Ricky Warwick talks about his UK tour and latest album When Life Was Hard And Fast - Spring 2022
Well can I start by saying ‘it’s happening’! Your flight is booked and your UK tour which starts at Cambridge Junction on 3rd March is now less than 2 weeks away. What sort of thought are going through your mind?
Relief, excitement, anxiety… I’m just thrilled to be getting back out there and getting to do my job and to do what I love. There’s still so much uncertainty in the world but the tour is 100% on and my flight is booked! My band members are already over there in the UK, they live there which is great, and I’m just ready to get out there, ready to put on one hell of a show and to just dive back into it with complete abandonment. I need to make up for the two years that we’ve had where I haven’t been able to tour basically.
Well that’s a good point because you played the Troubadour in LA on 7th February, sharing a stage with your friends Clem Burke, Keith Nelson, Jonny ‘Two Bags’ Wickersham as well as other incredible musicians, and this was your first time on stage in a massive 803 days. How did it feel to be back on stage after all this time?
It was actually very emotional. First of all it was amazing just to play with such a great pedigree of musicians, people who are not only friends but I’m a fan of everything that they each do. Clem is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll drummers in the world in my opinion, Jonny is from Social Distortion which is one of my favourite bands and Keith has always been my bro. So it was great to be with those people. The Troubadour is such a legendary venue here in Los Angeles. I think when I walked into the soundcheck in the afternoon and went on stage it was actually quite emotional. I just thought ‘wow!’. I never took it for granted but this is what my life would be like for 30+ years up until around March 2020 when everything ground to a halt. I think I was just very overcome, and just the relief you know. I was only playing 6 songs because it was a private event but I didn’t wanna get off the stage! I just thought ‘I don’t want this to end - this is so good’. It was nice to have had that feeling prior to me coming over to the UK because it sort of gave me my stage legs back a little bit, and the confidence and that kind of thing. It was a wonderful experience. It’s a funny story actually because the last time I played the Troubadour was in 1993 when I was 27 years old with The Almighty. I only live down the street from the Troubadour, it’s about a mile and a half away from where I live, and whilst I’ve been to see many shows at The Troubadour I’ve never played it since. Gilby Clarke who people will know from being in Guns n Roses came down to the show. His daughter, Frankie Clarke – who is a fantastic singer - was one of the special guests. She’s 27 years old! I said to Gilby “Dude, the last time you and I were here was 1993, just prior to your daughter being born!” The whole thing was like ‘Woah!’ and it just made it a great occasion! It was a great little booster before getting on the plane coming over to the UK.
You may have been away from the stage for 803 days but I’ve seen firsthand how important your acoustic Stage It shows have been to your fans. Some have even described these shows, where you have been able to interact with fans, as a lifeline and I think that shows the power and importance of live music for so many from a mental health perspective. How important have these shows been for you from a personal well-being perspective?
Life-saving, to be honest with you. Number one, I must be honest, financially you know, when you’re on the road for 6, 7 months of the year and you can’t do that anymore, it’s a huge chunk of your income that’s gone. So to be able to do that has given me a security blanket that I needed to pay the bills and everything else like that, but it’s also giving me a focus and it’s giving me something to work towards every month. I treat it like a real show. Every show has been different and I have a different set of songs every show, and I’m very conscious of never repeating or making it the ‘same old same old’ every time. The first one that we did, and I say ‘we’ because my wife Tina has been really instrumental in doing this. She’s really text savvy, and whilst we’ve both learnt, she’s really got into it. The first show was a case of looking over the MacBook and singing into it – and that’s okay but then suddenly we thought ‘Well what else can we do?’. We started investing in gear. I mean the show that we played last Saturday, you look at the way it looks and it looks like I’m on stage! What we basically did was take the office in our house and adapt it. We put up curtains, we bought lights, mixing channels, interfaces, GoPro cameras… So some of the money we made we invested back into making sure that the shows can be as spectacular as they can be visually and sonically. And it’s just grown and it’s something that has really kept me playing, probably more than I ever did before to be honest because I’m playing every month, I’m rehearsing, and writing and I’m working towards the shows. I’ve been playing, singing and writing every day so I’m probably in better shape as a musician than I’ve ever been in my career right now because of these online shows. I can’t stress enough how important they are. And I’m not going to stop doing them. I think it’s something that people appreciate, and somebody who lives very remotely who might not be able to get to a venue on a tour, there’s no reason why you can’t do one of these acoustic shows from backstage at a venue, perhaps do 4 or 5 songs before you go on and do the real deal. Or if I’m back home for a month or two I’ll be like ‘Hey, I want to do an online show on Saturday – come and join me!’. So I’m going to continue doing them, probably not with the regularity that I have been simply because we’re starting to get back to the real thing, but it’s a different way of getting your music across to people. And I think that’s important because technology is changing and the world is changing and you have to go with it. You have to change or you’ll get left behind.
