Warwick Johnson – Belfast, Limelight 2 – 5 November 2017 Print E-mail
Written by Mark Ashby and The Dark Queen   
Saturday, 11 November 2017 04:30

Black Star Riders are currently back traversing the Über Kingdom of Rock ‘n’ Roll, performing in cities and venues they’ve either never played/visited before, or haven’t been to in quite some time.  The tour includes a headline performance at the sold out Hard Rock Hell in Pwllheli tonight (Saturday).  However, last weekend, frontman Ricky Warwick and guitarist Damon Johnson teamed up for a couple of acoustic shows – one in a distillery and the other in the more familiar surroundings of Belfast’s historic Limelight venue.


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Following a pleasant opening set from local songsmith Philip McCarroll – lead singer with Pay*ola and the driving force behind the Sounds Of Northern Ireland (SONI) initiative – any idea that this was Warwick playing a solo show with his guitarist along from the ride is dispelled as, in the spirit of camaraderie which very clearly exists between the two musicians, it’s Johnson who takes lead vocal for the opening song.


Ricky himself steps up to the mic for the first of the obligatory Thin Lizzy covers, as he asks ‘Are You Ready?’: it’s you hometown, brother – do you need to ask?. After ‘All Breaks Loose’, Warwick once again invites his buddy to “sing the next one”, which he duly does, introducing it as “one by my old boss” before launching full-bloodedly into a cover of ‘I’m Eighteen’.


The next section of a show is a good mix of Warwick’s solo material – the ironic ‘Celebrating Sinking’ and the title track of his ‘When Patsy Cline Was Crazy…’ album – with BSR (‘Our Finest Hour’) and Lizzy (‘Jailbreak’) tunes: the latter is followed by Ricky regaling about their exploits the previous evening at the infamous Bushmills Distillery – “we were after a fashion show” – before an affectionate rendition of The Who classic ‘Substitute’, which totally fits its acoustic reworking.


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With the show taking place exactly a week before Remembrance Sunday, it’s perhaps fitting that BSR’s ‘Soldierstown’ is followed by Warwick’s own ‘Schwaben Redoubt’: the latter, the tale of two soldiers, from opposite sides of the fence but drawn together by war, is joyous in its interpretation, reflecting the bond from which it draws its force, but is also suitably respectful.


The between song banter is kept to a minimum – after all, Ricky had told us before the show that they had a setlist of 30 tunes – but when they do so, it is filled with humour and warmth. But, the emphasis is on the songs… As requests are started to be shouted from the floor, The Almighty’s ‘Free N Easy’ segues into ‘Borderline’, ‘Dancing With The Wrong Girl’ takes us into ‘Rockin In The Free World’:  there is a liberal dose of covers from artists whom both musicians admire, with ‘Ace Of Spades’ – a longtime stable of Warwick’s solo shows – is acidic yet energetic and raises a massive singalong on the chorus.


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Although the set is understandably dominated by BSR songs – ‘Testify Or Say Goodbye’, ‘The Killer Instinct’, ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ and ‘Bound For Glory’ (on which Johnson forgets the intro) due cognisance is also given to the guitarist’s own history, with the rarely aired Brother Cain gem ‘Got No Shame’ dedicated to a fan called Darren, with Damon revealing it was requested via Twitter, leading him to quip “see, I do check my social media!”


There’s another mass singalong for ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ as the duo punch through the two mark without any signed of their energy lapsing – and the bar staff don’t seem so sure he’s kidding when he declares “this is the halfway point of the set”… It’s not, but not before there’s time for one more cover, with Damon modernizing the lyrics to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ to pepper it with lyrics to Donald Trump.  And, of course, there’s no way they’re gonna finish a show on the island of Ireland without sampling some of the finest ‘Whiskey In The Jar’.


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It was great to see such a healthy crowd venturing out into the cold and rain on a Sunday night at the beginning of November to enjoy some good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll entertainment, and to welcome Ricky and his “brother-from-another-mother” (to coin a popular phrase) back into ‘The Arms Of Belfast Town’: given the hectic schedule they face in 2018 – as elaborated upon in the interview running alongside this review – it might be a while before they back ‘round this way again!


PHOTO CREDIT: All photos © The Dark Queen/ Über Rock.  Check out our full gallery of photographs HERE.


Black Star Riders headline the sold-out Hard Rock Hell XI tonight (Saturday 11 November) and then play the following dates (with Blues Pills, Tax The Heat and Dirty Thrills):


Sunday 12 – Hull, University

Tuesday 14 – Middlesbrough, Empire

Wednesday 15 – Sheffield, O2 Academy

Thursday 16 – Leicester, O2 Academy

Saturday 18 – Cambridge, Junction

Sunday 19 – Portsmouth, Pyramids




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