rickywarwick-patsyclineRicky Warwick is without a doubt one of rocks longest lasting and most prolific troubadours, with a career, from his early days as live rhythm guitarist for New Model Army, to now fronting Black Star Riders, an extension of the much beloved Thin Lizzy brand. The first time I saw him live was in the late 80’s fronting The Almighty, a band that to this day has their incredible ‘Powertrippin’ riding high in my playlist a good chunk over twenty years after its original release. Throw into the mix some cracking solo work, incredibly intense acoustic shows, and it was a no-brainer that when he announced via social media a crowd funded project to release two solo albums in 2014 I jumped at the chance and sent my money. Sadly, for reasons unknown, be it the Royal Mail or the Illuminati, my signed copies and shirt never arrived, and it is only now that the music has been picked up by Nuclear Blast for a general release that I’m finally getting to hear the fruits of Mr Warwick’s labours.

Split between two albums, the first electric, and the second acoustic, like so much of his solo work such as the excellent ‘Belfast Confetti’ or ‘Love Many Trust Few’, there is a heavily autobiographical element to the music. The opening rock chug of ‘The Road to Damascus Street’ is a story of his youth in central Belfast, the catchy beats highlighting a sense of hope against what was one of the darkest periods of the history of the city. The same upbeat musical enthusiasm runs through ‘Celebrating Sinking’ a tale of too much drink, his line of “another pissed up Paddy on a Saturday night” being one that could so easily become a dark litany, but somehow manages to celebrate “The Craic” without becoming maudlin. Title track ‘When Patsy Cline Was Crazy’ manages to encapsulate the spirit of the album with the illustration of his youthful days with his family. Nowadays entertainment is almost disposable, with a host of multimedia platforms throwing a million sound bites and videos at you from all directions, be it the thousands of channels on cable TV, or the incalculable amount of data streaming from computer screens and even the phone in your pocket. In stark contrast Ricky Warwick’s (and my for that matter) youth was one of playing parents vinyl on kitchen unit sized stereos whilst one of the three, yes three, non twenty four hour television channels played in the background. Whilst my youthful explorations of my parents record collection had me concentrating on the likes of Cream and Hendrix, Ricky Warwick reveals his early love of Country in the form of Guy Mitchell, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, and the way that the music is intrinsically linked to memories of his childhood shines through in his lyrics. This continuing influence is no more apparent than in the country rock of ‘That’s Where The Story Ends’, black hatted villains shooting it out with white hatted heroes to a soundtrack of twanging guitars and country beats; whether these archetypes are creations of fiction, or metaphors for his own experiences is for you to decide.

The second half of the collection ‘Hearts on Trees’ eschews rock for a huge slice of dark country, acoustic strumming built up with layers of swirling steel lap guitars and percussion that could be as easily stamped out on a sawdust covered bar room floor as played on a drum kit. ‘Presbyterian Homesick Blues’, a play maybe on the title of the Bob Dylan classic, tells the story of the prevalence of religious doctrine that must have been such a huge part of growing up in Belfast and then Glasgow (or “Belfast Light” as I once heard a comedian describe it at a gig in that city), complete with riots and disorder, all played out to a truly spectacular slide guitar. These same youthful experiences come to the for in the mournful ‘Tank McCullough Saturdays’, memories of bowler hatted marches making Ricky Warwick promise that he “won’t cry no more” as a melancholic guitar and harmonica create a bleak sound-scape. Flutes and sashes continue to abound in ‘Schwaben Redoubt’, with the protagonists of the song “Billy” and “Liam” putting aside their indoctrinated hatred in the hell of the trenches of The Great War, the petty squabbles of such religious division being washed away in the mud and blood of the Somme. The fact that such a dark tale where no-one survives is set to a stomping beat that could accompany a simple drinking song makes the whole tale somehow more poignant, the differences in how a prayer is said being made to seem all so ridiculous. Not all is darkness and conflict, the album finishing with ’82’, a nostalgic tribute to youthful love, as simple as it is heartfelt, needing no more than one voice and a single acoustic guitar to deliver its message.

The full package offers up no less than eight additional tracks, including demos and an electrified version of ‘ Tank McCullough Saturdays’, making this a truly huge package, and an essential purchase for any Ricky Warwick fan. He is a musician who has nothing left to prove to his critics, having played the main stage of Donington’s Monsters of Rock (Download my arse!), toured the world with The Almighty, and filled arenas with Black Star Riders. With this far more intimate album, he is returning to a sound that has seen him play tiny venues around the country, often with nothing more than his passion and a single guitar, whilst his forthcoming tour is as support to Stiff Little Fingers around UK clubs.

(8/10 Spenny)