Mike Kennedy caught up with Thin Lizzy front-man, Ricky Warwick to talk about his latest album, ‘When Life Was Hard And Fast’, as well as his upcoming tour and life in some of the biggest rock bands in the world – including The Almighty, New Model Army and Black Star Riders.
MK (Mike Kennedy): I can remember buying ‘Free & Easy’ by The Almighty back in the day – a great record. What got you into music initially?
RW (Ricky Warwick): I don’t think it was a case of getting into it. I mean my earliest memories are of listening to BBC Radio 1 in the ’70s when I was a kid and just being mesmerised by the music that was coming out of the radio and certain songs stuck with me and resonated with me. Having two older sisters as well that were into rock music was a huge influence on me…and my late father too was a huge country music fan. So there was always music going on in the house so I was immersed in it from a very early age and I just fell in love with it. For kids of my age it was religiously watching Top Of The Pops every Thursday night and every week my sisters would bring home a new album – everything from Wishbone Ash to David Bowie and beyond, and it all just blossomed from there really.
MK: What music were you listening to in those formative years ?
RW: Obviously, I was taken in by all the glam stuff on Top Of The Pops. These guys and girls, like Suzi Quatro, were just like aliens. Where are they from and why do they look like this and why do they sound like this? That was the first thing that really got to me. I remember Slade singing ‘Coz I Luv U’ and just being infatuated with that song when I was a kid, but I’ve always loved pop music. I’m just a sucker for a good pop song and that can be from a hard rock band or an out and out pop artist. I just love a good hook and a good chorus. I’ve also always loved soul and Motown. There was always a lot of Motown in the house as well, The Four Tops, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson as well. It’s coming from everywhere, really.
MK: That’s really interesting because there’s always been a stirring melody to your music, even though it’s a hard rock sound.
RW: Thank you! I just think the melodies in soul and Northern Soul are so strong that it’s a resource I often go to when I’m writing. I mean ‘Testify Or Say Goodbye’ by the Black Star Riders is just a Northern Soul song with loud guitars. You strip that all the way down to the drums and bass and listen to the melody it’s a soul song. We’ve just cranked the guitar all the way up on it. That’s always been an influence on me just as hard rock has, in equal measures.
MK: You were born in Ireland, moved to Scotland, and I know I mentioned The Almighty, but you started off in The New Model Army.
RW: Yeah, I moved to Scotland and first met Stumpy (Monroe) and Floyd (London) on my first day in high school and we started playing in bands around the youth clubs and discos, changing the band name every week, but I eventually got the chance to play with New Model Army, which was huge for me at twenty years old. It was my first professional tour and I learnt so much from it. I’m still really good friends with Justin Sullivan from the band to this day and I think they’re a phenomenal band – a bit like the Grateful Dead of punk. They’d fill a venue wherever they played anywhere in the world with 3,000 people turning up to watch them. I learnt so much from Justin – how to handle a crowd, stagecraft, the songwriting process and being on the road. I fell in love with it. Hook, line and sinker. When they had a break from touring to record an album, which I wasn’t a part of, I thought I’d like to go back and start my own thing and I’d had the idea for The Almighty while on the road. I thought that if I got my own band together, this is what I wanted it to be like so I went back to Scotland and called up Floyd and Stumpy and said, look if you’re still talking to me I’ve got this idea for a band. Thankfully, they were and The Almighty was born!
MK: Well, The Almighty were hugely popular in the ’90s and you toured the UK, Europe and the US – many happy memories from those days ?
RW: Oh, many, you know it was just an amazing 10 years of my life with those guys. I grew up in that band. To be in a band as successful as The Almighty with your buddies from school – when you used to sit in a pub and plan world dominance and being on TOTP or playing with Iron Maiden or playing with Motorhead and suddenly all those dreams come true is a wonderful thing – especially when it’s with your buddies from school. It was an amazing time and I’m very proud and honoured to be a part of it. I still get asked, to this day, when are The Almighty getting back together again – and people think it pisses me off but it doesn’t – it really means a lot that the band means so much to people to this day and that makes me immensely happy. We did reform at the turn of the century but I think we did it because we missed hanging out with each other more than anything but for me my heart wasn’t 100 per cent in it, which I realised pretty soon after we reformed the band. But you never know until you try.
