Ricky Warwick – Phil is the lead singer of Thin Lizzy. I am not. I just get to look after his songs

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The outstanding solo album by Ricky Warwick, του “When Life Was Hard And Fast”, gave us a great opportunity to talk with him about it, as well as the contributions of Joe Elliott, Andy Taylor, Luke Morley etc. It was also a great chance to ask him what are his favourite Def Leppard albums (only on the video), where his reaction was like having to go to the dentist! He also talks about Black Star Riders’ future plans, Brexit, the pandemic, the chance to see more Thin Lizzy shows in the future and his relations with Phil Lynott’s songs. Interview: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: What have you been doing during the lockdown? This strange and weird time?

Ricky Warwick: I’ve been enjoying being home with my family. As much as I love going on tour the difficult part of that is that you are away from your family. So, I had a year at home, which was really nice to be with my wife and my kids. I’ve been writing a lot, reading a lot, exercising… watching movies, trying to stay busy. I’ve been playing some online shows, but it’s been OK. I am grateful, I have food in my fridge, a roof over my head. I am thankful for that. And I’ve been able to be creative. I am blessed, I am positive as much as I can be.

Rockpages.gr: I realize the album was written before the lockdown, although some titles and some lyrics may relate to the situation we are living now.

Ricky Warwick: It’s funny how sometimes you write a song about something and then something in the future happens and suddenly it relates to that, even though… how would you know what was happening? Even the title of the album “When Life Was Hard And Fast”, could be talking about the time before the pandemic, but those songs were primarily written in 2018, two years before we even knew about this horrible virus that was coming.

photo by Robin Wielink

Rockpages.gr: Can you talk about the title track? It’s one of the stand out songs of the album in my opinion…

Ricky Warwick: I wrote this with a really good friend of mine from Belfast, called Sam Robinson. We grew up together and we just wrote about being kids in Northern Ireland in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. And what our childhood dreams were like, and how was it in a place that had a lot of trouble back then. And how it affected our lives and our dreams as kids. And the song is autobiographical. It’s about that childhood before the internet, before cell phones. What we used to do, what we used to dream of. Who were our heroes… It’s kind of looking back at childhood.

Rockpages.gr: What about “Fighting Heart”?

Ricky Warwick: “Fighting Heart” was the first song I wrote with Keith Nelson, who produced the album with me. I think that is a song that is really a shout out to artists, to art… To writers, painters, musicians. Those that have inspired us, those who keep us entertained, who keep us motivated. Because, without the arts we have nothing. I think that’s a celebration of that, that keeps us strong, keeps our heart strong, empowers us and makes us strong and positive.

photo credit: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: What about “You Don’t Love Me”, that is also a video?

Ricky Warwick: Again that’s quite a simple direct song. It sort of says, “you don’t love me? I don’t care.  It doesn’t matter what you think of me, I am going to do what I am going to do, regardless of what you say, or what you do. If you want to push negativity or hatred against me, go for it. You want to waste that energy? I don’t care. You don’t love me? I don’t care.

Rockpages.gr: You have some special guests on the album. Like Joe Elliott. You want to talk about him?

Ricky Warwick: Yeah, Joe is being a friend of mine for a long long time. We’ve been very close. He has actually produced my first two solo records way back. I am always going to ask Joe’s opinions about what I am writing, because I value his opinion as a musician. And he is a performer. I mean Def Leppard are massive, they’ve done it all. So, I am always going to listen to what he says, he is always telling the truth. And when I wrote this song (Ed “When Life Was Hard And Fast”) I thought that it would be great if Joe could sing some background vocals on this. So, I sent him the song and as always he comes through and he did a great job and it’s a real honor to have him in there.

photo credit: Robin Wielink

Rockpages.gr: How about Andy Taylor?

