It’s a simple premise. Take two singer songwriters, arm them with a couple of semi-acoustic guitars and unleash a career-spanning back catalogue. Simple, yet stunningly effective.
At least if you put the right musicians in the right place at the right time.
Ricky Warwick, formerly of The Almighty and more recently seen fronting Thin Lizzy offshoot Black Star Riders, is the very epitome of charismatic, understated cool. Wingman Damon Johnson works his fretboard like a masseur – carefully teasing out each last note to deliver a pain-free listening experience. He even took the expectant Newcastle crowd beyond the 12thfret after revealing a childhood love for all things Ace Frehley.
Together Warwick and Johnson are a well-oiled musical machine. Consummate professionals and clearly well-rehearsed, the duo nevertheless create the comforting illusion that this is somehow off-the-cuff and anything goes. Mixing three decades of bona fide rock and roll classics with brilliant banter it’s little wonder these wonderful nights with Warwick Johnson have taken on cult status. Crammed inside the small but perfectly formed Cluny 2, a truly privileged throng witnessed one of the gigs of 2018. And then some.
Warwick’s remarkable journey from punk-fuelled early 90s pin-up to the classic rock custodian of Thin Lizzy’s seminal work has been a long and arduous one. The endearing Ulsterman might have learned the hard way but those lessons have fuelled decades of feisty songwriting – Celebrating Sinking (a stirring co-write with Therapy?’s Andy Cairns), Free N Easy (the song Warwick admitted set him on the road to rock and roll glory) and the brilliant Blindsided (penned with Johnson and a standout track on BSR’s The Killer Instinct) all illustrated the true versatility behind a genuine talent.
It may be that Johnson has only realised his own potential in tandem with Warwick but there was life before ‘Richard’ for the softly spoken Georgia native. Brother Cain’s criminally underrated Got No Shame was given a welcome airing and solo favourite Pontiac never sounded so good. Big-hitting stints alongside Alice Cooper and Scott Gorham might have earned Johnson the headlines but there’s so much more to the silky smooth six stringer than an ability to breathe new life into shock rock anthems and Lizzy classics.
A two-hour celebration of live music in its purest form appeared to fly by in an instant – suddenly Whisky In The Jar’s familiar refrain was signalling the end of a memorable and magical evening in the company of two genuinely likeable gents.
That simple premise never seemed so effortless. But it takes something special to make the complicated appear so straightforward. Warwick Johnson are special indeed.