The ballad of a Thin Man

Phil Lynott, the first true Irish rock star, a rocker with a poet’s heart and the man who made paddy cool

It’s not just that Phil Lynott was the first black Irish rock star; he was the first Irish rock star full stop. Before him, Van was a roots man who regarded the smoke bombs and mirror shades of rock ’n’ roll with utter contempt. Rory Gallagher always played the unassuming blues craftsman. Horslips were – well nobody knew what Horslips were exactly, a glam-trad carnival sideshow maybe, a hall of mirrors in which you could choose your own reflection. But Lynott was the closest thing to a Crumlin Keith Richards. From the beat group days of 1960s Dublin, he was the first native rock icon to prove that the terms ‘Paddy’ and ‘cool’ didn’t have to be mutually exclusive, a local legend on a par with Brendan Behan and Luke Kelly. And when Thin Lizzy appeared on Top Of The Pops doing ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ in 1972, it proved to a generation reared on the blackthorn shtick that the twin personas of traditional folk rake and gypsy-ringed rocker were first cousins.

But if he could carry off Keef’s louche-limbed swagger with ease, he also had Jagger’s chameleon instincts. Early Lizzy were a confused but beguiling hodge-podge of influences, from Hendrix-style acid rock to prog folk to romantic balladry to amped up trad ballads. Even in his band’s decline – and especially on his often overlooked solo albums – Lynott could make a credible fist of anything from lounge jazz (‘Fats’), New Romantic electronica (‘Yellow Pearl’ with Midge Ure) and keening folk (‘Tribute To Sandy Denny’ with Clann Eadair).

But then, Phil Lynott was always miscast as a hard rocker. In actuality, he was an accomplished songwriter with ambitions towards lyric poetry, ambitions he might eventually have fulfilled had he beaten his own addictions. As early as ‘Randolph’s Tango’ and ‘Shades Of A Blue Orphanage’, the singer betrayed more of an affiliation with narrative-driven storytellers like Van, Dylan and Springsteen than his hard rock contemporaries.

Yet no matter how Lizzy fluctuated on record, their live shows were always akin to tribal gatherings, especially in Ireland. This writer caught them on the 1983 farewell tour, and while it was obvious Lynott was in bad shape, bloated and blunted, his effortless rapport with his crowd still made it special – he could charm the knickers off a nun.

The famous video for ‘Old Town’ perfectly captured that charm: Phil striding down Grafton Street flashing that rapacious grin, teeth and earrings gleaming, afro over one eye, waltzing with the girls and all but high-fiving the pedestrians – a warm portrait of a hometown hero soaking up the vibe. Lynott was every bit the star, but streetwise with it, and it was these street smarts that enabled him to survive the punk upheavals that threatened the credibility of the heavy rock dinosaurs. While Rod and The Stones and Led Zep were off in tax exile, Lynott was associating with Nick Kent and Steve Jones and Paul Cook and Rat Scabies and Johnny Thunders. Mind you, given that crowd’s proclivity for heroin chic, it mightn’t have been as good for his health as it was for his cred.

So, Phil Lynott was a rock star, and that’s what killed him. He could never peel off those leather trousers. As the ’80s wore on, the singer found himself too comfortable in a straightjacket, rehashing the old Lizzy sound with his last band Grand Slam rather than exploring the many root streams of music that may have carried him through menopause with dignity. His last years found him snarled in a mid-life identity crisis, caught up in the rotten glamour of drug addiction when the wilier of his contemporaries were figuring out how they could grow old with the music.

Philo died in January 1986, of drug-related causes, with much left to do. One can only speculate as to how the soul man in him might have absorbed the latest R’n’B boom, or what the rocker would have done with nu-metal, or how his ever-restless black gene may have ingested and modified the rhythms of hip-hop to his own specifications.

We’ll never know, and it’s our loss.

Post Scripts

Most significant moment

On the downside, the bout of hepatitis that forced Lizzy to cancel their American tour just as ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ was taking off, thus cheating them of a US breakthrough.

On the upside, the heroes’ return to Dalymount in August 1977.

Most memorable saying

“Is there anyone out there with any Irish in them?

Are there any of the girls who’d like a little more Irish in them?”(from the intro to ‘Emerald’, Live And Dangerous)

View from the sidelines

Bob Geldof fronted the reformed Thin Lizzy at Self Aid in 1986, singing ‘The Cowboy Song’: “I sang it ’cos I just thought it was a lovely tune, y’know, ‘The starry night/The campfire light’. I just like that whole ending, it’s so imminent in my mind, the last pay-off line: ‘The cowboy’s life/Is the life for me’.