Ricky Warwick: Again, Andy produced an album by my old band The Almighty, back in the early ‘90s and we stayed friends ever since. I’ve actually worked with Andy on his solo record, which is coming out next year as well, I wrote some songs with him. Andy is an amazing guitar player, as well as great producer and great singer too. So, again I am lucky and I am blessed that I know these people and they are my friends. But, they are also insanely talented artists and I am a big fan of what they do. So, I have access to that. I thought it’s my record, I can do whatever I want, so I am going to ask Andy Taylor to play a solo.

Rockpages.gr: You’ve also have Thunder’s Luke Morley playing a solo, can you tell us what your favourite Thunder albums are?

Ricky Warwick: Well, “Backstreet Symphony” was the reason we got Andy Taylor to produce the Almighty second album. We heard “Backstreet Symphony” when it came out and Andy’s production and we thought that the sound on the record was great. So, I’ve got Luke to thank for that.

But, you got me! I don’t listen to Thunder that much, Luke is a friend. I don’t think that Luke is listening to Black Star Riders albums either. But, we tend to get together and discuss things related to our bands. So, I think it would be unfair of me to pick any Thunder albums. It’s not that I am not a fan, but it’s a band I don’t listen to a lot. Although I listened to “Backstreet Symphony” a lot when it came out.

I am going to tell you something. I have the new one. Luke sent it to me! It’s incredible! And I am not just saying that, it’s brilliant. I’ve been lucky enough to hear the whole album since Luke sent it to me about two months ago and it really blew my mind. So, I am going to say the new one… it’s very strong.

photo credit: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: Well, it’s not out yet, so we will take your word for it!

Ricky Warwick: Before Luke punches me… “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T LISTEN TO MY BAND???” They are great, Dany is such a great singer, he’s got that beautiful soulful Paul Rodgers voice going on and they are amazing. They are a good bunch of guys.

Rockpages.gr: You also have your daughter singing with you…

Ricky Warwick: The most important one of them all… she is great, she loves music. The song is predominantly written about her. And I said I’d love you to sing on this. And she came in and she has this great little voice. That was a real proud dad moment for me. I was really proud to have her on the album.

Rockpages.gr: How is to live the rock’n’roll lifestyle with 4 kids?

Ricky Warwick: What is a rock’n’roll lifestyle? I don’t know what that means. Being a drunken idiot? Being rude and hanging out? Well, that’s not me. I am very quiet when I am not touring. I love music. I love my family more. My family is the most important thing and when I am home I am just a dad, a husband, a father… I wanna make sure they are taken care off and that they are safe. I don’t really party any more. I did a lot when I was young. I like to concentrate on my family and I like to concentrate on my work and that’s really simple as it is for me.

photo credit: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: Do they give you feedback about your work? Do they tell you what they like and what they don’t?

Ricky Warwick: Yeah, not as much as you think, because they are used to it. They are so used to me doing what I do. It’s normal for them. I’ll play them something and ask them what they think, and they’d tell me “oh, I like this song”. But, I am not going like “hey, listen! Check this out”… I am not like that. Usually, they ask me. If I’ve done a finished record of course I’ll play it to them. I would let them hear it. But, it’s all pretty chilled, laid back.

Rockpages.gr: What do you think will happen when all this madness is over and things go back to normal-ish? Do you think they’re going to be a lot of releases, live shows?

Ricky Warwick: I think a lot of the people would want that. I think the venues may not be there anymore sadly, because they might not have survived during the last year. It’s good, but it’s good in a bad way. There’s so many people who want to play and so many people that want to tour. There will be an overload and it would be too much and that could not be good. But, you can’t blame people for people wanting to play, because this year has been so hard. I really don’t know. I think that people would be crazy to see live shows and they will come out. I think that artists would be so desperate to play again and everybody would want to tour all at the same time. So, I just think that it would be quite a big relief when we get back to some kind of normality. I know I am really looking forward to it.

photo credit: Robin Wielink

Rockpages.gr: When we get back to normality we will also have Brexit, a new factor that can prove a game changer. How do you think this will affect things?

