Finally back on the road promoting 2021's 'When Life was Hard and Fast' following the global pandemic, it's a battle-weary Ricky Warwick that greets us as we sit down for a chat backstage at Dublin's Academy. "It's bronchitis. One of the other lads in the band has got it too", he admits, voice breaking; "but we've been powering through it as best we can every night". He may be down, but appropriately, it's his fighting heart that will see the show through. We caught up with the Black Star Riders man for a chat about musical changes, The Almighty, and his legacy. Gunslinger; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi Ricky, how are you doing?
It’s surreal to be out again. It’s definitely long overdue! I’ve got bronchitis, so we just power through it every night as best we can, and obviously I’m on meds. One of the other lads in the band has got it too. There’s a lot of coughs and sneezes, and there’s still a lot of COVID about at the minute, so it’s a risky run.
Have you had to modify the set list at all to accommodate your compromised voice?
Not really. It’s more about just not talking - which I’m doing now! – and warming up and preparing and getting your voice to a point where something’s coming out. Over the years I’ve learned how to look after it and what I can and can’t do. Usually once you get going, and you get sweating, you usually get through it.
So you don’t have to modify melody lines or anything like that?
Not particularly. I don’t really have a problem. It’s not my voice; my voice is usually very strong. What I’ve got is, I’ve had a head cold that’s turned into bronchitis, so I’ve actually got an infection. So it’s not singing that’s causing it; I’m just sick.
Onto a more positive note this tour had to be postponed because of the pandemic so you must be delighted to be back out on the road again.
Yeah, of course. It’s always horrible, not for me as the artist, but obviously for anybody that’s bought tickets, to keep rearranging stuff and moving things around. Nobody wants to be in that situation at all, so we just didn’t know when it was going to happen or if it was going to happen, so to finally now see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel and live shows returning, it’s glorious.
With ‘When Life was Hard and Fast’ being released in 2021, did the postponement of the tour mean that you felt like you lost a little momentum?
Well yeah, because you make a record and the first thing you want to do is go and play it live, once it's released. So, not being able to do that; you have all the fanfare, you do all the interviews and the promo and the videos and everything else, and then it stops dead, it’s like; “okay, well what do we do?” But, we were in an unprecedented situation where we were all in the same boat; we were in a global pandemic; it wasn’t just me, it was all artists, all walks of life had to deal with the same thing. So even though the album has been out a year, it still feels very much like it’s a new record.
You must be getting a great response from these live shows, as people will have had time to get to know the new material.
Oh yeah, absolutely. They know the songs better than we do now!
You were one of the first artists to really embrace the livestreaming, and you did a few shows where you performed exclusively Almighty material.
I’ve never stopped being in The Almighty, and those songs have never stopped meaning any more to me or less to me than when I wrote them or when we were playing them. It’s just part of my musical catalogue that I have. I have that wealth of material to choose from, as you’ll see in the setlist tonight. I’m very blessed that I have that. It wasn’t a case of like; “alright, I’m switching to Almighty mode”, it’s just; “I want to play ‘Devil’s Toy’, it’s a great song, oh, it’s by The Almighty, that’s cool!”
Was it nice to go back and revisit songs like that?
Yeah, it’s fun really. I’ve got to relearn them because I can’t remember how to play them half the time! Yeah, you know, because you wrote them, and you wrote them for a reason, and they’re there. They’re still in the filing cabinet; you’ve just got to go and find them. I really enjoyed doing the Almighty livestream shows. It was good fun, absolutely. I’d never played a lot of those songs acoustically before, so that was really cool.
Since we last spoke, there have been a umber of changes to the Black Star Riders line-up, including the departure of Scott Gorham; was that a shock, or did you see that coming?
I thought Scott was going to retire after the first album! Every album we kept him on for is a bonus. No, it wasn’t a shock, because I’m so close to Scott, and he’s such a good friend to me. I’m in touch with him all the time, so I know what he’s thinking and where his head’s at. He was just really into being in Black Star Riders, and I loved the fact that he stuck around for so long, because he doesn’t need to, and I think that he just felt that he reached a point where, you know, Black Star Riders, we tour very aggressively, we’re away for a long, long time, and at the age where he’s at, he just thought; “I don’t need to put myself through that six months out of the year, so I’ll just take a step aside”. So, it was completely with his blessing; he demanded that we carry on, and demanded that we keep playing, and that’s just what we did.
That sounds perfectly reasonable.
Before we announced it, I’d known for a year that it was going to happen, so it wasn’t like a shock or anything. As I said, Scott’s one of my nearest and closest friends; I call him ‘Uncle Scotti’, so I know what he’s thinking, and what he’s feeling, and I’m just delighted that he gave it eight really good years.
Is it difficult to be the last man standing from that original line-up?
Being in a band isn’t a jail sentence; it’s about being creative and doing something that you love, and if you want to leave, that’s fine. It’s happening more and more as time goes on and musicians are getting older. It’s hard work being in a band. It’s hard work being in a band in your twenties, but it’s even harder when you’re older with kids and a family, and being away, and just health reasons and stuff like that - it’s tough. So, people come an go, that’s just the way it is. As long as the intent and the song writing, and I feel, you’ve still something to say, and you still enjoy what you’re doing, then why not carry on?
