Best known these days as frontman of Black Star Riders, Ricky Warwick is preparing to release his latest solo album ‘When Life Was Hard and Fast'. Roping in a host of guests including his daughter Pepper, the Irishman is in fighting form as we sit down to chat about the release. “I’ve very proud of the record, and I can’t wait to go out there and get back to playing and touring”, he tells us. Touching on BSR’s plans, what’s in store for Thin Lizzy, and exclusively revealing plans for a career-spanning, all-inclusive box set from The Almighty, we find out what 2021’s got in store for the Newtownards native. All sussed out; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Ricky, how has your 2020 been?
I’ve actually found it quite a productive year. It’s definitely been strange, and it’s different, but certainly I’ve not been bored.
You embraced livestreaming wholeheartedly; how was that for you?
I held back, and obviously the pandemic was upon us, and I was like everybody else; “what am I going to do?!” And then, the realisation hit; “okay, this has happened; it’s beyond my control, there’s nothing we can do about it, how am I going to go about being productive, or trying to be positive?” And I watched what other artists were doing, and everybody’s sort of panicked – and rightly so – and went on Facebook live; “here’s the tip jar”- and that’s fine, everybody’s got to make a living, but I sort of thought, there’s got to be a better way of making it an event, or more of a concert. So I looked around and then I found the staging platform, and I tried that and did the first show back in May.
Those shows have been selling out.
I think it’s great. It’s been a salvation for me. What I like about Stageit is you can sell tickets. You can name a price and name the amount of tickets that you want to sell, so it’s almost like a real show without physically being there. So people can get excited about the show, they can buy tickets, and you have a whole tier system where you can reward supporters and give away merchandise, give away goodies and stuff like that, which is hugely popular. It just really appealed to me, and I would rehearse and practice like it was a real show, and just treat it like I was going on tour.
From a practical point of view, was it easy enough to put on?
The first show I did, I just flipped open the laptop, and played into the mic and into the camera, and that was fine, but I invested in getting a good camera and some good mics, and getting a good little acoustic guitar amp. I’ve gone quite high tech with it now, and really got into it.
You’ve been doing the acoustic thing for quite a while, haven’t you? You even opened for Def Leppard doing that!
I played my first ever acoustic show way back in 2002. I remember it well. It was at the Garage in Islington, and I was unannounced special guest to Toby Jepson. I went on and did about half an hour, absolutely shitting myself! And then in 2003 I got the Def Leppard tour after Joe [Elliot] had produced the first solo album [‘Tattoos & Alibis’]. That was a baptism of fire, because I’m going out every night for a year playing in front of a very partisan Def Leppard crowd, all over the world. It was just me and a guitar, so I was really thrown in at the deep end, but it was a great experience, and a great learning curve for me, and I’ve never really looked back since.
It’s been great to see you returning to your roots with a few shows playing purely material from The Almighty’s catalogue.
It’s hugely popular. I mean, it’s great that The Almighty are still as relevant and still mean so much to so many people after all this time. I love playing those songs, and they’re very much part of defining who I am, and what I am as an artist. They still mean a lot to me, and that’s why I still play them when I’m doing the solo stuff. I’m still happy to play them, and I’m still happy to talk about The Almighty.
Do you find you get asked a lot about The Almighty?
It’s a question I get asked every day on the internet; “when are The Almighty getting back together?” Without fail, I get asked that question every day of my life. And you know what? That’s great. Isn’t it great that people still care enough to ask me about a band that, for all intents and purposes hasn’t played together in almost twelve years. I just think that that’s a testimony to the legacy of the band, and why would you not embrace that? Great memories, great times, and that was the springboard to everything that I’ve gone on to achieve since then, and without The Almighty, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.
Do you find that people outside of the UK, where you largely had your success, ask about the band?
