- 08 Jan 18
Hot Press Contributing Editor Roisin Dwyer talked to Chris when we were researching Philip Lynott – Still In Love With You, which celebrated the life and music of the great Philo.
You can read the full interview below:
Roisin: Was it true that Gary Moore’s Back on the Streets was how you met Phil and Brian?
Chris: That was the first time I met Brian and Phil. It was a great time, we’d just finished doing Gary’s version of Don’t Believe a Word with Brian and Phil.
Roisin: Oh that’s a fantastic version.
Chris: It’s lovely because that’s how it was written originally. And Scott happened to be there as well, and ironically Peter Green was in the adjacent studio to us, and he came into see Gary and he said “go on, play me something,” and we were like “oh Christ” so we played him this track and he turned around to his manager/producer and said “how come I don’t sound as good as that?” And all of us, Phil, Gary, all of us, were like Cheshire cats, we were so – “wow, he’s just said he likes what we’ve done.”
Roisin: Fantastic. And do you remember your first impression of Phil?
Chris: Well my first impression was, “good grief, he’s black.” I honestly didn’t ever, I saw so many pictures of him, he was just this amazing person and it just happened to be that his skin was black, that was it. No, I definitely felt a real sort of kinship with him, it was just brilliant, I can’t say enough good things about the chap. And the feeling was reciprocated by him, I remember one day his wife, Caroline, said “he must really like you.” And I said “and why is that?” “Well you’re the only one he doesn’t mind being called Phil by.” I always called him Phil, because when I was a kid, that was Phil, on the bass, and everyone else had to call him Philip, his name’s Philip, so call him Philip, if you didn’t know him. That was so funny when she told me that.
Roisin: And so, you working on ‘Renegade,’ how did that come about?
Chris: Well when we were working on Back on the Streets, we were also working, some days, on Phil’s solo album, Solo in Soho. I had also recorded what had started out to be a solo track, the track Sarah, which ended up on the Lizzy album, the Black Rose album, it was originally supposed to be a Phil solo record. So I recorded it, which is why I got a nice thank you on Black Rose.
Roisin: So what other songs like that did you work on?
Chris: Oh yea, Cathleen as well, so I did both of the recordings for the songs he wrote for his little girls, which was nice, very, very nice to do, a little bit special. So from there, you know, we started working together I guess, and it was a few years later, I was supposed to do an album with a band called Wild Horses, managed by Morrison O’Donnell.
Roisin: White Horses was Brian Robertson’s band?
Chris: Brian Robertson, so yea that will be good, says me. Then I got this phone call from one of the Chris’s who says “good news and bad news, we’re not going to work with Wild Horses” I said “Oh crap, what’s the good news?” “Would you like to work with Thin Lizzy?” and I said “I’ll check my diary, oh yes I’m available for the next 60 years.” And that’s kind of how it started on the Renegade record, and then from there on in, who knows what would have happened, you know, if the last thing hadn’t happened.
Roisin: Sure. So what did you make of – do you remember the first time you heard the tracks on Renegade?
Chris: The first thing I did, we did 3 new songs, and that was Angel of Death, The Pressure will Blow and Renegade itself, the title track, and then we started listening to the other things that they had, it was, well it wasn’t that focused for a Thin Lizzy album; it had this type of song, it had that type of song. But when I hear it back now, it’s one of my favourites ever. But for the average music fan back in the day, possibly too eclectic, the style of it, you know, they wanted to hear more traditional Thin Lizzy, which we kind of went back to with Thunder and Lightning, with a new guitar player in the fold as well, making the keyboard an integral part of the band.
Roisin: Because Darren was in on the Renegade album?
Chris: Oh absolutely.
Roisin: Was there sort of a grey area? Because I remember Snowy White used to always say we’d go into the studio to record and I wouldn’t know what the tracks were for, for a solo album or for a Thin Lizzy album.
Chris: That sounds about right, yea.
Roisin: And was everyone ok with that or?
Chris: Well that’s kind of the way it was, there wasn’t much anyone could say about it.
Roisin: Ok, and Phil, what did you think was Phil’s vision? Why did he want to do the solo albums?
