The boys are back in town with a fresh face in tow
Think of Thin Lizzy and it will always be the image of Phil Lynott that dominates – wild-haired and free-spirited, underpinning the band's sound with his intuitive bass grooves and injecting unique tone, power and emotion into adored songs such as Whiskey In The Jar, Boys Are Back In Town, Dancing In The Moonlight, Jailbreak and Sarah.
His iconic image summed up their intoxicating blend of blues- and country-fuelled rock and traditional Celtic folk.
Ricky Warwick is the first to admit that he could never match the style and genius of the group's frontman, lead singer and chief songwriter, who died in January 1986, aged just 36. What he can do, however, is to deliver and celebrate the group's back catalogue with skill and reverence in the company of some top-class musicians – including guitarist Scott Gorham, drummer Brian Downey and keyboard player Darren Wharton.
"Phil's are big shoes to fill; I can't ever fill them and I wouldn't even try to. All I can do is stand beside them," says Ricky, humbly, ahead of the band's forthcoming date at Plymouth Pavilions as part of a major UK tour.
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He and the other chaps will be joined by renowned American bass player Marco Mendoza, and the most recent recruit to the permanent line-up, veteran guitarist Damon Johnson, who has been part of Alice Cooper's band for the past six years.
Known best as vocalist and guitarist with Scottish heavy rock group The Almighty, Ricky has been a huge Lizzy fan for as long as he can remember, but he says it was a total surprise and a huge honour to be invited to join the much-loved band, which has survived in various incarnations since forming in Dublin more than 40 years ago.
"It was bizarre how it came up," he says. "I had known Scott for around 20 years and he played on one of my solo records. He was over in Dublin re-mastering some Lizzy tracks in the studio with Joe Elliott from Def Leppard and mentioned that Brian was back on drums and all he needed now was a singer. It was Joe who asked him if he'd thought about me.
"So I got a call out of the blue; and when I'd picked myself up off the floor I said absolutely yes," he says. "Once the initial excitement passed I did think it was a bit heavy. Phil was one of the most iconic rock and roll stars of all time and niggling doubts started to enter my head."
But Ricky soon realised that the last thing Scott wanted was to clone Phil – he just wanted to take the band back to their gritty, bluesy roots; there had been increasing grumblings from fans about the heavier metal route they had moved towards with John Sykes as frontman.
"It was a question of learning the songs we all know and love and making them as recognisable as I could for people. I'm lucky that Phil's vocal range and mine are very similar. I sing them like Phil, I use his phrasing and try to harness his warmth, but I'm myself as well," says Ricky. "I really wanted to work at it; I spent five months standing in front of the mirror, five hours a day listening to the songs, until they were ingrained in my soul. I felt that was the only way to do it. I still listen to the original tracks constantly, trying to get it better and better."
At 45, Ricky is a bit too young to remember when the band really kicked off in the mid-1970s, but he had two older sisters who listened to Thin Lizzy records and he was on board for later albums such as Chinatown. He was born and brought up in Northern Ireland, but moved to Scotland with his family when he was 15, forming The Almighty when he was 21.
Strangely, the only time Ricky saw Phil Lynott live was in Grand Slam, the band he started when Thin Lizzy split in 1984, at a show at Glasgow University. "That was weird. But he still walked the walk."
Ricky has played 111 shows with Thin Lizzy around the world since January and he's having a ball.
"You never stop being a fan. I stand there on stage and think Emerald [the B-side of Jailbreak] is coming up in a minute and I'm up here singing it alongside Scott Gorham. It's brilliant when that feeling happens and it happens all the time. Me, Marco and Damon, hopefully we are re-energising a love for these songs," says Ricky, who lives in Los Angeles with his second wife, Tina, and their three children.
"The fan reaction has been phenomenal. We have just been blown away.
"Some people you can't please at all – even if the great man himself came back they would complain. But I think on the whole they would rather hear the songs played live rather than never hear them again."