MK: How did the Black Star Riders come about ?
RW: Sheer accident! I had the honour of being in Thin Lizzy and we’d kicked around the idea of recording some new material under the name, but it would have been the wrong thing to do. We had all these great songs, when the penny dropped, so I said to Scott Gorham it would be a shame if nobody ever heard them, so why don’t we come up with a different name for a band? So, the other guys were all happy with that and the Black Star Riders were born. We didn’t know if people were going to like the music or be interested but the album did really well – and here we are about to release album number five!
MK: Looking back to when you started making music, did you think you’d still be making music and have the passion to make music in 2022 ?
RW: It’s all I ever wanted to do and it’s still all I want to do. I’m as enthusiastic and passionate about it now as I was when I was a 14 year-old kid picking up his first electric guitar. It consumes me and being a professional musician for over 35 years, doing what I love and making a living out of it is a wonderful, wonderful thing. I’ve no plans to stop and I’ll continue to do this as long as I’m physically and mentally able to do so.
MK: Talking of mental health, how have you coped with the last two years of lockdown ?
RW: I think, as with everybody else, it was awful but once I realised that there was nothing I could do about it, I started to work on the positives – what can I do? What can I get out of this? I got to spend time with my family and not miss birthdays and anniversaries, you know, stuff with my kids – stuff that I’ve been missing for years because I’ve been on the road, and that was wonderful. Then I thought what else could I do and I decided to write more and record more – I stumbled onto the whole online thing which was brilliant and gave me something to focus on each month and I don’t think I’ve ever written so much. They were the positives.
The negatives were the loss of income, the huge loss of not doing what you love and not connecting with people, but compared to what some people have gone through and had to endure, I’ve had it easy and I’m not going to complain. I’ve tried to make the best of it and finally we’re coming out the other end now. You know, I’ve followed the rules. I’ve had my vaccinations, I’ve masked up, I’ve stayed indoors to protect my family. I feel it’s my duty as a human being on this planet to do that and now we’re getting back to some sort of normality…whatever that is!
MK: We briefly mentioned Thin Lizzy; how did that come about ?
RW: Scott Gorham and I have been friends for many years and he’d played on my first solo album and I’m a huge Thin Lizzy fan. They’re probably my favourite band of all time and Scott just rang me up one day, out of the blue, and I assumed it was just to catch up as buddies do. He said: “How’s things? How’s the family? I’m putting Thin Lizzy back together, do you want to sing?” I dropped the phone. I said: “Excuse me? What did you say?” And that was it. I mean what do you say? As a kid you dream of being in that band and singing those songs, and that dream came true for me. But, Phil Lynott is the singer of Thin Lizzy. I’m just singing his songs and helping to keep his songs and music alive. It’s a huge honour.
MK: Your new album ‘When Life Was Hard And Fast’ was released in 2021 after being recorded at the end of 2019 and then we had lockdown. You’re now getting round to touring it. How does that feel ?
RW: We’d always planned an early 2021 release and when the pandemic hit we thought: “Oh, it’ll be over in a few months”, like everybody else. It wasn’t and we really didn’t know what to do, but we decided to stick with the release date even though we had to postpone all the tour dates. The album came out and did extremely well, but it was very frustrating not being able to get out there and tour it. I mean right now, I’ve not stood on a stage in over two and a half years to perform and the thought of going on tour again is – well, I’m like a caged animal!
It’s funny because the album still feels new because I’ve not toured it; it’s still fresh to me. I’m really looking forward to rocking it out there and meeting people and catching up with old friends. I’m really looking to playing in Wales again – we always get a warm welcome in Wales, and a good time. I think it’s something us Celts have in common. Getting out there and going to gigs is so important because when you buy a ticket you’re not just supporting me – you’re supporting the venues, the technicians, the record shops, the lighting guys, the caterers, the promoters. There’s also the benefits to mental health that music has on people too. Where would we have been without music over the last two years?