"Thin Lizzy is a known situation, but with Black Star Riders we're moving into uncharted territory and that's pretty damn exciting. I'm having more fun playing right now than I have in years." Scott Gorham "Black Star Riders allows us to move forward with passion and integrity, but in saying that it was always going to be a continuation of some kind. You can't take the Thin Lizzy out of Scott Gorham - and why the hell would you want to?" Ricky Warwick Sometimes the head-rush induced by primal rock 'n' roll can't be contained. "All Hell Breaks Loose", the title track of Black Star Riders' storming debut album, is a case in point. "Alright Scotty!" roars frontman Ricky Warwick, teeing up a certain Mr. Gorham's classy lead guitar salvo. "I love that song starting the album", laughs Warwick. "The Lizzy faithful are going to hear Scott's solo and think, 'Fantastic! Everything's going to be okay.'" Black Star Riders is a brand new band, then, but also one respectful of the past. Together with bandmates Marco Mendoza and Damon Johnson, Gorham and Warwick have of course toured in various configurations of Thin Lizzy in recent years. But while Gorham - the late Phil Lynott's longest serving guitar foil - and original Lizzy drummer Brian Downey had every right to lead such a charge, even they felt somewhat conflicted when talked turned to the recording of a new Thin Lizzy album. "Everybody laid their cards on the table, and ultimately we didn't feel comfortable with it", says Gorham. "This record did start out as a Lizzy album, but then we got to thinking about what that would mean in real terms, and it wouldn't have been fair to Phil." Later, Brian Downey and Lizzy keyboardist Darren Wharton declined to be involved in the new project, this an amicable decision sparked by their realisation of just how much subsequent touring would be required. It was now doubly clear that a new band name was essential, and with a little help from the William Burroughs cut-up technique favoured by David Bowie, Ricky Warwick was on it. "Basically, I watched all these old Westerns that I like and wrote down titles and bits of dialogue", he says. "Then I cut them all up and threw them on the floor. The 'Black Star' bit came from the film Tombstone, and when that landed beside the word 'Riders' I thought, 'Bingo! That's it.' The name suits the music and the music suits the name, I think. It's got that edgy, band-as-gang thing." All Hell Breaks Loose was recorded in Los Angeles with producer Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith) at the helm. Working at a rapid pace, the band nailed twelve songs in twelve days. "Jimmy De Grasso had played drums in Alice Cooper's band alongside Damon", says Scott Gorham of BSR's newest recruit. "First day of rehearsal I saw what all the fuss was about. You need Jimmy to lay something down? Bang! It's there." Listening to the album, it's clear that Black Star Riders are the kind of hard rock band that won't be constrained or typecast. The magnificent guitar riffs on "Hey Judas" really swing; "Someday Salvation" is a thing of Lizzy-channeling-Van-Morrison splendour, "Before The War" packs a Clash-like urgency, and Dubliner Patrick D'arcy's Irish whistles, uilleann pipes and bodhran bring a magical Celtic lilt to 'Kingdom Of The Lost", a song that seems mindful of Thin Lizzy's 1979 classic, Black Rose: A Rock Legend. Though County Down, Northern Ireland's Ricky Warwick can now be his own man singing his own lyrics again, moreover, he's obviously in touch with the renegades, wild romantics, saints, and sinners that people Phil Lynott's finest songs. "I've studied Phil's phrasing and lyrics deeply", says BSR's frontman. "I still think of him every day, and I'm sure something of Phil has rubbed off." Scott Gorham can testify to that: "A lot of singers have told me, 'Phil was my guy'", says the guitarist. "Then you hear what they've done and you think, Well you weren't really listening, were you? Ricky, on the other hand, really understands Phil and can write page after page of lyrics that blow me away. It's that Irish storyteller thing that's in the blood." Of his Black Star Riders guitar foil, Damon Johnson, meanwhile, Gorham has this to say: "I don't want to get in trouble, but I think my partnership with Damon is one of the best I've had. We both do our share of heavy-lifting, but Damon is a real ball of energy and that gets me fired-up, too." Together with Warwick, Johnson was also a key writer on All Hell Breaks Loose, countless snatched moments in hotel rooms and in the tour bus lounge enabling the pair to gel as a formidable new songwriting force.
The swaggering "Bound For Glory", earmarked as BSR's debut single, marries its twin guitar harmonies to a tale of persistence against the odds. "And he knows he can never win / he's just trying to lose a little more slowly", sings Warwick at one point. "I had the chords for ages, but I couldn't find the right lyric", explains the singer. "Then one night Scott and Marco went out for a Chinese in Plymouth, of all places. When the waitress realised who they were, she said 'Oh, my dad's a huge Thin Lizzy fan!', and next thing they know they're being introduced to this old Chinese guy called Johnny Wong who says to Scott, 'Southbound! I love Southbound!' [song from Lizzy's classic 1977 album Bad Reputation]. They got talking and he told them how he'd been kicking against the pricks all these years, struggling to make ends meet. That's why the first line of "Bound For Glory" goes, 'Johnny Wong keeps trying to get it right.'" The aforementioned "Before The War", meanwhile, makes no judgement call on the rights or wrongs of conflict; rather it contrasts two very different worlds and addresses the difficulties of moving between them. "It's about that camaraderie, that band of brothers thing", says Warwick. "It's saying, 'Out here in the middle of nowhere I'm very together, but if you'd seen me back in my civilian life …' When I was writing the song I saw a documentary on The History Channel that really affected me. When they get discharged a lot of these guys are back at square one, despondent and lost." Black Star Riders are a band of brothers too, albeit of a very different kind. It's important to remember that Gorham and Warwick go back some twenty years now. Back to when Scott gave Ricky a lift to The Castle Donnington festival in his sports car when the singer was still fronting The Almighty. Back to Scott playing on Ricky's 2003 solo album Tattoos And Alibis. "When I first met Ricky I just saw long hair and a lot of ink", laughs Gorham, "but I soon realised what a great guy he was." "I always feel like Scott's got my back", counters Warwick. "He believes in me and that's a great honour." Together with their able Black Star Riders bandmates, they've made a debut album to be proud of in All Hell Breaks Loose, and Scott Gorham, for one, thinks the late, great Phil Lynott would be down with the programme.
"Phil would dig it", says the guitarist. "In fact, I think he'd like to be in the band." James McNair