Ricky Warwick on The Almighty's wild and wonderful rock 'n' roll adventures: "We were the real deal. We were like Vikings!"

Ricky Warwick, The Almighty, 1996
(Image credit: Mick Hutson/Redferns)

The Almighty were one of Britain’s biggest and best-loved rock bands in the ’90s, chalking up eight Top 40 singles, and four Top 40 albums. These days, frontman Ricky Warwick can be found leading Black Star Riders, but it was in The Almighty that he learned all his important life lessons.

In 2019, we took Warwick for a trip down memory lane to relive his wild and wonderful time with the band, who're set to return later this year with their original line-up, to play UK shows in November/December.

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Who was the young Ricky Warwick?
"A day dreamer. I was born on a small farm, so I think that was the future that was mapped out for me, but I never wanted to be a farmer, I wanted to be a football player, until I was about 14, and discovered music and girls and drinking. Obviously The Troubles were in full swing in Northern Ireland then, so occasionally we’d hear bombs going off in Belfast, and the house would shake, but when you’re a kid you don’t think much about it."

What bands did you get to see as a teenager?
"Hardly any. I wasn’t allowed to go into Belfast at night because it was too dangerous, and to be honest I was too damned scared to go in on my own anyway. But finally me and a mate plucked up the courage to go see Stiff Little Fingers in 1980 and that just lit the fuse. It was like, 'This is it, this is what I’m doing, I want to be Jake Burns, I need to get a guitar and be up there doing that.' It was game-changing. Around that time my sister bought Thin Lizzy’s Black Rose, and I had that, and Stiff Little Fingers’ Inflammable Material and Nobody’s Heroes, and those were the three albums I listened to all the time.

Your family moved to Scotland when you were 15. That must have been quite a wrench?
"It was a crap age to move. I don’t really understand why we moved, I think there were a wee bit of… shenanigans going down, and we kinda had to get away. It was that generation where you just didn’t talk about stuff, it was, 'We’re moving to Scotland, and we’re moving next month.' It wasn’t up for discussion. It was crap because I’d just got my first girlfriend, I’d a great bunch of friends, I was coming of age and discovering the world, getting into music and having a great time. When we moved, I found Scotland a lot tougher than Northern Ireland."

In what way?
"I found it hard to settle. On my first day at school kids were coming up to me saying, 'Did you bring your bombs with you?' The very first question I got asked at school was, 'Are you Catholic or Protestant?' I was like, 'Fuck’s sake, really?' If you’re going to move out of Northern Ireland to get away from religious bigotry, the west of Scotland maybe isn’t the first place you would consider moving to! I don’t know what my dad was thinking! But I was never bullied. Strathaven was a great wee town, and of course I met [future Almighty drummer] Stumpy [Monroe] and [future Almighty bassist] Floyd [London] there…" 

Did music become a real escape for you?
"Definitely. Suddenly I was going to see bands every other week at the Glasgow Apollo. Plus I started rehearsing with Stumpy and Floyd straight away, at 15 years old. We rehearsed in our living room one week, and Stumpy’s living room the next. He lived above the Bank of Scotland, so we always got complaints from the staff on Saturdays asking us to turn it down. I remember his dad had tropical fish, and we killed them all with the noise!"

On my first day at school kids were coming up to me saying, 'Did you bring your bombs with you?'

Ricky Warwick

What were the bands that united the three of you?
"Me and Stumpy were into punk, so we listened to everything from the Pistols and The Clash to Discharge, GBH and Exploited, whereas Floyd was more of a rocker, into UFO and Rush. But we all loved Thin Lizzy, we all loved Motörhead and all loved ‘DC, that was the core that united us. Our first band was called Impact, and we’d do Doctor Doctor, Paranoid, Alternative Ulster… We had one brilliant, supportive teacher, the geometry teacher, and he gave us a room to practise in, and he put us on at the school discos. So then you’d be walking through the school with a guitar and it’d be, ‘Oh, look, here’s fucking Joe Strummer.’ [Laughs]

Did you like the attention of fronting a band?
"Well, nobody wanted to sing, and I just wanted to be the rhythm guitar player, but then we had a gig booked at the school and I said, Right, I’ll do it ’til we find somebody. I’m still doing it ’til we find somebody, 40 years later! But it was a good buzz and suddenly it’s, “Why is that girl who’d never talk to me before suddenly talking to me now? I kinda like this, I’m alright with this…"

So Impact transformed into your next band, Rough Charm?
"Yeah, well Stumpy and I used to fall out all the time, we’d fight like cats and dogs, and he was out of the band four or five times, so in Rough Charm we used another drummer from Coatbridge, called Rusty for a while. But nobody could play drums like Stumpy, so we always asked him back. I remember once, when we were fighting, he retrieved his drums from the farm outhouse where we practised, and drew a lifesize cock and balls on the wall right where I used to stand. I thought, Fair play, that’s pretty funny. "Rough Charm were a bit more New Wave -  Big Country, U2 - a bit garage - like The Replacements or The Smithereens - and a bit gothic rock. We sent some demos off, and got a nice letter back from New Model Army’s management, and then their manager Nigel Morton came to see us play in Edinburgh and offered us some dates with New Model Army." 

