The Black Star Riders frontman on the bands he’s been in, school, fighting, underage drinking and uncomfortable clogs.
Ricky Warwick has spent 30 years at rock’s coal face, as frontman, sideman, solo artist and hired hand. He’s been a punk with New Model Army, a rocker with The Almighty and the designated filler of some very big shoes as the man who stepped up to front the post-Phil Lynott Thin Lizzy. That Lizzy reunion evolved into Black Star Riders, who tour the UK in November. Warwick spoke to Classic Rock at his home in Los Angeles.
What were you like at school?
There were two stages. When I was at school at Northern Ireland I was pretty quiet and withdrawn. Then when I turned fourteen or fifteen I started getting a bit more rambunctious. And then we moved to Scotland and it all went downhill from there – starting fights, getting into fights, messing around. A lot of underage drinking.
Can you remember the first time you drank yourself sick?
Absolutely. It was an under-eighteens disco, and we’d snuck in a litre bottle of vodka mixed with Coke. I remember the hall starting to spin wildly. Next thing I knew I was on my hands and knees and there was vomit flying everywhere.
When you played guitar in New Model Army did they make you wear clogs? [Laughs] They didn’t make me wear them, but I wanted to. I wanted to fit in. I was so in awe of the whole New Model Army thing – the band and the following. I was so thrilled to be a part of that. But clogs were uncomfortable, so I didn’t wear them that much and went back to the motorcycle boots.
When did you first realise you could be a frontman?
Seeing Stiff Little Fingers in 1980 was the defining moment. I went to see them in Belfast and it literally changed my life. I walked out of the concert going: “That’s it. Forget about the football. Forget about schoolwork. I need to be up on that stage.”
In the late nineties you had a fraught time with The Almighty: in and out and in and out. Did those experiences make you question whether you should be in a band?
They absolutely did. When The Almighty split in 1996 I jumped straight into a three-piece. And we were doing really well. We went to Japan, recorded a record, we were getting great reviews, a lot of interest from labels. I don’t want to cry ‘poor me’, but we had one label pull out the night before we were about to sign a big deal. I was starting to get very disillusioned with the whole business. When that ended I was in Dublin, going through a divorce. I’d put all the money I’d made into it, and I was thinking maybe I shouldn’t be doing this any more. After that I don’t think I touched my guitar for a year, and I seriously questioned whether I wanted to carry on making music. It was a really shitty time.
Did The Almighty fulfil their potential?
That’s a really good question. We definitely reached a peak around ninetyfour/ninety-five, and then I think we weren’t getting along and that was the main problem, more than the music. In hindsight, maybe we should have taken a break for a year and a half instead of splitting up. But I don’t have any regrets.
And then into Thin Lizzy. Standing in for Phil Lynott must have been difficult. I knew how hard it was going to be, and how certain people would feel about it. But I felt I could do Phil, Thin Lizzy and the legacy justice. At no point was I stupid enough to think I could stand in those shoes, all I can do is stand beside them and try my best, without trying to be a clone of Phil.
Do you believe in God?
I would call myself a humanist – I believe in a higher power, but I think it’s Mother Nature or karma.
What’s your biggest regret?
I don’t have too many. I would have loved to have spent more time with my father before he passed away.
And your biggest waste of money?
I just bought a new car. It might be that. A Ford Mustang. The family’s getting older now, so I’ve indulged myself. I’m not a very materialistic person.
A rock singer and a Mustang. What are your insurance premiums like?
It’s okay in the USA for an old rock musician and a Mustang. I’ve been driving for thirtythree years and my licence is clean, so it’s not that bad!
When death eventually comes, how would you like to go?
Quickly, in my sleep, and at a good old age. My father went out in the perfect way. He was eighty-four. He had a heart attack and died in my mother’s arms, the woman he’d been with for sixty-five years. He just went. If you’re gonna go, that’s right up there – in peace and with as little fuss as possible.
What words will be engraved on your tombstone? “Here lies Ricky Warwick. Cum On Feel The Noize.”
Black Star Riders’ U K tour runs from November 8 to 19.
“Seeing Stiff Little Fingers in 1980 literally changed my life.”