RICKY WARWICK (BLACK STAR RIDERS): “SCOTT GORHAM Brings Four Or Five Killer Ideas And They Always End Up Being Used”

BLACK STAR RIDERS (Live at The O2 Academy, Newcastle, U.K., October 19, 2019)
Photo: Mick Burgess

With their fourth album, Another State of Grace, hot off the press, Black Star Riders have hit the road on their latest UK Tour. Mick Burgess called up Ricky Warwick to chat about the album, the tour, the departure of Damon Johnson and the recent addition of Stone Sour’s Christian Martucci to the lineup.

You are back on the road in October for your latest UK and Ireland tour. Are you looking forward to getting started?

Absolutely. It’s been almost a year since our last show in Sheffield with Damon Johnson in the band so with a new record out we’re dying to get back out there and up on stage. We can’t wait.

You’ll be playing 15 shows across England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. It’s good to see a band doing a long tour covering a lot of ground rather than a London only date. Is it important to you to get out there and play as much as possible?

This is actually a seven-week tour as we head out into Europe after the UK shows. We just love to play. It’s what we do. What’s the point of making music and putting your heart and soul into it if you don’t go out and play live. We just want to play anywhere and everywhere. That’s why we do this. We’re not getting any younger and as long as we’re all fit and healthy we should make hay while the sun is shining and get out and tour as much as we can.

On 19th October you’re in Newcastle. You have a long history with this City being on Demolition Records from Jarrow as a solo artist and also recording demos in Blast Studios for the first Black Star Riders album. What does Newcastle as a place mean to you?

I can go back even before that and before I was in The Almighty when I did some demos in Brian Johnson’s studio when I was 19. Ray “Mond” Cowie from The Angelic Upstarts produced those demos. That was way back in 1986 and that’s when my love affair with Newcastle began. I think growing up in Belfast and Glasgow and having that Northern sense of humour and hospitality, I think that’s why Newcastle fits in with me because you know what you’re getting with them. There’s no bull, they’re just honest hard working, blue collar people who enjoy a good night out. They are a very vocal crowd and very passionate and that’s what I love about Newcastle. You’re going to get a great atmosphere and a great show every time. It’s that Northern thing. People tend to be louder and more energetic at shows and I love that.

You now have four studio albums under your belt. Is it getting trickier choosing a setlist for a tour these days?

It’s like being a football manager trying to pick your best side but it’s a great problem to have.

How many songs will you play from the new record, Another State of Grace?

We’ll probably start doing 3 or 4 and see what the vibe’s like. We’d love to play everything but obviously you can’t do that as people want to hear certain songs and they need to be in the set. There’s probably 8 songs that we have to play and we want to play as well. We have almost 50 Black Star Riders songs now so there’s a lot to choose from.

Will you be doing a couple that you haven’t played in a while?

There’s a couple in there that we haven’t done in a while and we’ll change it around each night too so we get plenty of songs played on the tour and that’ll keep us on our toes.

Obviously having Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham in the band, they’ll be one or two Lizzy songs?

I don’t know if we will. We’re Black Star Riders now and we’re not Thin Lizzy. We have Scott Gorham from Thin Lizzy in the band but he’s a fully-fledged, founder member of Black Star Riders and it’s time for people to realise that we are Black Star Riders and not Thin Lizzy. That’s the name on the poster and that’s what we’re going to play. We have four albums now and are standalone in their own right. In the early days we didn’t know if we’d get to make a second album. We only had 11 songs to play so we filled out the rest of the set with Lizzy songs. When we got to the second album it was always the intention to play more and more Black Star Riders songs and less of the Lizzy ones. I think with the success of the albums, I think we’re at that point where we’ll only play Black Star Riders songs. I’ll not rule out playing Lizzy songs in the future but not at this moment in time.

Last year in Sheffield we saw the last show featuring founder member Damon Johnson who left to spend more time with his family and work on solo material. Was his decision to leave a shock for you at first?

It wasn’t for me personally because I know Damon so well. I knew for a year before he told us that something wasn’t right. I could see where it was going. None of us wanted him to leave but I could see that he was struggling with the amount of time we were on the road. It wasn’t like he was leaving the band straight away. He said he’d see out the rest of the year and give us time to find someone else. It was all done very amicably as we are such good friends. When we did the last show in Sheffield in December, we knew he’d be leaving since March and we already had Christian in place to replace him. At that point we were over it, knew it was coming and we’d dealt with it and had moved on in our heads and hearts and moved onto the next phase of Black Star Riders. The last few shows were a nice send off for him. Christian has now come in, picked up the ball and run with it.

He was your main songwriting partner. Were you worried how that would impact on the creativity within the band?

