I first saw Ricky Warwick with The Almighty way back in 1989, when they supported Gun, of all people. Okay, so Gun were a good band, but it was a bit of a surprise to see these heavy metal bastards supporting, and I casually wrote them off as a bunch of Motorhead wannabes. Yeah, I know I was wrong, because The Almighty were a bloody good band themselves, a fact backed up by seven quality studio albums. All good things must come to an end, though, and aside from the occasional festival appearance The Almighty have been on hold for seven years or so, whilst Warwick himself has pursued a solo career that has taken him in a different direction, away from power chords and into the beauty that is a man and his acoustic guitar.
Three releases into this wandering minstrel thing, and I meet up with Ricky at the Underworld in Camden. He’s on the last date of the UK leg of his solo tour, and outside it’s hot as the Devil’s armpits. As I try to subtly read the myriad of tattoos that adorn his arms we chat about his career to date with the obvious starting point being The Almighty and what the hell happened.
“I think at the time it felt as if it had gone as far as it would go,” he says. “I got a bit disillusioned with it - a lot of business bullshit. I think the industry just ground us down, y ’ know. It was me who made the decision to walk away from the band, so I suppose the responsibility rest on my shoulders because I just felt that we weren ’ t all pulling in the same direction any more.” So was it really worth disbanding? “In hindsight I suppose the easiest thing to do would have been to take a break and come back a year later and get it going again. At the time I just wanted a complete break from the whole thing.”
I comment that The Almighty always seemed like a steamroller of a band, taking no prisoners and having lots of fun, and ask Ricky what he enjoyed about the early days. “I think just the excitement of it all - the fact that it was going so well, going so quick,” he says with a smile. “The momentum of the whole thing was brilliant. I think we had enough bravado and brass to believe in ourselves, to believe we were gonna do something. I think we were taken aback by how much of a buzz and a vibe there was about the band.”
These days it’s all much more personal, especially on the latest album “Belfast Confetti” (which got a well deserved 9/10 on Rock United), which basically comprises songs about Warwick’s homeland of Ireland. It’s a new thing for him to write what could loosely be called a concept album, as Ireland hasn’t featured this heavily in his songs before. “A little bit, not so much as this one,” he confirms. “This one ’ s full on about being from Ireland, and experiences and all that.” I ask if he goes there much these days. “I visit family and friends, but I don ’ t yearn for it or anything like that, cause I ’ m quite happily settled where I am, but as a place and a country I love it. I love the people there, I love their attitude, their warmth and their friendliness.”
It seems the acoustic thing is working for him, and I ask if he went straight into it. “Not straight away, I threw myself into another band called Sic, who were even heavier than the Almighty. A 3 piece, which I love. I really wish that band had done something, ‘ cause I really loved the guys in the band, and being in a 3 piece band. I wanted to get back into playing music, and I wanted to do something that was completely different. I didn ’ t want to be part of a band any more, I wanted to be on my own, to go out there and have a challenge. I wanted something that would really really inspire me to make music again. Standing up on stage alone and trying to entertain people still scares me! “
Another topic on the album that is as noticeable as the Ireland riff is the numerous mentions of God, and I enquire as to if Ricky is a full on bible thumper, which it turns out he’s not. “I certainly believe in certain aspects.” he begins. “Do I believe the bible word for word? No. Do I believe in a higher power? Yes. Do I think it ’ s a guy with a fluffy beard sitting on a cloud? No. I know what I believe in and it ’ s kind personal to me. There ’ s certain aspects of the Bible that I think actually happened. I think that Jesus actually did exist. Was he a great martyr like Martin Luther King or any of those guys, yes I think he was. There ’ s probably explanations for all the miracles that happened, that it ’ s all a bit Chinese whispers, but I ’ m one of those people that believe that we ’ re here for a reason.”
We get into talking about some of the individual songs on the album, with Ricky being quite happy when I compare his lyricism to the legend that is Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers). Naturally, I want to know whet “Belfast Confetti” actually is. “ It’s the title of a Ciaran Carson poem,” says Ricky. “He was a very great Irish poet and an inspiration to me. It also means anything you can throw during a riot - Bricks, bottles, stones, that kind of stuff. For me, it’s after a riot you look at the street and there’s bits of broken bottles, rubble scattered all over the street,.” As a description of a collection of songs it’s certainly very poetic, and it explains the different moods that litter the album. One such song is “Born Fighting”, about a young Irish lad fighting in the American Civil War. “It’s just one of the things I’m very interested in, the Ulster Scots thing. There is actually a book called Born Fighting by James Webb, who’s the senator of Virginia. I got to play the song for him and he really liked it which was great.” I ask where his inspiration comes from, as it seems he likes a good read. “Anything all. Sometimes you just hear something and it starts off a train of thought. Obviously with Belfast Confetti there was a subject matter so I knew that I had ground rules to stick to, so it wasn’t like I was writing eleven songs about totally different subjects.”
Perhaps the most “Irish” song on offer is “The Arms Of Belfast Town”, which comes across like the Pogues on acid, but Ricky dismisses any comparisons with a snort. “It’s a traditional arrangement with a folk chord,“ he explains, “and it’s always gonna have that Irish/Celtic flavour to it. I wanted to write an anthemic Irish song filled with big anthemia chords.” Well, I say, you succeeded. I’m not the only one who thinks so, as it was semi adopted by the Northern Ireland football team, something that makes Ricky very proud indeed. “I got to play it at half time during one of the international matches, and that was amazing. It’s a real accolade, an honour for me,” he says, looking like a schoolboy who’s just found a massive stack of porn.
It’s been a good chat, and although his moustache makes him look like a scary hillbilly I’m happy to have met this interesting, talented man. Despite living abroad these days he’s still got his accent (“I go back there a lot, touring a lot, and see family or whatever, so I hopefully haven ’ t lost it that much,”), and you can imagine going to the pub with him and having a good laugh. If you’re a fan of hard hitting acoustic music then I urge you to catch him when he tours later this year with Therapy?, or just go out and pick up “Belfast Confetti”, as it’s a brilliant album. Either way, the Ricky Warwick experience is one of the better ones, so it is.
Interview by Alan Holloway, alan "at" rockunited.com