If you want to talk about rock stars who’ve been there, bought the t-shirt, and got the scars, Irish-born rocker Ricky Warwick should be fairly high up on that list. Along with a career that has seen him fronting grease rockers The Almighty, Irish rock icons Thin Lizzy, and hard rock favourites Black Star Riders, Warwick has a solo career that has just seen him release his sixth solo album When Life Was Fast and Hard through Nuclear Blast Records.
Following the release of the album, we chatted with Warwick about his career, his childhood, politics, and his thoughts on modern music but, most importantly, whether or not he “gothed up” as a teenager.
Thanks for your time Ricky. It’s been a while since we spoke so it’s good to catch up…
Ricky Warwick: “No problem, thanks for talking to me.”
Obviously news has just come out that the tour has been rescheduled just a few days before the government announced that shows in the UK are likely to return this summer. Is that frustrating for you?
“Yeah, I pretty much knew that we were going to cancel. Nobody knows the way out of this and, when we booked this six or seven months ago, we’re all at the mercy of the pandemic. The vaccine is really kicking in now and we’re seeing a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t want to move it then move it again so we talked and agreed to put it back to 2022 as unless, god forbid, something crazy happens, we should be out of the woods by then. The decision was taken to move it back to make sure we are all in a good place by then.”
The album has just been released, is there a plan B in the meantime for the next six or seven months?
“Yes, going back to your question, it is frustrating that I can’t go out on the road and play those songs right now while the impetus is there and they’re fresh and exciting and people are hearing them for the first time. To wait another year to go out and play them isn’t ideal but it is what it is. All I can do is this (promoting the album). Right now I’m doing a lot of promo, I’ve been doing the videos and the online shows and that’s the extent of what I can do because I’m limited because you still can’t travel and stuff like that. I haven’t been vaccinated yet and you’ve got to take all of that into consideration. It is what it is.”
Dublin, Scotland, Belfast, London, LA, and that’s before we take into consideration the years of touring. You’re a well-travelled man so how have you kept sane being stuck at home for 12 months?
“It’s been weird. As much as I used to moan about getting on airplanes and doing that transatlantic flight 11 or 12 times a year, I miss it like hell now. I was always on the move. I was always going to different places. It’s been strange. I haven’t set foot on an airplane since November 2019, that’s been the longest I can remember that I haven’t gone anywhere or travelled and I haven’t played live since then either. I’ve got to be home with my family for a year which has been amazing. I’ve been here for all the birthdays and all the other stuff I’ve missed over the years. That’s what I am trying to take from this. I used to joke about taking a year off and now that choice has been made for me by the pandemic, I’m done with that and I’m ready to go again.”
A lot of bands have talked about this forced break giving them chance to recharge their batteries and reassess other priorities in their lives. Can you relate to that?
“I think it has yes. It’s definitely been time for reflection and assessing where I’m at. I’ve come to realize there are more days behind me than there are ahead of me. If you know what I mean? That’s just the way that it is. I always did value what I had. I never took it for granted but even more so now I value what I have. The fact that I’ve still been able to function and still be creative and play to some extent during all this adversity, that’s been nice. I’ve played guitar and sung more now than I ever have because when you come off tour you don’t want to look at a guitar but, now, every day I’ve been singing and playing so it’s maybe even made me a better all-round musician.”
You’ve talked about reflection and having more days behind you than ahead but you’ve got some good days coming with a great new record out…
“Absolutely. I’m not stopping until I physically can’t do this anymore. I’m a lifer when it comes to rock n’ roll. I truly appreciate the past and the past is very important to get you where you are now and, because of it, you wouldn’t be the person that you are. Anybody that knows me knows that I don’t dwell on things or somebody who goes on about how it was better back then. I don’t want to go back, I want to keep going forward.”
As you said, you’ve been writing and playing more than ever over the last twelve months. With Black Star Riders and your solo work, how do you decide what songs fit where?