Chris: I think because, he was so prolific in the songs, you know, they would just keep coming. He wasn’t always writing what you’d think was a Thin Lizzy song, and I think that’s what it was. He wanted the freedom to do exactly what he liked, if he wanted to put brass on it or whatever, because there’s no expectation, because it wasn’t Thin Lizzy. That was the problems with Renegade, what is this? Is this solo? Because some of the stuff was meant for a solo album, it kind of got mish-mashed out there, but again, when you hear it back now, there are some fabulous tunes on there, and each one is a Thin Lizzy song, because they’re all playing on it.
Roisin: Do you remember any songs in particular that were meant for the solo record?
Chris: Well basically Sarah has definitely a solo track that became a Lizzy thing, but no, the others, by the time we got to Renegade, the songs were already there, aside from the three we did, the new songs, Angel of Death, The Pressure Will Blow...
Roisin: And do you remember were there any song title changes?
Chris: Yeah, the song Renegade, wasn’t called Renegade, it was called If You Save Souls.
Chris: The chorus, where the musical interlude is now, he used to sing ‘if you save souls’, but it just never went anywhere, it was like, you know... and then he came in one day and was like “I’ve got it, the album title, Renegade” he said. I was like “eh, why?” and he said, “well I saw this Thin Lizzy fan with Thin Lizzy on his back and ‘Renegade’ written underneath it,” and he said, that’s it. And he said “what we’ll do is we’ll get this flag that we’re standing, holding.” He picked up, I used to smoke back then, my cigarettes, which was gold and red, and they’re the colours of the album.
Roisin: Wow, so where did this flag idea come from?
Chris: Nowhere, he just came out with it, I don’t know, was he thinking it or not, but it came. And that was kind of the way things were, it was very spontaneous with him, you know, so we’d never know, it was always like, even when we did vocals, it was like, “put the mic on, I want to do a rough vocal.” So that’s what we’d do at the end of the day, and I’d compile them into the main vocal by the end, and he’d sing it out, just words and phrases, whatever he wanted to do, an ongoing working progress throughout the recording. We’d finish off the day, doing some ‘roughs’ as he’d call them, and they ended up being what people heard.
Roisin: And was it the same for his work ethic, was he just like a Duracell bunny, sort of go, go, go?
Chris: Oh god, yea, you know, but also, very much up for the old craic as it were. We had so much fun, basically you’d do that, because if you were in there for so many hours, it was a way of releasing whatever frustration you’d get from being in a room with the same people nearly 24 hours a day, a little bit of you know, joking about, a little drinking here and there, it was all part of it. But he was very prolific in writing, working, it was great.
Roisin: And what was he like to work with? Was he very open?
Chris: He was, always, I remember him cursing me, jokingly, for the song Thunder and Lightning, about how we was going to sing that, he said “what do you reckon?” I said “you should really sing out there, real quick.” And he went, “yea alright” and we went with it, and the amount of breaths he had to get, he was like “you bugger”, because his lungs weren’t brilliant. But no, he was able to do just about anything that you asked of him. And he liked it, even the guy that was sweeping up, if he pitched a decent idea, he’d listen to it.
Roisin: And were the lyrics all written? I know a couple people have said he made them up on the spot, that or he had them in his head.
Chris: No that’s what all this rough business was, he’d have a notebook, he’d just be jotting things down whenever it took him, certain phrases, certain things, then he’d try singing it this way, singing it that way, and change that, make that the verse/chorus, whatever. But it was definitely sort of created in the studio.
Roisin: So then by the time of Thunder and Lightning, which is arguably their heaviest album, a lot of people have said it was that a response to the rise of the new-wave British heavy-metal?
Chris: Both in a way, because Sykes came from that era, I guess I did too because I had started doing all sorts of things to do with bands that were called the new wave of British heavy-metal, but it was just music to me, I didn’t know the difference between what was a new-wave band or an old-wave band, except the new wave lot played faster.
Roisin: So was it you that introduced John Sykes to the band?
Chris: Yes, it was my fault, I apologise. No it was basically, he sat me down and said, listen, what do you think we need to do? And I said, I think they need to focus on sounding and making a rock record, in the way that Lizzy can do, as heavy as you like, but it would have its melodies, its lovely harmonies and everything that the band was famous for, and he kind of hit the right notes at the right time, and he managed to get that out at a time when - Cold Sweat on Top of the Pops, I mean that was one of the heaviest things on there, and we thought this was good. Had he not argued with the law manager of the BBC he probably would have been on the next week as well.