I think the other wonderful thing about these shows is the fact that fans really get to be a part of it. You bring the fans in and it’s a very interactive experience.
It’s global as well. You’re instantly going global which is amazing!
You’ve recently spoken out about the nervousness people may have about buying tickets to shows but how they must buy tickets otherwise shows and tours simply won’t happen. In my work with venues and promoters what’s clear to me is that people do want to come to shows – any concerns around Covid are actually very minimal – but many people appear to be waiting until nearer the time where there is a perception of greater certainty that a show will take place. But we can’t live like this. I want people to buy tickets early which means the shows can take place but of course this is always balanced with the assurance and peace of mind that should it be necessary to cancel a show they will get a refund. How important is it to you to reinforce this message?
It’s the only way. You see some tours being cancelled now not because of Covid but because of the lack of ticket sales. I understand the hesitancy. We’re all nervous. We’re all dipping our toe back in the water as it were and there is trepidation. I get it. But if you buy a ticket, that is a ticket sale. If the tour does get cancelled it will get rearranged. It will not get cancelled indefinitely because the ticket sale will be healthy. Therefore the venue will survive, as well as the venue staff, the door staff, the artists, the road crew - it’s all connected. There’s so much planning that goes into putting a tour together and upfront costs. Some people don’t realise this, some people do, but there’s so much work that goes into it before it all happens. And there’s so much uncertainty. There is no Covid insurance so if one of your entourage comes down with Covid you lose all that money. You’re done. You’re out of pocket, and that’s the risk that we are taking. So I’m asking the fans to take a smaller risk and part with, you know, the £20, £25 or whatever the ticket price is, and help make sure that it all goes ahead and that it won’t get cancelled because of a lack of ticket sales. Fans are supporting much more than the artists. After what the industry has been through we need to support it in every aspect. Honestly, where would we have been the last 2 years without the music? And the arts more generally? So not just music, but movies and Netflix and video games. They all come under the art. That’s what has sustained us and our mental well-being, and we’ve all turned to it the last 2 years. So now that it’s coming back live, you have to get out there and support it otherwise it won’t be there. Artists will not be able to afford to tour. It’s a simple as that. Even when you take Covid out of the equation, it’s difficult enough with Brexit and rising fuel costs and everything else that’s going on in the world right now for a lot of artists. So we need, and I’m including myself in this as a fan, to support the music and the artists that you love to make sure that they will always be there for you.
Let’s get back to your tour, and what an amazing tour this is! You are playing 19 dates in only 23 days. But not only that, these shows are also interspersed with 6 record store acoustic performances and signing sessions. So this is actually 25 shows in 23 days! How do you prepare for and survive such an extensive tour?
I have a manager that doesn’t listen to me! (Laughs!) I’ll say “I’m 55 now, do you think we can maybe do four shows?”… No, I’m a workaholic! It’s me! I don’t see the point in a no-show day. Yes it gives everybody a rest and the crew need it because they are the ones working the hardest, and it’s good from that aspect of it, but I want to play and I want to be busy. And after not playing for so long I’m just like‘ what can I do? Can I do in stores?’ A guy from my label questioned “Are you sure? Nobody’s doing them at the minute” but I was like “Well let’s start doing them again!”. So that’s why they’re in there. But it’s also that old thing of ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. I rehearse like crazy and I make sure that everybody is prepared and the songs are prepared. There’s a lot of rehearsing that goes into it prior to the tour. I look after myself, I look after my voice and I look after my health as much as I can just to make sure I’m in as good as physical condition as I can be, because I want to enjoy the shows too. I want to be up there and not be huffing and puffing through a show. I wanna be up there and really enjoy it, breeze through it and give 100%. That’s only fair to the people that are buying the tickets that they get that. I focus in on it and I’m always thinking about it before the tour happens – 2 or 3 months before and I’m already going ‘Okay, what’s the set list going to be? I’m going to have to watch my diet a little bit here’. It’s almost like an athlete. I think when you get a bit older… some people may be like ‘I’m just gonna keep drinking and do what I do’, and that’s fine but this is what works for me.
