‘I’ve missed playing shows… getting back into it has been very emotional’

Interview by Victoria Llewelyn


Ricky Warwick of Black Star Riders, Thin Lizzy, The Fighting Hearts and The Almighty is about to head out with Black Star Riders on their UK tour coming hot on the heels of the release of their fifth studio album ‘Wrong Side Of Paradise’.   With plans ahead for Thin Lizzy and a rumour of The Almighty reappearing at some point, 2023 is looking like a very busy year ahead.

MGM: Black Star Riders’ fifth studio album ‘Wrong Side Of Paradise’ was released on January 20th, in many different formats, pre-release sales were very healthy, you must be very happy with the way it’s going.   It’s an interesting title for an album and it looks like the cover art nods towards the general concept of that.   How would you describe what it’s referring to?

RW: ‘Wrong Side Of Paradise’ would refer to many things. I think in all aspects of life there’s a carrot dangled in front of us continuously; something we’re always trying to get to yet never quite can.  That could be financially, spiritually, physically. I think, sadly, we live in a world where for a lot of people, a luxury is just being able to keep the heating on. A lot of people are working three jobs just to pay their bills and have nothing left over at the end of the month. That’s fundamentally wrong when we live in a society that is overflowing with money and resources, that we have to live like that, and people aren’t looked after. Education, health, all that is completely underfunded, and we just get on with it. We stare at our phones and get on with it because we’ve got that world inside our phones that we can escape to without addressing how the governments are screwing us over. These people that are in power, in my opinion, should be locked up and it’s not happening.  They’re not being held accountable for what they do and they’re getting away with, for want of a better term, murder.

To get ahead in life is very difficult. I think that back in the day, without sounding too old, you could learn a trade and get a job and provide an income, a home for your family, a roof over their head. It’s really hard to do that now and I think that’s just awful. That’s not to say there weren’t hard times back then, there’s always been hard times, but we’re evolving as a species to a point now where we have fabulous technology, fabulous wealth, and we’re not using it to better ourselves. It’s actually making us worse, making us greedy and uncaring and unsympathetic and more bigoted and more divisive.

Growing up in Northern Ireland, I was well aware of walls and barricades, which is on the front cover of the album, and they’re still putting divisions up to keep us all afraid, separated and segregated, instead of building bridges, instead of bringing us together, uniting us, instead of understanding and empathy and love. And that just seems to be so wrong.  I’m not a conspiracist in any way whatsoever, but I deal in fact, and that’s what I see when I look out at the world.

MGM: The album has been recorded and ready to come out for about 18 months, it was recorded as far back as Autumn 2021; now you have a top 10 album here in the UK, No 1 in the Rock Chart, top 30 in Germany, top 10 in Sweden.   It must be satisfying to have been away for so long and see the album do so well on immediate release?

RW: COVID screwed the world, and we didn’t want to put an album out in the middle of a pandemic.  We weren’t in any rush to put it out straight away. We waited and held off until we thought we were over it. We wanted to get everything right, and we were also very well aware that as soon as the pandemic was over, every musician and artist in the world was going to throw their product and their new album and their tour on everybody. We thought we’d hold back a little bit and let the rush die down.  I’m really proud of the record and it seems to be connecting with a lot of people, which is lovely.

MGM: Joe Elliott features on one of your songs, the recently released single ‘Better Than Saturday Night’, what’s the connection between you and Joe, and what’s better than Saturday night?

RW: Joe is like a brother to me, I’ve known him for many years, I was best man at his wedding.  He’s a mentor and a friend, and I really value his advice – it’s very hard to argue with a guy that sold 100 million records!  He’s a good sounding board and he’s honest and he’s direct. I said to him, hey – I’ve got this song called Better Than Saturday Night and I hear your voice on it.   He said – send it over!  Next day he sends it back and I’ve got the dude from Def Leppard singing vocals on one of my tracks!   Our voices blend very well together, and the 14-year-old me is very happy!

What’s better than Saturday night? I don’t think anything is. If you have a really great Saturday night and you’re with people that you love and you have a really good time, it’s a great feeling. It’s something I would say to my daughter; I’d say, Is it really good? And she’d say – yeah. And I’d say – it’s better than Saturday night? And she’d say – yeah, it’s better than Saturday night, and I thought, okay, there’s this song here. That’s really where the idea came from, a funny saying that I would say to her when she was little, and it morphed into this song. It was really inspired by her because she’s 15, and when the pandemic started, she was 13.  That age is when you’re just getting started, the world is beginning to open up to you as you get to go out and socialise. People like me, we’ve had a lot of life, and we’ve got to live a lot of life; I felt so bad that for two years that opportunity was taken away from the kids.  She dealt with it amazingly well, better than me some days. She was so positive about the whole thing, and it inspired me to write that song.  I wrote it for her, as a tribute to her attitude and brightness, it’s a very positive song.