And then you ended up joining New Model Army…
"As a touring guitarist, yeah. Justin [Sullivan, NMA frontman] knew I was a big fan, and he asked if I’d get up and play extra guitar on a couple of songs, which was a dream come true. That developed into, “We’re doing a world tour, and need somebody, would you wanna come with us?” I was 19/20 years old, and I knew it was the chance of a lifetime, so I couldn’t say, “No.” The guys were pissed off, of course they were, but they understood. I went off and did that for a year, and saw the world with my favourite band at that moment." 

Was staying in the band not an option?
"Well, when it came to writing and recording, it was going to be the nucleus of the three guys, which of course I totally understood. Justin told me that they were going to be off the road for six months while making the record, and so I said I’d rather just leave and get back to my own stuff. By this point I’d had the idea for The Almighty. Me and Tommy Tee, New Model Army’s manager, were sitting waiting on a train to Glasgow at Leeds train station on Christmas Eve, 1987, and we were in a pub with a video jukebox. Zodiac Mindwarp’s video for Back Seat Education came on and I thought, “This is fucking brilliant.” I said to Tommy, “I could do that.” He said, “Right, you form a band, you do that, and I’ll manage you.”

So I went back to Scotland with my tail between my legs and saw Floyd and said, “Look, I don’t blame you if you tell me to fuck off, but I have these new ideas…” Him and Stumpy were both like, “Okay, we’ll give it a go” which I thought was very cool of them. I told them I wanted it to be a cross between Motörhead and Sham 69, and they loved the idea, so we just started rehearsing again."

It seemed like things moved incredibly for The Almighty.
They did. We booked a gig at a club called Night Moves in Glasgow on a Wednesday night, with only four songs written. We called all our mates, and borrowed every Marshall stack we could get. We’d three strobe lights, and I told the guy to go to town on the dry ice, and not to turn the strobes off. 12 people turned up to the gig, but we played like we were playing Madison Square Garden, and it must have looked pretty cool. There was a journalist there from Kerrang! called Richard Heggie and he gave us this off-the-scale, 5K review, like, “I’ve just seen the future of rock’n’roll!” The day after it was printed, I’m at home and the phone starts ringing… Polydor, EMI… all this from one fucking gig! So we started talking to labels.

"We always had this plan that we’d make every gig a special occasion. We’d come down to London, play The Marquee, blow the doors off, get into a fight, kiss someone’s girlfriend, and then fuck off back to Strathaven, almost like Vikings. It worked, because people would be like, “Who the fuck are they?” We played the Marquee early in ’89 and there were like 25 labels there, and it was a case of, Okay, who do you want to sign to?"

What do you remember about making the first Almighty album, Blood, Fire & Love?
"It was an insane time. One minute we were drinking in The Weavers in Strathaven, planning world domination, and within a year we were off. We recorded the first album at fucking Abbey Road, Studio 2, where The Beatles recorded. We’d all this new gear – I could hardly find the ‘On’ switch on my Marshall- and we were in one of the best studios in the world, way out of our depth, very naïve. But I think that’s what made that first record so special. I remember sitting at Abbey Road one day thinking, Fuck, it doesn’t get better than this."

Rock fans latched on to your band pretty quickly. You were on the cover of Kerrang! within a year.
"I think people saw that we were the real deal, a blue collar, dirty rock’n’roll band, and we just connected. There was nobody like us at the time."

Did you get to play in the US on the first album?
"We played New York and The Cathouse in LA. Axl Rose had heard the record and he told [Cathouse owner] Riki Rachtman, 'You need to get these guys over, they’re fucking great.' We were Number 1 at all the rock radio stations that mattered with both Blood, Fire & Love and our next album, Soul Destruction, but every time we got any momentum going, people would get fired from the label. We didn’t get tour properly until our third album, Powertrippin’.

You made Soul Destruction with Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor. A good time?
"Working with Andy was a real buzz, but that’s when a bit of turmoil started to creep in between us and our guitarist Tantrum, him and Stumpy were always butting heads. Everything was starting to come together career-wise, but there was disharmony in the band. I think Tantrum saw us going down a more commercial, cleaner road, and we wanted to stay heavy."

You were married to MTV Headbangers’ Ball presenter by this point, British metal’s own Posh and Becks…
Haha. I met Vanessa on the first album, when she was working at MTV behind the scenes. We were together about a year before she got that presenter’s role. That show was popular all over Europe, and suddenly you become that couple. I was 22 when I married Vanessa, which is terribly young, and I was very naïve. I look back now and think, What the fuck were you thinking?"

