INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
Darren Wharton is a British keyboardist, singer, and songwriter. Wharton first came to attention as a member of Thin Lizzy when he joined the band’s ranks in 1980. He recorded three studio albums; CHINATOWN, RENEGADE and THUNDER, LIGHTNING, and LIVE LIFE – live album with Lizzy before band disbanded in 1983. Wharton has fronted his band, Dare, since 1989. The band has released so far six albums, including the latest one, ARC OF DAWN which came out in 2009. The latest incarnation of Thin Lizzy was formed in 2010, and the band: Wharton, drummer Brian Downey, guitarist duo of Scott Gorham and Vivian Campbell, bassist Marco Mendoza and vocalist Ricky Warwick have since then been extremely busy and touring across the world with great success. The tour finally reached Finland in early July, and then we had a pleasure to sit down with Mr. Wharton himself and hear the latest of Thin Lizzy and Dare as well. Read on!
Let’s get started with this current Thin Lizzy thing; how did it all get started from your point of view?
It was ten years since Phil died when we originally put the band back together. It was his tenth anniversary after his death, and the initial show was the Point in Dublin. And we had Gary Moore with Bob Geldof and us and got a fuse of some famous sort of celebrity type people that would then play with us. So that was good. And we had Eric Bell and some of the old guitarists as well. I think John Sykes was playing – just doing the vocals on that particular note. And it went down really well. So we decided that we would do a small tour and follow that sort of one-gig open. And from that, it just sort of took off. But roundabout 2000, before BELIEF, I’d written half of the BELIEF, and I really wanted to concentrate more on the Dare, you know.
I do remember when Thin Lizzy played in Helsinki in 1999 or something like that. John Sykes was singing, and then you had Tommy Aldridge on drums. That was really great show you guys did back then!
Yeah, Tommy was on them, but as I said, it was getting, you know, Brian wasn’t there, and I wanted to do and finish up my Dare albums. So I pulled out in 2000. And then, obviously, things have sort of declined a little bit with the relationship with John Sykes. And so, he and Scott decided to call it a day working together. And then one day, Scott gave me a call and just said, “How do you feel about doing a new sort of thing together and with Ricky and himself and Vivian from Def Leppard?” and it was very exciting. So, yeah, I just sort of came on board again. I mean, it’s always a great honor to play with Thin Lizzy. So I’m enjoying it a lot.
From your point of view as a keyboardist, is it any different to play in a band with three guitarists like you now have in Thin Lizzy?
No, not really, because it just seems to work. I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of points where we’re going. If there’s any particular song that we don’t think it really needs three guitars, you know, Ricky plays a little bit of acoustic in “Whiskey in the Jar,” which really works. And then sometimes, when there’s a lot of solo stuff, it’s nice to have the extra guitar. Then it just sorts of builds up underneath of the solo. So it’s pretty good. It works well. Have you seen the new lineup yet?
Yeah, I did see a show in Hammersmith Odeon in January, and that was a fantastic show. That was one of the first shows you did with this new lineup.
The first tour, yeah.
What if you compare this current line-up to the previous one you played in ’96 to 2000? Which one is your favorite?
Definitely, this one “laughs.”
Right, that wasn’t too surprising answer, “laughs.” By the way, what’s the state of Vivian Campbell? Is he going to be back in the band at some point?
Well, it’s one of those things because sort of technically, Richard is sort of still Guns N’ Roses, and Vivian is still in Def Leppard. So I think if something major comes up and Richard can’t be with us on the Lizzy things and decides he has to do the Guns N’ Roses thing, then that might fall, it falls right, if Vivian’s available, Vivian is playing with the band. So we may do that, but we may do the other swap. But at the moment, Vivian is obviously busy with Leppard, and Guns N’ Roses has got some downtime. So it’s working out well. And when we can’t get Vivian or Richard, we’ll take some time off.
I know that Vivian has been a longtime friend of Scott and probably how he ended up in the picture, but how did Richard come into the picture?
Well, we were in America. We did some dates in America a couple of months ago in April – I think it was April and May, April, and we knew this sort of time was coming when Vivian was going to go and tour with Def Leppard. So, there was a few guitarist sorts of spinning around sort of in the box if you like, and that have been put forward. And Richard came down to see us play in Chicago, and we met him there, and he got offered a jam with us, and it sounded very, very good, and we all liked him. He’s a lovely guy. So it just sort of happened like that. He came and had a jam with us in Chicago, and we also went, “Wow, that’s great.” So it was just in the right – and then, obviously, being a part of Guns N’ Roses is a big connection. So it’s nice as well. It got us a little bit of, you know, it makes us look good.
Before Vivian was asked to join the band, were you in touch with any former Thin Lizzy guitarists?
Yeah, I mean, I spoke to Brian Robertson when we first thought of putting this together. But I don’t know, I wasn’t really involved in those talks, and it just didn’t materialize. But Brian was a great player. I mean, I don’t know if it was – if I had come around that and that was sort of Scott’s decision, but I don’t know?
We have met Robbo a couple of times in the past ten years. We know the good and bad sides of him…
Yeah, so it could not – it might go well, it might go disastrously. So that’s the element of… you know?
In the future, what if there’s going to be another situation when some member of the current lineup could not do the tour or certain shows? Would you then carry on and replace him with some new player?
I don’t know. I would like to think no. I would like to get to the point where we don’t make it too… I don’t think we should be doing too much swapping about. I think the way it’s gone at the moment is just right; given the fact that you’ve got two guitarists and two other bands, it’s working out okay. But I don’t think we should – I don’t think we’d be getting other people in as well because it will just make it look too messy.