One thing we do need to talk about is the incredible line up of The Fighting Hearts joining you on tour. From Sisters Of Mercy and Diamond Black we have Ben Christo on guitar – who also has amazing voice – Richard Vernon on bass (ex The Mission) and Tax The Heat’s Jack Taylor. These are absolutely outstanding musicians and performers. How did they get involved and what does it mean to be sharing a stage with Ben, Richard and Jack?
First and foremost they are friends. Jack Taylor I have a long history with. Jack actually works for our management company as well as being in Tax The Heat. He has also been a Black Star Riders tour manager for many many years. He is a wonderful human being so it was really a no brainer. Not only am I getting an incredible drummer but I’m getting a tour manager on tour with me as well. So that’s great and Tax The Heat are a great band and they’ve opened up for a Black Star Riders on quite a few occasions. Ben I met years ago. He was a huge fan of The Almighty and he used to come and see The Almighty play when he was a kid. I’ve watched him mature and grow into this wonderful musician over the years and he’s a wonderful guitar player. Like you said, he’s a hell of a singer too and I’m delighted that he is on board as well. Rich did the last Fighting Hearts gigs way back in 2016 and again he’s a lovely guy and just a wonderful bass player, very conscientious. Rich is a great singer too, and he puts the hard work in. I’m very honoured these guys agreed to be part of the Fighting Hearts for this run and it’s a phenomenal band. It’s going to sound amazing just because of these guys. Take me out the equation these 3 guys on their own will blow your mind! Never mind putting me in there! I am just so honoured that they want to do the tour and that they want to be a part of the Fighting Hearts for this run and I think it’s going to sound incredible!
You kind of hinted at this moment ago but with such an incredible back catalogue, how do you decide a set list for a Ricky Warwick show?
I think it’s a little bit of what I think people want to hear most importantly, and then it’s a little bit of what do I want to play. I think about what I’m feeling good about playing, what song haven’t I played in a while or maybe I’ve not even played before. But there’s always ‘givens’. There’s all the songs that people are going to expect me to play and I’m only too happy to play them. The set list so far has perhaps 4 or 5 Almighty songs in there. There’s a Black Star Riders song, probably a Lizzy song and obviously a lot of songs from the five solo records that I’ve done and probably a cover or 2. We rehearsed around 24 or 25 songs and I think we’ll rotate a few of them every night and keep it interesting and change it up a little bit. But it’s a great problem to have! And when I’m putting it together I include the other guys because it’s always interesting to get their input as well and see what they think and just take it from there.
Well, let’s move onto the new record When Life Was Hard And Fast because despite venues being closed you have been very busy writing, recording and releasing new material, and I wanted to take a moment to focus on your latest album. The first thing I wanted to say is that this is an absolutely incredible and outstanding record, delivering the very best in hard rock as well as some more laid-back moment and even acoustic tracks. I think it shows what an incredibly versatile artist you really are. But lyrically this is a stunning record with lots of story telling moments (Eg. Time Don’t Seem To Matter), and it feels to me like it’s embodying the best elements of artists such as Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen but with the volume and gain dials cranked. Is that a fair thing to say and overall what was your vision for this record?
Yeah, you nailed it. Everyone you mentioned there is a huge influence as a songwriter that I aspire to. When I got together with Keith it was purely by accident in the sense that I was looking to make a new record but I hadn’t even thought about producers or anything like that, but when Keith and I were writing Fighting Heart together we were actually writing that song primarily for somebody else. I had a finished demo of the song after taking it home I just decided I wasn’t going to give it to anybody. I was keeping this for me. It sounded so good and I had such fun working with Keith Nelson that I called him up and said “Look, I’ve 40 ideas for a new record here, do you want to help me finish them and how about you make the record with me?” because he’s a phenomenal engineer as well as a great guitar player and producer, and he was like “I’m in! Let’s do it! We’ll do it in my studio”. That’s how the whole thing really was born. And it just progressed from there. We whittled the songs down to around 12 or 13. It’s always about the songs for me. It’s about what brings you in and keeps you interested and what hooks you and keeps your attention for that 3 1/2 or 4 minutes. The solo stuff is a chance to be as narcissistic as you want to be because you’re not really considering anybody else’s opinion but your own. And that is great as long as you have that other outlet where you are in a band like a Black Star Riders and you can go and do the band thing and play with those wonderful musicians as well. I’m very blessed because I have both, but I like just going in and just focusing on the tunnel vision solo stuff as well. Just working, writing and making a record with Keith was a lot of fun and a great experience, and we both have similar influences and similar interests, similar love of guitars, similar love of vintage guitars. It was just a perfect match where we just wanted to make a great rock and roll record. That was it!
