Ricky Warwick -
Tattoos and Alibis
By Dave Schwartz
Another Friday evening, right? Zipping down the 405 Freeway, playing "Ricky Racer" with all the other fools just hoping to negotiate a safe return home after another long workweek, it's funny how each of us tends to narrow our perspective to the few things that matter most at a given moment. And at 5 o'clock on a Friday night, there is precious little more important than a man's cold beer and remote control.
As is so often the case, this night was a little different for me. On my way home I had to make a small stop at the Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine to interview a man of whom I, just a few days earlier, had relatively little knowledge. Ricky Warwick, formerly of the British punk/hard rock band The Almighty, embraced a no-frills approach to music for better than a decade. His writing and more certainly his emotionally direct connection to his songs earned The Almighty accolades across Europe and Asia, but nary a whisper from America. But that was then and this night, like so many before it, Warwick was offered a new opportunity to even the score.
In one of life's more interesting twists of fate, Warwick had been out on tour with Def Leppard nearly a year before his solo album, "Tattoos and Alibis," was released on Sanctuary Records. Being a solo acoustic act supporting an album not yet released by opening for a metal band in a country where the populous has no general knowledge of your existence seemed a risky business proposition to me. But then I'm a journalist, not artist management, what do I know?
I hooked up with Warwick right after his sound check. Initially he seemed fairly quiet, anticipating my first question but only offering an abbreviated answer. But soon we found common ground and by the end of the interview we found ourselves joking with each other.
Even the most casual observation will tell you that the rock mentality isn't very often presented on an acoustic guitar, especially from a European perspective. With notable rare exceptions the instrument has been left to American bards and poets to report on society with an all too often psychedelic perspective. But then Warwick has never been afraid to make his own way. And given the recent death of music legend and innovator Johnny Cash, it was poignant that Cash was mentioned so prevalently in Warwick's bio as a significant influence. The parallels are inescapable given Cash's rebel attitude as clearly apparent in Warwick's performance. I asked Warwick why he thought he inherited the "man in black's" rebel attitude.
Warwick smiled and, in his thick Irish accent, began, "Oh that's very easy. When I first got a guitar my father was a big Johnny Cash fan. I put those records on and could play along with them really easily. There weren't a lot of chords in them and I just started playing along and working them out. It's how I learned to play guitar. So from an early age that influence was there."
During the interview Warwick took great pains to point toward more contemporary performers, like Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen, as favorable caparisons to British punk bands like the Sex Pistols, Motorhead and The Clash, that had influenced his former band, The Almighty. Early on Warwick recognized that it wasn't about the tattoos or the clothes a man wore, but rather the songs that are in his heart.
"They have as much to say as any of those guys as far as I'm concerned," Warwick declared. "It's all about how you get your stories out and present them to people I think."
Perhaps the best proof of Warwick's opinion is in his career itself. For more than a decade he led The Almighty on world tours, each night screaming punk anthems to an appreciative crowd. Eventually Warwick had explored all available avenues that the band could afford him and he decided to call it quits. And as is true in life, the closing of one door so often leads to the discovery that several others have opened. I asked about the journey from The Almighty to Warwick's current album and the acoustic guitar.
"It happened kind of by accident but also because I was bored," he explained. "I had done eight albums with The Almighty which were all very
After the band split, Warwick found himself in a different place, "I just started writing on an acoustic guitar, which I hadn't really done a lot of before. I wrote the song 'Church of Paranoia' and knew that it was something very different. That song kind of steered me down the road to what I'm doing know. I played it to a publisher and got the publishing deal, I played it to Joe (Elliott, lead singer of Def Leppard), wrote a few more songs in that vein and, you know, I just ended up going down that road and I really don't know why!"
As any musician can tell you, the instrumentation is often the voice of a song. I asked Warwick if he had sat down at a piano would the results have been different. "Oh sure. The thing about The Almighty is that the songs were always written around a big rock guitar riff. When you get the riff you break it down. With an acoustic guitar you work with the melody, which I hadn't really done before. It was a challenge and it was new. I think that if I couldn't have done this I don't know where I would've gone in music. I had been down all those avenues with The Almighty, you know, all the rock and roll stuff. And I still love rock and roll, like the tracks on the album proves, but I think that instead of shouting I wanted to sing. I just thought that there must be another way to say what I wanted to say and I wanted to do it rather than repeat myself."
Warwick has long been called out in the press as having a very dynamic personality. The musical transition that he has undergone over the past couple years would seem to support this allegation, but I wondered if the change had actually taken much longer.
"I just think it's taken me a while to find out where I'm at and where I'm happy in my head. Some people can find that very early on and some will never find it," Warwick said.
I shared a little insight while poking some fun at Warwick. I explained that when I first considered this line of questions I half expected him to tell me that he had been secretly playing acoustic guitar for years, honing his craft for this moment.
"No, no not at all," Warwick replied. "Even the songs on the record are all new. There is nothing that's been lying there in a vault. I completely cleared the table to start again."
As I read the credits on "Tattoos & Alibis," I noticed that most, if not all, of the musicians on the record were Irish. Joe Elliott co-produced the record with Ronan McHugh. Warwick and Elliott have been close friends for several years and the two, along with McHugh performed most of the music. Notable special guests include Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham and Hothouse Flowers bass guitarist/mandolin player Peter O'Toole, as well as S.J. McArdle and Seanie Foy, both popular vocalists/guitarists in Ireland. But rather than having a nationalistic motive, Warwick had a more practical incentive, "It's 'cause I live in Ireland and it's a lot cheaper than paying airfares. The album was done before I signed a record deal, so money was a concern, but also so many of the musicians I admire are Irish. Peter from Hothouse Flowers is a friend of mine and he asks me to come and sit in with the band."
Knowing that Warwick was coming to the end of a long tour, I couldn't resist asking him if he was feeling a bit "crispy" after being out so long. He stared at me for a moment with a funny grin and replied, "You know, I think I am!" It wasn't surprising that after a full year on the road, Warwick looked tired, commenting that he had only been home a total of three weeks. The Irvine show was the second from the last stop and he was looking forward to some relaxation-- and I also suspect that same cold beer and remote that I had envisioned on my drive over.
With a good laugh we ended our interview and found ourselves making small talk as I packed my gear. As we said our good-byes I commented, "Time for you to get something to eat, you'll be on stage soon!" "Maybe I'll just go get a pint," Warwick smiled. Ah, yes, a pint, I thought. Now if I only had my remote control!
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