DATE OF INTERVIEW:
12th January 2011
Back in the late 80s, he made his name fronting one of the most exciting metal bands, The Almighty. He is renowned as an essential solo artist and frequent collaborator with some of the biggest names in rock. But, these days, Ricky Warwick is the new and official frontman of Thin Lizzy and few would disagree that he’s already proven to be an inspired choice as lead singer - never out for one moment to replace original frontman, and founding member, Phil Lynott, but still with the vocal range and charisma to do justice to songs like ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘Whisky In The Jar’. Almost 25 years after the death of legendary Irish iconic rocker Lynott, the latest incarnation of Thin Lizzy are back out on the road once again. As well as Warwick, ex-Dio and Def Leppard guitarist, Vivian Campbell and ex-Whitesnake bassist Marco Mendoza feature alongside Lynott-era core members, Brian Downey, Darren Wharton and Scott Gorham, in what is perhaps one of the strongest line-ups in over a decade. At the beginning of the band’s 2011 UK tour, before their show at the DeMontfort Hall in Leicester, Metal Discovery spent some time with Warwick, discussing his excitement and disbelief that he really is in this band; his efforts to make Lynott proud of his work by carrying his legacy with respect; and how he always looks back on The Almighty-era with great joy and pride.
METAL DISCOVERY: Wow, your hair! What happened to your hair...it’s gone all goth?!
RICKY WARWICK: Yeah, goth feckin rocker! [laughs] I just fancy a change!
(Ricky Warwick on Thin Lizzy's objectives in their current incarnation)
"I have had no intention of filling Phil's shoes...It must be, and has got to be, different for the simple fact because Phil is Phil Lynott and he is simply irreplaceable...Nobody can replace him and no one is trying to replace him. But what we are really trying is to go out there and play his songs with respect, with a passion; try to reach to his level of energy and spirit and try to make them as vibrant as we can..."
Interview by Marija Brettle
Thin Lizzy, Promo Shot, 2010
Photograph copyright © 2010 Ross Halfin
MD: What sort of reaction are you getting so far from the audience and Thin Lizzy fans, considering that you were once a frontman of one of the best and most exciting rock bands in the late 80s?
RW: It’s been amazing. I mean, it’s been really, really good! It couldn’t have gone any better. Our shows have been approximately sold out...and the crowd were into it, and it was everything I hoped it would be. I just wanted to get up there and do my best. Everyone seems to be loving it. All in all, it’s an amazing experience for me. Well, there were moments where I caught myself as a fan looking around thinking, “there’s Scott, there is Brian Downey!”, and then I found myself looking up at the Thin Lizzy sign thinking , “wow, I'm really in Thin Lizzy!” I mean, it couldn’t have gone any better. I remember on my first night, in Aberdeen, I was sooo nervous, shitting myself before the show. I was terrified but, also, it was kind of an empowering thing, getting all that reaction from the crowd. The crowd were into it and it was everything and more I hoped it would be. I mean, you always will get people who will say, “it’s not like it was with Phil Lynott”. Of course, I am not Phil. It’s one Phil Lynott. We all know that and it’s not gonna be the same as Phil in the band; of course it’s not...but we’re trying to get it as close to vibrant and great as we can, without Phil actually being in the band. If Phil was around he would approve of how we’re respecting his legacy, and I am pretty sure he would say, “go for it, keep bringing my songs to the people!” And that’s all we can do.
MD: Well, that’s the best and most honourable way to carry on Phil’s legacy...
RW: Absolutely! Scott, Brian and Darren were there from the beginning and they wrote all those songs with Phil together...and they have as much right to play these songs as anybody; yeah, as anybody! And that’s what they are doing. I used to be a great Lizzy fan. I love Phil and it’s a real honour and real pleasure for me to sing his songs.
MD: Is it true that you’ve never seen Thin Lizzy live before, and that your first glimpse of Scott was on stage was during the first show in Aberdeen last week?
RW: No, never, never seen them before live! Which is, in a way, quite funny when you think about that - I am here, in this band now, and their singer! [laughs] First time I saw Phil was when he was with a band called Grand Slam, which is the band he was in after Lizzy split. I saw Grand Slam playing in Glasgow. So the first time I really see Thin Lizzy live is when I was actually in the band…in a way, it’s really funny!
MD: How long did it take you to learn all of Thin Lizzy’s songs?