“Gut-instinct really. I start writing something then I start to imagine (guitarist) Scott (Gorham) or (guitarist) Christian (Martucci) playing a guitar part on it or start wondering what (drummer) Chaz (Szeliga) or (bassist) Robbie (Crane) bring to it as the rhythm section then you start going down that road where it becomes a Black Star Riders song or you start playing something a bit different that doesn’t fit into the Black Star Riders box. Black Star Riders have a particular sound, which we’re very proud of and aware of it. We’re very aware of giving the fans what they want and expect from Black Star Riders. I love that but, with the solo stuff, all the roads are open and you can go wherever you want. The possibilities are limitless. There is no democracy, you don’t have to listen to four other opinions. It’s a complete narcissism which appeals to me because I write as much as I do, I need an outlet for all that material.
There’s definitely been a few moments where Scottie’s heard it and raised an eyebrow as if to say ‘and you kept that one for yourself and held it back from us?’ They trust me not to turn up to Black Star Riders with nothing because I’ve used it on my solo album.”
As an artist it must be fantastic to know you’ve got a wealth of different material you can dip into whenever you want?
“It is. It’s amazing. If you’ve got songs, you’ve got everything. If something comes along and you’re armed with ideas and material, you’re never going to be stuck. What terrifies me the most is not having anything at all in the bank.”
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
“No, not really. More so when I was in The Almighty because of not having the confidence in my own ability that I do now. Just being younger and thinking I’m not as good as I thought I was. As you get older you just don’t give a fuck about what people think and your confidence just grows. Also, the more you do something, the better you get at it and songwriting is no exception.”
That’s a surprising thing to hear given the swagger you had as a band back in The Almighty days?
“We had swagger in abundance and walked the walk and talked the talk. Strip that away though and when I was writing those songs, behind it all, I was very conscious of living up to something and delivering the goods and maybe questioning my own ability too much. I actually stuck on Powertrippin’ the other day for the first time in a long, long time and it’s great. It’s a testimony that people are still talking about it now. I love that fact.”
Back to the new album then. You’ve got a good selection of guests on there, do you write songs with them in mind?
“They all came after the songs were written. These are friends of mine that just happen to be extremely talented friends who make music that I love. I’m talking to these people all the time. We’re buddies and we’re texting each other all the time. It’s no surprise then, to them or me. I’ve been working with Andy Taylor on his solo material for next year. It’s like I’m in the studio, got a track that I think you’d be great on it, send it over, and three days later it’s back. It’s back to that narcissistic thing as well, you’re not pissing off anybody in the band if you get somebody to guest on a vocal or provide a guitar solo.”
What about the song you did with your daughter Pepper? Was that written with her in mind?
“I actually wrote that song absolutely one hundred percent for her. She’s already singing and playing instruments and really into her music so I decided to ask her if she’d sing on it.”
Have you passed on any word of advice or wisdom to Pepper about the industry? What about the bands you grew up listening to?
“We’ve consciously let them find their own way. Both myself and my wife work in music so there is always music on in the house. We’re always surrounded by art and music so we’ve just let them soak it up and take what they want out of it. They’ve found their own way. Pepper is really into Broadway musicals, she’s really into Billie Eilish, she’s a huge influence on her. I think Billie Eilish is amazing so I’m totally cool with that. We’ve not pushed them, my stepdaughter, who is an artist, started working backward. For one of her projects she did The 27 Club, you know all the artists who passed away at 27. She did these amazing portraits of Brian Jones, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison.
I took her to see The Who about five or six years ago and we had these really great seats, she would have been about 15 at the time. She was getting into Bob Dylan at the time and they came on to ‘Who Are You?’ and it was like watching my 15 year old self, she just lost her mind, she went ballistic. The guys are old enough to be her grandad and she thought it was amazing. That was lovely to see.”
What about new music? Do they put stuff on where you think “this is just noise?”