Ricky Warwick: You know what? I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it was sold to the British people. I think they weren’t told the truth by the government. What a surprise! The government lies. Hello?!?! I think if they implement what it stands for it’s going to be really difficult. It’s already getting expensive to tour ‘cause of fuel prices and just everything that was going on, but this is going to make it difficult and costly for a lot of artists to tour. That’s not a good thing. Unless, there are some exceptions to the rules, unless they change things. I really don’t know. It’s a great question. It’s kind have been forgotten about, because everybody is focused on the pandemic right now. It’s hard enough to tour as it is if you are a working touring musician and I think this is going to make it even harder for a lot of artists to move freely, to tour freely and to make money, to make a living doing their art. I hope I am wrong! I hope they figure something out. They need to soon! I have an Irish passport, so I am OK!

Rockpages.gr: How is it to live in the States?

Ricky Warwick: It’s great! I love it! I’ve been living here for 16 years. I married to a beautiful American girl, my youngest daughter was born here, it’s home! I miss Ireland very much. I get to go back obviously, when there is not a pandemic. I like the sunshine, life here… my family is happy. If my family is happy, I am happy! I could live on the moon. If there was an airport and my family was happy, I could live anywhere.

Rockpages.gr: Are there any plans for the Black Star Riders for this year?

Ricky Warwick: Not for next year (2021). There were never plans for 2021, because we were supposed to be touring in 2020 to support our last album, but it all got canceled. But, next year we will record a new album and in 2022 we will go back with Black Star Riders again. I was always planning to promote my solo record in 2021. That was the plan before the pandemic and I still want to do that if possible.

photo credit: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: Also, on your new album there is a bonus disc coming with some versions, where you have some covers. Can you talk about this?

Ricky Warwik: Yeah, this was done about four or five years ago, when I released my last solo album. I was doing a lot of stuff through the Pledge platform campaign. Every couple of weeks I would do a song from my home, an acoustic song, they were cover versions and my manager says: “this is great, people are loving it. Why don’t you record them?” So, I went in and recorded it and made it available to people only through Pledge, it was a limited run, maybe like 1,000 available at the time.

And when we finished the album “When Life Was Hard And Fast”, I gave it to the label, Nuclear Blast. They asked me if I had any bonus tracks and I scratched my head and my manager said “yeah you do, you’ve got this album that you did five years ago. We should give them that as the bonus disc”. So, I can’t get any credit for that it was my manager’s idea. I like to make sure people are getting a lot of product for their money, so we decided to give away as a bonus disc.

Rockpages.gr: And it’s very diverse… the stuff that’s in there…

Ricky Warwick: Oh, yes! It’s very diverse! Anything from Britney Spears to Iron Maiden, right? I like to have fun and a lot of the songs in there come from artists that influenced me, a lot of these songs are pop songs that I like, like “Dead Or Alive”, or the Britney Spears song. These are pop songs that I thought it would be funny to cover acoustically and put my personality into them, my roughness and my style.

photo credit: Robin Wielink

Rockpages.gr: Do you think it’s a challenge for you, or any artist, to present a song acoustically and not in its original, electric version?

Ricky Warwick: Well, it’s not a challenge for me, because during the last 20 years I’ve been writing everything on acoustic guitar. I don’t write anything on electric guitar. I write everything acoustically, so, when I know that it works on an acoustic guitar and I can sit and play the whole song I know that’s going to work when we bring in the electric guitars. And that’s a great way of writing. Because, if it sounds good on its most basic form, no matter what you do to it after that, it’s going to sound great. So, that’s what I’ve done for the last 20 years. So, I don’ know any other way of writing. Even the heavier songs I write them on acoustic guitar.

Rockpages.gr: Of course, one may notice that you have a lot of tattoos on you. So a question that arises is how many are them and if there is a special meaning behind them?

Ricky Warwick: They are so many I can’t count them, because they are all connected together. They are all personal. I don’t walk in and go “yo, I want this and that…” There is usually a thought and a process behind it. I have my kids’ names in my hands, my two daughters on my hands, they are very personal to me. I have a couple of album titles tattooed, the logo from the albums tattooed as well. I have the family crest on my neck, which is a line thumping from the Warwick crest, which I got after my father passed away. That’s a mark of respect to my father. They are all personal.