RW: Ermmm...it’s hard...I am still learning the lyrics and am getting better with every show; yeah, still learning. I know that I had the job since last May so, you know, I had literally seven months to get it all together...the music and all the words. And there is a lot to learn you know, because I wanted to stay true to the songs and stay true to the way Phil sang them...capture the vibe. So, I am still learning and I make some odd mistakes a couple of times on stage [laughs]. Everybody forgets the words now and then, even to their own songs, but they are minor - the odd words, the odd lines…but I worked hard. I did my homework well.
MD: Was it musically challenging to ‘slot in’ and capture some of Phil’s guitar riffs?
RW: You know, I never really sang anybody else’s songs. I’ve always been a song writer and written stuff. Yeah, I’ve done the odd, maybe, one or two cover versions but to learn the whole entire body of work was the hardest thing for me, as you would expect when you join a legendary band such as Lizzy! So that was a little strange...you know, I just try the best I can.
MD: But you are well known as somebody who’s often been collaborating in the past with lots of other artists. After The Almighty, you had a good period of working with people like Billy Duffy. You even said that there was a great work dynamic with him, and came close touring with him?
RW: Well, we put in a killer album with Billy which is called 'Circus Diablo'. And that was a lot of fun to do. I know Billy from his days working with my friend Billy Morrison. But Billy and the rest of the guys in the band had commitments with different bands/projects. So nobody could commit to the band as it was hard to get our schedules together to tour. So, unfortunately, we couldn’t really go on with the tour.
MD: I guess with Billy, at that time, his commitment was to Ian Astbury and The Cult?
RW: Yeah, all of us had commitments, everyone was busy. I was busy ‘cause my solo career started going on sooo well.
MD: You also did a good amount of work with Joe Elliott from Def Leppard?
RW: No, really, Joe produced my first solo records. He was producer...so I was working with him in the studio on those records, you know.
MD: I heard you were his best man at his wedding?
RW: [laughs] Yeah, I was, yes...
MD: How was the wedding?
RW: Errrm...beautiful! Beautiful day!
MD: Was it LA style? I mean like many other flashy rock star weddings?
RW: Not really, not at all. Joe is an absolutely down to earth guy. It was in the middle of nowhere in Ireland...and he had just a bunch of very good friends there. No, it was lovely day, really.
MD: These days you live in LA, where also many other British musicians live too. Do you often hang around with any of them?
RW: I don’t. I hang around with my wife, my kids...don’t live the rock’n’roll life style at all.
MD: You are known for keeping your private life well away from your professional life...
RW: I am very private...I am extremely private. My family are everything for me and I try to protect them as much as I can, and when I am not doing anything with music, all I wanna do is spend time with them.
MD: Considering you are, most of the time, away mainly touring, do you manage sometimes to take them with you travelling on your tour bus?
RW: Err, sometimes; when I am near LA. Sometimes my wife comes over for a couple of shows a year. I take them down...
MD: Since you are with Thin Lizzy people keep asking you same question, like, “How does it feel to get into Phil’s Lynott shoes?”; or, “How hard it is to fill Lynott’s shoes?” Do you find it a bit annoying?
RW: Oh yeah, people always like to know if I am trying to fill Phil's shoes. Well, I must clear this once and for all with all Thin Lizzy and Phil Lynott fans. I have had no intention of filling Phil's shoes...and, yeah, those are really big shoes to fill! And we all really know it’s not going to be the same. It must be, and has got to be, different for the simple fact because Phil is Phil Lynott and he is simply irreplaceable man! To me there will only ever be one iconic rocker, Phil Lynott! Nobody can replace him and no one is trying to replace him. But what we are really trying is to go out there and play his songs with respect, with a passion; try to reach to his level of energy and spirit and try to make them as vibrant as we can. Well, that’s what we are doing so far.
MD: Are there any moments while on stage playing Phil’s songs you find yourself having to deal with a quite tough and challenging task, like trying to reach an honest feel to Lynott’s lyrics and delivery style?
RW: Wow, many times because you have to put the Phil-isms into the songs – equally, lyrically and musically. You know that people are expecting from you to deliver them with the phrasing they know and love. It is like when I go to see a band and when they screw around with the lyrics or the arrangement - it simply ruins it for me. Well, I am just trying to deliver half of that and then put the other half of my own personality into it. I have to get the balance right somewhere along the line. People don’t think...people generally don’t stop and think...people ask me, you know, and say to me, “those are really big shoes to fill”. Well, let me tell you, nobody is doing that. I am not filling his shoes. You know, people start saying like, “why don’t you get a guy lookalike from one of those tribute bands.” And that’s one of the biggest insults you can give to Phil! Phil was an amazingly strong writer, amazing frontman and a true rock ‘n’ roller!
MD: And a very passionate man in everything he did!