“And maybe more than anything on that day it reminded me of him, there was a certain pathos with the slow opening, the panoramic view.”

What’s happening now

A reformed Thin Lizzy are currently touring the US, featuring Scott Gorham, John Sykes, Darren Wharton and veteran hard rockers Tommy Aldridge and Marc Mendoza. Sykes and Gorham are reportedly writing material for a “new” Thin Lizzy album, due for release in 2003.

Five key tracks

‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ (1976)

The closest thing Lizzy ever had to a US hit, this was a pocket sized rock ‘n’ roll myth all unto itself. Greil Marcus described it in terms of pure tribalism, as a fertility ritual, a song about the renewing of the land and the deposing of ageing chiefs.

‘Whiskey In the Jar’ (1972)

Recorded for a laugh and originally intended as a B-side, this souped-up version of the traditional ballad gave Lizzy their first British hit and crystallised Lynott’s roguish persona. Eric Bell provides one of the most whistle-able guitar breaks in pop history.

‘Dancing In The Moonlight

(It’s Caught Me In Its Spotlight)’ (1977)

A giddy, cheeky, finger-snapping hymn to the joys of being 16 and in lust. It’s all in the details: “Now we go steady to the pictures/I always get chocolate stains on my pants”. Live, Phil tended to omit the word “chocolate”.

‘Still In Love With You’ (1974)

Always the great weepie in the Lizzy canon, this tune inherited even greater resonance on the farewell tour. Check out the Live And Dangerous version for definitive guitar solo action from Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson.

‘Old Town’ (1982)

An immaculately crafted pop gem. The verses were classic Lynott third person observation, but the chorus gave away more than he might’ve liked to admit: “This boy is crackin’ up/This boy has broke down”.

The key album

Live And Dangerous (1978)

Although there are those who hold that the only bona fide “live” element of this album is the kick drum, that’s a moot point. Overdubbed or not, it remains the definitive Lizzy recording, from the twin guitar duelling of ‘Emerald’ to a blistering take on Bob Seger’s ‘Rosalie’ to the hair-raising ‘Cowboy Song’/‘Boys Are Back In Town’ segue. On its release, Nick Kent called it “a near perfect statement of intent by what is now the best hard rock band in the world”.


Related Articles

One Track Minds: Single File of the 45's - 80's Edition

We recall the 80's and select 10 Irish singles that your collection can't be without!

Read More

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Bono, Slash, Robert Smith, Brian Downey & more remember Phil Lynott

The Thin Lizzy legend died 30 years ago today

Read More

The Vibe For Philo takes place in early January

The 30th edition promises something to be something special.

Read More

Plans for 30th 'Vibe for Philo' announced

The 30th 'Vibe for Philo' will take place in Vicar Street in January 2016

Read More

Live Review - Vibe for Philo rocks Vicar St

The 29th annual celebration of the words and music of Dublin’s favourite musical son saw a stellar line-up at the Thomas Street venue, offering a marathon five hours worth of Philo and Lizzy related fare

Read More

New Phil Lynott book due for 2016

Cowboy Song has been given the blessing of Philip Lynott's estate.

Read More

Remembering Philip: the event in pictures!

Philomena Lynott was on flying form, as were the fantastic acts at last Friday's Remembering Philip event presented by Hot Press in association with Radio Nova.

Read More

The Bash For Philo takes place tomorrow

A host of top notch Lizzy tribute acts will pay homage to Phil Lynott.

Read More

Bruxelle's celebrates Philo's 65th Birthday

Philomena, friends and fans gathered at Philip Lynott's favourite haunt to mark what would have been his 65th birthday last night.

Read More

Happy Birthday Philo!!

Irish rock legend Phil Lynott would have turned 65 today and team Hot Press will be celebrating the event in style this Friday as Julie Feeney, David Geraghty (Join Me In The Pines / Bell X1), Gavin James and Prima Quartet set to play at 'Remembering Philip: An Evening with Philomena Lynott.'

Read More

'Remembering Philip': Date Announced for Evening with Philomena Lynott

Hot Press, in association with Radio Nova, is pleased to announce that the exclusive 'Remembering Philip' evening will take place on Friday, August 22 in Dublin city centre. The date comes two days after what would have been the Rocker's 65th birthday.

Read More

Philip Lynott PledgeMusic campaign reaches 100%!

Developed by Hot Press in conjunction with Philomena Lynott and the Roisin Dubh Trust, this special initiative has officially reached it's target.

Read More

Fascinating Phil Lynott school letter unearthed

A letter from Philip Lynott’s school principal has just been unearthed, accusing him of being "deliberately careless" with his school report on the way home from school.