MGM: ‘This Life Will Be The Death Of Me’ is another intriguing title for a song, it fells very introspective and personal.  What was the inspiration behind this? 

RW: It’s a metaphor for how crazy life is. When you think you’re doing ok something comes around the corner and completely banjaxes you, it takes you in a different direction. It’s that thing of not knowing, of trying to plan ahead, but everything can change so quickly. There’s a line in that song – Sometimes it’s good to be alive, sometimes it’s just all right. Sometimes it’s amazing. And some days you’re just like, oh, God, it’s a struggle today, and that’s okay too.

Again, going back to what I talked about earlier, the refrain at the end comes from the saying ‘United you stand, divided you fall’.  I flipped it around saying, ‘Divided we stand, united we fall’. We’re so un-united as a species right now that when we’re dead, it doesn’t really matter because we’re all the same. It’s the first line in the song, ‘we all bleed the same’.  Religion, colour, creed, whatever you are, you cut us, we all bleed the same. Make the most of it while you’re here and do the right thing, be respectful and try to be understanding because really, we don’t get that long. And when we’re gone, nobody cares.

MGM: You’ve been making some special appearances pre-tour in record stores, delighting fans with the chance to get up close and personal to hear you play a few songs and meet them face to face.   Fans love this kind of thing, and it doesn’t happen so much these days, probably because there aren’t that many record stores left, sadly.   How have these appearances been for you, and would you say they’d been successful?

RW: I love record stores. I grew up in record stores, I am a vinyl junkie. They were a very important part of my life growing up, and they’re coming back. There’s been an influx of way more record stores because people are buying vinyl again; they’ve suddenly realized that it’s the only way to truly listen to a record. I think that’s connecting with a lot of people. I certainly saw that on this trip when we did 20 stores in 13 days. I just thought, let’s get out there and meet the people who are buying the records. Play them some acoustic songs from the album, which I thought would be a nice touch and connect with everybody the way that I used to.

 It wasn’t just about going in to buy the record when I was young.  It was about meeting your friends there, hanging out. It turned into a day out.   You bought that record, then you spend a while there in the store, and then you maybe go to a cafe and look at the albums that you bought with your friends, you swap them around, talk about the cover art and the lyrics and the credits that were on there.  It was a whole social experience, and it was just fantastic. I’ve never forgotten that and that feeling. With everything we’ve been through pandemic wise and getting back out, I thought, no better way than to take it back to what inspired me in the first place and the very thing that I love. I’m pleased to say that it was a huge success, and there’s a lot of great record stores that are thriving now because people are wanting that experience again.  Younger people are experiencing it for the first time that they’re going. When you go ‘click’ on a screen, it’s not the same as holding a physical product in your hands and just delving into that whole world of what made that record so great.  Long may it continue.

MGM: You made 20 appearances in less than 2 weeks, that’s a pretty intense schedule!  Was there a particular appearance that stands out for you?

RW: It would be unfair to pick one because they were all brilliant.  I did some HMVs, which were fantastic; HMV in Leicester was the last one we did, the staff were wonderful and that was a lot of fun. Some of the independent stores too – it was great to do Rough Trade because Rough Trade has always been a label that I’ve loved with everything that they’ve put out, so to get to play in Rough Trade in London was one off the bucket list.  I really enjoyed that. They were all great, we had a ball. Black Star Riders tour manager came out with me, drove me around and looked after me, we had the best time and ended up with a lot of records. Every store we went to I spent a fortune buying records!

MGM: The BSR tour kicks off on Saturday 11th Feb, and the first show will be in your hometown of Belfast.   Was that planned or happenstance?  Is it better to jump in head first and do the most personal show straight away, or get a few over the line to find your groove beforehand?

RW: When you start a UK tour, going over to Ireland is expensive because of the ferry and bringing all the equipment over; you have to factor that in and it can be tricky taking into consideration scheduling and the cost involved in doing all that. We decided that we would kick it off in Belfast as it just made the most sense, and obviously for me, I’m delighted. There’s a little bit of pressure; that’s the first show, you’re kicking off in front of your friends and family and you’ve not got a couple of shows under your belt to get everything maybe as well-oiled as you would like, but the crowd in Belfast are amazing so it’s going to be fantastic. I’ve missed playing shows. I got out last year with my solo band The Fighting Hearts, we did quite a few shows when everything was okay, and getting back into it was very emotional. The first time was incredible because there had been a time when you just didn’t know when you’d be able to do it again. Something that we all took for granted was suddenly not available, it was horrendous, so to get back to playing live and seeing people, for me, doing what I love was incredible.

