RICKY WARWICK: “Next year will be busy for THIN LIZZY”

WARWICK JOHNSON (Live at Bootleggers, Kendal, U.K., September 27, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Towards the end of September, you start your Sonic Acoustic Attack with Damon Johnson. Are you looking forward to getting started?

This is the longest string of dates that we’ve done as Warwick Johnson and we’re actually in Europe for about two weeks before we get to the UK so the whole run is about five weeks long so it’s all good.

You’re playing 18 shows right across the country in about 20 days. That’s a pretty heavy schedule. How are you going to pace yourself on the tour?

Ha!! I think I’ll have to cut it down to just a half a bottle of whiskey a night.

You have a pretty hectic touring and recording schedule with Black Star Riders. Was there the temptation to take a few weeks off, stay at home and relax?

That’s always in the back of your mind but at the end of the day as a musician when opportunities present themselves you’ve got to take them. We had the chance to get out and play and we’re not getting any younger so you’ve got to get out there and play as much as possible. Last year was very crazy for Black Star Riders with the album coming out but this year hasn’t been as full on although we have been busy so we’ve had quite a bit of time at home which has been nice so it’s evened out quite nicely and given us the time to go out on the road with our acoustic show.

What will you be doing on the two days that you actually have off on the tour?

Sleeping probably. We’ll be travelling a lot on the tour as well so any chance you get to take it easy you have to get some rest and a bit of food.

On 10th October you’re back in Newcastle at The Cluny. Newcastle has been a great City for you over the years. What do you enjoy most about visiting Newcastle?

It’s the Geordie people and their passion and humour. The vibe in the city is so great and I always look forward to coming there and seeing my old friends again. Being from Northern Ireland and growing up in the West of Scotland I think the humour and patter are very similar. There’s a big connection there and The Cluny is a great venue so I’m looking forward to coming back to Newcastle.

You recorded some Black Star Riders material a few years ago at Blast Studios, just up the road from The Cluny. Why did you choose to do some recording there?

We did the demos for the first album there way back in 2012 and were there for about a week and we have very fond memories of that studio and our time in Newcastle. Eric Cook, who owned the studio put out my Belfast Confetti album out on his label. He was a great guy and he’s sorely missed. He was a lovely man.

You’ve done a tour like this a few years ago, is it going to be a similar format of songs and chat?

What Damon and I like about this, is there is no agenda. We just do what we like and what feels right. People have said we should do an album but as soon as we do that, there’s an agenda and we’ll have to promote the album and all that goes with it which is great but we have that with Black Star Riders and our solo stuff so we wanted this to be different. We want this to be a good fun night out where we’ll play some Thin Lizzy or some Lynyrd Skynyrd and we can play some stuff by The Almighty and something by Damon’s band, Brother Cane. We just want to play whatever we want and have a laugh. I just want to entertain people and play for a couple of hours. There’s no setlist and so we just go at it and that’s what makes it different.

As far as the covers go. What do you look for in a song that you want to cover?

I think it’s sometimes by bands we were influenced by or it’s something quirky that you wouldn’t expect from us. It’s all pretty organic. Sometimes I’ll just ask Damon if he fancies doing a Who song and he’ll suggest something too and that’s usually how it works.

When you are working on an acoustic version of a song, how do you work it into the acoustic format. Do you break it down into its basic melody and chord structure and rebuild it from there?

99% of great songs work on an acoustic guitar. In Black Star Riders we write on acoustic guitars and if it doesn’t sound great on acoustic then we won’t do it. It’s easy for us to figure it out. We’ll look at a song and ask how do we strip it down and how is it going to work best in its rawest, purest form. Some are easier than others. Take a song like Ace of Spades by Motorhead, that’s a really heavy song but when you strip it down it’s just a great song with great chords, a great melody and a great structure, so boom, it sounds fantastic when played on an acoustic.

Although you are the lead singer, Damon has a pretty decent voice too. Will Damon be taking lead on a few songs too?

Damon does backing vocals in Black Star Riders and has been a frontman in his own right with his own band over the years so it’s nice for him to get up and sing a good few songs. It gives me a break as well which is good for me.