The UK and Europe obviously was primarily our largest audience, but the band has almost got cult status in the States now, and I get a lot of people in the States asking me about The Almighty, from people who never got to see the band or only found out about the band in the last couple of years. I’ve been doing a lot of promo for the new album Stateside, and The Almighty’s come up quite a lot.
You mentioned the new album which comes out in February 2021, and was it always planned that it would be released at this time, or has the pandemic made it possible?
No, nothing has changed, planning-wise. The album was actually recorded in April 2019, long before we had any idea that this terrible pandemic was coming down the line. The plan was always to release it early 2021, and then, all being well, go on tour. So, nothing’s changed in the planning department regarding putting it out, so this is the way we intended it to be. I intended 2021 to take the time to promote the record, and push the solo record, and that was always in the plans.
First single ‘Fighting Heart’ reveals a slightly harder edge than some of your pervious solo works; did touring with your band the Fighting Hearts inspire this?
Well, apart from Robbie [Crane, bass], everybody else that played on the album was in that touring band. Obviously, Keith Nelson produced the record with me, and played on the record too, so it was a bit of a different band. But I just wanted to write a real, in your face, simple, rock and roll album with loud guitars, and anthemic choruses. I consciously set out with that idea in mind when we were writing the songs. Being in a band like Black Star Riders with two amazing guitar players, I don’t get the chance to play as much guitar as I’d like to, so when I do the solo stuff, it’s a chance for me to play as much guitar as I want. So for me it’s a bit of an ego thing, and I just wanted to turn everything up, and crank out the jams!
You’ve employed a long list of guests on the album, including the aforementioned Joe Elliott; you and he go back a long way, don’t you?
I think quite a few people know that myself and Joe are very close. Joe produced the first two solo records. Joe’s my sounding board; I mean, how can you disagree with a man that has sold 120 million records? When I’m writing stuff I’m sending it to Joe, and I value his opinion. What I love about Joe as well, is he’ll always tell you the truth; if it’s shit, he’ll say it’s shit; or he’ll say; “leave it alone, don’t touch it, the idea’s great”, or “I know you can write a better chorus than that”, so, I value his opinion on everything that I do. The man’s been there and done it all, and then some, so it’s amazing to have somebody like that to go to for advice, and he’s just been a great ally and really great friend to me over the years.
Joe was instrumental in your landing the Thin Lizzy gig, wasn’t he?
He was actually a part of it. There was a couple of people who were instrumental in that; there was Joe Elliott, and another guy called Alan Parker, who were very instrumental in putting my name forward to it. But you know, what was cool about that was I’d know Scott, because Scott Gorham had played on my first solo album, so when Joe said; “what about Ricky Warwick?”, Scott was like; “that’s it! Great! I mean, I know the guy, I’ve played on his record, I know how he can sing”, so Joe sort of gave Scott a gentle nudge, and yeah, I’m very thankful for that.
Thunder’s Luke Morley also pops up, on the track ‘You Don’t Love Me’.
The track has just debuted, and it’s out for download. Luke played an amazing guitar on the track. He’s just an insane guitarist. It’s trademark Luke, and it’s wonderful.
Elsewhere, your daughter Pepper appears providing guest vocals; how special was that for you?
It was a lot more special for me than I think it was for her! The song’s about her. It’s about being away, and missing the birthdays, and the school graduations and all that kind of stuff. It’s the price that you pay for being in a rock and roll band. It’s probably the only negative side of it, and I wrote the song about her. So I said; “this is about you; you need to be on it”, and she’s a great little singer. She love’s music, and she’s a great mandolin player, and she plays violin, she plays a bit of keyboards, so she’s all about music. So I dragged her kicking and screaming into the studio, and one take, boom! She’s 13 now, and all her friends think it’s cool, but she’s got the embarrassment factor going on at the minute, and I’m the proud dad. I’m like; “really?! You’re going to be on a record!”, but she’s at that age where she’s embarrassed by her parents. But we all were like that.
