A little more than three months after he last graced this same stage – then accompanied by his Black Star Riders bandmate Damon Johnson – Ricky Warwick returned to one of his favourite haunts for this special New Year show. In fact, Warwick had forsaken the somewhat sunnier climes of his adopted Los Angeles and spent the so-called Christmas season back in his homeland – bookending the family visit with a pair of intimate solo gigs: a sold-out fundraiser in his native east Belfast for a community trust run by his beloved Glentoran FC, and this, the first in a series of shows to mark the tenth anniversary of the “best little rock club on the island of Ireland”.
The past 12 months had been an extremely busy period for Warwick, with the release of not just one but three Pledge-funded solo albums (the first two of which – ‘When Patsy Cline Was Crazy & Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues’ and ‘Hearts On Trees’ – are being reissued with extra tracks and other bonus features via Nuclear Blast on 26 February), as well as the second Black Star Riders opus and associated non-stop touring schedules. It was a fertility which would be reflected in this evening’s 30-plus song two hour-plus show, which truly spanned the length and breadth of his febrile career.
First up, though, was another artist for whom 2015 had also been a productive and successful year. His full-time band, Pay*Ola, may have been on another of their temporary hiatuses for much of the year, but that did not stop singer Philip McCarroll from keeping himself occupied, not least with the recording and release of his own debut solo offering, this time in the form of the ‘Sunday Night Fever’ EP. While a seasoned performer, it’s obviously a big step for any artist to step out of the security of the band environment and into the oftimes brutal solo spotlight: but, it is a move that McCarroll (who is also one of Northern Ireland’s top promoters) has made with aplomb. A regular visitor to the Diamond himself, he enjoys an easy rapport with the friendly and receptive crowd as he runs through tracks from both the aforesaid EP and the Pay*Ola back catalogue, with set highlights being the optimistic ‘Keep Following The Sun’, the lovelorn ‘Cathedral’, the nostalgic homage of ‘Cassette’ and the upbeat, almost funky ‘Going To Warsaw’ (which is actually about a trip to New York!).
“Aye, it’s for Lemmy!” jokes Warwick as he saunters on stage and immediately sets about adjusting the height of the microphone, which is set somewhere around the middle of his forehead! It’s a crack which sets the tone for the evening – one of respectful remembrance mixed with humour… and a copious amount of great music, translated into Ricky’s trademark solo style. He’s quickly into his stride, the acerbic opening declaration of ‘Throwin Dirt’ segueing easily into a fast and furious, passionate and venomous stripped back rendition of ‘Ace Of Spades’.
Delving briefly into his own solo catalogue, Warwick early on acknowledges another passing: “it’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years” he remarks as he references the imminent anniversary of the death of Phil Lynott (which occurred just this past Monday) with “my favourite Thin Lizzy song”: ‘Borderline’. His present career is also heavily featured, as he prefaces the first Black Star Riders song of the evening, ‘Hey Judas’ with a sideways conversation with his wife Tina, watching from the wings with their daughter Pepper: “I’m surprised it took her three songs to decide her daddy’s shite!” he interjects, in his usual modest and self-deprecating manner.
The deeply personal, and important, meaning of his recent sojourn in his homeland is brought home when he introduces ‘Belfast Confetti’ by telling the friends assembled here with him about renewing his wedding vows at the landmark Scrabo Tower over the Christmas period: this is further exemplified by the regulars shouting the words back at him until they themselves are hoarse in their exhortations. There are some rarely played treats – such as the beautiful ‘Mysterioso’ from 2003’s ‘Tattoos & Alibis’ – amongst the stories behind the songs on his duotych of solo offerings, such as when he evokes “the smell of old men, whiskey and smoke” in his intro to ‘Tank McCullough Saturdays’.
Ricky obviously loves doing shows of this nature: a chance just to play the songs he loves, whether they be his own or the rare occasions on which he will lend his voice to someone else’s lyrics, with his own, passionate, interpretations of songs which in turn have influenced him as a musician, singer and lyricist, whether they be Thin Lizzy classics such as ‘Jailbreak’ or the long-lost mournfulness of TJ Arnell’s ‘Cocaine Blues’, through to his own re-interpretations of the stripped back fury of The Almighty’s ‘Bandaged Knees’ or the angst-ridden promise of ‘Bound For Glory’. In between, the live renditions of his solo songs are captivating, from the philosophical introspection of ‘Three Sides To Every Story’ through the dark remembrance of ‘Schwaben Redoubt’ to the viscous viciousness of ‘Presbyterian Homesick Blues’ to the joyous celebrations of the likes of ‘When Patsy Cline Was Crazy And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues’ and ‘The Arms Of Belfast Town’ (on which he is joined by Phil McCarroll).
There are many who doubt the merit of acoustic shows, and feel that rock songs should be played with guitars turned up to ear-shredding volumes. But, at their very essence, great songs are at their most essential and effective when they are stripped back to the bare bones formula from which they were gestated. Tonight, Ricky Warwick proved once again that great songwriters, and great performers, can stand over their material in its most naked and ethereal form and still make it enervating and inspirational.
I can think of no better way of kicking off what undoubtedly will be another hectic year of gigs for the PM team (especially in this little corner of the planet we call… ah, fuck it, you get the rest…).
Throwin’ Dirt / Ace Of Spades / The Whiskey Song / The Road To Damascus Street / Borderline / Hey Judas / Belfast Confetti / Celebrating Sinking / Mysterioso / Tank McCullough Saturdays / Free N Easy / Jailbreak / Schawben Redoubt / Psycho / Three Sides To Every Story / The Killer Instinct / Johnny Or Elvis / Summertime Blues / Somethin’ Else / Cocaine Blues / Said Samson To Goliath / Ain’t Comin’ Round / Presbyterian Homesick Blues / Bandaged Knees / When Patsy Cline Was Crazy And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues / Bound For Glory / The Arms Of Belfast Town (duet with Philip McCarroll) / Whiskey In The Jar / Our Finest Hour / The Boys Are Back In Town / Born To Run
The Diamond Rock Club continues its tenth anniversary celebrations with an appearance by The Pat McManus Band – who played the very first show staged at the DRC on 2 February 2005 – on Saturday 30 January. On Saturday 6 February, there will be a special, one-off gig by the specially formed Diamond All Stars, featuring Pat McManus alongside singer Cormac Neeson of The Answer, keyboard player Keith Weir from The Quireboys, drummer David Bates from Stormzone and bassist Seamus Donnelly from A Little Bitter.
Ricky Warwick returns to the UK with his new band, The Fighting Hearts, to support Stiff Little Fingers on the following dates:
25 February – Oxford, Academy
26 February – Portsmouth, Pyramids
27 February – Exeter, Phoenix
28 February – Cardiff, University (Solus)
1 March – Wolverhampton, Robin 2
2 March – Leamington Spa, The Assembly
4 March – London, Forum
5 March – Northampton, Roadmenders
6 March – Bristol, Academy
8 March – Cambridge, Junction
9 March – Norwich, Waterfront
11 March – Nottingham, Rock City
12 March – Leeds, Academy
14 March – Aberdeen, Garage
15 March – Inverness, Ironworks
17 March – Glasgow, Barrowlands
18 March – Newcastle, Academy
19 March – Manchester, Ritz
- Photographs by The Dark Queen.
- All content © PlanetMosh 2016.