Ricky Warwick - Black Star Riders - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Eamon O'Neill   
Sunday, 02 November 2014 03:00

Black Star Riders

 

As one of an illustrious select number of artists ever to come out of Northern Ireland and make a mark on the world’s stage, Ricky Warwick is something of a local hero. Although his formative years were spent growing up in Glasgow Scotland, the Newtownards native is immensely proud of his heritage. On a rare visit home between Black Star Riders dates - a band he has been fronting since they morphed from the most recent incarnation of Thin Lizzy - he has taken the opportunity to bring a couple of his bandmates with him for a rare acoustic show. We caught up with Ricky to talk about the next Black Star Riders album, his plans for not one, but two solo releases, and of course The Almighty. He also EXCLUSIVELY reveals that he’s set to record a new album with his little know 1990’s three piece (sic). All sussed out: Eamon O’Neill.

 

Welcome back to the Diamond Rock Club! With tonight’s gig featuring three fifths of Black Star Riders, in guitarist Damon Johnson and bassist Robbie Crane, is this is an exclusive one-off show?

 

It is, yes. It’s just the way it worked out. We had a couple of shows booked on the Sweden Rock boat last week, and then we have one this weekend in Great Yarmouth [Legends Of Rock Festival] on Sunday night, so it didn’t make any sense to fly back to the States and come back again. Obviously I have family here, and Damon had a couple of solo shows to do in England, so to fill in the time we just hung out over here.

 

Was there any chance of getting Scott Gorham to come along?

 

Ah, no, it’s hard enough getting Scott out of the house to go on tour.

 

How is progress for the new Black Star Riders album coming along?

 

It’s done. We recorded it in Nashville last month and we’re just mixing it at the minute. It’s coming out on February 23rd 2015. We have a title, but I can’t share it yet. All will be revealed very soon.

 

You’ve changed producers since your last album ‘All Hell Break’s Loose’. How would you describe the sound of the new album?

 

Nick Raskulinecz is a very special guy. He’s a very emotional guy. The man’s got three Grammys – obviously for a reason. He did Foo Fighters’ ‘One By One’ and ‘In Your Honour’, and he’s done Alice In Chains, he’s done Rush, and he’s done Deftones. He became the sixth member of the band. He lived and breathed with us for a month, and we got on great. We recorded in his studio in Nashville. It’s a ‘big’ sounding album, it’s really, really big.

 

Was that a reaction to the relatively straightforward sound of ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’?

 

It was yeah, because that was done very fast. And that was fine, I mean it served its purpose. ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ is a great album. I love it and it did very well for us, but we wanted to spend a bit more time doing it this time around, and try and expand on what we built. When we were making the first Black Star Riders album, it was a bit weird because, the idea, we thought, was that it was going to be a Thin Lizzy album. So that certainly blinkered some of the ways that we wrote the songs. We obviously knew that the new one was going to be a Black Star Riders album, so it took a bit of the pressure off, and it made things a little bit more comfortable. We had a bit more time, but not much, because we recorded the whole thing in three weeks.

 

Ricky 1

 

Were you more prepared this time?

 

You know, I don’t think we were as prepared this time, because we really demoed the songs the last time. With Kevin Shirley [producer of ‘All Hell Breaks Loose], he didn’t change much from the demos. He liked the way they were and said, “I just want to capture that”, and that’s what we did. But I think the ideas were better this time. Nick came in, and we actually worked on the structure and the arrangements, pulled the songs apart and started from scratch and rebuilt them. We really spent a lot of time on that, so by the time we got into the studio, we were very together.

 

Joe Elliott was originally announced as the producer for the new album, but left earlier in the year. Can you elaborate on that?

 

Really simply, Joe got really busy. He thought he was going to have a fairly quiet year, and then the Kiss [and Def Leppard co-headlining American tour] thing came along, and then they decided that they were going to record a brand new album. Obviously his allegiance is to his band, so unfortunately he just had to pull out of the project.

 

So how did hook up with you Nick Raskulinecz?

 

Nick was just somebody whose work we loved, and we reached out to him. He came to a show when we played in Nashville where he lives, and he loved it and wanted to work with us. I don’t think we would have made the record that we made, with Joe. No disrespect to Joe, we would have made a great record with him, but Nick certainly pushed us on in a different direction. It happened for a reason, and as much as I love Joe to bits, I’m very happy that it worked out the way that it did.

 

With an album and extensive touring behind you, do you think the Black Star Riders are finally standing on your own two feet, without the double-edged sword of the legacy of Thin Lizzy?

 

I think so, but I think the Lizzy legacy is something that we embrace. We’re not trying to get away from it; it’s the opposite, and we love having that as part of the Black Star Riders make up. Obviously with Scott Gorham in the band that’s always going to be part of who we are, and certainly we always love playing the Lizzy songs. So we get the best of both worlds. I think we now are getting our own sound and our own style, but we still will play the Jailbreaks and The Boys Are Back In Towns.