Didn’t one of your other daughters paint the ‘Black Rose’ jacket you wore for Thin Lizzy’s 2019 dates?
That was my stepdaughter. That’s my stepdaughter called Zoe, who’s a wonderful artist, and she did the ‘Black Rose’.
What was it like tackling the entire ‘Black Rose’ album in full, at last year’s Steelhouse Festival with Thin Lizzy?
It was a challenge, you know. It was tough, but an honour, and a real thrill. I mean, ‘Sarah’ is a song that I love, and ‘Black Rose’ is my favourite Lizzy album, and to play all those songs is just unbelievable. I put a lot of work in - as I always do - beforehand, and rehearsed the stuff to death. Listen, none of the Lizzy stuff is easy to learn, because Phil [Lynott] is such a unique performer, and a unique singer and he has a unique way of using phrasing. There’s nobody else phrases the way he does; he’s got all the little adlibs and everything. It was full on, but it was just a wonderful experience. The crazy thing about it is, I remember nothing about the show, and it bugs me! I think it’s because I was so nervous, and then I was so caught up in the moment once we got onstage, I was just gone. I know it was great, and I know it was a thrill and I loved it, but for whatever reason, that show was over in the blink of an eye.
It is a short album, to be fair, so it’s no wonder it flew by.
Yeah. I mean, a song like ‘Got to Give it Up’ is probably in my top five Lizzy tunes, and to play that was just incredible. And what a band; Troy [Sanders, Mastodon] was just wonderful on bass guitar, and Scott Travis [drums] killed it, and it was just great. When we got into rehearsals in London and we started playing the album, straight away I went; “this is ok, this is going to be good”. That one was the only show, believe it or not, where we played the album in full, so I only got to play ‘Sarah’ once, which is kind of annoying, because I spent ages working on it, and that was it!
Is there anything Thin Lizzy activity planned for 2021, all being well?
I think there is, I’ll be honest with you. It’s Scott’s thing, and I tend to stay out of it, because I don’t feel it’s up to me to really get involved in that, because it’s Scott and Brian [Downey], and whatever’s left of that entity, and letting them decide what to do. I mean, if Scott calls me and there’s shows and he wants me to sing; I’m there with bells on. That’s a given, and Scott knows that. But, I mean talking to Scott, I think, absolutely, there’ll be some more shows down the road. Scott loves playing those songs, and why shouldn’t he play those songs? So, I’m sure there’ll be something coming up.
Coming back to The Almighty, and when are we likely to see the rest of the band’s albums reissued?
I’ll give you an exclusive. I’ve got some good news coming. Next year, there is going to be an Almighty box set with everything and more; everything we’ve ever recorded; demos, you name it. Everything that was ever recorded by The Almighty will be available next year, in a box set. It’s something we’ve been working on for years, just trying to get the licences and all that. We finally got it all together, so I’m excited about that. We’re still working on all the logistics of it, and a release date, but we’re almost there! With things being on so many different labels and all that stuff, the clearances take a while. But it’s there, and it’s going to happen, and more information will be revealed as soon as we get it.
In terms of contributions, have you been in touch with the ex-members of the band about it?
Sadly not, no. I’m in fairly regular contact with Stumpy [Monroe, drums], and him and I are still very close, and myself and Stumpy and my management have put the whole thing together. I talk to Tantrum [original guitarist] now and again; there's no problems there. Pete [Friesen, guitarist] and Floyd [London, bassist] sort of removed themselves from the equation a few years ago, and really sort of decided they didn’t want any more contact with us, for whatever reason, which I’ve no idea why, because everything seemed to be fine one day, and didn’t seem to be fine the next! So, it’s mindboggling, it’s very sad, but, I’ll state for the record; they’ve made their stance clear, and we have to respect that, so sadly there’s been no contact at all. I mean, I haven’t spoken to them in six years maybe, which is terrible, in my opinion, but that’s how it goes.
