Ricky Warwick on the Troubles, why the north has more in common with Scotland than the Republic and new Black Star Riders album

RICKY Warwick first emerged as front-man of The Almighty in the late 1980s with the Scottish band’s acclaimed debut Blood, Fire & Love.

Born in Newtownards, Ricky moved to Strathaven in Scotland during his teenage years, where he would soon meet his musical fellow travellers. Warwick’s long career has also included fronting Thin Lizzy and offshoot band Black Star Riders as well as acclaimed solo work.

Next month Black Star Riders kick-off a tenth anniversary tour in Belfast to support new album Wrong Side of Paradise, which is out today. The album cover, which depicts an armed soldier in front of a wall and barbed wire, is a throwback to the singer’s youth.

“The sleeve with the barricades and hole in the wall lets us see what’s on the other side; it’s a spiritual and physical situation,” he explains.

“Back when we were kids we were all fascinated by the wall, we’d wonder are they different? Is it better?”

Ricky moved to Scotland when he was 14, where he found a lot in common with the culture.

“Both grandfathers on my mother’s side were Scottish. With the family it’s in our DNA – we are typical Ulster Scots, both places are extremely important to me,” he says.

“There’s always been that exchange in the culture with the chieftains going backwards and forwards. People in the north-east of Ireland identify more with people from the south-west of Scotland than the Republic – that’s just fact, it’s not political. The slang, the culture and the way people look and act is very similar to that part of Northern Ireland.”

While Northern Ireland was more divided in the “1970s and 80s” as Warwick suggests, he adds: “America has been home for almost 20 years but I don’t think it will be much longer.”

“My wife and I would be looking to come back to Northern Ireland. We spent quite a bit of time there in the last year and go back a lot,” he adds.

Political divisions in the US led Ricky to think about a return home. “I don’t like where America is with divisiveness,” he says. “When I was a kid, America was this sparkly place and it was kind of like that when I first lived there.

“People didn’t care about politics, but it’s not like that any more; coming from Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 80s you are seeing that divisive culture creeping in, it’s very sad.”

While Ricky handles some “heavy” subjects on Wrong Side of Paradise it’s also an uplifting slice of feel-good rock n’ roll. “I always like to write and deal with heavy stuff,” explains Warwick, “it’s a heavy world but I don’t want to be doom and gloom, there’s always a positivity to what I write.

“I’ve been doing it so long with The Almighty and working with Scott Gorham in Thin Lizzy, all of those influences come out, they are in my DNA.

“It’s great because some of the songs remind me of The Almighty. With Scott not on this record I play way more guitar – I usually write the riffs and hand them over.”

While the American guitarist isn’t on the new album, he will be rejoining for the tour.

“Scott’s 71 now, he decided with the pandemic that he needs to take a wee step back with everything that’s been going on. He didn’t want to fly to America which is completely understandable but he gave us his blessing to carry on and will be joining us for the tour. The door is always wide open for Scott, he will come and go as he wants and we’re totally cool with that.”

While Black Star Riders are Ricky’s main concern at the moment, he teased ‘never say never’ in relation to The Almighty on social media, leading to reunion speculation.

While he can’t say anything about that just now, he does reflect on the band’s success: “I’m very proud of everything The Almighty did. I think that’s something I’ve always been proud of. We were influenced by so much different stuff, we weren’t into one genre.

“We were seen as a hard rock or metal band but I loved things like classic Motown and pop was always an influence.”

The band’s 1991 long-player Soul Destruction was produced by Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor: “It was a blast working with Andy and making that record, we were all pulling in the same direction, after gigging for three years the band was really tight, they were good times.”

During the late 1980s rock music had something of a renaissance after Guns N’ Roses released Appetite For Destruction which helped set the tone for a new era.

“It was a catalyst,” explains Ricky. “There was a blueprint where you could combine all these different influences, It’s So Easy was a punk track while Mr Brownstone was more bluesy – we thought if a band can combine all these influences, then so can we.”

Soul Destruction showcased The Almighty’s diversity, carrying on their penchant for hard rock anthems along with more reflective songwriting such as Little Lost Sometimes.

“I still play that when I’m doing solo shows, things were happening so fast; I got married young (to MTV presenter Vanessa Warwick), I was only about 23 or 24,” he says.

“I was questioning my own decisions and things I had done. The lyrics on the album were like a diary, I was trying to get what was in my head out, it was a time when I was unsure about a few things.”

The Almighty’s blend of punk and hard rock roots got them invited on to tours with many of their heroes.

“Our first two tours were with The Ramones and Motörhead,” he recalls. “If someone said after it, ‘That’s your lot’, we’d have been happy. We idolised those bands as kids.

“Lemmy knew we were influenced by them and that Motörhead were one of my all-time favourite bands and he was very gracious. He was a lovely man, those bands treated us well.”

Former Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell will join Black Star Riders as support on tour along with ex-Hanoi Rocks frontman Michael Monroe who made a stunning appearance playing saxophone on Black Star Riders track Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down.

“When I was a kid I wore out a VHS copy of Hanoi Rocks Live at the Marquee, I was a massive fan. Michael has become a good friend, he could headline in his own right but has agreed to come on the road with us, apart from being a lovely human being and a great guy he’s very talented and a real survivor”.

Wrong Side of Paradise is out now

Black Star Riders play the Limelight in Belfast on February 11, with guests Trucker Diablo.

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