It has been a busy year so far for Black Star Riders. They completed a UK tour with Europe, played shows in the US and have been supporting Def Leppard at various European shows. You would think then that having a couple of weeks off prior to playing the festival circuit would be a welcome break but not if you are Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson. They saw the two week window as an opportunity to slip in a low key acoustic tour with dates in Ireland and the UK and, as they joked during the set, to raise some much needed cash to get their children through college, rock ‘n’ roll indeed!
Edinburgh was the third stop on the tour and a large turnout ensured that the intimate surroundings of Bannerman’s were turned into a sauna, the heat was stifling. Starting things off in a somewhat cooler manner was Don Mercy . The punk poet from Pontefract (the home of Haribo apparently) tried his best to win over the crowd but his rather insipid fare was met with polite applause at best.
He did say at one point that he had an album on sale at the merch desk if anyone wanted to hear the songs done in a more upbeat, punk vein, just a shame he didn’t liven things up when playing them live. Had he been busking in Princes Street I don’t think I would have given him a second glance, far less my loose change.
Warwick and Johnson however were a completely different prospect. Catch these two busking and you would need crowd control in the street such was the intensity of the performance. The pair strolled on stage and after a quick set up they kicked things off, quite surprisingly, with Damon taking the mic for a blast through the Alice Cooper classic ‘Eighteen’. Johnson did his old boss proud on the vocal front and showed that he was a match for Warwick in the frontman stakes.
The set, as Ricky explained, was drawn from a pool of around 40 songs they had listed and they picked songs as they went along. All bases were covered during the two plus hours the guys were on stage from Black Star Riders and Thin Lizzy to solo efforts from both Warwick and Johnson, songs from The Almighty and a few choice covers.
Two things were clear from the show, the first was the partnership that has formed between Warwick and Johnson, both are from similar backgrounds and have the same creative work ethic. The other is the talent that both have as songwriters and musicians, to stand onstage and captivate a crowd with just two acoustic guitars takes some doing but they both took it in their stride, smiling all the while.
One thing I like about these more intimate shows is the between song chat and both took it in turns to regale us with tales of writing, touring and visiting Ricky’s parents just before the show where they had been fed up on soup, salmon sandwiches and Kit Kats. I could see that combo featuring on their rider for the rest of the tour.
The music though was the real star with Lizzy and Black Star Riders numbers taking the bulk of the set. Highlights included ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’, ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ which Ricky dedicated to Big County’s Stuart Adamson, and ‘Bound For Glory’. The Almighty’s ‘Free and Easy’ went down a storm as did ‘Pontiac’ which was from Johnson’s solo acoustic album.
As the night wore on and the temperature rose the crowd started to wilt a bit but the last vestiges of energy were spent on the final pairing of ‘Whisky In The Jar’, complete with a mass sing along, and an excellent cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born To Run’ which brought things to boiling point, literally!
This was a fantastic night in the company of two very talented and entertaining individuals. Edinburgh crowds can be a bit staid at times but tonight was the loudest crowd I have been in for a while such was the enthusiasm for the talent on show. Hopefully this will be an on-going partnership and that they can squeeze in another tour or two when time allows.
Remember, those college degrees don’t come cheap lads and hopefully the hall will be a few degrees cooler next time as well!
Review and Photos by David Wilson
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