- 20 Mar 01
PHIL LYNOTT would have been 50 on 20th August this year. Here, PETER MURPHY profiles the legendary Philo, and talks to other stars about his enduring influence.
OVER 13 years after his passing, the abiding image of Phil Lynott is still the cover shot from Thin Lizzy s classic Live And Dangerous album: The Rocker on his leathered-jeaned knees, bass cradled in one hand, face contorted, the fist held aloft in a gesture of fuck-you exuberance.
But even that iconic shot masked a complex and wily artist. Here was a man whose work on classic albums like Jailbreak and Johnny The Fox at once abided by the traditional rules of hard rock guitar heroism, lyrical braggadocio and a fascination with Sci-Fi/Wild West/Celtic myth (reflected by Jim Fitzpatrick s intricate sleeve designs) yet suggested much more.
Thin Lizzy were always harder to pin down than their contemporaries (listen hard to the legendary dual Les Paul parts on Emerald or Chinatown and you ll hear echoes of O Riada and The Chieftains). For a start, they were one of the few old-guard 70s rock n roll combos with enough street cred to keep favour with audiences defecting to The Clash and The Ramones. When the punk terriers brought down the dinosaurs, Phil Lynott was to be found consorting not with Rod Stewart and Robert Plant, but Steve Jones, Phil Chevron and Johnny Thunders.
By all accounts, Phil was a nice bunch of guys, one minute revelling in heavy rock s lady-killing trappings on tunes like Killer On The Loose , the next penning tender ballads like Sarah and Cathleen for his daughters. These polarities constantly fueled the work, giving him the freedom to pursue trajectories as apparently contradictory as the boyish romanticism of Cowboy Song , the wry jazz of Fats or the YMO-style electronica of Yellow Pearl .
Furthermore, on tunes like Randolph s Tango and Shades Of A Blue Orphanage , Lynott could be an astonishingly poetic lyricist. But then, this neighbour of Crumlin natives Brendan and Dominic Behan also had a knack for articulating universal themes through the plainest language, in songs like his classic solo single Old Town or the evergreen rallying call of The Boys Are Back In Town . As Stuart Bailie pointed out in his Lynott biography The Ballad Of The Thin Man, writers like Greil Marcus spoke of the latter song in terms of pure tribalism, representing a fertility ritual, the renewal of the land and the deposing of ancient chiefs . These were approaches to songwriting that had more in common with Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen than Black Sabbath or Deep Purple.
Even in the twilight of his career, Phil was still stretching himself, trying out folk forms with Terry Woods on a cover of Tennessee Stud or the lovely melancholia of A Tribute To Sandy Denny with Clann Eadair. Always restless (check out the array of musical hats he tried on in Solo In Soho alone), one wonders what Lynott would ve made of current musical climates. Certainly, Phil the experimenter and bass player would ve had a ball with drum n bass; Phil the black Paddy bard could ve been the first to translate the rap vernacular into an Irish argot; Phil the master songwriter might ve applauded Blur, Pulp and Radiohead; Phil the sonic landscaper would have marveled at Mercury Rev and Air.
However, this is all hypothetical the fact remains that he s not here, and more s the pity. But consider this: what other songwriter can claim to have had tunes covered by acts as dispirate as Happy Mondays and Metallica in 1999? n
To mark what would ve been Phil Lynott s 50th birthday on Friday August 20th, the Hot Press Hall Of Fame is hosting a special tribute weekend on the 20th and 21st. The event kicks off with a special screening of Live And Dangerous in HQ, followed by a live performance from Thin Az Lizzy, joined by saxophonist John Earle, who appeared on the classic live album of the same name. The second day s events include a special memorabilia convention, all-day showings of vintage footage, a full Lizzy set by the Hall Of Fame All Stars, plus special guest vocalists. Proceeds from the event will go towards the Roisin Dubh Trust. Tickets are available from Ticketmaster and the HQ box office. Phone (01) 878 3345.
NOEL HOGAN (THE CRANBERRIES)
Whiskey In The Jar (1973 single)
I first heard a Thin Lizzy track when I was in a mate s house and we were going through his elder brother s record collection. We played Whiskey In The Jar over and over again on our air guitars, we thought we were really cool! I think I was about 11 at the time. I still know the chords, we often break into it when we re rehearsing or fooling around in the studio.
TIM WHEELER (ASH)
Cowboy Song (Live And Dangerous, 1978)
It isn t easy to pick a favourite Thin Lizzy track, but if I can only pick one, I ll say Cowboy Song from Live And Dangerous. My big brother gave me that album when I was ten and it formed the whole direction of my life, I guess. Jailbreak , Southbound , Don t Believe A Word , The Boys Are Back In Town . . . the whole album is just brilliant, but Cowboy Song really grabbed my attention it s really powerful and the guitars sound amazing. Running Back off Jailbreak is another real favourite of mine; I love Phil Lynott s sentimentality. There s also something about Old Town that makes me want to cry every time.
JOHNNY FOX (THIN AZ LIZZY)
Romeo And The Lonely Girl (Jailbreak, 1976)
I always loved the lyrics in this song, he wrote it about Scott Gorham, whose guitar solo on it is one of the best they ever did. Was Phil underestimated as a lyricist? Not amongst people who adore him, but sometimes you wish the club was bigger. It s amazing at some of the gigs there s a lot of younger people about 19 or 20 coming, girls who tell you, My father was into Thin Lizzy . Lynott s songs were written about his life, and he was a real character talking from his soul.
GLEN HANSARD (THE FRAMES DC)
Things Ain t Workin Out Down At The Farm (New Day EP, 1971)
I had to learn it from top to bottom, and it kinda got me in touch with the song and with ol Philo on a much closer level. It was a great example of their diversity, it really reminds me of The Band. And as well, Frank (Murray, former Thin Lizzy road manager and ex-Pogues/Frames manager) used to go on about it being about him. Graham, our old bass player, was Brian Downey s son, so it was weird for him learning it. Myself and Dave (Odlum) learned the twin lead guitar parts for it, which was so much fun to play. At the time it was such an unusual sound. Being in Dublin, there are so many people you meet that have Philo stories. I actually have a book of poetry by him at home and it s amazing. BOB GELDOF
Cowboy Song (see above)
I think it s pretty classic Lizzy: it s got the melodic element, the rock element, the classic twin-harmony guitar thing, and that great chorus, Roll me over/And turn me around . But also then the view of himself as the Clontarf Cowboy or whatever the fuck it is all that romanticism. I didn t sing it (at Self Aid in 1986) for that reason, 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. n