Roisin: Oh dear, was he argumentative?
Chris: No, not really, but if things weren’t going the way that he thought they should go, he’d you know, tell them.
Roisin: And, The Sun Goes Down is very, it’s a very moving song, but it was almost like a farewell of sorts for him, acknowledging…..
Chris: It is, my version of what he’s singing about, is the demons inside him, the drug abuse basically, and I have to say, he didn’t do that in front of me. If I got wind of it, that he was up to no good, I would just rat on him, I would tell people, because I didn’t want to see him go the way he eventually did, and he liked that I have to say, he liked that somebody was looking out for him. Even if he did what he wanted anyway. But the fact that I gave a damn….
Roisin: Did you state that to him?
Chris: Yea oh, god, I knew immediately because he couldn’t breathe, it would mess up with his asthma and lungs and god knows what, it was just awful. I promised everybody that if I saw anything I would let them know so that they could try to keep away these types, because, you know, an addiction is an awful thing, it’s such a shame because look what, you know, where it ended, when no one wanted it to. Just think, if he was still around now, what would we have been up to, and with Gary as well.
Roisin: It is very sad, do you remember where you were actually, when you heard the news of Philip’s death?
Chris: Yes, I’d called up the management saying, “look I want to go see Phil in the hospital” and they said, don’t worry, he’s coming home tomorrow, and I said, ok fantastic. I turned the news on that evening, and there it was on the news that evening, that’s how I found out, and I was just absolutely mortified, I didn’t get to see him.
Roisin: Very sad. And would you have kept in contact with him?
Chris: Oh yea, definitely, all of us, Gary, him, me, we were close, we went to Gary’s wedding together, Gary’s son Gus is my godson, my son Louis is Gary’s godson, you know, we were family, basically.
Roisin: And the album, I love Thunder and Lightning, it’s fantastic. Was that always the title?
Chris: Oh I don’t know where that came from, because I think Sykes came up with the initial riff, and I don’t know, it sort of ended up being the album title. Whether that came first and the lyrics came afterwards – probably did, that was a time when he was just trying all these different ways of doing it, but like “Thunder and Lightning, god damn it’s so exciting,” you know, kind of says it all really, and it was, it was a great time, it really was.
Roisin: And obviously, you got to see two lead guitarists, you worked with Snowy and you worked with John, what was the interaction like with both, and what was Phil’s interaction like?
Chris: His interaction was more so with Sykes, Snowy was amazing at the blues style he’s amazing, he gets a great, great tone, he’s beautiful, but whether it fitted in the Thin Lizzy mould... Of course he could play the stuff, I’m not saying that, but was his head in the same space as the rest of us? He was a quiet finish the gig, go to the hotel, read a book, you know, just a regular kind of guy, the others were different, Sykes fitted more into that, and he was younger and that really counted. They kind of backed up a bit because, crikey, we’ve got this young whippersnapper playing like a demon, so we have to get our acts together.
Roisin: And the breadth of material that you worked on with Philip, as you mentioned, Sarah and Cathleen, are arguably much softer songs. And he was seen as this person, there was almost a duality there, the sort of soft romantic type and then the hard rocker, how did you see him? Did you see both sides? Was it very much he would switch modes or was there complimentary elements of both?
Chris: There was complimentary elements of both I think, he was both of these things, all of these things you know, romantic, rocking, blah blah blah, he could just go from one to another and they wouldn’t be like, oh crikey he’s going all wimpy now, or any of that, it was just, it worked. There’s not many people that can, I tell you they’re either one way, full on, you know, but he could do both at any given moment, and I think that was the secret of it all because he appealed to so many more than just the rock fans. That’s why we over here consider Lizzy a British band if you like, because this is where they were biggest, they couldn’t be any bigger here in those days, they were just loved to bits.
Roisin: And even in the sense that they were accepted by the punk community, they were one of the only rock bands to be accepted by the punk community.
Chris: Exactly, this is bizarre, why is that? I worked with The Greedies, which was The Sex Pistols and The Lizzies together, and that was hysterical.
Roisin: Oh really? I didn’t realise that.
Chris: These tracks have never been released, the ones that I have.
