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article imageOp-Ed: Phil Lynott — 26 years gone, not forgotten

By Alexander Baron     Jan 4, 2012 in Entertainment
Dublin - Phillip Parris Lynott died 26 years ago today, but he still casts a giant shadow over contemporary rock, and his spirit lives on.
The December 23 issue of London Metro contained an advertisement for a Thin Lizzy concert “Led by original alumni Scott Gorham, Brian Downey and Darren Wharton”. This is not quite correct; when Thin Lizzy was formed in Dublin in 1969, it was a power trio featuring Eric Bell on lead guitar, Brian Downey on drums, and Phil Lynott on bass and vocals.
Although the lead guitarist is usually the front man of any three or four piece band, Lynott was always the main man as both vocalist and principal songwriter, but supremely confident, he was never afraid to allow the guitarist to showboat. After Eric Bell left, he brought in not one but two replacement guitarists, and the band can rightly be said to have pioneered the twin lead guitar at the commercial end of rock, inspired by the now legendary Wishbone Ash for whom hit singles were never to be, in spite of impressive album sales and some terrific live recordings.
Phil Lynott was a one-off, an enormously talented musician, along with the late great Rory Gallagher, the dominant figure in Irish rock music, and with Van Morrison and Chris de Burgh, one of the top names of contemporary Irish music per se.
Thin Lizzy broke through with their second single, Whiskey In The Jar, a traditional Irish song that has been recorded many times before and a few times since, but none can match the flamboyant soloing of Eric Bell and Lynott's rich textured vocals of the extended version which appeared on their third album, Vagabonds Of The Western World. The song topped the singles chart in Ireland, and reached number 6 in the UK, after which there was no looking back.
About this time, the band featured in the now long defunct Melody Maker; an article The THIN LIZZY File on page 26 of the March 3, 1973 issue gave Lynott's date of birth as August 20, 1951, and his place of birth as Dublin. Both these claims are untrue; on another occasion, Phil invented a story about his bass playing making him deaf; this latter appears to have been a publicity stunt, not that either he or the band needed it.
Philip Parris Lynott was in fact born in England, near Birmingham (not Manchester as claimed by a Daily Telegraph columnist last year) on August 20, 1949, the illegitimate son of an Irish Catholic teenager and a Negro civil servant. He was brought up between Manchester and Dublin, and in spite of the endemic racism which is said to pervade these islands, he was accepted by his peers and moved almost exclusively in white circles.
Although success came early on for Lynott, like most songwriters and musicians he paid his dues, beginning as vocalist with the Black Eagles, and shortly meeting Brian Downey. He became a bass player by accident.
The two played in a band called Orphanage then teamed up with Eric Bell to form the power trio. Bell had been in a band called Shades Of Blue; their second album was called Shades Of A Blue Orphanage in homage to both bands.
Lynott built up a big mythology about his absent father, and when they met, he was a bitter disappointment to him. In January 1976, the up and coming band featured in the now long defunct Titbits magazine. The story was called The Lizzy in a tizzy about his dad! Lynott said his father was a South American, and had fantasised about him being a seaman. The article came to the attention of Cecil Parris, and he turned up, probably expecting Phil to greet him with open arms. The rising star was sorely unimpressed, and the two never met again, although years later, with a little help from Gary Moore, he wrote an enigmatic song about him.
Phil Lynott did not mythologise simply about his own father; although technically both half-black and British, he immersed himself in Irish mythology, and many of his songs reflect this, none more so than Black Rose.
He also found inspiration in the unlikeliest of places; the uptempo boogie number Suicide was based on an episode of the American TV series Perry Mason, while the deliberately provocative Killer On The Loose enraged wimmin's groups - as he obviously intended it to - being recorded during the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper. Other songs like Clifton Grange Hotel and Saga Of The Ageing Orphan are clearly autobiographical.
Unfortunately, yet others reflected a darker self, the 1980 release Sugar Blues is to all intents and purposes a suicide note. On August 20, 1981, his 32nd birthday, Phil appeared at Kingston Crown Court where he was fined £200 for possessing cocaine, and on January 4, 1986, he died in Salisbury Infirmary as a direct result of his addiction to heroine. Ironically, there had been talk at one point of him playing Hendrix in a biopic; he bore a fair if not striking resemblance to the legendary guitarist, but sadly the resemblance extended to drug abuse.