Read More

Become a part of the Philip Lynott story

The book of the exhibition, Philip Lynott: Still In Love With You, has been launched as PledgeMusic project.

Read More

Worldwide Search for Thin Lizzy Memorabilia

Fans called upon to add to the most comprehensive story of Ireland's greatest rock star!

Read More

Book Of The Philip Lynott Exhibition: the perfect gift

Why not treat the beloved Lizzy fan in your life this Valentine's weekend?

Read More

WATCH: Philomena Lynott on Pledge Music campaign

The late rocker's mother talks about the worldwide adoration of her son, her joy upon seeing The Philip Lynott Exhibition and explains the project, which aims to make Philip Lynott: Still In Love With You (The Book of the Exhibition) a reality.

Read More

Philip Lynott: Still In Love With You

The Book of the Exhibition PledgeMusic campaign launched. For the first time ever... be part of Rock History by stepping inside the Life and Times of Ireland's First Rock Legend!

Read More

Vibe for Philo comes to Vicar Street in New Year

January 4 is the date when we celebrate the 28th Vibe.

Read More

First batch of Vibe For Philo acts announced

More details of the 28th Vibe For Philo, Fight Or Fall, have emerged. Taking place on January 4 in Vicar St., those remembering the Thin Lizzy mainman

Read More

Phil Lynott celebratory concert returns

This January will see the 28th annual commemoration to Phil Lynott take place in Dublin’s The Button Factory.

Read More

The Boy Is Back In Town

The Phil Lynott statue was re- unveiled this morning at a packed ceremony outside Bruxelles on Harry Street.

Read More

Phil Lynott Statue To Return To Harry Street

The Phil Lynott statue is due to return to its home on Harry Street on August 15 at 11am.

Read More

Phil Lynott statue damaged

The bronze tribute to the late Thin Lizzy star is being sent for repairs.

Read More

Two Men To Be Charged With Damaging Philip Lynott Statue

The mystery as to what happened the Philip Lynott statue in Dublin's Grafton Street appears to have been solved

Read More

Phil Lynott Exhibition scoops Innovation Award

It was recognised at the Irish Magazine Awards.

Read More

Last chance to visit Philip Lynott Exhibition

The expo sadly finishes up this weekend...

Read More

Mitt Romney continues to pirate Thin Lizzy music

Philip Lynott's 'The Boys Are Back In Town' is still being used as intro music at Republican Party rallies...

Read More

Andy Davis to play The Philip Lynott Exhibition at 11am

As the sun sets on The Philip Lynott Exhibition, metaphorically at least, Nashville singer-songwriter Andy Davis is due to perform a live-set at 11am, Tuesday 25th of September.

Read More

Caroline Lynott launches battle against Mitt Romney use of Thin Lizzy music

The controversy over the use of 'The Boys Are Back In Town' by the Mitt Romney campaign intensified today, with the Philip Lynott estate insisting on a Cease and Desist order being issued...

Read More

Philo's Birthday celebrations at the Exhibition

Celebrations took place yesterday at the Philip Lynott Exhibition in Stephen's green Shopping Centre to commemorate the great man's birthday

Read More

Happy birthday Mr. Lynott!

The Philip Lynott Exhibition is celebrating what would have been the rocker's 63rd birthday...

Read More

Philip Lynott Exhibition gears up for birthday

Irish acts will pay tribute to the Thin Lizzy man on what would have been his 63rd birthday...

Read More

Plaudits flood in for Philip Lynott Exhibition

It's currently running at the Exhibition Space in Stephen's Green Shopping Centre, Dublin.

Read More

Oddsocks Revival & Animal Beats to play at Philip Lynott Exhibition

Blues-tinged, rock'n'roll band play at exhibition this Thursday

Read More

Philip Lynott Exhibition now open in Dublin

It returns to the capital from today.

Read More

Philip Lynott Exhibition Returns to Dublin

Thursday July 19 is the date to put in your diary! Following its highly successful London O2 run, Still In Love With You: The Philip Lynott Exhibition returns to the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre in Dublin later this week.

Read More

Last week to catch Philip Lynott Exhibition

The London expo finishes up on June 24.

Read More

Jailbreak is a BME Seminal Album

A night will be devoted to Thin Lizzy's sixth at the British Music Experience in London.

Read More

Salute Philip Lynott in London on Heineken Cup Final Weekend!

Irish rugby fans can avail of a discount to the Philip Lynott Exhibition.

Read More

Philip Lynott Exhibition hailed by Rocktopia

It's been described as "stunning" by Rob McKenzie.