RW: He is irreplaceable! The last thing we try to do is try to replace him. We just try to get it as close as we can to the original songs of Lizzy. But you can’t replace Phil; we can’t...it’s such a damn question! And people keep asking, you know. If you’re gonna come to see us and you’re going to expect it to be a show like a tribute to Phil, it’s not gonna happen! He is not around any more and you need to get over that fact. What you gonna get are the songs played by Lizzy. The songs they always played and with me singing them - it’s the closest you’re gonna get. Yeah, it’s gonna be great! It is a great show every night. There is lots of passion, lots of attitude, lots of energy into it. At the end of the show, you leave with a smile on your face. Yeah, I just wish people would think before saying stuff and open their mouth.
MD: If Phil was watching you tonight from any corner, what do you think would say to you?
RW: I absolutely think he will be up there digging it. You know, I’ve been talking with Scott, Brian and Darren, and them telling me the kind of a guy Phil was. You know, he was their best friend, they know him better than anybody and he will be there saying I am glad those guys are playing my songs because we’re all doing it for the right reasons. He would probably say, “go on, keep bringing my songs to the people!”(Laughs) I really feel that Phil will be up there with a grin on his face knowing the fact that 2,000 people every night still wanna come to hear his music! I am sure he would love all of it!
MD: Yeah, and probably will say, “have a whiskey on me”!
RW: He would probably have one or two whiskeys on us! [laughs] We all go on stage with our thoughts for Phil, every night, believe me!
MD: You’ve often had strong views about political issues but have never before pushed those opinions through your music up to your last two solo records where, creatively, you’ve gone back and drawn lots of inspiration from your homeland, your childhood city Belfast. You write many of the songs with very personal and potentially political issues?
RW: Yeah...took me a lot of time to go there. I don’t know why but, for a long time, I did have a bit of a problem with all that political aspect of it...the whole thing with Northern Ireland and Belfast. But, a friend of mine once said to me, “you talk a lot of being from Northern Ireland and how proud you are to be from Belfast, but you don’t write about it very much. So I said, “well, yeah, lots of stuff happened...I am not gonna write about it.” Then he said, “you should, you have a story to tell...you’re always telling me stories about it and you need to put all those stories into your songs; you should do it!” So I did. I went and wrote one song and it kind of opened all floodgates, and all these memories and experiences started to coming out. I couldn’t write quick enough! It was like song after song and really touched on a nerve. I went back visiting lots of old places, lots of old friends and family and went over a lot. I almost re-visited my whole past and have a new kind of perspective on it. That just really opens the floodgates for me as far as songwritting. I don’t think I’m finished yet. I get so many ideas from there. I go back a lot now and I take my family over there lots...well, you know... it’s my home…it’s my second home...
MD: No preference then?
RW: Yeah, yeah, my heart is lost in Belfast. I like being in LA and it is good ‘cause I have settled there with my family, but Belfast always will be the place to go back. Belfast has survived a lot and prospered, and I always look forward to going back home with new songs that reflect all those great childhood memories for me.
MD: You mention that when you were a child there wasn’t many musical influences around. I read somewhere you said that during your early days in Northern Ireland there were more chances to hear a bomb going off than bands playing.
RW: Northern Ireland was a strange place to be in as a kid in the 70s and 80s...absolutely. It was a warzone and everybody was very suspicious and everything closes down early at night. You have to watch what you wear, what you say, who you talk to...and it was tough on lots of bands. They wouldn’t come and play and there really wasn’t many places for a kid to check out music. So we looked up to the UK or we looked to America for music, until punk rock came along. Bands like Stiff Little Fingers, they changed everything for me. I can relate to what they were singing about. It was tough for me but I have nothing but good memories. You certainly look back on it where you were born and that gives you shivers. It was a strange childhood.
MD: How did you really get hooked on music and at what age?
RW: I always remember listening to the radio, you know, since I was about 6 years old listening to radio Luxemburg. You are sneaking under your bed listening to it. The change and definitive point for me was seeing the Irish band Stiff Little Fingers. They played in Belfast when I was about a 13, 14 years old kid. I left the show just going, “thats what I wanna do!” That was the most poignant moment of my life. It was like nothing matters anymore after I left that show; I was gonna play guitar, be on a stage and sing, even if it kills me. That was as clear as that. I was then, for the first time, hooked on all that power of rock...well, punk rock. So that was it for me.
MD: So, after that show, nothing would change your mind?
RW: Oh no, I was a farmer’s son so all my life was set on was to be on the farm. I left school just before my 16th birthday and I was going to work on my dad’s farm. But I just wanna be a musician, I just wanna play music so I kept working on it and working ‘til I got a break .