BLACK STAR RIDERS - Through Thick And Thin
By Carl Begai
"I lost my mind when I got the gig."
That's Ricky Warwick
, former vocalist/guitarist for THE ALMIGHTY,
being asked in 2010 to join the new and, as it turns out, altogether
brilliant incarnation of the legendary THIN LIZZY
by long time guitarist
Scott Gorham. Which was, of course, a no-brainer decision. Several
years of road dog touring later, the band got down to discussing the
possibility of and need for a new Thin Lizzy record. The fans had
embraced the new band with Warwick standing in for the irreplaceable
Phil Lynott, so why the hell not? Of course, one doesn't simply pick up
and Lizzy left off 30 years ago (with Thunder And
Lightning) without taking long, hard repeated looks in the rear-view
mirror and questioning the wisdom of doing so. In the end songs were
written, music was laid down, and the band decided to leave the past
where it belongs as far the Thin Lizzy legend is concerned, opting to
release the new album All Hell Breaks Loose as the BLACK STAR RIDERS.
Before getting in to the why and how of the Black Star Riders,
Warwick is gracious enough to recap how he came to front his dream band
even though he's taken on the question a gazillion times since getting
the gig. The story has lost none of its fire for him in its re-telling.
"Basically, what happened was is I've known Scott
for many years,
back from when I was in The Almighty in the '90s. I did a solo record in
2002 and Scott payed guitar on a few tracks for me. So, he knew me
well, he knew what I sound like, and when he was putting Thin Lizzy back
together again he sort of had everybody except a singer. He was talking
to Joe Elliott
(DEF LEPPARD) saying that he couldn't find anybody to
sing, and Joe asked him 'Have you thought about Ricky?' Scott's reaction
was pretty much 'Fuck, why didn't I think of that?' and I got the phone
call from out of the blue. It was like 'Here's what the story is,
here's what I want to do; do you want to sing?' (laughs)."
"I describe it as winning the musical lottery. Thin Lizzy is the
band I idolized my whole life, and I was given the chance to stand up
there on that stage to play and sing those songs. You'll say yes to that
without even thinking about it. After I said yes and put the phone
down, then I thought 'Shit, what have I taken on? Phil is such a legend,
he's iconic, he was the greatest frontman in rock n' roll, how am I
going to pull this off?' But, instead of freaking out I lived with it
for a couple days and thought about how I as a Thin Lizzy fan would want
to see the band presented. But, it never stops being surreal. It's
surreal every day and it will be for the rest of my life."
"I never take it for granted," he adds. "The honour is as huge now
as it was when I got that phone call. And there have been moments where
I'm standing there, I look over and there's Scott Gorham, there's the
Thin Lizzy backdrop behind me. I have to be careful because there are
moments where I'm off in dreamland thinking 'Oh my God, I'm fronting
this band, I have to put on a show.'"
"It's a dream come true, absolutely. It really is, and it's been an honour and a privilege to be involved in it."
Adopting the Black Star Riders
moniker rather than continuing to hit
the bricks as Thin Lizzy is a ballsy move. Sure, it's a massive sign of
respect to Mr. Lynott's legacy by choosing not to cash in on the Thin
Lizzy name, but Warwick & Co. are also toying with career suicide
by, in essence, pushing themselves as a brand new band on a largely
spoiled and jaded music scene.
"It was really one of those things that... we started writing the
songs, there's so much going through everybody's mind because it's such a
huge thing because it would have been the first Thin Lizzy album in 30
years. I think our respective guts were saying to us 'It's going to be
great...' one day and 'Maybe this is a step too far, using the Thin
Lizzy moniker...' the next. Certainly for me, I was really wrestling
with my conscience on this because I'm a huge fan. We all had a
discussion and we all kind of blurted out that they were feeling the
same way. That started the ball rolling, where we agreed that the new
songs were great but we should put them out under a different name."
The band hasn't looked back since, and there are no regrets.
