Home Gigs Gig Review : Ricky Warwick and Sam Robinson – In The Arms Of Belfast Town – Bright Umbrella Sanctuary Theatre

Gig Review : Ricky Warwick and Sam Robinson – In The Arms Of Belfast Town – Bright Umbrella Sanctuary Theatre

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Review by Damien Doherty for MPM

It may be a bitterly cold, wet and stormy night but in the confines of The Sanctuary theatre it couldn’t be cosier. One of the oldest buildings in East Belfast, the 19th century former shipyard workers church is a magnificent building steeped in history with so many original features such as the stained-glass windows, vaulted roof, and wooden pews.

Sitting here one cannot but imagine the spirits of the many who passed through these doors. In 2022 Bright Umbrella Drama Company signed a 55year lease to regenerate the church into a vibrant inner city musical and theatre venue. The ability to attract musicians of Ricky Warwick’s calibre will undoubtedly enhance the theatre’s reputation on the Belfast music scene.

It’s been a hell of a few days for Ricky; last week the original line-up of his first band The Almighty reunited for 3 shows that sold out almost immediately and which received electrifying reviews, so much so that they have announced 6 more future appearances, 3 in 2024 and 3 in 2025. The Thin Lizzy/Almighty/Black Star Riders frontman is one of the hardest working musicians in the business and has returned to his hometown with this 4-night run of shows entitled “In The Arms Of Belfast Town”. Tonight is the 3rd of these intimate shows in front of an audience of 60 or so lucky fans, with Ricky performing and talking about his life and career with childhood friend and co-conspirator Sam Robinson.

It’s something of a family affair for Sam with his son Jordi on guitars, another son Jack on lights, and nephew Matt manning the merch stall and doing sound (deputising for Derwin McFarland who was sound engineer for the other nights), while support act for tonight is his 15-year-old niece Victoria Foster. This is Victoria’s first solo gig before a live audience, but you wouldn’t know it. With no evident apprehension she performs a 5-song set of numbers from some of her favourite artists. Accompanied by her cousin Jordi she begins with Olivia Rodrigo’s Traitor, and Need You Now by Lady A, before being joined by percussionist Paul Consiglia on cajon for Shelter by Finneas and Grenade by Bruno Mars before finishing with Pink’s opus Who Knew. Her beautiful soaring vocals are pitch perfect and unwavering in spite of any nervousness; this superbly talented young lady must surely be destined for great things.

Taking the stage Ricky gets down to business with one of my favourites, Southbound, from Thin Lizzy’s Bad Reputation album. Then the conversation kicks off with Sam and Ricky reminiscing about growing up in Belfast, and the perils that growing up on a chicken farm can have on a young man’s budding love life. Life working in Dublin immediately after The Almighty split up is uncovered, where having left music behind, he recounts the encounters that thrust him back into the business once more, before launching into Church of Paranoia from that era. Ahead of I Can See My Life From Here Ricky relates the generosity of Def Leppard, his time in Joshua Tree and the true story behind the opening line “There’s a soldier and a stripper in the room next door”. And yes, there really was Xmas music in June.

A trip down memory lane of time spent writing in Nashville in the company of his good friend Kieran Goss, and the difficulties of finding collaborators there when one is heavily tattooed is revealed (thankfully Floyd never had this issue with his “washable” tatts!), along with the death of a loved one – John the hamster, before Born Fighting, a product of those sessions is played. Still in Nashville Ricky recalls legendary songwriter Rob Crosbie calling him up to play 3 Sides to Every Story before segueing into the song itself. During an interlude in the song, he shares the hilarious tale of Xmas in the Warwick household and the inevitable annual request from his father after a few beverages to play Born Free. Thinking he had bested him one year by removing the strings from his guitar, his triumph was foiled by his da declaring “well sure fuckin’ play it anyway, BORRNNNN FREEEE”, lol. A review of the signatures on tonight’s guitar reveals that they are from Stiff Little Fingers’ Jake Burns, and none other than Motorhead’s Lemmy, a good friend of Ricky’s even if he did once brand him a lightweight after keeling over unconscious in a failed attempt to keep up with the legendary hellraiser.

On the subject of sensible socialising, Sam talks about meeting up with Ricky and going out for drinks where at some point during the night an offer of lyrics of a song based on Sam’s relationship with his dad was proffered; luckily this was no lacklustre attempt at songwriting but rather the building blocks of the magnificent When Patsy Cline was Crazy, and Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues (substitute with Frank Mitchell if you’re from around here), and the beginning of a successful songwriting partnership.

The interval has arrived and it’s time for some refreshments in the theatres relaxed (and very reasonably priced) bar. Fifteen minutes later and we are back in the room – Tank McCullough Saturdays stirs up the nostalgia and love for Glentoran FC that the 2 have, the song written by the pair for the legendary halfback who played 555 games for the East Belfast team. It was one of 2 songs written in one day by this partnership, the other being a particular favourite of mine and many others, the wonderful Schwaben Redoubt, a story of 2 Williams – Billy Drennan from South Belfast and Liam Kelly from Northside Dublin, two Irish lads from differing political backgrounds who fight and die together united in fear and loneliness for home in the Battle of the Somme.

The complexities of not being taken seriously by your ma because your songs are not on the radio, and the resolution of the issue when Black Star Riders come to prominence and you’re now apparently never off the radio heralds Finest Hour from BSR’s “The Killer Instinct” album. Then we are treated to the Ards races inspired When Life Was Hard and Fast, again a product of the Warwick/Robinson writing stable.

A lesson in the many interpretations that can be gleaned from a single piece of work comes in the shape of The Almighty’s song Bandaged Knees. Ricky explains that at the behest of the record label they wrote a “Xmas song”, with lyrics as dark as possible about deprivation and loneliness – which the A&R man subsequently loved – as did a particularly fearsome head of security who felt it emotionally autobiographical, not because of the sentiments it portrayed but rather because the pain in his own lower appendages was killing him!

We’ve now reached the finale and Ricky performs a rousing version of the song In The Arms Of Belfast Town from “Belfast Confetti”, for which the night has been named, all assembled joining in with the chorus. Rapturous applause and a standing ovation are in order, for it has been a fantastic night of song and storytelling, an unforgettable experience. Being the gracious host that he is, Ricky meets everyone back in the bar for chats and photos, and there are a couple of generous gifts for all comers – a copy of the setlist and a Xmas card from the band.

It’s been a truly unforgettable night in an amazing intimate venue, and all involved should rightly pat themselves on the back as they send us back out into the cold East Belfast night with warm memories and full hearts.

Photography by Stuart Bailie

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One Comment

  1. Stuart

    14th December 2023 at 5:13 am

    Fantastic reveiw , i was their on this night and totaly reiterate with your written words ,a very cosy and memerable night indeed
    Thank you

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