It’s been documented that your favourite Almighty album is ‘Crank’, but how would you rank the band’s studio output?
Yeah, it is! It’s tough! I think ‘Crank’  would probably be #1, maybe… that’s hard, but ‘Blood, Fire and Love’  might be #2, just because it’s the first album and the way it shook everything up. #3, ‘Soul Destruction' ; #4 would be ‘Powertrippin’ ; I guess #5 would be ‘Just Add Life’ ; #6 would be the self-titled one ; and #7 would be ‘Psycho-Narco’ . ‘Psycho-Narco’, I love a lot of the songs, but I can’t stand the production on it. It annoys me, sonically, and that’s why I have a hard time with that album, although I do love some of the songs on it.
‘Psycho-Narco’ was the band’s final album; was the dissatisfaction with how the album turned out the final straw for you?
Yeah, I think there was a few things going on. We worked with [producer] Daniel Rey. I love Daniel; he’s a great producer, and he would be well known for doing all the Ramones stuff. With Daniel, it was a hard time. We were in the studio in England doing it, and Joey Ramone was in hospital dying with cancer, and Daniel was so close to Joey. In hindsight, in fairness, Daniel should have gone home, and we should have sent him home, because the poor guy was distracted; his best mate was laying there dying, you know? I think he just, rightly so, thought; “I think I’ll throw myself into this as a distraction”, but I think he was distracted [from the project]. And we weren’t there when the album was mixed in New York, and I think that was on us. It was just one of those things; it was nobody’s fault, but sonically, I just think it could have been better.
Do you look back on the albums and see them as defined, different eras?
Yeah, there are different memories of different times, and where I was at in my life and what was going on, so they’re all very personal to me. So, I’ll listen to an album and think of where I was living at that time or what was going on in my life or what I was doing, so yeah; good and bad.
‘Just Add Life’ signalled the end of the most stable number of years for the band.
That was when the wheels were starting to come off. I think ‘Just Add Life’, I’m sure the guys might disagree, but I think that they didn’t have as much input as the other albums. I think that I brought in everything, pretty much finished, for that album, and there were certain elements that I felt were losing interest, which sparked my decision to leave. I just felt we weren’t cohesive as a band anymore, and the kind of gang mentality and the brotherhood that we had, for me, just wasn’t there. It wasn’t fun anymore; it seemed to be a slog, and we were arguing and fighting, and I was like; “here, this isn’t what I signed up for. This isn’t fun anymore”, and I think that’s what that album reminds me of. I do think there’s some really, really good songs on that album, and Chris Sheldon, again, amazing production, and sonically, I think both the albums we done with him - ‘Crank’ and ‘Just Add Life’ - sound great.
Getting back to the present, and what are Black Star Riders plans, going forward?
Well, we were supposed to be in the studio now, doing album number five, but obviously pandemic-wise, we can’t do that. The album is demoed, but we probably won’t get in to record it until early 2022 now, with everything that’s going on. So, we’re on a bit of a hiatus until then, until I guess, we get back in the studio. But it is written, and it’s ready to go! We have a title, and we have everything, so we just need to get it recorded.
Finally, you’ve got your solo tour booked for April and May 2021, so you must be hopeful that it will actually happen.
Yes I am. I’ve very proud of the record, and I can’t wait to go out there and get back to playing and touring. I’ve put a great band together, a good version of the Fighting Hearts, and fingers crossed, it’s safe for all of us. I’m hoping that by the end of April, I think playing in the smaller venues, they might be the first to come back, which will work well in my favour. There’s a lot of festival offers coming in now which I’m looking at, which is great, and yeah, I just want to get back out playing! It’s certainly the longest I’ve ever gone without ever playing a live show, and so, I’m yearning to get back out there and play!
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Ricky Warwick's 'When Life Was Hard and Fast' is released on 19th February 2021. Preorder via Musicglue or Nuclear Blast.