Can there be a harder working band at present than Black Star Riders? The band that Thin Lizzy mutated into to write and play new material, toured with Europe in the Spring and seem to be on every festival bill. With a support slot on the big Def Leppard and Whitesnake tour later this year, you could forgive the band members for putting their feet up.
Yet showing a work ethic that the mythical Stalinist Russia miner Stakhanov would be proud of, singer Ricky Warwick and guitarist Damon Johnson have embarked on a seventeen date tour of small venues, armed just with acoustic guitars, a relationship of real camaraderie and a revolving setlist.
The simple format opened with a solo song from Ricky in ‘Three Sides To The Truth’ before Damon lifted ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ from the repertoire of his erstwhile employer Alice Cooper, then said they were going to play his favourite Lizzy song and a beautiful version of ‘Borderline’ was a song I never expected to hear.
One of the great things about this gig was the unpredictability of the setlist from one song to the next, quite possibly to the musicians just as much as the audience. So among some prime BSR (‘Kingdom Of The Lost’) and Lizzy (‘Dancing In The Moonlight’), was ‘Free ‘n’ Easy’ to delight the substantial number that seemed to have been Ricky followers and some standards including a raw medley of ‘Somethin Else’ and ‘Summertime Blues’.
But one of the best moments for me was when Damon played a solo song ‘Pontiac’, with the nostalgic lyrical themes of a Springsteen or Bon Jovi and a rich southern voice with an air of Tom Petty. It was a reminder that he was singer as well as guitarist with cult band Brother Cane and that his ability should not come as a surprise.
The mood was good humoured throughout as the pair swapped stories and banter, and one anecdote about both growing up on chicken farms (don’t ask!) either side of the pond led into their shared love of Thin Lizzy. They paid tribute to the faith shown in them by Scott Gorham, but few can have been prepared for the fantastic surprise of the man himself coming on to form an acoustic trio.
Relaxed and grinning from ear to ear, like a proud music teacher sitting in on a recital by his virtuoso pupils, he was smiling at crowd members singing along to ‘Bound For Glory’ before the trio played old Lizzy favourites ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. I found myself torn between joining in the party atmosphere and sitting back to appreciate songs I have heard countless times given a rare acoustic makeover.
His guest appearance meant there was a danger the rest of the gig would be an anti climax but momentum was swiftly reclaimed with a choice cover of ‘Ooh La La’ and by the time ‘Are You Ready’ segued straight into ‘I’m Eighteen’ the raucous singalongs made the noise of a crowd several times larger than the frankly slightly disappointing turnout.
As the set wore on BSR numbers became more prominent and the way people roared along to ‘Finest Hour’ suggested it has become an instant classic while in contrast ‘Blindsided’ was a real obscurity. The old Almighty favourite ‘Wild And Wonderful’ was another where the crowd bellowed ever louder, as indeed they did to a contrasting pair of covers in ‘Ace Of Spades’ (with a message of good health to Lemmy) and ‘Born To Run’.
In a two hour marathon, in such a party atmosphere, there could only be one suitable closer in ‘WhiskyIn The Jar’, before the pair retired to meet and greet fans.
A word too for opening act Simon Kaviani, who I had also seen supporting Eric Martin here. He played an impressive set of mainly self penned originals, with a well chosen cover of Lizzy’s ‘Got To Give It Up’. I enjoyed the way he told the stories behind the songs, including ‘Message To Self‘ and the graphic ‘Sunday Sessions’ and ‘Decaffeinated Love’ showing both ends of a relationship, and the melodies and his crystal clear voice on the closing pair of ‘The Real You’ and ‘Fools Rush In’ had me keen to hear more, especially with a full band – assuming he has one!
A quite brilliant night and one which showed that it is attitude and passion rather than the level of your amplification that makes for a great rock n roll show.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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