MGM: There have been a few changes to the line up between the tour and the guys that recorded the album – the addition of Sam Wood on guitar, Scott Gorham is back, and Jimmy DeGrasso is on drums. Christian Martucci is not coming out with you this time? 

RW: We wanted to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the band, and sadly, Christian, who recorded on the album, had commitments with Corey Taylor – Christian’s been with Corey for 15 years. That’s the nature of the beast, the way it is in rock and roll in 2023. You can’t afford to just be in one band, to make it work financially in any way you need to be in two or three.  Scheduling usually works okay but throw a pandemic into it and suddenly everything gets screwed up. Schedules started clashing. Corey wanted to make a new record, so Christian had to go with him because that’s his guy and we understood that. You have to adapt, to make some changes and that’s what we had to do, so we asked Scott if he’d come back, and he jumped at the chance.  Then we asked Jimmy, who played on that first record, too, if he’d come back to on drums.

Sam Wood is a great addition, as I said before, it’s not enough to be in just one band these days and Sam is still very much with Wayward Sons, who are taking a break at the moment, so it’s worked out well.  We’re delighted to have him in Black Star Riders, he’s an amazing guitar player and such a positive guy. Positivity begets positivity, he’s a good soul to be around and it’s a delight to have him on board.

MGM: Fans are very excited about the possible set list for this tour, given that it’s the 10th anniversary plus a new album has just been released.   Given the line-up, do you plan to focus more on the older material or more of the new?  Michael Monroe and Phil Campbell coming along for the ride makes for an immense night of rock and roll, how do you feel about playing alongside them?

 RW: We plan to come out all guns blazing. We’ll play songs from the new records and a couple of oldies; Scott comes out after about seven songs and plays the rest of the set with us. And then we’ll go back through the catalogue, and I’m sure, because it’s Scott, we’ll throw a Lizzy song or two in there as well.  I think people want to see Scott go and play a Lizzy song and we’re only too happy to do that.

You’ve got three extremely amazing headline bands on the same bill – Phil with the Motorhead connection and me being a massive Motorhead fan was a no brainer; Michael Monroe of the legendary Hanoi Rocks – I was a huge fan. I’m pleased to say that they’re both friends now, which is such an honour. It’s not to be missed.

MGM: Talking of Thin Lizzy, Scott has spoken of concentrating some energy this way in 2023.  We’ve had the deluxe re-release of ‘Alive and Dangerous’ so do you think we’ll see some Thin Lizzy shows in the foreseeable future, and will you still be a part of them?

RW: I’m still singing for Thin Lizzy, I’m very much involved with Scott on that and whatever we decide to do, I will be there with bells on. It’s such an honour to sing those wonderful songs and keep the music alive and yeah, I’m hearing that we might be doing some busy stuff later in the year, so fingers crossed that that happens. I like to stay busy, and I have a job that I love and I’m very blessed that I’m able to do it for a living. As my dad used to say, make hay while the sun shines. We work really hard on what we do, I believe that you make your own luck, and you create your own chances by what you put into it. We believe in what we do and we’re not afraid of going out there as we’ve proved, by doing the in stores and all that and meeting the people that support the band, it gives us the opportunity, basically, to do what we do.

MGM: Once this tour gets done, and aside from the plans with Thin Lizzy, what’s next for Ricky Warwick?  There have been some big hints dropped about a possible resurgence of The Almighty?

RW: We’re looking at festivals. Festivals are starting to come in now as well, so I think there’ll be some more BSR stuff over the summer and then we’re looking at maybe going into Europe and doing some shows out there. We’re keeping an eye on Brexit and costs and all that kind of stuff, because that’s made life extremely difficult for touring.  We could do a whole show on my hatred of Brexit and what it’s done to us.  It’s dragged us back to the Dark Ages in my opinion, it’s brutal.   People are starting to see it; tourists are looking at Europe now and thinking – it’s not worth coming.   It’s completely screwed us over.

With The Almighty, I can’t say any more that ‘never say never’, there will be another major announcement before the end of this month, so keep an eye out for it!   That’s all I can say.

Wrong Side Of Paradise Tour 2023

Saturday 11th February – Belfast Limelight 1

Monday 13th February – Nottingham Rock City

Wednesday 15th February – Norwich UEA

Thursday 16th February – Ipswich Corn Exchange

Friday 17th February – Manchester O2 Ritz

Saturday 18th February – KKs Steel Mill, Wolverhampton

Sunday 19th February – Leeds O2 Academy

Tuesday 21st February – Cardiff Tramshed

Wednesday 22nd February – Bristol Academy

Thursday 23rd February – Glasgow SWG3

Friday 24th February – Newcastle O2 City Hall

Sunday 26th February – London O2 Shepherds Bush Empire


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