There are some wonderful collaborations on this When Life Was Hard And Fast, for example, Joe Elliott sings backing vocals on the title track, You Don’t Love Me includes an incredible guitar solo from Thunder’s Luke Morley, Guns n Roses’ Dizzy Reed plays keyboard on I Don’t Feel At Home, and Andy Taylor from Duran Duran and Powerstation plays guitar on I’d Rather Be Hit. I think what’s really special about these collaborations, and I’m reminded about what you said about the recent Troubadour show, is the fact that these aren’t just wonderful musicians and artists, they are people who have been your friends for many years. Was the making of this album even more special because your friends got involved too?
Yeah, again it’s going back to the narcissistic solo thing in that you’re not putting anybody in your band or hurting anybody’s feelings by saying “Well, I want so and so to come and play a guitar solo” or “I want so and so to come and sing on this”. You can do what the hell you want when you’re doing a solo record and I’m very best blessed, like you said, that these people over the years have become really good friends. Again, like I said earlier, I’m a huge fan of what they do, I’ve worked with them over the years and I go way back with these guys, almost 30 years, and so it was a no brainer. We will doing a song and I’d be like ‘No, let’s get Dizzy down to play some keyboards on this’ – “Hey, Dizzy! Do you wanna come down and play some keyboards on this?” because I wrote a song on Dizzy’s album and played on his album so it’s that all interconnecting thing. Andy Taylor, I’ve worked with Andy for his solo album which is coming out sometime soon. I worked with Joe on my first 2 solo records and Joe is a great example of somebody that I trust completely, as you would for a guy who sold over 100 million records, right? You’re going to listen to what he’s got to say. I’ll be sending Joe ideas all the time and he’ll respond very honestly. It’s always great for me to learn from what he has to say. I don’t always agree with him but I always love his input and his opinion because it’s so honest. He’s been a great mentor to me for the last 25 years or so. He’s on the new Black Star Riders album as well! He is the only famous special guest on the new Black Star Riders album. But he’s just a great guy and he’s just been a great supporter of me and Black Star Riders stuff. So yeah, it’s just nice to be able to get your friends to play on your record.
It’s interesting that you use the term narcissistic – and I completely understand that because this is about you but what that means to me is that you can consider the things that are intensely personal to you, and this leads me on to one of my favourite moments on the album. The song Time Don’t Seem To Matter was written for and features your youngest daughter Pepper. It’s just the most beautiful acoustic track and the emotional connection it makes in sharing the love between a father and daughter is so wonderfully powerful. To hear your daughter on the record just creates the most heartwarming and heart melting moment. What does it mean to you to have your daughter on this record?
Oh, you know, it was a super proud dad moment! I wrote the song back home in Northern Ireland when I was on tour. I had a couple of days off and I was hanging out at my cousins house, and I was missing the family. Even though I said I can’t wait to get on that plane on Friday, back then when I was touring a lot I’d be away from home a lot, and it was just one of the songs where it all came out. It was easy to write because it was what I was thinking and feeling at that time, and there was very little going back through the lyrics and editing any of it. It was really just what came out of the pen on the page. I brought in Keith and we did a couple of tweaks arrangements-wise and changed the key, and then I sort of said to Pepper who was 11 at the time - she’s 14 now but when we recorded it she was 11 – “Hey, I’ve written this song and it’s primarily about you – do you want to sing on it?“, and then she said “Yeah, that would be cool… Can we go to Starbucks afterwards?” (Laughs!) So I said “Yeah, Okay”. So she came into the studio and nailed it in 2 takes. Just very nonchalantly and super unimpressed by anything, whereas I had tears streaming down my face doing the whole ‘proud dad’ thing. But it sounds incredible and she has a great voice! But of course now she doesn’t want anything to do with it – “It’s so embarrassing, oh my God, don’t play that to anyone!“ (Laughs!) She’s 14 and she’s hating on everything right now and rightly so! I’ve said to her “Hey, come on, Pepper! Sit down with me and let’s play the song! Let’s record a video of it and put it up and people will dig it! It’s great!”. “No! I’m not doing it! No way! Don’t you do that!” (Laughs!) Hopefully like in 2 or 3 years she will realise how cool it is that she’s sung a song with her old man! I think she knows but I think she’s being the cool teenager that we all trying to be at that age! It was a huge moment and I would love to do it again at some point if we could… if she was up for it. Who knows!?