Seasoned Ulster singer and musician Ricky Warwick, who once toured with Thin Lizzy and played for a Scottish heavy metal act, tells GRAEME COUSINS about the myriad influences that have shaped his new double album
Ricky rose to fame as lead singer of The Almighty, but after going solo he landed his dream gig as frontman of legendary Irish rockers Thin Lizzy and he carries on that legacy with Black Star Riders.
Ricky got his first guitar at 14. “That old, used guitar changed my life,” he said. “I felt like I was armed when I carried it. I knew exactly what I wanted to do and nothing was ever gonna be the same again once I dragged my thumb across those strings.”
He discovered artists like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, but it was to be bands like Stiff Little Fingers, MC5, The Clash and Sex Pistols who then infiltrated his bedroom and influenced his first foray into live music with New Model Army.
His second band, Scottish heavy metal act The Almighty enjoyed 10 Top 40 singles and four Top 20 albums in the UK and shared the stage with such iconic bands as The Ramones, Alice In Chains, Iron Maiden and Metallica over their career.
In 2002, Ricky embarked on an acoustic solo career and recorded Tattoos & Alibis. Recorded in Dublin, Ricky collaborated with Peter O’Toole of Hothouse Flowers and Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy fame, a meeting that would have great ramifications for Ricky’s future.
This album brought about a much different feel than his past efforts with The Almighty, with Ricky drawing from his early influences such as Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, Ramones and The Clash. His next two albums Love Many Trust Few and Belfast Confetti brought more plaudits for his mature and crafted approach.
But bigger things were to come for Ricky. In 2010, he was approached by the management for Ireland’s favourite sons, Thin Lizzy. Scott Gorham was spearheading a reformation of Thin Lizzy and remembering Ricky from his work on Tattoos & Alibis, he signed him up for the project.
Thin Lizzy veterans Brian Downey, Scott Gorham and Darren Wharton were joined by bass player extraordinaire Marco Mendoza, Def Leppard’s string wizard Vivian Campbell and of course, Ricky taking up Phil Lynott’s mantle.
He said: “I have never stopped pinching myself. It’s a privilege and an honour every time I get to sing those amazing songs.
“I was obviously very flattered and nervous about being asked to join the band, but felt I could respectfully do it. Phil Lynott is irreplaceable. You cannot stand in those shoes, all you can do is stand beside them. All I want to do is deliver the songs with all the heart and passion that they deserve.”
The band kicked things off in January of 2011. From the first show, it was clear to everyone that something magical was happening. These classic tracks had new life breathed into them and Ricky’s voice added the requisite blue collar feel that makes them come to life. As the tour progressed, audiences all over the world were treated to a show that has received unprecedented critical and fan praise. After more than 150 Thin Lizzy shows under their belts in late 2012 the guys decided that what was needed was a new album to continue the Thin Lizzy legacy.
The songwriting process began and veteran producer Kevin Shirley was brought on board to handle production. But at the eleventh hour, Scott Gorham voiced some reservations about releasing new material under the Thin Lizzy name. Everyone agreed and unanimously decided to release the material under a new name. Hence, Black Star Riders was born, releasing their much acclaimed debut All Hell Breaks Loose in April 2013.
March 2015 saw the release of the quintet’s second album, The Killer Instinct. The band continues to tour the world and bring their unique sound to stages big and small.
Ricky has always been a driven performer and whilst Black Star Riders is his main priority he also found time to mine his creative soul and created two new solo records.
Ricky explained: “While we were working on the new BSR album, I just got into a very productive song writing zone. The songs just kept coming and coming.”
The results are the acoustic album Hearts on Trees and the more hard-rock centred When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues) which will be released as a double album by Nuclear Blast on February 26.
Ricky commented: “Hearts On Trees and When Patsy Cline Was Crazy And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues were written by myself and my good friend Sam Robinson, both albums depict our experiences of growing up and coming from the Greater East Belfast area, not only experiences that have happened to us but historical references and stories that have been told to us by friends and family... in saying that both albums translate those experiences on to a global scale that hopefully anyone geographically can relate to.”
The release also boasts an array of acclaimed musicians with guests such as Joe Elliot (Def Leppard), Damon Johnson (Thin Lizzy/Black Star Riders), Andy Cairns (Therapy?), Billy Morrison (Billy Idol), Nathan Connolly (Snow Patrol), Ginger Wildheart, Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers) and Richard Fortus (Guns ‘N’ Roses/Dead Daisies).
To kick things off, Ricky Warwick & The Fighting Hearts will be supporting Belfast’s own favourite sons, Stiff Little Fingers, on their UK tour in February and March. Ricky has promised fans they will be treated to some tracks from The Almighty, Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders as well as his solo material.
Speaking of finally getting together with Andy Cairns to write a song Ricky said: “We are both busy guys. Also Andy lives in England and I am in the USA so we don’t get the chance to hang out as much as we used to. We literally wrote Celebrating Sinking over the internet. I guess that’s one of the pluses of the world wide web.”
Now living far from his roots, Ricky had this to say about his beloved Belfast: “Belfast is unique because of its culture and history - good and bad. There is nowhere like it anywhere; kinder and friendlier people you could not meet. There is a passion, honesty and realism about the place. I love it and miss it dearly.”
As a fan of Northern Ireland he’s looking forward to Euro 2016. He said: “I remember Spain 82. I was 15 years old and the sense of pride that the team gave us. As we all know it can be frustrating and heartbreaking at times following OWC, but there is a passion and commitment from players and fans alike which is a huge bond. Best fans in the world without doubt and the achievement of this current squad is magnificent.”
Rock stars and trashed hotel rooms go hand in hand, but Ricky blames Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty for an expenses bill in one Nashville hotel.
He explained: “I remember watching the Hungary qualifier on my iPad in the bathtub in my hotel room in Nashville when we were there recording the last Black Star Riders album. When Big Lafferty scored the winner I thumped the bathroom wall in sheer excitement and put a hole in it. I had to pay for the damage but it was well worth it.”
As well as following Northern Ireland, Ricky has a soft spot for Glentoran. He said: “I try to get to a Glens game every time I am back home. I took my youngest daughter Pepper to the Oval for the first time last Boxing Day for the Linfield game. Unfortunately the result didn’t go our way but as always the staff and everyone at The Oval were wonderful and made it a day she would never forget.”
Ricky Warwick’s double album Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues) and Hearts On Trees is available on Nuclear Blast from Friday February 26.