No, I was sad to see Damon go as a friend. Writingwise, it didn’t worry me at all because I can write songs on my own. I do enjoy writing with other people and getting their feedback and input and see what they can do with an idea but if that’s not available I’m happy finishing a song on my own. There’s four songs on the new album that I wrote on my own as Damon had gone and Christian hadn’t joined the band yet. I would generally write the guitar riffs and lyrics and pass them to Damon and Scott and they’d put their sparkle on it and add some amazing guitar parts but I wasn’t worried when he’d left about what I was going to do. Every band I’ve been in, I’ve been the main songwriter. It’s just business as usual as far as I’m concerned.

You’ve brought in Christian Martucci from Stone Sour. Did you audition for guitarists or did you already know him beforehand?

We held auditions in Los Angeles and we had 10 or 11 guys come down and they were all great players but when they had finished, we just didn’t feel like we’d found our guy. Jay Ruston, our producer, suggested Christian. He said Stone Sour were due to come off the road for a few years and he’s a huge Black Star Riders fan so we thought we’d consider him. He sent in a video of him playing our song Soldierstown and it just blew us all away. I thought he was our guy. I went up to meet Christian and hang out and we got on famously. He’s been an inspired choice. I can’t say enough good things about him. He’s a wonderful human being, an amazing guitar player and has brought a real edge to Black Star Riders that we didn’t have before.

Some bands such as ZZ Top, Rush and Aerosmith had stable line ups for decades. You’ve had a few changes over the years now. Do you see changes as an opportunity to bring in fresh ideas and creativity rather than a negative of losing a band mate?

I’m quite a positive person and try to act positively. The band is bigger than the sum of its parts. I still feel we haven’t reached our full potential yet and there’s plenty of great music left in Black Star Riders. Scott Gorham is very fit and healthy and playing great guitar and he’ll tour forever because he loves it and me likewise. I also speak for Robbie as well. There was never an intention to stop. We’d just done a really good album that got high into the charts so we had every intention to keep going, get somebody else in and keep moving this thing forward.

Your new album Another State of Grace came out recently. Are you pleased with the reaction it’s received?

We’ve worked hard on the album but you are nothing without the people who support you, buy your music and come to your shows. We try to make the best record that we can but at the end of the day it’s down to them. If they buy it and like it, we can make another record and go out on tour so this is the test. Before the release we’re excited and apprehensive and a little bit nervous. It’s charted high and has been getting some great reviews so we’re really happy with it.

Scott Gorham doesn’t tend to be a prolific writer but he usually comes in with a couple of great ideas. Did he do the same this time?

He brings in quality. He brings in four or five killer ideas and they always end up being used. I bring in 45 ideas and only 10 of mine will get used. The song Underneath The Afterglow is musically pretty much all Scott Gorham and the riff on Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down is a signature Scott riff. That’s the beauty of Scott Gorham. He’s been there and done it and you know when he brings in something it’s going to be quality

Jay Ruston produced the album this time. What did he bring to the creative process?

Jay mixed the last two albums so we know him well. He just wanted to work with the band and we all felt because we’d had a line-up change that we’d work with Jay in L.A. It was brilliant. He records in quite a unique way and we’ve never done that before. We recorded one song a day and we’d finish it before moving onto the next one. Usually we’d do all of the drum tracks then the bass tracks, guitars and vocals in blocks. I think that change really suited the band and we all really enjoyed it.

How do you see this album as a progression from your previous albums?

I’d say the album is a little harder and heavier and Soldier In The Ghetto has a slightly Funky feel to it, which is something we’ve not done before. Christian has brought a bit of heaviness to the band and we’ve used a clavinet as I’m a big Soul fan so that’s me tipping my hat to that influence. We all listen to different types of music so when we get together to write all of those influences come together and make quite an eclectic sound.

It’s been a while since your last solo album. Do you have any plans to follow up Stairwell Troubadour?

It’s already done. I finished it in the Spring and I did it with Keith Nelson who was the guitar player in Buckcherry. He produced it and it’s all done. When the Black Star Riders tour cycle has finished, I’ll put the record out then. It’ll probably not be out until 2021.

What about another acoustic tour with Damon Johnson? Is that a possibility for next year?

It’s not really likely next year as we’re on an 18-month touring cycle with Black Star Riders and then I’ll be releasing my solo album which I’ll want to promote then after that it’ll be time to do the next Black Star Riders album. I just don’t know when the opportunity will present itself. The thing with Damon is great. It’s a lot of fun, we don’t really have an agenda. A lot of people have said that we should do an album, but we’re not going to because that would kill what it is. We’d have something to promote and it would make it all formal. At the moment we can do what we want, have a few beers and have fun. That’s the beauty of the Warwick Johnson thing and we want to keep it that way. We’ll do it when we have the time and Damon is headlong into his solo career too but if we have the time, we’d do it.

Your tour ends in Manchester on 27th October. Where do you head next?

We’re straight into Europe right through until the end of November then we take a break for Christmas and then we’ll come out strong in the New Year and will be on a lot of the festivals next summer.

Black Star Riders are on tour now. See blackstarriders.com for full details. Their new album, Another State of Grace is out now on Nuclear Blast. 


  • 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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