"I think doing things the other way would have been far more
detrimental," says Warwick. "A lot of people just wouldn't have accepted
it if we put the album out as Thin Lizzy, and I think this way it's
almost like a new beginning. It's created something... if you told me at
this time last year that we'd be having this conversation I'd be
wondering 'How did that happen?' but in four short months Black Star
Riders is everywhere. It's phenomenal, and it was the correct decision.
It's certainly a weight off my mind and I can actually get back to being
me a bit more."
For all its Lizzy-isms, so-called newbies Warwick and guitarist
Damon Johnson did the bulk of the writing on All Hell Breaks Loose and
managed to turn out a record pretty damn faithful to the back catalogue
they've been serving up on stage for the last few years.
"Scott came in with two or three of those killer Gorham guitar
riffs," Warwick laughs, "so between the three of us we covered it all.
It's such a unique situation. I've been living and breathing Thin Lizzy
my whole life, and in the last three years it's consumed my whole life.
And I'm such a fan of Phil's style of writing that it's just part of who
I am now. It's ingrained in me and I can't deny it. I've never learned
so much from a dead guy in my life (laughs). It's absolutely nuts. It's
like Phil is there teaching me along the way. I've learned more in the
last three years than I've learned in the last 25 years in the industry
just from absorbing Phil's style of writing. Of course it's rubbed off
on me, and it's something I don't want to lose. I want to retain that as
we move forward."
"It's the same with Scott. He's Scott Gorham. and when he picks up a
guitar and plays it, it's going to have that Scott Gorham sound
everyone knows and loves from Thin Lizzy
. I've heard people say 'Oh, we
didn't expect Black Star Riders to sound so Lizzy-ish...' Well, what did
you expect? How could it not? We've kept all the old ingredients and
we're adding new ones along the way as much as we can, but we'll never
lose the foundation of what Black Star Riders, which is Thin Lizzy."
Warwick inists that at no point during the writing and recording for
All Hell Breaks Loose did the band consciously reference Thin Lizzy's
previous albums. There was no push/pull to channel a specific era of
Lizzy's past and no second guessing the new material.
"We wanted to keep the Lizzy spirit and vibe, and write in that
vein. That was the only thing we were really conscious of. If anything,
Scott was going the other way and we were like, 'Dude, you can't do
that; stop denying who you are...' (laughs). A song like 'Bound For
Glory' is Thin Lizzy, totally, but songs like 'Bloodshot' or 'Valley Of
The Stones' are, for me, quite far removed from Lizzy. It's all about
trying to strike a balance, but we didn't overthink it too much. We
wanted to write catchy songs, big choruses, really melodic, and great
guitar riffs."Black Star Riders
have wasted no time getting out on the road for
the new record, ripping up the pavement in Europe while this was going
to press. Warwick comfirms that Thin Lizzy still exists, but only as a
here-and-there live band. From now on, the Riders are the top priority
for everyone involved.
"We're touring constantly, and that's the main reason why Brian
(Downey/drums) and Darren (Wharton/keyboards) aren't with us in Black
Star Riders. They didn't want to do the amount of roadwork that we're
already doing, and they've earned that right. That's fine with us.
Myself, Damon, Marco (Mendoza/bass) and Scotty, we're the guys going
'How long can we stay out there?' We're the road dogs, so we'll tour as
much as we can. Thin Lizzy might do a few one-offs if and when we get
offers coming in, but there will be no more touring. But the Black Star
Riders thing will probably dictate that as well because we're very
focused, and we put a lot of time and effort and belief into this. We're
very committed to seeing this through."
Fans can expect to hear the Thin Lizzy
classics in any given Black Star Riders set, however...
"Absolutely," Warwick assures everyone. "People will be expecting
that and we want to do it. We can go out there and play eight or nine
songs and do six or seven Thin Lizzy
songs as well and that's the beauty
of this for me. We get the best of both worlds."