- 07 Mar 11
As a songwriter and frontman with Thin Lizzy, Philip Lynott cast a long shadow over the scene in Ireland in the 1970s. In a special interview, Bono recalls what made him special...
First there was Van. Then there was Rory Gallagher with Taste. Next in line were Skid Row. And shortly afterwards, Philip Lynott got Thin Lizzy on the road.
Van and Rory grew in stature, making international waves. Skid Row returned to Dublin. Lizzy went in the other direction, taking the boat to London. Thus began one of the most tempestuous and impressive rock ’n’ roll careers of the 1970s, featuring hit singles, chart topping albums and legendary live shows that ranked right up there among the best on planet earth over a three to five year period. Thin Lizzy rocked.
Out front was Philip Lynott, whose image and style made such a huge impact on those that followed, especially in Ireland. For Dublin bands in particular, Lizzy set the standards against which everyone that followed had to measure themselves. Among them was a start-up band by the name of U2.
“We were 16 when we formed the band and we were trying to learn other people’s songs and we weren’t very good at it,” Bono recalls. “Occasionally one would speak to us, and I remember us trying to work out ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ and I couldn’t understand exactly what he meant. ‘Don’t believe me when I tell ya/Not a word of this is true/Don’t believe me when I tell ya/I’m in love with you’ – just a great lyric device. We tried playing that, just murdered that one.”
Bono remembers the big Lizzy songs of the ‘70s with obvious relish.
“They were such good songs to murder,” he says. “‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, we murdered that one. We still murder that one, we still play that one in soundcheck. ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’, we play that one in soundcheck too, that’s so beautiful. So Van Morrison.”
Inevitably, Van Morrison was a huge influence on almost everyone from that era who aspired to be a great lyricist. But Philip Lynott was up to the challenge.
“With all the glamourpuss stuff going on, and the shaping and the hard-rock fisticuffs, you could forget the romantic spirit at the heart of Phil Lynott and his beautiful lyricism, his astonishing lyricism,” Bono says. “I always remember people saying, if ya listen to Shades Of A Blue Orphanage, ‘That sounds very like Bruce Springsteen, do ya think Bruce Springsteen ripped him off?’. And I think there was a little bit of shaping, because they came at exactly the same time, and they both met, Phil Lynott and Bruce. And of course both confessed their undying love for Van Morrison, which explains the well they were both drinking from.”
What made all the difference with Lizzy in their pomp was that Philip Lynott could also craft three minute classics.
“It’s harder to write lyrics in a 45, in a single,” Bono reflects, “especially a rock single but I mean... ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’, they’re the hardest ones to do. Or people always refer to (the line in ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’) ‘chocolate stains on my pants’. There’s a lot of reference to the cinema in his lyrics and going to the cinema. I think that actually formed his view of the world, the way he talks about the Stella in ‘Shades Of A Blue Orphanage’ and, yeah, a poetic spirit through and through.”
In the late 1970s, Thin Lizzy were often referred to as the greatest hard rock band on the planet. Philip Lynott’s ability as a frontman was key to their live success.
“He was an amazing frontman,” Bono enthuses. “Don’t underestimate how hard that is to do with a bass in your hand. Great at talking to the crowd: he had the schtick, ‘Is there anyone out there with a bit of Irish in them?’ And then he had a mirror on his plectrum guard on his bass, and he’d turn the mirror, the Super Trooper light would come down and he’d dazzle the girl he wanted to meet later. An absolute showman.”
He was that and more...
“If that lyrical, musical ability has to be matched with showmanship, attitude, style,” Bono proffers, “if that’s your version of rock ‘n’ roll – there’s no way past Phil Lynott. He’s at the top of the tree.”
The quotes herein are extracts taken from a longer video interview, specially conducted for Still In Love With You: The Philip Lynott Exhibition, covering Bono’s personal memories of Phil Lynott and his legacy as a songwriter, rock ’n’ roll star and leader of Thin Lizzy.