great and I think that it has been great for us to be able to offer some amazing opportunities to the fans. It is just one more facet of the ever changing music industry which we have to embrace.
It’s also nice for the fans to feel involved with it all.
Yes it is and that is the biggest thing that I think is good about PledgeMusic. The fans do get a one on one with the band members and they are not going through the management or a record company. They are getting exclusive updates together with the chance to have their voices heard about what the band do. That is the whole thing, they can connect with you one on one and I for one think that is fantastic and I really do think that the fans appreciate that.
A while ago I photographed Black Star Riders here in Nottingham when you opened for Def Leppard and Whitesnake. Was it as much fun for the band as it was for the fans?
Yes it was, I have to say that it was brilliant. Obviously the guys in Def Leppard are very dear friends of mine and me and Joe (Elliott) have been best mates now for many years. We have always got on great with the Whitesnake guys so when you get all three bands together you can imagine the comradery and the jokes when we are all hanging out together backstage. And I have to say what a great show; it was just wonderful.
Well everyone who I spoke to after the show all agreed that Black Star Riders should have headlined.
(Laughter) I don’t know about that (laughter). I will be happy if we achieve one tenth of what Whitesnake and Def Leppard have achieved. Listen, those bands are legendary, they have been around a long time. They both deserve to be where they are on those bills and we are just happy to be a part of it.
Black Star Riders are about to tour the UK. Are you looking forward to being back out on the road again?
I really can’t wait. The last time that you saw Black Star Riders with Whitesnake and Def Leppard is the last time that we played a show and that was back in December 2015. So we have had almost fourteen months of being away from the life. But as you can imagine, with a brand new record to promote and having that much time away from playing, we are all ready and raring to go like you would not believe. Let me tell you, I am even starting to get excited about rehearsals which for me is a novelty, so there you go (laughter).
You say that Black Star Riders haven’t played live since December 2015 but that has not been the case for you has it?
(Laughter) no, that’s right, you are absolutely correct. I think that I probably had the busiest year that I have ever had in my life last year. Not in terms of Black Star Riders but I was out with my solo band The Fighting Hearts twice last year; I played a few Thin Lizzy shows, and also wrote and recorded the new Black Star Riders album, so for me last year was crazy. It certainly didn’t feel like a year off. It did feel strange for me not to play any Black Star Riders shows so I think that we are all now very focused on the new album. Everyone has had the last year to get all of their other bits and pieces out of their systems; their solo shows and other stuff, and so we are all now very much focused on coming together and making this a full-on Black Star Riders fabulous year ahead.
I photographed you on 11th March last year when you supported Stiff Little Fingers here at Rock City. What a fantastic night that was.
Thank you. That was a dream come true for me. Stiff Little Fingers and Thin Lizzy were the two bands who really made me want to pick up a guitar when I was a kid growing up in Belfast. It’s amazing that they are both such a large part of my life now. I get to be a small part in the life of The Thin Lizzy legacy and I was fortunate to open up for one of my all-time favourite bands, Stiff Little Fingers. I am very lucky; a lot of my dreams have come true and I feel very blessed by that.
Almost a year to the day Black Star Riders will again be playing here in Nottingham at Rock City on 14th March. Is it a ‘must play’ venue?
I have to say to you that I personally think that Rock City is very special. I first played there way back in 1986 with a small band that I was in at that time with Floyd called Rough Charm and we opened up for New Model Army. I went on to be in New Model Army for a time and eventually formed The Almighty with Floyd so I have personally most probably played Rock City more than any other venue ever. I am very proud of that fact and I think that Rock City is just a wonderful club that is run for all the right reasons by all the right people with the right vibe. There is just something in those walls, something in that place, and as soon as you walk in there you just know that the pace oozes rock and roll and that it is going to be a great show.
It is a place that when you see it on the tour list you immediately begin to get excited. Because I have played there so many times I have so many old friends working there, together with people that I know. For me it is just like home from home.
I asked JJ (Burnel) from The Stranglers the same question and he replied ‘well it’s a bit scuzzy but you have to play there’ (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) why wouldn’t you want it to be a bit scuzzy (laughter). I don’t want my rock and roll to be pristine. I love The Stranglers and I love JJ, and I don’t want to argue with him because I know what his karate is like (laughter). I don’t want my rock and roll to be clean, pristine, neat and tidy. I want it scuzzy, dirty, a little bit out of sorts and a little bit topsy turvy. That’s what Rock City is. It’s iconic and it is the gig that we all look forward to. Whenever we play Rock City we always try to ensure that we get the following day off so that we can recover (laughter).
What can we expect?
