- 05 Nov 02
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.