The word is that Black Star Riders’ fifth album is complete.
Yeah, it’s done and dusted! Fourteen new songs, and it sounds fantastic. I’m thrilled to bits with it. I think the band sounds incredible. We recorded the bass and drums in Dave Grohl’s studio, in 606 [in Los Angeles], and me and Christian [Martucci] did the guitars up at his place. We did the vocals with [producer] Jay Ruston at his place. I think it’s a fantastic statement of intent and I can’t wait for people to hear it.
You’re having to step up to a more fundamental role as a guitarist in Black Star Riders; does that represent a challenge?
I wrote most of the guitar riffs in Black Star Riders anyway. I wrote probably seventy / eighty per cent of the guitar riffs; I just handed them over to Scott and Damon [Johnson] to put their sparkle on. Those guys are world-class guitar players, so they would have put a sparkle on them, but the main riffs, it’s me writing them. So it’s no different; I just didn’t play them, and the difference is, I play them now, and obviously will be playing a bit more dual-lead stuff. But Christian’s a phenomenal guitar player, so he’s more than capable of handling the bulk of the heavy lifting. But, I’m delighted to be playing a lot more guitar because I love playing guitar.
I did wonder if Christian might employ harmony guitar pedals, for example, for some of the live work.
No, I mean, there’s certain things that we can work out the dual harmonies and stuff like that. It works fine. We’ve redefined the band. It’s a new chapter in an old book for Black Star Riders; that’s how I’m looking at it.
Last time we spoke you revealed that The Almighty’s ‘Welcome to Defiance’ was on the way; how was it putting that box set together?
Everybody always wants to talk about The Almighty, which is great, and there’s a huge nostalgia factor there, which is lovely. Getting the management involved, tracking down licences, tracking down who owns what, trying to get the rights back was a laborious process which is why it took so long, and it’s still ongoing on some degrees as well, but I just wanted to have everything in one place for once, because it was so messy. It had been so kind of neglected over the years I felt that we owed it, not just to ourselves, but to the fans to have all our ducks in a row, as it were. So that’s what we set out to do, and it’s all coming together now.
Is there a chance of vinyl reissues too?
Maybe, who knows? I mean, absolutely, yeah. We’re not ruling anything out.
Next year marks 30 years since ‘Powertrippin’ was released, which was one of the band’s defining albums.
Yeah, it’s flown by, it really has. It’s amazing to think that it will be 30 years next year. Yeah, it was a defining moment for the band. It was definitely a huge leap forward for us as a band, and obviously the album did really, really well for us and totally brought us to a wider audience, so I’ve very fond memories.
That was the point where the band, arguably, really discovered it's sound.
I think we did, I think we hit our stride at that point. I think the band was very cohesive, and there was a great mentality within the band. We were all very much getting along at that point, and we were touring like crazy as well. We were playing a lot of shows, and that breeds tightness. It was probably the height of the band for me.
The band’s sound next album, 1996’s ‘Just Add Life’ changed things a little, and it contained a number of faster, punkier tracks.
I think we were going back to what got us into it in the first place. Personally, myself and Stumpy [Monroe, drums] started off as punks. We always loved the punk ideals. When we started The Almighty we wanted to be a band that sounded lime Sham 69 meets Motörhead; that was our goal, and I think we were starting to head back in that direction when ‘Just Add Life’ came along.
For the band’s self-titled 2000 release, although he plays on the album, bassist Floyd London isn’t listed as a member of the band; why was that?
It was really simple. He left, and he didn’t want to return full time. We needed a bass player for the album and we called hi up and said; “will you come and play bass on the album”, and he came down and played bass on the album, but didn’t want to return to the fold, full time.
You’ve said in the past that it won’t happen, but will The Almighty ever return?
Probably not, no. I mean, why, what’s the point? We’ll see. ‘Never say never’; I hate that phrase, and I hate saying it, but, there’s a desire from a lot of people to see it, I get that, and I understand that, but there’s no desire coming from us. We’re not missing it and going; “oh man, we should get the band back together, it would be really cool!”; there’s none of that going on, so maybe that’s not a good thing. That is a reason not to try and reform the band, when nobody’s going; “wouldn’t it be cool?” But listen, I wouldn’t rule out anything anymore, the state that the world’s in.
Looking forward, and is there anything planned from Thin Lizzy for 2023?
It’s up to Scott. It’s Scott’s thing, and as long as Scott wants me to sing those songs, I’ll be there with bells on, absolutely. There is talk of a few shows, maybe towards the end of this year, so we’ll wait and see. Like I say, that’s Scott’s thing; I’m just happy to sing those songs.
What’s happening once this solo tour is done?
I’ve got a few things going on over the summer, festival-wise, and the Custom House Square show in Belfast with Stiff Little Fingers [20th August], and then Black Star Riders starts, really, in September, with the fist single coming out. It’s good to be back at it! I can’t wait to get the Black Star Riders album out there and let people hear it. I can’t tell you anything just yet, but all will be revealed very soon!
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Ricky Warwick's 'When Life Was Hard and Fast' is out now.