 

 

Is there ever a temptation to throw in tracks by some of the other bands that the members have been associated with, for example The Almighty or 21 Guns?

 

No, because if you start that off, and then why not do Brother Cane [one of Damon Johnson’s previous bands] songs? You start becoming a cover band of yourself. I think we were very decisive in the fact that we came out of Thin Lizzy, and called ourselves Black Star Riders. There is a connection there, as both Damon and Scott were in Thin Lizzy, and that’s something that we want to keep as part of the sound. But, it’s Black Star Riders, and I guess the more we make albums, there’s always be a couple of Lizzy songs in our set, but it may not be half the show anymore.

 

You’ve been working hard on not one but two solo albums, funded by a successful Pledgemusic campaign. How are they shaping up?

 

They’re done as well, they’re finished. We’re just working on the album cover and the sleeve notes and all that stuff, so we’re getting all the parts ready for the people that have pledged. The acoustic one is called ‘Hearts On Trees’, and the electric one is called ‘When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues)’. The electric one is heavy. People are going to be surprised as there’s some really heavy stuff on there. It’s certainly heavier than the last solo records. The guitars are turned up loud, and it really rocks. The guitars before on ‘Tattoos And Alibis’ and ‘Love Many Trust Few’ were clean, but here they’re heavy and distorted.    

 

An impressive number of guests appear on the albums including; Damon Johnson, Andy Cairns, Joe Elliott and former bandmates Richard Fortus and Billy Morrison.

 

The beauty of being a solo artist, is that you can record and play with whoever you want. You’re your own democracy, so it was just a case of, I want to get my mates on this album, so then it was, whoever was available and whoever wanted to play. Billy just lives up the street from me in L.A where I live, so he contributed guitar and bass on a couple of tracks. Nathan Connolly from Snow Patrol was over [in L.A], so I got Nathan to play guitar. It was just good to have fun with it.

 

I noticed that Gary Sullivan, the drummer from your post-Almighty band ‘(sic)’ is guesting, yet there is no one from The Almighty on there.

 

I loved playing with Gary and Ciaran [McGoldrick, bass)] in (sic). I loved that band, so much so that we’re going to record a new album next year. As for The Almighty, well, we don’t talk to each other. The Almighty doesn’t exist really. It’s done; it’s not an ongoing concern. Much as I’d like to say that we call each other once a week and all that kind of thing, unfortunately it isn’t like that. Everybody’s moved on, and everybody’s doing their own thing and happy doing it.

 

Ricky 4

 

The Almighty’s back catalogue has been subject to a much delayed reissue campaign.

 

None of them have officially come out yet. There’s a lot of bootlegs floating about, and anything that is actually being released now we’re getting cease and desists against, because they shouldn’t be out there. Nothing officially has been released, so don’t buy the albums that you see being advertised at the moment, because basically, they’re bootlegs.

 

Have you had any involvement in re-issues?

 

We’ve had total involvement in the reissues. They’re going to be remastered, have new sleeve notes and they’re going to come out on vinyl. They’re going to be really good, and we’ve been involved every step of the way.

 

What sort of bonuses do you have in the vaults for the reissues?

 

Well, pretty much everything that we’ve ever done that is available; from dodgy demos to bonus interviews and stuff like that. There’s going to be live stuff that we’ve uncovered that we didn’t know we had. We’ve just searched everywhere. So far, it’s everything up to ‘Crank’, but I’m sure we’ll do the whole catalogue eventually.    

 

Going back into Almighty history, and can you tell me about your original guitarist Tantrum leaving band?

 

We just didn’t get on with him, it was a simple as that. He saw one direction for the band and it was totally different to what the three of us wanted The Almighty to be. He was pulling one way, and we were pulling the other. It was just never going to work, and it got to the point where he wanted the band to be something we were never going to be. We just couldn’t rectify the situation, and when it gets to the point where you’re not getting on or you’re not talking and you’re just fighting; somebody had to go, and unfortunately, [for Tantrum] the three of us were united in what way we wanted to go. So he had to go, but I wish him all the best. I’ve seen him since and he’s doing well. He’s still living in Glasgow, and like I say, I wish him all the best and no hard feelings.

 

Each of the first five Almighty albums seem to have their own defining sound. ‘Crank’, released in 1994, is very aggressive, fast, and heavy and whereas ‘Powertrippin’’ (1993), for example is quite grungy. Were you influenced by what was going around you musically at the time?

 

Yeah, I think it was. I think you always are, you soak up what’s happening, and you’re always looking for new ideas and new influences. We always wanted the band to get heavier, but we wanted to keep the catchy choruses and the kind of pop sensibilities as well. To me there’s not that much difference between ‘Powertrippin’’ and ‘Crank’. There’s a lot of stuff that’s in dropped-D tuning on ‘Powertrippin’’, which is also the case on ‘Crank’. We had a far better budget, and a great producer in Chris Sheldon on ‘Crank’. He captured what The Almighty were all about on that album. It’s the only Almighty album, I feel, that’s ever captured the pure essence of the band. That period for me was when the band was firing on all cylinders. Everybody was in the same head space, and we were definitely the most unified that we’d ever been. I love that album to bits, and I still listen to it today. In fact, it’s the only one I listen to. When we started, we said that we were never going to make albums that sounded the same, because we all had varied musical tastes. Everybody was listening to different stuff, so I think it all just came together.