“Sure, they do put on a lot of stuff that I don’t get. A lot of this auto-tuned stuff now they’re all listening to. A lot of the gangsta-rap stuff, I just can’t relate to. Anything that glorifies violence or is being derogatory to women, I don’t want anything to do with it but a lot of kids seem to be drawn to it. They turn round and say it was just the same when you were listening to punk. Punk was about unity and bringing people together. It was about fighting against racism and against corrupt governments. It wasn’t being derogatory or putting people down. There is definitely some music out there that I just can’t get into. It’s not that I can’t get into it, I can’t get into what they’re saying or what it is about. It’s a culture that is alien to me to glorify that kind of thing.”
You’ve been there, got the t-shirt, got the battle scars. Have you given them any advice?
“Be yourself and work hard. Hopefully they see how hard me and my wife work and how passionate I am about what I do. Other than that not really, I haven’t pushed them too hard. We let them find their own way and make their own mistakes. You’ve got to make mistakes to learn and I think the hard way is the best way sometimes, I really do.”
Going back to your own childhood. What are your memories of growing up in Ireland in what was a very political time?
“It’s one of those things that, when you’re born into something, you don’t know any different. You just accept it as the norm. I’ve got nothing but really good memories of Belfast. I’m not going to lie, you did hear some really weird stuff like bombs going off and there were the soldiers at the end of the street and roadblocks. There were some scary situations but, when you’re a kid, you know no fear. If you don’t know any different, that’s your reality, that’s your life.
It’s not until later on in life when I’m in my 20s and I started travelling and seeing the rest of the world that you started thinking about how fucked up it was. That was a bombsite we were playing on. That was a dead guy at the end of the street. That was an armoured car parked outside our house. Then it sort of hits you but, other than that great memories, great characters, and great situations. Great for writing songs because of all the great people and characters I met.”
You’ve touched on politics. Living in America it must be hard not to be influenced by that these days?
“The last four years have been been very interesting. I’m very, very glad that there’s a human being in the White House because that person before was a sorry excuse for a human being in every way. Nothing to do with politics, just to do with morality and having some empathy and actually doing the right thing. And yeah, it was, it was a horrible four years. It really got to a lot of people. It certainly got to me. I’ve never let politics get to me in such a way but it had such an adverse effect, and you could feel the tension in America and seeing the riots you know, that happened over the summer and then seeing all the riots on Capitol Hill in January.
You know, prior to the election, I mean, I live in Beverly Hills so I’m very lucky to a very affluent part of LA but all the shops were boarded up and it reminded me of Belfast in the ‘70s. Well, it took me back there to see all the chipboard over the windows of the shops and going, you know, we learned nothing. I don’t understand this road of hatred, bigotry, and capitalism. Putting down your fellow human being, negativity, it’s a fucking dead-end street but let’s keep going down it. As species, we’ve not learned, it does not work. Why do we keep going down the same god damn street?”
Do you think we’ll have learned anything from the pandemic?
“I don’t know. You see Texas opening back up. They’ve dropped the mask mandate. We’re not even close to being ready when people can’t even just wear a mask. We have every creature comfort known to humankind at our disposal, we don’t need to leave our couch and we can live quite happily. Infringing on my freedom? Really? What was your freedom like before because it looks to me like you haven’t got off your couch in 40 fucking years? All you’re being asked to do is wear a mask. If you get sick or you break a bone, you go to the doctor and the doctor goes, ‘oh, you broken a bone in your arm. You need to wear a cast for six months. Take these painkillers. You’ll be all right. All right, Doctor, no problem.’
There’s a worldwide pandemic and the doctor says that if you wear this mask it’s probably going to protect you and protect other people but you don’t want to do that. Why the mistrust of science? It’s just bonkers, and you’re probably noticing that it makes me quite irate. We’re not being asked to go to a foreign country and dodge bullets and bombs and, and kill fellow human beings. All we’re doing is being asked to be sensible, to be respectful to each other and a lot of people can’t even do that. And that worries me, that worries me about us as a species.”
