Black Star Riders' Ricky Warwick: 10 records that changed by life

Ricky Warwick
(Image credit: Robert John)

In a career that's seen him front The Almighty, Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders - and go it alone as a solo acoustic act - there's a constant thread that runs throughout Ricky Warwick's work: it's all about the song.

"A lot of people don't listen to the song," he says. "They don't listen to what the melody is doing, or what the drummer is doing, or what the bass player is doing, or what the melody is doing." 

"You know, you've got to listen to the song," he continues. "That's what it's all about. Take The Boys Are Back In Town. Sure, it has that instantly recognisable guitar hook. But the lyrics and melody are stunning. It's the whole package, and that's what you need."

It's an approach informed by the records that Ricky heard growing up in East Belfast, records that packed a punch but always – always – had a tune. And it's an approach that still informs the music he makes today with Black Star Riders. 

Black Star Riders' Another State Of Grace is out on Friday.

Stiff Little Fingers - Inflammable Material

"They were from Belfast, and they sang about Belfast. I'd never seen or heard anything like them, and that album was just mind-blowing. I put that thing on, and the anger and the vitriol were there in Jake Burns' voice, yet they had great songs. 

"So much power. So much energy. That album had a lot to do with me picking up a guitar. And he's still got it in abundance."

Thin Lizzy - Do Anything You Want To

"Inflammable Material and Black Rose were the first two albums I owned, and they were both definitive, game-changing albums for me. I played Black Rose to death because it's just such an amazing album. The songs are so good. 

"Do Anything You Want To really spoke to me. It's such a great mantra, and I have the first verse tattooed on my leg. That's how important that song is to me. Like Phil said, just be who you are. Don't take any shit. Live your life. Don't stop chasing your dreams. As a 13-year old kid that spoke to me, and it still does." 

MC5 - Kick Out The Jams

"You discover punk and then you work back, and you discover the Stooges and the Sonics, and then suddenly there's the MC5. And it's 1969 or 1970, well before punk, and I was like, 'no way!' 

"And then you see the video footage. Wayne Kramer is like James Brown! I just fell in love with the power, the attitude, the mandate, the two fingers up to the fucking establishment. The gang mentality just spoke to me."

Motorhead - No Sleep 'til Hammersmith

"It's Motorhead. If somebody doesn't like Motorhead I would seriously question if you'd want to hang out with that person! [laughs]

"Motorhead were a phenomenon. A unique band and a unique sound, with a frontman who ticked ticks all the boxes for being a rock'n'roll star. Ace Of Spades is the one song everybody knows and is probably made my favourite, but Bomber from No Sleep 'til Hammersmith is a fantastic song. I love the levels of energy. Love the feel of it. Just a great song."

Curtis Mayfield - Sweet Exorcist

"Curtis Mayfield had a big influence on me, his band and his voice. Lyrically, him and Gil Gil Scott-Heron were a be a big influence my lyric writing, with the poetry in the way they wrote. A phenomenal entertainer, and a soulful, beautiful voice." 

Free - Fire And Water

"My sister was a big Free fan, and I was blown away seeing them on Top Of The Pops and by All Right Now and Fire And Water and Mr Big. Simon Kirke's playing on Mr Big: that groove, and that feel, and that sound. It's so simple, so stripped down. It's very much drums, bass, guitar, vocals, and that's it. But it sounds huge. 

"They're such phenomenal players and musicians, but the songs! The songs are so fucking good. And Paul Kossoff is such an underrated guitar player. He's the king of off understatement. What some guys do in ten notes he can play in one."

The Rolling Stones - Goats Head Soup

"It's hard to choose my favourite Stones album, and it could be either Goats Head Soup or Sticky Fingers. But I think I prefer the songs on this one, and Dancing With Mr D is a favourite of mine." 

Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska

"I could have picked 10 Bruce Springsteen albums. When I started doing the solo acoustic stuff it was a huge leap of faith for me because I'd never done it before. I'd always been that guy with a wall of Marshalls behind them, hiding behind the band and the volume. The thought of playing acoustic solo was terrifying, and this album helped me get through it. 

"The beauty of the songs. The stripped-down songs. One man and his guitar. The beauty and the delivery of it. It really taught me a lot. Not just about performing as a solo artist, but how to write with just one voice and one guitar in mind. It was pivotal when I started doing this all stuff. It was a game changer."

Van Morrison - His Band And The Street Choir

"Van is the man. And he's from East Belfast boy, which is where I'm from. I was brought up on Van Morrison, and his music was always on in the house. He was a a huge influence, and when he's in the mood there's no one better.

"He's from Northern Island, and he sings about Belfast, yet he's so soulful it sounds like he came straight outta Philadelphia. I love that."

Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison

"Again, I grew up with Johnny Cash. My dad played him all the time. I would always hear him at the weekend when my dad had his friends over and they'd be playing cards. I got to be the DJ, and I'd get to put Johnny Cash on.

"I was fascinated by this guy. Who was he? Why did he look like that? Why was he so sinister-looking? Why was his voice so deep? Why are these songs so amazing? Why do they resonate with me? What do I know about American and what he's singing about? 

"And that's where the seeds were sown. As I grew older I found out more about the great man, and I just love his music."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.