 

Ricky 5

 

Following the break-up of the band, the last two Almighty albums, 2000’s ‘The Almighty’ and 2001’s ‘Psycho Narco’ featured differing line-ups. Was it a tough time to be in The Almighty?

 

Well, Stumpy [Monroe, Almighty Drummer] and I met up in Dublin. Stumpy was over and we went out and had a few beers, talked about it and decided that we missed it. We missed playing, simple as that, and we wanted to do some shows. So we did a couple of shows, and we really enjoyed them, so then we decided we’d make another record. But Pete [Friesen, guitar] and Floyd [London, bass] didn’t want to tour, so we got Nick [Parsons, guitar] in and a guy called Gav Gray on bass who now plays with the Tygers Of Pan Tang. They were great players and great musicians, but the chemistry I don’t think was there. But yeah, it was a rough time. The tail end of Britpop was still kicking off and Metal was a bit all over the place as well, and I think we were just struggling. I don’t think our hearts were in it. I think we were just trying to kid ourselves. Maybe we should have just gone out and played for a while longer before we thought about recording.

 

The classic line-up or Warwick, London, Monroe and Friesen played a few shows to support bassist Floyd London’s battle with Leukaemia in 2006. What was it like reuniting for those shows?

 

It was surreal, because I don’t think any of us ever thought that it was going to happen. I don’t think any of us thought we’d ever get back together and obviously, the reasons it happened were strange, with Floyd being so ill and nearly dying from Leukaemia, and ultimately beating it. That’s what it took to bring us back together. We really enjoyed it. It was a great cause and it was fantastic.

 

Is there any chance of future live activity from The Almighty, even for a one-off show?

 

Not really. I’m just one of these people who doesn’t live in the past. I live for tomorrow, and I’m always looking at what’s happing next, and what’s going on today. I don’t sit and go “remember that? I need to get back to those days”, because I had those days, and they were brilliant, but they’re gone, so it’s time to move on to the next one and find other experiences. I’m lucky and blessed that I’ve found experiences with the solo stuff and with Black Star Riders that have just been fantastic. I’d never say ‘never’, but I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about The Almighty. I get asked will the band reform, probably every day. That’s great, and I’ve no problem talking about it, and it’s great that we meant so much to so many people. Of course I’m seriously proud of that, but I don’t think that I’m the same person that I was when I was in the band at that time. We all change as we get older, and certainly some of the things that I sang about, my opinions may have changed. There are songs that pop into my head and I think “what the fuck was I saying? What was I writing about then?”, but I was angry, and I was young, and my situation was a lot different. Now I’m married, I’ve four kids, and certain things that I believed in then, I don’t necessarily believe in anymore. You just change and you just grow as a person, or you should do anyway.

 

Do you still have those beautifully painted Gibson guitars from The Almighty days; the ones adorned with early 1990’s Almighty illustrator Koot’s artwork?

 

I’ve still one got of them; I’ve got the black SG that he painted. I have the white Les Paul too, but it’s been repainted. I restored it back to its original state. It was something I always wanted to do. The illustration on it was great when I was in The Almighty. I love that guitar; it was the first guitar that I ever got, but I just wanted to restore it back to its original Gibson factory state.

 

Ricky 3

 

Is that the guitar that you’ve been using live with Black Star Riders recently?

 

It sure is. That guitar goes everywhere with me.

 

You’re obviously very happy with your current job. As a guitarist, do you ever want to nudge Damon or Scott out of the way and play those harmony lines yourself?

 

No. For me, Damon’s probably the best guitar player that I know of, along with Scott Gorham. The two of them are phenomenal, and I’m just not in that league. For me, I pick the guitar up, and it’s a weapon; it’s something to use to get an expression out of. I also enjoy putting the guitar down and just concentrating on singing. I think I’m a pretty decent rhythm guitar player, but I’m more than happy to let those boys play the solos. That’s why I do the solo stuff; I get feed my ego as a guitarist playing the solo stuff.

 

Finally, are you excited about next year’s Black Star Riders / Europe tour?

 

Very. We’re just excited about getting out and playing the new stuff. Europe are a good bunch of guys. We know them real well as we’re actually under the same management as them, and I think it’s a great bill.

 

Given Joey Tempest’s love of Thin Lizzy, and with Europe previously having had Scott Gorham play with them on stage, can we expect guest spots and collaborations on the March tour?

 

I don’t know, but John Norum, Europe’s guitar is a huge, huge Lizzy fan, and Scott’s his guitar hero, he’ll tell you that, so who knows?

 

http://blackstarriders.com/

http://rickywarwick.com/

 

Live photography by Russell Prothero http://www.russellprothero.co.uk/

 

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