I think that what you can expect is three albums worth of Black Star Riders material. The band is firmly established now so we have three records to choose from. It will be an in your face, full-on, high energy, loud, obnoxious rock and roll show. It will be great.
You have mentioned that Black Star Riders have now released three albums. Do you finally feel that as a unit you have finally grown into the role??
Yes I do, I feel that we have grown into it and I most certainly do feel that we have achieved that. I feel that now there is no emphasis upon having to rely on playing any Thin Lizzy material in order to make up the set. As wonderful as it is to have the Thin Lizzy back catalogue to be able to fall back on we certainly wanted to establish Black Star Riders as its own band, with its own entity. I honestly feel that we have done that now and I am confident that ninety-five percent of the set will now be Black Star Riders material, as it should be.
From a musicians point of view, just how good is Scott Gorham?
Scott is a phenomenal musician. Scott is a legend, he has a distinct sound which helped shape that Thin Lizzy sound that we all know and love with his style of playing and he brings that into Black Star Riders. That is something that we are very proud to have and is something that we never ever want to lose. However, whenever you speak about Black Star Riders you cannot speak about only Scott. You also have to speak about Damon (Johnson) who is also a completely phenomenal guitar player. We are also very fortunate to have someone of the calibre of Jimmy (DeGrasso) on the drums and the totally awesome Robbie (Crane) on the bass. They are all wonderful musicians and they make my life very easy. For me to be able to stand in front of the band with those guys behind me is just a great honour and a great feeling.
You admit that the Thin Lizzy influence is still there; which of their songs that you play makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up?
There are so many, there really is and I know that it is a cheesy media answer but there can be so many for different reasons. Even though I have got to sing the songs for quite a few years now I have to admit that I am still a Thin Lizzy fan and that is what I will always be. Whenever I close my eyes I never see Thin Lizzy with me singing, I always see it with Phil (Lynott) which is the way that it should be, the way that it will be and the way that it will always be. That’s it. I will always say that I am just keeping those songs warm and keeping them alive. Phil made them, he created them, and they are so special and are the soundtrack of my youth.
But in answer to your question it could be anything off the Black Rose album, for example, Do Anything You Want To Do or Got To Give It Up. Suicide from the Fighting album is a great track so there are so many. Phil is such an inspiration to me as a writer, a rock and roll icon, a front man, and a vocalist. I am so influenced by Phil and his writing and his music. It is very hard for me to pick out just one song and say that’s my favourite. Listen, whenever you are out at a club and the DJ plays The Boys Are Back In Town, well, what a song, what an anthem.
Whenever you are writing new material for Black Star Riders is it difficult for you to consciously not write in that Thin Lizzy style?
Wow, how do I answer that (laughter). Let me say that I don’t deliberately try to write a Thin Lizzy song, I simply try to write what it is that we want to write. However, when you have got Scott involved he is going to have an influence upon what you are writing. That sound and that style is in Scott’s DNA. Now that I have been singing all of those Thin Lizzy songs for the past six years on a constant basis I would have to say that it is now a part of my DNA and likewise with Damon. There is a bit of that there but I think that with Black Star Riders there are no rules, there are no paths and no certain roads that we have to go down or stick to. I think that is why our current single Testify Or Say Goodbye is probably one of the most radically different things that we have done. It probably even leans more towards Northern Soul than it does towards hard rock.
Please don’t take this the wrong way but having been playing the album for a couple of weeks now I personally feel that Cold War Love shows a warmer, softer side to Ricky Warwick. Would you agree with that?
Thank you, that is such a lovely compliment and very nice of you to say. Cold War Love is a song that I wrote about a friend of mine. I am one of those people that I think I say what I mean a lot better when I am writing lyrics or putting my feelings into a song. I find that way far easier than when I am trying to speak to somebody face to face. A friend of mine is currently going through a very rough time; he is about to lose a lot of things that he held very dear and the song was written for him. It was so that he would know that I was thinking about him and I knew what he was going through and for him not to give up.
What was the first record that you bought?
That was Take Me Back ‘Ome by Slade.
What was the first album that you bought?
(Laughter) that’s a tough question. Let me see if I can remember. I think that the very first album that I actually bought with my own money was The Adventures Of The Hersham Boys by Sham 69.
Who did you first see performing live in concert?
That’s easy it was Stiff Little Fingers.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Wow Kevin, where are these questions coming from. I think that the last time that I cried was when Scott and I were watching Nazareth performing and Dan McCafferty sang Love Hurts. At the time they were being backed by a forty piece orchestra. The whole event was amazing.
On that note Ricky let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been a pleasure and I will see you at Rock City.
Thank you Kevin, thank you very much for your time my friend and bye for now.