BLACK STAR RIDERS – Almighty Rock N’ Roll
February 7, 2017, a year ago
"We're a fairly new band coming out of Thin Lizzy four years ago. We've grown together and gotten better as a band, we've forged our own identity, and that's really come to the fore with this third record. We've finally stepped out of the glorious shadow of Thin Lizzy and as crazy as it sounds, it's nice to be able to do that. I think Black Star Riders is very much its own band now."
So says vocalist / guitarist Ricky Warwick, who became a part of the Thin Lizzy legacy in 2009 as their new singer - standing in for, not replacing, the late great Phil Lynott - a partnership that evolved into the formation of Black Star Riders in 2012 with guitarists Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson. The band is three albums into their career with the release of Heavy Fire, a heavy yet upbeat rock record that is of course reminiscent of Thin Lizzy, only with a sharper set of teeth compared to their previous two albums.
"We're very honoured to have the Thin Lizzy legacy behind us, and it's a huge thing to be influenced by that," Warwick says of the inevitable and welcome Lizzy comparisons. "It's a complete honour and we don't look at it any other way, but the idea was that Black Star Riders was going to create its own identity. The reason we played a lot of Lizzy songs on the first tour we did was because we only had one album. There were fewer Lizzy songs on the last tour, and on the next tour there will probably only be one or two because we love playing those songs, there's Scott's involvement in all this, but now we can rely on Black Star Riders and nothing else."
Fans of Warwick's work are well aware of his humble beginnings with The Almighty, a thundering four-piece formed in 1988 that could well have been the next Motörhead. Folks will never mistake Black Star Riders for his former band, but there are songs on Heavy Fire - the title track, "Who Rides The Tiger", "Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed") - that could easily have a home on The Almighty's Powertrippin' and Just Add Life albums.
"I don't know if that was a conscious thing," says Warwick. "I wasn't thinking about The Almighty when I wrote those songs and those lyrics, but I don't think I've ever lost the angst or the drive that I had when I was in The Almighty. That's in my DNA and I've taken it forward into Black Star Riders. I had a very clear vision for the album, moreso than the other two; I had a lot of lyrics and ideas, I had the album title. I don't know why, but I knew what I wanted the album to sound like and feel like going in."
Even though Heavy Fire is upbeat, it seems the band delivered a record thinking heavier and darker was the way to go this time out.
"There was no plan like that. We wanted to write the best anthemic and meaningful songs that we could that would move us and move people. I want people to get some kind of connection to the lyrics, I want people to want to get up and dance on a song like 'Testify'. I want to combine the two ingredients of saying something and putting a smile on somebody's face. I wanted to make the songs catchy and uplifting and emotive."
Warwick has always been a storyteller through his music and the tradition continues on Heavy Fire. Much like with his interviews, he always has something of substance to offer in his songs.
"That's where I come from. Being Irish, I come from a nation of storytellers. For me, I've been drawn to lyricists like Phil, Van Morrison, Joe Strummer, Bruce Springsteen and Lemmy. Those were the guys that made me think 'What are they saying? Why are they saying that?' They told stories that were meaningful things. Even stuff like the Sex Pistols, John Lydon wrote great lyrics. I was always pulled in by the songs with a meaning."
Responsible for the lyrics and vocal melodies, Warwick also has a hand in writing the music for Black Star Riders with Gorham and Johnson. It's a case of bringing material to his bandmates and exchanging ideas as part of a song's natural evolution. One has to wonder if, after several years of working together, Warwick is ever in awe of the fact he's writing with the guitarist of one of his favourite bands growing up.
"Oh yeah, there are definitely moments where I think 'Shit, that's Scott Gorham....' (laughs). It's great. I love it when those moments come along because it's a good reminder. I can be sitting across from him on the tour bus or he's off to my left on stage and I think 'I'm in a band with Scott Gorham.' That's never left me and I hope it never will. Obviously, Scott was part of an iconic band that influenced so many musicians and people with what he did. Just to have him in Black Star Riders is a huge thing."
As a no-nonsense rock band, Black Star Riders are afforded a lot of the same attention given to other old school rock bands that are still going strong in 2017 even though Black Star Riders are a young and comparitively untried band if you ignore the Thin Lizzy connection.
"I don't think what we do is old school," Warwick counters. "I think it's very fresh and relevant. If there were guys in their 20s playing this stuff there would be no old school about it."
Okay, we'll call it classic rock for lack of a better term.
"Even worse (laughs) but I know what you're saying and I agree with you 100%. People will always love rock n' roll. It's been around since the '50s; rock n' roll is getting old and our rock stars - first generation rock stars - are dying of old age. It's a tragedy but that's what happens in the universe. Everything has been done in rock n' roll. Everything. There are only so many chords, there are only so many ways to use the language. Everything that's going on now is about re-inventing rock n' roll, putting a new slant on it and trying to make it different from what's been done before. Nothing is shocking anymore and time is just moving on. Thirty years ago somebody might have said 'Oh, you're 35, much to old to be a rock n' roller.' Those people hadn't lived past 35, and guess what? That 35 year-old gets to 45 and realizes he still likes playing his guitar. He feels great and decides he's going to keep doing it, and that's why we've got the Rolling Stones and all these great bands that have been around forever and are still going out, playing shows and kicking ass."
And with all the experience Warwick has under his belt in 2017, I have to ask if he's surprised Black Star Riders is still around for a third album. With the way the music industry has changed since he started out, it's fair to say longevity is not necessarily part of the big picture when forming a band in this day and age.
"That's a great question, and I'm extremely happy to still be here. I've been working professionally as a musician for 30 years as of this year, which is insane. It's been a lifetime of doing this for a job and I'm so blessed to have this. If you had asked me 30 years ago if The Almighty would make more than one album I would have said no. I had no idea what people were going to make of Black Star Riders; we knew we had great songs, we knew that we wanted to carry on. That's all you've got, and after that it's up to the people. It's all down to the fans and they're the reason I've been able to do this for 30 years. I'm grateful for that."