You’re a successful band in the UK and Europe and then you get to America and you realise that no-one gives a fuck

Ricky Warwick

With Powertrippin’, it was obvious you’d taken on some influence from grunge...
"[Former Alice Cooper guitarist] Pete Friesin had come in to the band and brought with him a lot of positivity and energy, and he showed me the whole drop D/Sabbath tuning, and that changed the way we went about writing. We loved the whole grunge scene, those bands sounded punky as fuck, but heavy as fuck as well, which was what we’d been trying to do. We’d always promised that we would never be a band to make the same album again and again. There were some complaints, of course, but a lot of people just don’t like change."

So you finally toured America on that album?
"Yeah, we booked a nine week tour... and it nearly fucking broke the band! We did it in two vans, driving 700 miles, and then playing shows to empty rooms. It’s just fucking hard work. You’re a successful band in the UK and Europe and then you get to America and you realise that no-one gives a fuck. It’s very humbling. It’s the typical thing where you’re in New York and Boston and everyone from the label is there, and the gigs are fairly full, and the same on the West Coast in LA and San Francisco, but then you get to Boise, Idaho and there’s three people and a fucking dog. When we got on Headbangers’ Ball and suddenly there were 100 people and a dog, but still, that’s not enough to sustain you. 

When did you realise you weren’t going to crack the US?
"I remember we played with Metallica at Milton Keynes Bowl, 85,000 people [on June 5, 1993] and the next day we flew to America to start our tour at some club in Pennsylvania and we were opening up for a Metallica tribute band, Fade To Black. The guys in the band were like, 'Hey, you’re from the UK, what was the last gig you played?' And you can’t say, Actually, we opened up for Metallica in front of 85,000 people, and now we’re here supporting you in front of 85 people! We never got on a good tour in America, and got in front of people, and that just beat us in the end.

Your fourth album Crank brought another change of sound.
"I actually think Crank is the most Almighty-sounding record of everything we done. If you’d asked me in 1988 what I wanted the band to sound like, I’d have said exactly like Crank. I remember it as a brilliant time. There was great unity in the band, we were playing really well, our shows were really intense. We borrowed Iron Maiden’s PA system, put it in this little bar outside Brighton, and we’d just crank out these riffs all day, loud as balls. By the end of three weeks down there we’d Crank written. It my favourite time of the whole experience.

"But then, on the other hand, my marriage was falling apart, and at 27/28 you just ignore that and hope it goes away. There was a lot of drug taking during that recording, me trying to hide and get away from the reality that I didn’t want to have to deal with."

Just Add Life, album five, seemed like something of a reaction to BritPop?
"By that point I think it’s fair to say that the other guys had lost a bit of interest in the band… and I had as well, but I didn’t realise it. I pretty much wrote that record on my own, and it was an attempt to inject some commerciality into the band, if I’m really honest. There are some really heavy songs on there – songs like 360 and Feed The Need – but I was very much going back to the 14, 15 year old me, only listening to punk. I think it’s a great album, but it was definitely the beginning of the end.

"I remember phoning my manager to say I wanted out on pretty much the same week that [single] All Sussed Out charted in the Top 30, which seems bizarre. I felt lost, I didn’t know where we fitted anymore and I didn’t believe in it anymore. So I decided I was leaving, which in hindsight was totally the wrong fucking decision. I was a bit of an arsehole, quite pig-headed."

When it finished, how did you feel, because so much of your identity was bound up in being ‘Ricky from The Almighty’?
"Alright, initially. My divorce had come through, I moved to Dublin, and I started a band called (sic), which I loved, with two guys I loved. There was a great buzz on the band and it looked like we were going to get signed on a worldwide deal by Mercury. And then, the day before we were due to sign that contract, the guy got fired, and all deals were off. That sent me into a downward spiral, complete depression, disillusionment with everything. The money ran out and I started to really hate music, and everything that went with it. I went down a very dark road for about six months."

In what way?
"Using way too many substances, hating myself and hating the world. I was selling a guitar every month to pay my bills. But I dragged myself off the narcotics, started going to the gym, and started getting my head clear. [Def Leppard's] Joe Elliott and [Therapy? frontman] Andy Cairns were both amazing to me, fucking brilliant, and they encouraged me to start writing songs again. The Almighty reformed for two albums [2000’s The Almighty and 2001’s Psycho-Narco] but it wasn’t the same. The game was up. But I got some money for a solo deal, and then Joe took me into his studio and we made my Tattoos & Alibis album. And slowly my swagger and confidence came back."

Life has worked out pretty good since, with Black Star Riders, your solo career and Thin Lizzy. But there must still be people asking you about The Almighty…
"All the time. And we still get offers to play festivals, good offers. I love that people remember us fondly, and I love that we have a legacy. There’s still some people who’ll see me as ‘Ricky from The Almighty’ and that’s okay with me."

The reformed Almighty will play: Glasgow Barrowlands (November 30), Manchester Academy (December 1) and London O2 Forum (December 02).

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.