What do you hope we’ll have learned coming out of the other side?
“Respect for each other. Not to take things for granted. Not take the fact that we can socialize and go anywhere and travel like the way we used to for granted. You could go anywhere. I could be over in the UK in ten hours, you know? You could go and eat and get together with your friends. That was something that was always ever-present and nobody ever thought that would ever change. And obviously, it did. I think, hopefully, people will now cherish that moving forward.”
Absolutely. Ok, moving forward, then. We’ve talked about your love of Ireland. When you’re old and grey, do you see yourself retiring back there?
“Yeah! I have one daughter to get through high school now and when she’s done and she starts to find her way in life, I think we might look at moving. Or we might stay in America and we see what the next election brings? I would love to. I’ve got a lot of friends and family there and it’s in my heart. That is definitely a big piece of my heart right there.”
Which leads me to my next question. The song “You’re My Rock And Roll.” Can we just go back to the start to when you discovered music…
“It was Top of the Pops on a Thursday night. It was a religious experience for a kid plus I had two older sisters that were really into rock music as well. It was great because there was always music playing. My dad playing all the old Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, that stuff was always on in the house. I also used to sneak the radio into bed at night and listened to Radio Luxembourg. I’d religiously listen to Radio One every morning. So, from like six years old, that’s when I really that was it. I was fascinated by it.”
Did you play on Top of the Pops with The Almighty?
“We did it one time and they showed the video a couple of times, but they were brave enough to have us on one time. And I think they never asked us back. They looked at us like what the hell is going on here? Who are these guys? What is this? I think we were obviously living up to the stereotypical Almighty-isms. We were just really drunk like most of the bands in our generation were. Top of the Pops, it was a benchmark back then for people and then people were just like, ‘Oh, my God, you must be really successful.’”
Earlier on you talked about your confidence and not being confident as a songwriter. Did that success go to your head?
“Not really, which I think comes from my upbringing, about not getting too carried away. Knowing you’re only as good as the last song you wrote or the last show you played and keeping your feet on the ground. I was always very aware that you have to be on your game.”
Just a couple of things quickly to finish off then. Firstly, with the album you’ve got the covers CD, there’s a couple of interesting covers on there. Are there any others that you’ve been jamming on your porch or on your balcony, that you’re going to let us hear?
“I’ve really been working on a lot of new songs and then I’ve been obviously writing a lot for Black Star Riders. I’m already working on the next solo record. I’ve been writing for some other artists as well so I haven’t been covering too many songs. We’ll see though. I mean, ‘You Spin Me Right Round,’ that is one of my favourite songs, it’s just a great classic pop song and I used to love it at the goth discos I used to go to. I just loved it. ‘Oops, I Did It Again,’ was for my daughter Pepper. I learned it just for her thinking it would sound pretty cool on guitar. I also thought there was the irony of this tattooed Neanderthal Irish guy covering a Britney Spears song. It’s a bit of fun, but you know, I wouldn’t rule anything out. I’m open to anything and a good song is a good song.”
Goth Discos? Did Ricky Warwick go full goth back in his teenage years?
“Well, I was a punk goth. I had the black mohawk with the shaved sides and the eyeliner. I had my girlfriend at the time who looked like Susie Quatro. She could get the eye makeup and she looked fantastic. I was more into stuff like Killing Joke, and New Model Army, and Sisters of Mercy. You know, goth bands with an edge? We had to be edgy.”
Absolutely. Ok, just to finish off then, we’ve obviously talked about the tour, what’s next on the agenda?
“Well, I’m promoting this album as much as I can online doing what I’m doing. Over the summer, we’re due to get into the studio with Black Star Riders for album number five. We’re just going to get it recorded but it will probably only see the light of day later on in 2022 and I’ve also got to get the solo touring out of the way.”
Excellent. Well, I think we’ve covered everything just over to you for the last words…
“No problem, it’s been good chatting to you, thanks for your support, appreciate it.”