The decision to change the name of one of the world’s great rock heritage acts from Thin Lizzy to Black Star Riders is really about new beginnings, according to vocalist and guitarist Ricky Warwick.
It’s been almost 30 years since the passing of Phil Lynott, one of rock n roll’s greatest frontmen, and when the band officially reformed in 1996, critics were quick to dismiss them with cries of, “It’s not Thin Lizzy without Phil!”
Lead vocalist and guitarist Ricky Warwick knows all too well the shoes he fills whenever he steps on stage.
“There’s pressure every night because of people’s expectations of Phil, because people want you to sound like him,” Warwick confesses.
“They want the songs to be played the way they know and love, and rightly so. I do my best to give them that while retain my own identity, my own charisma and my own passion all rolled into it as well. It’s like a balancing act, you know? It’s an amazing gig but it’s not an easy gig, but I wouldn’t have taken it on if I didn’t feel like I could have done it justice.”
The weight of expectation provides Warwick with a target – to turn doubters into converts. “Every time we come to a new country and people haven’t seen the band it’s always challenging because people are checking it out whether it’s good,” Warwick explains, “but by the second or third song, you see people starting to go ‘This is the band. They’re great’, and it just takes off. Still, what an honour, you know? An absolute honour.”
Warwick has been fronting the band since 2010. Thinking back to his first show, the nerves must have been on overdrive as he stepped into the shoes to prove himself to critics and fans that he was going to be the new voice of Thin Lizzy. “It gives me shivers when I think about it,” he remembers. “It was in Aberdeen in Scotland playing to almost 3000 people at a sold out gig, and we stood behind this kabuki before we went on stage, and I thought I was going to burst into tears ‘cos I’d never been so fucking scared in all my life. Then suddenly everything’s going through your mind and you think ‘I’m gonna forget all the words’ then the kabuki fell and we were off. A buddy said to me 20 minutes before the show, ‘Your life after tonight is going to be different forever. No matter what happens’ and I thought that was very true. I’m sure I looked like a rabbit stuck in headlights at that first gig because I was terrified but I just wanted to get it right.”
These days, Warwick is confident in his role, and quick to respond to critics: “Of course I’m not Phil, but the guy’s no longer with us so what more do you want? Just come and enjoy the music. Even when I think of Thin Lizzy, I don’t think of them with me fronting them. In my head I still see them with Phil. Phil was a huge influence on me and my singing style so hopefully I do sound a bit similar to him and that I’ve got the phrasing in the right places. The last I would want to do is come in and change anything because what you have is genius. Genius songs and genius song writing, written by a genius lyricist and singer. Why change it?”
Since 1998, Warwick has been fronting his own band The Almighty, where he is chief songwriter. Taking on the role of singing someone else’s material must have been a whole new experience. “We always did the odd cover in The Almighty but I never had to learn a complete set of someone else’s songs and lyrics,” he explains, adding, “but it’s Thin Lizzy so it wasn’t a problem at all. I mean, what great lyrics to learn? Phil was a genius poet so it was a real honour.”
The name change to Black Star Riders rose out of respect for Lynott. The debut album under the name All Hell Breaks Loose will be out in May and Warwick is anticipating its release, confident the Thin Lizzy fans will love it.
“This album was written on the road, the whole thing; in hotel rooms, on tour buses, on napkins,” he says of the process. “I wrote all the lyrics and the melodies and we all worked on the music, then we recorded old-school and finished in 12 days; we did a song a day and did it all live, the band playing together in a room. There’s hardly any overdubs on it. We rehearsed like mad and knew the songs inside out. ”
But does it still sound like a Thin Lizzy album?
“It sounds like Lizzy with twin guitars all over it,” Warwick says. “Phil was a huge influence when we were writing it and we want to keep what was great about Lizzy and continue with Black Star Riders.” .”
Warwick’s excitement and enthusiasm is infectious. One can only hope we see the band head to Australia to hear these songs live.
“We start touring in June so as soon as we hit the road we’ll be hitting it everywhere and hopefully we’ll head to Oz as soon as we can,” Warwick adds. “We’ve worked really hard on the live show and really hard on the songs and I think the album sounds fantastic. Those people that have heard it have been blown away by it. It’s done so let’s just put it out there and let the world decide.”
We are waiting eagerly.
Black Star Riders’ All Hell Breaks Loose – a first listen
Solid jams found within! All Hell Breaks Loose is the all-original album by the band that used to be Thin Lizzy. Now following on from that legacy, all eyes and ears are fixated on what could be the make or break album for these legendary rockers. Thankfully, everything has scored a thumbs up. Backed with a solid rhythm section, the flawless guitar work from Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson is filled with dual harmonies and classic riffs reminiscent of what made Thin Lizzy so great in the beginning. Topped off with Ricky Warwick’s vocals that are an ode to rock’s fallen warrior Phil Lynott, and you have one hell of a combination for award-winning stadium rock. The result? Eleven tracks of no bullshit rock’n’roll, sometimes heavy, other times classic, and at no time boring. If Thin Lizzy or The Almighty were ever your thing, (and why wouldn’t they be?), then Black Star Riders are going to be your knight in shining armour. With All Hell Breaks Loose, Black Star Riders have managed to piece together what was great about the ’70s and modernise it into something that will stand the test of time and continue the Lizzy legacy far into the future. I, for one, thank them for it.