Ricky Warwick, Damon Johnson & Robbie Crane. Diamond Rock Club, Ahoghill, 17 October 2014.
The Diamond Rock club in rural Northern Ireland is something of an oddity. Tucked away some thirty plus miles from Belfast in a nondescript village that contains only one bar, one shop and a modest number of god fearing residents, it’s the last place on earth that you would expect to find a venue that regularly puts on shows by some of the most recognisable names in hard rock.
The team who run the Diamond have worked tirelessly over the last few years to bring some of rock and metal’s heroes to a faithful and loyal following. A glance around the club’s red painted walls that are as warming as the welcome that greats attendees, reveals portraits of those who have previously graced its modest stage; artists such as The Answer, Warrior Soul and The Quireboys, as well as members of Whitesnake, Mr.Big and Marillion.
There have been some great nights at The Diamond, however, every once in a while something truly special rolls into town, and so it was tonight, as three fifths of Thin Lizzy offshoot Black Star Riders arrived for an exclusive acoustic set. Northern Ireland born Ricky Warwick, Black Star Riders’ lead singer and sometime guitarist is of course a local boy, and tonight he brought with him Riders’ guitarist Damon Johnson as well as bassist Robbie Crane.
Ambling onto the stage with the minimum of fuss, the first half of the evening saw the duo of Warwick and Johnson kicking off proceedings. “Let’s start with a biggie”, stated Warwick, as the pair launched into the stage-setting opener from their Thin Lizzy days in ‘Are You Ready?’. It was quickly followed by Black Star Riders’ ‘Before The War’. As with ‘Hey Judas’ and ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ which are aired later, it’s apparent just how impressive the Black Star Riders songs sound, and without the safety of a pig production or rhythm section, the quality of the song writing really shines.
Both Warwick and Johnson were in fine form, relaxed and creating an instant rapport with the audience. “We love the Diamond!” stated a clearly sincere Johnson, to delighted whoops. Taking the mic for the first time, Johnson’s own ‘Pontiac’, a solo track from his 2010 solo album ‘Release’ highlighted what a superb vocalist he is. A higher pitched yin to the Warwick’s raw powerful yang, vocally the pair create a superb contrast, as demonstrated later on their cover of The Band’s ‘The Weight’.
The pasts of both players were amply plundered, with solo tracks from both artists, as well as well as songs from both Brother Cane and The Almighty receiving an airing. However, one track clearly stood out. Although these days a resident of Los Angeles, and in the early part of his career Glasgow, Ricky Warwick is a fiercely proud of his roots. His ode to his home city, ‘Belfast Confetti’ was clearly a crowd favourite, as the amount of camera phones filming the song, as well as the loudest sing along of the night attested.
It was a fantastic first half, but soon it was time to introduce new Black Star Riders bassist, and “Indian Mexican” Robbie Crane to the stage. A three-way bromance commenced, as the genuine affection that the lads have for each other shone through. This second act consisted of, suitably Black Star Riders and Thin Lizzy tracks exclusively. The title track from the debut BSR album ‘All Hell Break’s Loose’ received almost as enthusiastic a response as the predictably show stopping run through Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’. As ‘Rosalie’ – “A Bob Seager song played in the style of Thin Lizzy played by Black Star Riders” – and ‘Emerald’ gave way to ‘Whisky In The Jar’, it was wall to wall Lizzy classics. Only a genteel take on ‘Southbound’ offered a change of pace and a chance for a breather.
Following ‘Whisky In The Jar’, Johnson, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, told the crowd that performing that song in Ireland is akin to performing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ in his hometown. Unintentionally, this incited mass calls for the band to perform the song. A clearly bemused and good humoured, though browbeaten Johnson finally gave in; “okay, one verse and one chorus”, he said, as the trio improvised an unplanned an impromptu run through the Lynyrd Skynyard classic. As the night came to a close, a final run through Thin Lizzy’s ‘Cowboy Song’ and an explosive rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’ ended what had been an intimate and enjoyable night.
The three piece, along with guitarist Scott Gorham and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso are now putting the finishing touches to the second Black Star Riders album, which is due for release in February next year. When they return to these shores, it will be with full electric show on a tour that sees a co-headlining trek with Europe. 2015 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for the band. The legacy of Lizzy might loom large, but Black Star Riders are finally standing on their own feet.
First published on gigsandfestivals.co.uk, 20 October 2014.