The shows are always great fun. Do you plan on recording any for future release possibly through Pledgemusic that you’ve both used in the past?

That’d be possible but we’re very busy with Black Star Riders and when we’re not doing that we’re busy with our own stuff so that makes it difficult. We’d also have to look at a schedule for release and make sure it didn’t clash with putting anything by Black Star Riders out and before you know it, the year has gone. That’d be a third factor then that we’d have to find a window to release without treading on the toes of any other release that we’d be doing. I wouldn’t rule it out and at some point, it’d be nice.

You toured earlier this year in The States with Judas Priest and Saxon. Now that’s a great touring line up?

It was incredible. We’re touring South America with Priest in November as well. They’ve been really good to us and they’re great guys and we love being out on the road with them. Their new album is brilliant too. It’s great that bands like Priest and Saxon are still playing with such an intensity and power. It would be great for that tour to come over to the UK but that would be down to the powers that be and it’s out of my hands. It’d be fantastic if it happened.

What’s happening with Black Star Riders. Are there any touring plans for this year?

After we finish the South American shows with Priest we’ll be back to the UK for a few shows of our own and will headline the Planet Rock Rockstock Festival.

What about a new album. Have you started on the follow up to last year’s Heavy Fire?

we’re due to go into the studio in February 2019 to work on recording our next album. We write all the time so there’s always stuff going on and we’re well into the writing phase, getting as many ideas together as we can. We do have some songs ready and an album title but I can’t reveal any more at this stage.

Are you looking forward to working with Chad Szeligain the studio for the first time?

I am very much looking forward to it. He’s phenomenal and such a positive, upbeat person and a good guy to have around and be around. He’ll kill it in the studio and I can’t wait to see what he does.

Is the door still open for the odd show by Thin Lizzy here and there?

Very much so. That’s really down to Scott. If he calls me up and says Lizzy will be doing five shows, that’s great, I’ll be there. It’s always such an honour to play with them. There’s definitely going to be some stuff going on next year as next year is a big year for Lizzy as it’s the 50th anniversary of the band forming. I’m fairly sure there’ll be a few one off shows next year. It should be great.

Have you any time left to think about another solo record?

I’m actually working on some demos right now as we speak so that’s well underway so when the schedule permits I’ll go into the studio and start work on my next solo record.

On your last album, When Patsy Cline Was Crazy, there’s a song called Schwaben Redoubt about the 36th (Ulster Division) and their capture of the German stronghold on the 1st July 1916 at the Somme. Is that period of history particularly interesting to you?

Both Sam, who co-wrote the song and I had relatives who were in the First World War and involved in that so there’s a family connection there. It hit Northern Ireland so hard with the loss of so many men. A lot of those men were from the shipyards of Belfast so that culture was ingrained in them. It was a very difficult subject to cover but at the same time, an easy subject to cover. There were so many Irish men from the South who fought in the First World War but who are now only getting recognition. You would have had someone from the Shankill Road, Belfast standing in a trench next to someone from Dollymount in Dublin, Protestants and Catholics side by side fighting for a common cause and finding out that they are not that much different and are just fellow countrymen. That’s the beauty of the song is the craziness of going over the top to fight to fight when they had their own difference in their own country. It’s just the whole mess and at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter because we’re all just the same. We’ve had some great letters of support for that song from families who’s great grandfathers fought and were killed and what that song means to them which are always nice to receive. The song was also used at a commemoration in Belfast for the 100th anniversary of that day. The lyrics were read out and the song was played so that was a huge honour for me and Sam. I’ve been out to Flanders but haven’t visited the Somme battlefield yet and it’s somewhere that I definitely want to go to sometime soon.

Do you have anytime to fit anything else in between your acoustic tour, Black Star Riders and your solo career?

I think if I did anymore my family would disown me. They put up with enough as it is and I’m a father and a family man and that’s my priority so I have to give my family plenty of time and have to get that balance right. I’m very conscious that when I’m home, I’m home and don’t want to be doing anything else but spending time with my family.

Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson’s Sonic Acoustic Attack Tour starts on 25th September in Stoke and ends in Edinburgh on 14th October.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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