Rockpages.gr: Have you planned any Thin Lizzy shows?

Ricky Warwick: It’s Scott Gorham’s thing and I know I’ve been talking to Scott. There will be some Thin Lizzy shows in the future. I think as long Scott wants and is able to play there will be Thin Lizzy shows. I don’t think it’s going to be a tour, just a few festivals and one-off shows, like we’ve been doing in the last couple of years.

photo credit: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: Do you feel that in the last two Black Star Riders albums you are beginning to move away a bit from the Thin Lizzy pattern of writing and making a song? Because, that was my thought…

Ricky Warwick: Ehhm, maybe, but we are not consciously thinking about it. As long as Scott Gorham is in the Black Star Riders, we will always have this Thin Lizzy connection. Because of how he plays guitar and who he is. And that’s wonderful. We don’t want to lose that. We’ve had some lineup changes and obviously when a new personality, when new blood comes in they put their DNA in the songs and the playing. (that happened with) With Christian Martucci coming in for the last record. He is a great guitar player and such a big personality. I mean he really made his mark on the playing and on the record.

But, like you said, Yiannis, we’ve been together for 9 years and we are about to make our 5th album. We are our own band, we have developed and we have absolutely moved on since we started. We’ve been around a long time now, so we are very comfortable in our own skin now.

photo credit: Yiannis Dolas

Rockpages.gr: We haven’t seen Black Star Riders in Greece yet.

Ricky Warwick: Greece is a place I’ve been to four, or maybe five times now. The coffee is fucking great. You guys really make great coffee in Greece. The reaction from people in the shows is wonderful and the friendliness… it’s such a great country to be in. I’d really love to come back and play. And I am not just saying that. I hope we get there, either me solo, or with Black Star Riders.

Rockpages.gr: You know Greeks like Irish people…

Ricky Warwick: There’s a connection, yes…

Rockpages.gr: And especially Rory Gallagher. He is a god for all the rockers here! Have you ever got the chance to see him live?

Ricky Warwick: No, sadly I haven’t. I really wish that I had, I really do. I know my sisters saw him play in Belfast. It was amazing, they told me how great he was and how the show was like. He is just phenomenal. Very underrated. I don’t think Rory gets enough credit.

Rockpages.gr: Did your perspective, about being the vocalist in Black Star Riders, but especially in Thin Lizzy, changed through the years? When you started singing maybe you thought: “how am I going to do this, nobody can sing like Phil Lynott”, but it this the point? To try and be like him?

Ricky Warwick: No, you can never be Phil. Phil is iconic and unique. Straight away I didn’t even think “ah, I am the new singer of Thin Lizzy, I am going to replace Phil”. No! that’s so wrong to even think about that. I never wanted to stand in those shoes, all I ever wanted and hoped for is to stand beside them. That’s what I do and keep his songs and passion and his eminence going. I thought when Scott asked what I would want to see. I want to hear the songs as close to the way we know and love them. Because, there was no point in “I am going to do it in a different style”. Fuck that! You wanna hear the songs of Thin Lizzy, you wanna go there and hear the songs the way we know and love them from the record. So, I said “I am going to try and sing as close to Phil’s style as I can, putting my own personality into it, but still keeping it real and as close to Phil as I can. And it’s a fine line that you sort of walk and I spent a long long time just rehearsing and learning about Phil. And when I do it, I wanna do the songs justice and I wanna play them with as much passion, heart and soul as I can. But, I also want to make the songs familiar with the people, so that they’d go “it’s not Phil, but is sounds great, it sounds a bit like him”. I think that’s all you can hope for.

When I close my eyes Yiannis I don’t see me singing with Thin Lizzy, I see Phil and Phil is the lead singer of Thin Lizzy. Always have been and always will be. I am not. I just get to look after his songs. That’s all I am doing, I am looking after his songs.