Roisin: Really? Obviously I’m familiar with the Merry Jingle single, but...
Chris: This was after that. One of them was...I’ll remember it in a minute, but my memory’s just rubbish.
Roisin: So you have three never heard before Greedies tracks? Oh my god, will they ever see the light of day? I’m super curious?
Chris: They are fabulous. Steve Jones and Gary doing the guitar and Paul Cook and Brian on the drums. It’s great, because Steve does this solo that’s just one note, and Gary plays a solo that’s about a billion. So one day, one day they’ll find their way out. I haven’t decided quite when yet.
Roisin: Amazing, I’m so excited to hear that. So obviously you observed the interaction between Steve and Paul and Phil, what was it like?
Chris: Oh it was great, I remember him telling me, Phil, he was in the studio in Willesden and he came in telling me, bloody hell, Sid and Nancy were in his house and he went into the toilet afterwards and it was covered in blood. And we were like, wow, because we were tiny, we were just kids at that time. We were really young, it was in 1978 so I was 21. That was thing it was quite... I always thought the guys were way older than me, they weren’t really, but a few years when you’re that young...
Roisin: So did they socialise a lot on the punk circuit?
Chris: Oh yea, he (Phil) was very much in with what was going on, he always liked to keep his ear on the ground and try bringing new things and stuff to the camp from different genres of music to see what worked and what didn’t, and what didn’t usually ended up being the solo stuff I suppose.
Roisin: And you worked on the last live album as well, didn’t you, ‘Life’? What exactly was your involvement there?
Chris: That was just sort of listening to it, because there was so many of the old producers, nothing major to it, it was courtesy to all of them that had worked with them over the years.
Roisin: Ok, and was that the same with the Live in Australia one?
Chris: No, Live in Australia, that was from some tv show, in that Gary’s playing with them and Mark Nauseef was playing with them, because Brian couldn’t make it or something. I was left then to be mixing ‘Back on the Streets’ in London when Gary went off with Phil to do that and it came out a few years back, I don’t know where the sound feed is from, but its abysmal. It was never involved with any one of us who was involved with Thin Lizzy to mix it, some random feed from a camera somewhere, and that’s why it keeps fading in and out, you can’t really hear the audience much.
Roisin: And you also worked on the Vagabonds, Warriors, Kings, Angels album? I’m sure you’re credited on that?
Chris: Songs from, that was compilation, so there are songs on there that I had done, there’s quite a few; The Best of... If you add all those up, there’s quite a sizeable pile of Lizzy’s. You know, I wish they were still around, I really do. The closest, Black Star Riders, before that, when Brian was in them, just to me, without the drum and bass full line up, you just don’t have Thin Lizzy, because those two together, I honestly don’t remember a mistake they made.
Roisin: A lot of people overlooked Phil’s bass playing.
Chris: That was key, the way he played that thing, that’s what made that band sound like it does, with that kind of bluesy, jazzy drumming also, very powerful, incredibly powerful. And that was it, that was the whole gist of it, the rocking groove those two had, and throw in a bit of that Celtic stuff on top, and we’re off.
Roisin: And do you remember them the last time you saw them?
Chris: That would have been at his house, literally, after... No, no it wasn’t. It was at Gary Moore’s wedding. That was it, yea it was hysterical, we had a very funny time really.
Roisin: He was a prankster.
Chris: He was a prankster, but it wasn’t so much jokes, but what he would do or what he would say.
Roisin: What he would throw in, very quick witted.
Chris: Completely, and Gary, the pair of them. You’d have to be pretty on the ball or you’d be kind of left behind.
Roisin: That’s fantastic Chris. Is there anything else you want to add about Philip?
Chris: I have to say, I really look to him as a guiding light and mentor if you like, towards my career, because them, the Irish connection, as I call it, Gary and Phil and the Lizzies, that certainly put me on the map, for which I am eternally grateful, and more than anything, I miss him, very, very much. It’s not right, but what can you do?
Roisin: And what a fantastic legacy, and he’s remembered so warmly by so many people.
Roisin: Well, I’ve taken up far too much of your time, thank you very much. And also, sorry, I’m intrigued by The Greedies’ songs, you don’t remember the title?
Chris: I’ve got the tape I will look it up and send it to you, the titles.