BITS AND PIECES OF THIN LIZZY
This is one thing that has been on up lately: there’s a lot of speculation about a possible new Thin Lizzy material. Do you have any actual plans to do that?
Yeah. I mean, it’s something that we do all the time naturally. You know, we’re all sort of writers in our way. So we’re continually writing stuff. You can’t stop doing that. But whether or not – we definitely wouldn’t mind doing it. It’s one of those things where it has to be sort of wanted by the fans. And it has to be sort of politically right within the structure of the whole sort of entity. There are a lot of things that would need to come into line to make that happen. But, yeah, I mean, we write songs, and we write some good stuff. But as I said, this is not an easy thing to… So I don’t really know how to answer that. We do write, and we are still writing. So it will be probably, you know, there’s a record company, and as Phil stay and as the band, and we just – this is quite complicated, whether the fans want to hear it, I don’t know?
So far, have you tried to record anything together as a band?
No. We haven’t done the recording.
Do you have plans to release a DVD or any other documentary from this current tour?
Well, no, we haven’t – we’ve recorded a live album at Hammersmith, but it’s just a show, really, as a keepsake for anybody who wants to backup for that. I’m doing some camera work with a bit of camera. It’s just for YouTube, I mean, like blog stuff, just YouTube stuff. But no, we’re not doing like an official video documentary or anything like that.
About Thin Tizzy’s songs and albums, who owns the rights now?
It isn’t very easy… but Universal owns the whole catalog. But the decisions are obviously made between Brian and Scott, and then Phil’s estate, which is his wife and stuff like that. So it isn’t very easy. But really, it’s Brian and Scott and Universal and Phil’s wife and family. That’s really where the decision is made.
How will Thin Lizzy continue from now on? You already mentioned that you’d be quite busy for a while with this band?
Well, on and off, yeah, on and off. We’re getting offers all the time, and it just comes down to whether or not we feel that particular set of days would be right, whether or not everybody’s available. But we have got quite a bit ahead, yeah.
What’s going on with your other band, Dare?
Yeah. Well, we’ve put out ARC OF THE DAWN, which was done really, really well for us. That came out in 2009. And so, I’ve been doing – recently, I’ve been working on a re-recorded CALM BEFORE THE STORM, only because we were first assigned to a label called MTM for the album, and it was the first time I produced myself. And I was really never happy with the original production on it. So I’ve got all the rights patented out for the album. So I wanted to do the songs justice and re-record them, sort of 2011. And it sounds great. It’s going to be a good album.
Are you going to do some more radical changes for that one, or are you just going to remix it?
A little bit of a mix, like usual. Still some sort of Celtic sounds on there, but it’s a lot raunchier as well. So it’s going to be a bit – a little edgy than the original copy.
Is the original Dare guitarist Vinnie Burns also participating in that album?
Yeah, Vinny is playing there as well. We’ve put a few bonus tracks on those as well, a track called “Precious” that used to be a B side, but was very popular, so we re-recorded that. So Vinny is on that track. But there’s also a new song, the new arrangement of “Deliverance,” which is on there, which sounds really lovely. So, yes, it’s a lot better sound than on the original record.
That sounds interesting. Do you have plans to “redo” some other vintage albums as well?
No. See, we don’t have any rights over the OUT OF THE SILENCE and BLOOD FROM STONE. I got my publishing of that, but I don’t own the rights to the album. So I tend not to sort of push that earliest stuff because I don’t get any money for it. So I got ripped off a little bit by the record company, so I tend not to promote the albums so much.
Do you see that there’s a chance to get the rights back someday?
I would like it, but I had a big legal battle with Universal about it, and at one point, they were going to sell it to a French record company so they could really – so I was really annoyed because they wouldn’t sell it to me. So if they’re going to give anybody the rights to the album, why don’t they give it to the band or to me? So I was really, really upset when I found out that they just let a French label buy the rights to it. So I thought it was ridiculous, but it didn’t surprise me.
I know you’re now busy with this Lizzy thing but do you still have some touring plans for Dare as well?
Well, as you said, it’s a bit the heat of the moment because I’m back with Thin Lizzy, and this is quite a busy sort of year ahead. I mean, the thing is with Dare, we never toured a great deal anyway. In most sense, we’ve played with Europe. So I’m not looking towards doing the gig-extensive tours with Dare. But we always do sort of one-off gigs here, in Scandinavia. Last year, we played in Norway and asked to do some lovely gigs in Spain. We would pick on Spain – where else did we go this year? Spain, we went to the top of Norway. I can’t remember what that place was called. Anyway, every then and now, we get asked to play some nice gigs, and that’s what we like to do. But touring isn’t something – you need to sort of be probably bigger than Dare actually to some kind of sustain the tour.
Do you already have plans for the next Dare studio album?
Yeah, I’ve written some great new songs, which I was going to call the album SEVEN. It’s the seventh studio album, so I’m going to call it SEVEN and some really good stuff on there, yeah. But that will be coming out as soon as I get a lucky break from this Lizzy thing. I’ll certainly be getting, probably next year, I’ll put some plan.
Is it again going to be a kind of Celtic rock?
It will be Celtic-based rock, yeah, but probably a little more aggressive than ARC OF THE DOWN.
That one was a quite soft album, if you ask me…
Yeah. There’s no point trying to be something we’re not. I mean, I get what the fans had said; you said you want heavier stuff, but many do say something else. You just have to try and find a nice balance that is right for them. I’m not trying to sound like Guns N’ Roses. Sorry “laughs.”
Right. I think our time is up now. Thanks for your time Darren!
Lovely. See you, guys. Thank you.
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PICTURES FROM THIN LIZZY’S HELSINKI SHOW