Five years and three albums in the Black Star Riders are starting to feel confident enough to move away from their roots.
The band came about when the group was touring as Thin Lizzy – they number Lizzy’s long-standing guitarist and keeper of the flame, Scott Gorham among their number – but wanted to record some new material.
However, the group’s members felt uncomfortable about using the Lizzy name seeing as the line-up was now so far removed from the classic era of Phil Lynott.
Breaking off from rehearsals for the current tour, guitarist Damon Johnson says: ‘Black Star Riders has, by the graciousness of the fans, grown into its own entity, and a powerful one. We’re very proud and grateful that the fans have stepped up – if it wasn’t for their investment in coming to the shows and buying and streaming the albums, we wouldn’t be doing this.
‘I think on paper when the idea started formulating in the latter part of 2012 there were a lot of raised eyebrows – even within the band, it was like: “Erm, I don’t know...”
‘There was the option to keep on going out as Lizzy and carry on playing the hits, but I have to give a lot of credit to Scott – he was definitely inspired in wanting to creating some new music, to get back in the studio and try his hand at making some new music.
Black Star Riders has, by the graciousness of the fans, grown into its own entity, and a powerful oneDamon Johnson
‘We’re certainly glad that he was in that frame of mind. It’s been a combination of some good luck and a lot of hard work.’
Damon has his own impressive pedigree. He was frontman for the rock band Brother Cane who scored several top 10 Billboard rock songs before being invited to join Alice Cooper’s band in 2004.
And then in 2011 he was contacted by Gorham to join Lizzy.
‘It was and still is one of the most mind-blowing moments of my career.
‘And of course I was already working with one legend in Alice Cooper. I don’t know if I would have been ready for an opportunity like working with Thin Lizzy if it hadn’t been for my time with Alice. I learned a great deal from him, I’m a lucky man.
‘It’s the stuff of dreams to get calls like that.
‘To this day my siblings cannot believe it. I used to have Thin Lizzy posters on the wall and it’s all I would play on the stereo.’
He shares songwriting duties in the band with frontman Ricky Warwick, formerly the singer-guitarist with Scottish hard-rockers The Almighty.
As Damon admits: I was aware that Ricky had been the lead-singer of the Almighty, but I wasn’t familiar with their music. We had some mutual friends and names had come up in conversation over the years, but really, he was not on my radar at all.
‘So you can imagine the surprise when we wound up in Thin Lizzy together and then when the discussion turned to writing songs,
‘Both Ricky and I have been somewhat prolific over the past decade – so you had two guys in the band as passionate about songwriting as they were about performing, that’s definitely worked to our advantage.
‘We love that process of songwriting so much and I think the fact we get on so well at a personal level and we’re not precious about any of the alchemy of songwriting – if he comes to me with a lyric, he’s totally ready for me to go, “Oh, I like this”,“Maybe we can do this?” or “Maybe we can do this instead of that?” And he’ll take it on and consider it.’
And he still recalls the first song they wrote together.
‘It’s on the debut, All Hell Breaks Loose, called Someday Salvation. I had flown to LA to stay at Ricky’s house. His wife and kids had gone off to work and school, so we got the coffee pot on, we were listening to Diana Ross and The Supremes’ Baby Love, and we’re talking about what a great song that is and how great it feels.
‘I said, “Hey man, let’s rip that off! Let’s just lift it”, let’s start our songwriting with at least that feel – that whole kind of swing between the drums and the bass. You listen to it and it sounds nothing like Baby Love – it’s guys playing loud through Marshall Amps and crashing drums and all that, but man, there’s an essence in there that borrows from Baby Love. You can never go wrong with Motown, ever.
‘And then we had a very productive three-day session.
‘It’s just wild that it’s come together like it has.’
New album Heavy Fire hit number six in the charts on its release earlier this year, and the band has used its release to draw a line.
‘When we released Heavy Fire, we made a conscious decision that we were going to make the majority of the set Black Star Riders songs.
‘We felt that with 30 songs to choose from it was time, and we felt it from our fans, that they were ready.
‘We rolled the dice on our UK run back in March, and I think the set had one Thin Lizzy song in it and we went down a storm.
‘We did some festivals in the summer and added one more for those, but we’ve not played more than two Thin Lizzy songs in a set this entire year.
‘We’ll never feel anything but love, respect and gratitude for the legacy of Thin Lizzy and certainly what it’s done for Black Star Riders, but again, we ultimately defer to Scott on these things, and Scott loves it.
‘But how fortunate are we that we can cherry pick from that catalogue as well?’
BLACK STAR RIDERS
The Pyramids Centre, Southsea
Sunday, November 19