Read More

Planet Rock are partner for Philip Lynott Exhibition

'Still In Love With You' is currently running in The O2 arena, London.

Read More

Classic Rock: Partner for The Philip Lynott Exhibition

Still In Love With You is running in the London O2.

Read More

Philomena Lynott on the BBC Breakfast Show

She spoke this morning about visiting the Philip Lynott Exhibition in London.

Read More

The Philip Lynott Exhibition debuts in London

The doors of the British Music Experience in The O2 are now open.

Read More

Philip Lynott Exhibition London: Tickets on sale!

Doors open April 5...

Read More

Philip Lynott Exhibition To Open In London

Following an astonishing eight-month run in Dublin, the 'Still In Love With You: The Philip Lynott Exhibition' is heading to London!

Read More

Vibe For Philo

A night of heartfelt homage to a musical icon.

Read More

Spirit of Lynott Lives At Vibe For Philo

It was a rainy night but the music was still hot...

Read More

Vibe For Philo tonight!

A stellar line-up is set to pay tribute to the great man...

Read More

Philip Lynott Exhibition merchandise on sale now!

Get your mits on some iconic shots of Philo...

Read More

Take It To The Lynott One More Time

You might have thought that, having marked the 25th anniversary of Phil Lynott’s passing, the Vibe For Philo would take a breather. Actually, that was the plan. But Thin Lizzy fans had other ideas.

Read More

Last chance to visit The Philip Lynott Exhibition!

The exhibition's FINAL WEEKEND is upon us...

Read More

Black Rose Still In Bloom

The Philip Lynott Exhibition is a remarkable tribute to Ireland’s most iconic rock star. For those who have not yet immersed themselves in its powerful narrative, the remaining time is short. With that in mind, we thought it was time to celebrate what has been a brilliant journey for everyone involved.

Read More

We're Phil in love with you

Arklow-based Thin Lizzy enthusiast Colm Weadick is celebrating a historic 1971 Lizzy gig with a weekend of events.

Read More

Great turnout for special Philip Lynott celebration

A huge number of rock and roll fans gathered at the Philip Lynott Exhibition to celebrate what would have been the legendary rocker’s 62nd birthday on Saturday August 20.

Read More

Celebrate Philip Lynott's birthday this Saturday

A day of Lizzy entertainment to honour the great man!

Read More

Philip Lynott like you've never seen him before

The new issue of Hot Press has a cover to treasure.

Read More

Be Part of the Philip Lynott Tribute

Alerting Philip Lynott fans! The Philip Lynott Exhibition is the place to be over the weekend. Why? A Hot Press photographer will be there, with the brief of photographing fans who make the pilgrimage.

Read More

Fiach Plays At Philip Lynott Exhibition

A word to the wise!

Read More

Philip Lynott Exhibition returns for second run!

The Philip Lynott Exhibition returns to the Stephen's Green Shopping Centre in Dublin for a second run, beginning on Wednesday July 6

Read More

Amazing previously unseen material added to Philip Lynott Exhibition

Previously unseen, new original material is being added to the Philip Lynott Exhibition, currently running in Dublin, the organisers have announced.

Read More

The Philip Lynott Exhibition on Film!'s Peter O'Doherty was let loose in the Philip Lynott exhibition. Look at the results!

Read More

Among friends

As Philip Lynott fans commemorate the 25th Anniversary of his premature passing with a series of emotionally-charged events, their attention turns next to Arklow for the fourth Friends of Philo tribute gig.

Read More

The Philip Lynott Exhibition extends its run again, due to demand

Due to overwhelming public demand, the Still In Love With You: Philip Lynott Exhibition in Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre has been extended by a further six weeks to Sunday June 12

Read More

More accolades for Philip Lynott Exhibition

There was a great buzz of excitement at The Philip Lynott Exhibition in Stephen's Green Shopping Centre today when former Lizzy guitarist Eric Bell arrived to have a look

Read More

Philomena Lynott appears tonight on the Late Late

There will also be live music from Thin Lizzy.

Read More

Galaxy of rock stars help Hot Press celebrate Phil Lynott's anniversary

A host of Irish and international stars have come together in our special issue, marking the 25th anniversary of the death of the Thin Lizzy frontman

Read More

Web exclusives: We've got Cut Copy and Gruff Rhys tracks, as well as Thin Lizzy interviews from the HP vault

To celebrate our special Philip Lynott issue, we've put together quite the loot!

Read More

Major Philip Lynott Exhibition set for Dublin to mark Rock Legend's life 25 years on

An exciting new exhibition to honour Irish rock legend Philip Lynott is set to take place in Dublin in 2011.