Philip Parris Lynott was buried in Saint Fintan's Cemetery, Sutton, Ireland; in August 2005, a statue was erected to him in his hometown, Dublin.
The Phil Lynott statue in Dublin.
The Phil Lynott statue in Dublin.
Amy Winehouse died last year aged only 27 (the same as Hendrix and many others) having not reached her full potential. We are fortunate that Phil Lynott left a considerable body of recorded work with both Thin Lizzy and other projects, most of them his own or principally his own compositions.
I was fortunate to see Phil Lynott and his band at their peak. Although I could remember the venue - Queens Hall, Leeds - I couldn't remember the exact date, but thanks to the excellent on-line database maintained by Phil's number one Scandinavian fan Peter Nielsen, I can tell you it was Saturday, May 10, 1980, and that I paid £4 for my ticket.
The band were supported by the Lookalikes. Early on in the Lizzy set, a young fan ran onto the stage and wrapped a scarf around Phil's neck, to his obvious amusement, before leaving or being ushered off. I can honestly say that this was the best concert I have ever attended, having also seen Deep Purple, Rainbow, UFO and Wishbone Ash (twice) among others. The one slightly disappointing part of the show was that the band didn't play Whiskey In The Jar, although they did perform a tiny snatch of it in a medley towards the end. I was told at the time by a student from Belfast that there was some obscure political reason for this, but I was informed a few years ago by a far more knowledgable source that this was not the case.
I haven't asked the source permission to quote, so I will give his response anonymously; the following verbatim quote is from March 2008:
Philip dropped “Whiskey.......” from their set as the band became more famous. In fact “Whiskey...” almost became the rock they perished on. He did not want the band to be known as a “celtic rock” band. The song was referred to ocassionally in medleys but was never really a part of the set.
The 1978 Live And Dangerous double album is generally rated one of the best live rock albums of all time; personally I would rate it at number 3 behind only Wishbone Ash Live Dates 2 and the UFO classic Strangers In The Night, both of them also double albums.
The reformed Thin Lizzy dates from 1996; even though its line up includes original drummer Brian Downey and the essential Scott Gorham, Thin Lizzy without Phil Lynott is a bit like apple pie without apples. The band's original guitarist Eric Bell is still going strong at 64, and on August 20, 2005 - Phil's 56th birthday - he joined Messrs Gorham, Downey, former Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson and Gary Moore for a tribute concert in Dublin. (Non-alumnus Jonathan Noyce filled in on bass).
Here he is sharing lead and vocals with Moore in a 7 minute rendition of the classic Whiskey In The Jar; sadly, Gary Moore too has now gone to that great gig in the sky; he died in Spain February 6 last year at the relatively young age of 58, but like his friend and sometime songwriting partner, his spirit lives on.
A number of books have been published about both Phil and his band over the years; the only one that doesn't appear to be worth reading (judging by the reviews on Amazon) is Rockin' Vagabond by Ken Brooks.
Naturally, the man from SongFacts has a fair number of Phil Lynott compositions in his database. They can be found here as follows:
Thin Lizzy
Phil Lynott
(with) Gary Moore
Grand Slam
More are in preparation.
Both the man and his band can be found all over the web; the best place to begin is of course the official Thin Lizzy site, and as with Wishbone Ash, there is more than one, but try here and here to begin with.
There is also much excellent material on YouTube, including concerts and interviews.
We finish with some really good news; I started writing this article a few weeks ago, and had intended to call it Phil Lynott - 25 years gone..., to mark the quarter century since his death. If I'd done the arithmetic I would never have started it. Now, it seems that my earlier claim that Phil left a considerable body of recorded work is something of an understatement, as this article from the Belfast Telegraph shows.
This sort of thing has happened before of course, and old demos, tracks left in the studio, etc, are not necessarily of any interest to any but the most dedicated of fans, but this article sounds encouraging, the find does indeed sound like a treasure trove; the unreleased material will undoubtedly be most eagerly anticipated especially by those old timers - like me! - who were fans before some of today's Thin Lizzy fans were born.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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