- 04 Mar 11
Thin Lizzy keyboard player Darren Wharton discusses his relationship with Phil Lynott and the band’s ongoing resurrection.
Darren Wharton was keyboard player in the final line-up of Thin Lizzy before Phil Lynott broke up the band to form Grand Slam. He contributed to the albums Chinatown, Renegade and Thunder And Lightening, co-writing with Lynott on classics such as ‘The Sun Goes Down’, ‘This Is The One’ and ‘Angel Of Death’. He also played on both of Phil’s acclaimed solo albums, and is responsible for the familiar piano riff on ‘Old Town’.
After Thin Lizzy, he formed his own band Dare, with whom he still performs and records regularly. But he has played on and off with Thin Lizzy since he returned for a gig at the Dublin Point in 1996, marking the tenth anniversary of Philo’s death. He’s now touring with the current incarnation of the band, who put in a barnstormer of a show recently in the Olympia and will be back in the summer for a spot on the Kings Of Leon’s Slane bill.
“This Lizzy in 2011 are a great bunch of guys – the best ever later incarnation of the Lizzy line-up in my opinion,” he enthuses. “Of course, it will never be the same without Phil. This is the closest it can be, with three original members. If we could wish Phil back, we all would because we still miss him.”
When he first got the call to join Thin Lizzy, Wharton was a teenager, playing with various bands around the clubs and pubs in London.
“They were working on the Chinatown album at Good Earth studios in Soho. Gary Moore had pulled out of a US tour after a bust-up which left the band as a three-piece. They got Midge Ure in on guitar for a while. He also played a little bit of keyboards. I think Phil got to like the sound of keyboards in the band. When Midge went back to Ultravox, he decided to look for a more permanent keyboard player.”
Wharton clearly remembers the first time he met Phil Lynott and says they hit it off immediately.
“A friend of Phil’s brought me down to the studio and straight away I got on really well with him and Scott. The first thing they asked me to do was to play the descending riff in ‘Chinatown’. Phil seemed to be impressed with what I could do with it and I think he was also a bit chuffed that I was a Manchester United fan (laughs). So I was in. It was a bit of good fortune on my part. I was in the right place at the right time. My first gig with the band was in front of 15,000 people in Norway.”
He says that while Thin Lizzy will always be a guitar band, keyboards became a more important element after he joined.
“Most Lizzy fans will say it always was a guitar band and it always will be – and that’s true. However, Phil was a great innovator and wanted to push the boundaries on the later Lizzy material and on the solo albums. You have to be careful with guitar snobs where they get pissed off if certain bands get a keyboard player in. Look at Queen, Deep Purple and even U2 – all great rock bands and they use keys.
“If you take tracks like ‘Angel Of Death’ and ‘Killer On The Loose’ you can hear the keyboards quite prominently. But in the beginning I was mostly doing textural stuff as opposed to solos. It wasn’t until Renegade that I started to get co-writes.”
Still, he says he’s careful not to mess with the classic Lizzy sound, especially when playing on the earlier material.
“As far as the older tracks are concerned, songs like ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ and ‘Jailbreak’, what I tend to do is to play the same as the guitars are playing. While it might seem pointless, it thickens the sound out nicely in the live environment. A few years ago I went to see Lizzy with Deep Purple when I wasn’t in the line-up. I really missed the sound of keys in the band.”
As far as equipment is concerned Wharton keeps things simple when out on the road.
“I tend to travel really lightly these days. In the old days, we had a couple of mini moog’s and string machines as well as keys. Today I go out with a Roland XP 80. The sounds I play with Lizzy are usually created with one or two keyboards. I do get asked why I don’t use Hammonds. I always felt it was too intrusive on the Lizzy sound. If it was written into the song that would be fine. To add Hammond organ to ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘Are You Ready’ would be too intrusive for me.”
Wharton says the question he’s most often asked is how can Thin Lizzy continue without Phil Lynott?
“It’s an understandable question. We all love the music and we were a big part of it. So what do we do – never go out and play the songs ever again? Ricky Warwick is not trying to copy Phil. There are elements of what he does, which are similar. We’re not trying to fill Phil’s shoes. No-one can. At least we can stand beside them and keep the music and the spirit of Thin Lizzy alive.”