Read More

Philo fans head to Arklow

Friends of Phil Lynott are gearing up for the third Thin Lizzy Charity Tribute Event at the Arklow Bay Hotel in Co Wicklow.

Read More

Celebrating Lynott's Legacy

Musicians, artists and fans are joining forces to mark what would have been PHIL LYNOTT‘s 60th birthday with a special exhibition in Dublin.

Read More

Vibe for Philo in January

The 2009 Vibe for Philo festival, entitled Dancing in the Moonlight, will be at Temple Bar's Button Factory.

Read More

Details announced for 2009 Vibe For Philo

The 23rd Vibe For Philo takes place under the ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ banner in Dublin next January.

Read More

Phil Lynott Anniversary Special

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the death of Irish rock legend Phil Lynott. To mark the occasion, is revisiting some of the Thin Lizzy man's most notable appearances in the pages of the magazine.

Read More

2008 'Vibe For Philo' details announced

The 22nd annual 'Vibe For Philo' - the Phil Lynott tribute night - is set to take place in January.

Read More

Phil Lynott tribute details revealed

More details have emerged of the 21st Vibe For Philo, Wild One, which takes place on January 4 in Dublin’s Vicar St.

Read More

Phil Lynott mural unveiled

Philomena Lynott took care of unveiling duties last week as Cork’s Tile & Bathroom World showed off their giant mural of her son Philip.

Read More

The beginning of a great adventure

Most people know Philip Lynott and Thin Lizzy as the swashbuckling rock ‘n’ rollers who produced hard rock classics like ‘The Rocker’, ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ and ‘Don’t Believe A Word’. But there were other fascinating forces at work in Ireland at the end of the ‘60s, with poetry and folk music both influencing the rock scene hugely. Philip Lynott was at the heart of that development – a charismatic star in the making with a deep romantic streak and an innate lyricism that separated him from the crowd. Now, these qualities have been captured, as never before, on a remarkable CD, released for the first time, free with HotPress. Read on...

Read More

Phil Lynott: The Lost Recordings free with the next issue of Hot Press

Hot Press are proud to announce that a world exclusive Phil Lynott CD comes free with the latest issue, in shops between 10 - 23 August. The Lost Recordings contains five previously unreleased tracks from one of Ireland's greatest rock stars.

Read More

Phil Lynott: an epitaph

The following article was Bill Graham's epitaph to Philip and first appeared in Hot Press Magazine on January 30 1986.

Read More

Phil Lynott's death commemorated with DVD releases

The 20th anniversary of Phil Lynott’s death is being marked by two new DVD releases.

Read More

Vibe For Philo tours

The Vibe For Philo is taking to the road for its 20th anniversary celebrations.

Read More

Phil Lynott Tribute Concert, The Point Depot

The sight of a crowded Point Depot singing “Happy Birthday to Philip in heaven” under the instruction of an emotional Philomena Lynott is certainly one to behold. Unfortunately, on an evening pitched as a celebration of the life and work of Philip, much was promised but little was delivered.

Read More

Phil Lynott statue unveiled

A huge crowd was present this evening (Friday August 19) as Philip Lynott’s mother, Philomena, unveiled a life-size bronze statue of the Thin Lizzy legend in Dublin’s Harry Street.

Read More

Devil in a black leather jacket

He was one of Ireland’s first rock icons. Now Phil Lynott’s native Dublin is finally paying official tribute to his legacy.

Read More

Philomena Lynott receives Bertie invite

Bertie Ahearn demonstrated his support for the Grafton Street tribute to Phil Lynott by inviting the Thin Lizzy man’s mother, Philomena, to the Department An Taoiseach in Merion Square last week.

Read More

The Philip Lynott Interview

With Thin Lizzy now officially a thing of the past, Philip Lynott is preparing to start anew with Grand Slam. At this transitional point in his public career Tony Clayton-Lea sought out the private Lynott to ask him his views on a wide range of issues including music, politics, religion, sex, drugs, Ireland, parenthood and rock'n'roll stardom. The result is probably the frankest and most revealing interview Philip Lynott has ever given.

Read More

The Philip Lynott Solo Album

Reviewing this album is not the easiest of tasks. It’s an advance white label copy for a start, which means only the barest of sleeve information is made available, and given that the record witnesses Lynott once again broadening the spectrum of his lyrical concerns to include some what complex pronouncements on the State of the world, a lyric sheet would have been particularly helpful.

Read More

Solo In Soho

"Solo in Soho" is simultaneously satisfying and frustrating

Read More

Advertise With Us

For information including benefits, key facts, figures and rates for advertising with Hot Press, click below


Find us elsewhere