At The Cluny 2, Newcastle, U.K., October 10, 2018

WARWICK JOHNSON (Live at The Cluny 2, Newcastle, U.K., October 10, 2018)
Photo: Rebecca Burgess

After the recent shock announcement of his departure from Black Star Riders, a band he co-founded back in December 2012, Damon Johnson arrived in Newcastle with his acoustic project, Warwick Johnson, alongside his soon to be former Black Star Riders bandmate, Ricky Warwick. Any fears fans had of an unamicable split were dispelled as the charismatic duo fulfilled their reputation of being great friends who play great music.

Opening the show was Gill Montgomery, singer of the all-female Scottish rock band, The Amorettes. Replacing sisters Hannah and Heather McKay, was Sam Wood of Wayward Sons who helped adapt the regular hard hitting, gritty sound of the trio, into an acoustic set.

After the band supported Black Star Riders and Europe on 12 of their 14 UK tour dates back in 2015, Ricky Warwick, clearly impressed by the Scottish hard rockers, worked with Montgomery on songs which have been featured on both the White Hot Hea’ and Born to Break albums. Two songs which had Warwick’s writing input featured in the acoustic set; Let the Neighbours Call the Cops and ‘Everything I Learned – I Learned from Rock and Roll, proving to be punchy and attitude filled despite the lack of an electric backing.

Throwing in a cover of the Rod Steward and the Forces song, ‘Stay with Me’, it was clear that the crowd certainly would be staying with the powerhouse vocalist, contrasting with the lack of response to the question, ‘Who here has heard of The Amorettes?’ at the start of the show.  Sam Wood stated that the seats at the back of the venue, Cluny 2 in Newcastle, made the crowd look like ‘an army of X Factor judges’ – given their performance, I think it was a ‘yes’ from even the toughest of judges on the panel that night.

After a 3 year wait since their last tour in 2015, the Newcastle crowd were full of anticipation to see the headliners of the show. Kicking off the set with the Thin Lizzy classic, ‘Are You Ready’, it was clear from their response that the crowd certainly was ready for a night of music from the duo’s extensive back catalogue.

The 24 song long set included songs from Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, The Almighty, Brother Cane as well as solo material. Much more than a music show, a Warwick Johnson gig resembles a comedy show at times, with the American and Irishman trading jokes throughout the night. The friendship between the two spread out into the crowd, with Warwick encouraging the crowd to get ‘a hug at the merch stand’ with tour manger and Tax the Heat drummer, Jack Taylor, to celebrate National Hug a Drummer Day.

Although only two men with acoustic guitars stood on stage, they were not alone. Supported by a gang of Geordie backing vocalists, songs such as Finest Hour had such a volume that they could compete with a full electric set of a Black Star Riders show. Crowd participation was a common feature throughout, with fans singing their hearts out to the cover of Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World. During the performance of Testify or Say Goodbye, the crowd simultaneously spun their arms ‘around, around, around, around’ like cowboys at a lasso convention, perhaps reminding Johnson of where he grew up, in Alabama. The likening did not stop there, with Johnson dedicating the cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ to English music fans for their support for Black Star Riders over the years.

The homely feeling was also expressed by Warwick who spoke of his Irish pride before breaking into a performance of the song ‘Celebrating Sinking’ from his solo project. Warwick also went on to claim that ‘Whisky in the Jar’ by Thin Lizzy, should be Ireland’s national anthem.

Now living in America, Warwick spoke of how the American’s love his Irish accent and it was clear to see that the Newcastle crowd loved both Warwick and Johnson’s voices, with the pair harmonising perfectly during their rendition of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Borderline’, which Johnson poignantly finished with a point up to the sky in dedication to the late Phil Lynott.

Ace of Spades also featured in the set, in honour of Motörhead’s Lemmy, showing that a musician’s impact can live far beyond their time in a band. This too can be said for Johnson as he prepares for a life away from Black Star Riders. Despite the news, it is clear that the duo’s musical passion will never slow and every time ‘The Boys are Back in Town’, they will draw a crowd from their well-earned, large and supportive fanbase.

Review and Photos By Rebecca Burgess


1 Comment

  1. I miss Brother Cane. I can hardly believe it’s been 20 years since I saw them in Memphis at The New Daisy. People just don’t know what entertainment is supposed to sound like. Anyway, it pleases me to know that Damon is still kickin’ ass! ROCK ON!!!

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