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Ricky Warwick: “I don’t have the patience to learn all the scales – it never interested me. My heroes were always the rhythm guys“

Ricky Warwick
(Image credit: Mike Lewis Photography/Redferns)

After leading Scottish hard-rockers The Almighty in 90s, Ricky Warwick joined Thin Lizzy in 2009, and now fronts splinter group Black Star Riders. His current solo album When Life Was Hard and Fast is a celebration of no-frills rock ’n’ roll...

What exactly are we hearing on your solo album?

“We used my Gretsch guitars, plus a lot of [producer] Keith Nelson’s vintage Teles and Gibsons. There was a Rickenbacker 12-string on a few tracks, too. They were fed through some Bogners and Marshall JCM800s. It was all old valve amps and vintage guitars. 

“There were no plugins or any crap like that. I don’t care what people say: they’re okay for demos, but when you’re making a record digital stuff is a big no-no for me. And I don’t really use much in terms of effects. If you’ve got a great sound, you’ve got a great sound. Keep it that way!“

And what about for acoustics?

“I’ve got an Avalon acoustic – they’re a company based in my hometown of Newtownards in Northern Ireland and they make beautiful hand-built guitars. That’s what I have at home and use for writing, along with a Gretsch Falcon.

“Ultimately, I need something that can take a lot of battering, fitted with 13-gauge strings. It has to be heavy duty... I need the barbed wire ones! Over 90 per cent of everything I’ve written has been on acoustic. It’s an old cliché but if it sounds great like that, it will sound great no matter what.“

The solo also comes with your Stairwell Troubadour covers set.

“I wanted to do Dead Or Alive’s You Spin Me Round as an Irish folk punk song! I like going to songs that were part of my youth and looking at them differently. And I learned Oops!... I Did It Again when my youngest daughter was mad about Britney Spears, so I could sing it to her. You take this bubblegum pop song, change the progression and it starts getting pretty dark and sinister. As much as I loved covering Iron Maiden and Johnny Cash, I dug the fact people might go, ‘What the fuck is he doing covering Dead Or Alive or Britney Spears?’“

Scott Gorham’s vibrato is second to none. I’ve never heard him bend a note flat or sharp – it’s always spot on

You’ve been a member of Thin Lizzy, alongside the band’s legendary guitarist Scott Gorham, for over a decade. What has that taught you?

“Everything they wrote was memorable! It was all built out of great melodies and standalone parts that were instantly recognisable as hooks, from the vocals to even the drums. There were a lot of cool pushes and pulls, or notes you might not hear initially, but it was all special and all vital.

“And Scott Gorham’s vibrato is second to none. I’ve never heard him bend a note flat or sharp – it’s always spot on. Whenever we’ve had changes with the line-up, I know the vibrato of that player is very important for him – the vibratos need to match up for the dual leads. That’s very high up in his list of priorities.“

As for your own style, it’s always been more rhythm than lead-based.

“I don’t have the patience to learn all the scales. It never interested me. The guitar for me is a tool to get my angst and my songs out. My heroes were always the rhythm guys. James Hetfield has one of the best right hands out there. The same applied to Malcolm Young. Players like that are the powerhouse that drives the band. It’s not always about the widdly widdly! When I play a lead I like coming at it from a Neanderthal kinda angle – it sounds more cool to my ears.“

  • When Life Was Hard and Fast is out now via Nuclear Blast.