- 24 Mar 01
With Thin Lizzy now officially a thing of the past, Philip Lynott is preparing to start anew with Grand Slam. At this transitional point in his public career Tony Clayton-Lea sought out the private Lynott to ask him his views on a wide range of issues including music, politics, religion, sex, drugs, Ireland, parenthood and rock'n'roll stardom. The result is probably the frankest and most revealing interview Philip Lynott has ever given.
Brown eyes gaze out at me from a brown face. A dark, throaty Dublin brogue asks, yaknowharImean? I answer Yes.
For fifteen years now, Philip Lynott has been a major ambassador for Irish rock music. From the '70s to the '80s his band Thin Lizzy were one of the most successful acts working in the hard rock genre. They were also one of the best, because, in amongst the bruising bass, pulverising drums and twin guitars lay a strong melodic core, lyrics that said something and a voice like the aural equivalent of a pint of the black stuff.
Throughout his career, Philip Lynott has always been an ace face. Yet there is more to him than meets the eye. Tall, dark and handsome, Philip has the appealing combination of Irish wit and Dublin suss to complement his looks.
Never one to rest on his musical laurels, he has released two solo albums - Solo In Soho and The Philip Lynott Album - which although not achieving great commercial success, allowed him to experiment with varying styles beyond the boundaries of the pre-ordained Lizzy sound. Indeed, it was the freedom of artistic expression gained by working on these two LPs that highlighted for him the musical and stylistic rut the latterday Thin Lizzy had degenerated into. One morning, Philip Lynott woke up, peered out of his bedroom window, and decided to call it a day...
As yet, Grand Slam are an untried, untested rock commodity, their exact commercial and artistic potential undiscovered. Intensive rehearsals have been taking place, with all group members - Robbie Brennan, Mark Stanway, Laurence Archer, Doishe Nagle and Lynott - mobilising themselves into what Philip calls a Live Entity.
It is, of course, far too early in Grand Slam's career to determine what might happen. Will their existence be illustrious or ignominious? Who knows? Philip Lynott is, however, clear on a couple of things: he wants no comparisons made between Grand Slam and Thin Lizzy and he intends to re-scale the dizzy heights of international success. In other words, Thin Lizzy are dead so long live Grand Slam... and may Philip's drinking arm never wither. KnowharImean?
Tony Clayton-Lea: I know it's been recounted before, Philip, but what thoughts do you have now on the demise of Thin Lizzy?
Philip Lynott: I was sorry to see it go... everybody thought it was a scam, that we'd be back together again in six months. Maybe it's because I'm such a proficient liar... but there was no way around it, it was definitely goin' to end. And now it's gone, it's never goin' to come back. It's like your virginity... that's the way I feel. It was a good band, I was very pleased to be in it.
Eighteen months ago, you were internationally famous with Thin Lizzy. Now, you're more or less starting from scratch with Grand Slam. Have you learned lessons of humility in the interim period?
I thought 18 months ago I'd learnt lessons in humility... I mean, you do get used to people runnin' around after you, carryin' your guitar case, doin' this, that, and the other. When it's done constantly, you start to take it for granted. You start expecting the amps to be ready when you walk in to play, the equipment to be set up. Obviously, I'll still expect that in certain situations. For rehearsals, I don't mind settin' everythin' up. I do mind if I'm payin' somebody to do it, like in the Lizzy situation.
Because people treat you as important, you begin to think that maybe you're a little bit more important than you are. You always have to look in the mirror, though. It never got out of hand.
What aspect of Irish society do you like the least?
I think the bitterness, the gossip. The thing I've noticed coming back here, is when you come home, they all say 'When are you goin' back?' It's the first question you get asked. It's not 'How long are you here for?' Maybe it's because we have to be away so much.
I also dislike the hypocrisy. Brush put it great: the way we haven't got the perspective to see ourselves, and to nurture our own artistic bents. It's like if we get accepted in England, then Ireland will go 'you're great'.
Do you think Ireland is a nation of begrudgers?
It's begrudging to its own. But, by the same token, there is an awful lot who are very proud. I mean, I'm proud when I see U2 or the Rats make it. However, I think it's an Irishman's right to knock Ireland, but I get offended if anybody foreign does it. There is the hypocrisy that I'm talkin' about!
What aspect of Irish Society do you like the most?
(Pause) I think the way we're able to cope with the worst.
Is Philip Lynott a religious person?
As I get older I get more religious... because I'm goin' to die fuckin' soon. The odds are more in God's favour.
I'd say it's almost like bein' Irish and Catholic. Once you're Irish and Catholic, you're always Irish and Catholic. I think it's in you. You can never disassociate yourself from it. You can acquire another accent, but it'll always be there in your head. The rules that were beaten into me at school are ingrained. I still know when I commit a mortal or a venial sin, y'know?
What is your definition of a good Catholic?
A man who lives by his own conscience, but has enough perspective on his conscience to make sure it doesn't get corrupted. It is so easy to corrupt your conscience.
I mean - this can apply to a lot of things - the first time you take some sherry out of the cabinet and you replace what you've taken with water, and you think, 'I didn't get caught.' You do it again, until one day, the bottle is all water, so you have to get caught. That's the way your conscience can get corrupted.
Who is the most difficult musician you've ever worked with?
Robbo - Brian Robertson. I started off by thinkin' I'll join a band where everybody is equal, and we can all do what we want, right? That's okay if everybody is playin' to the rules, but if somebody's using a different set of rules...
I have this habit of thinkin' that I'm really fair. There were some situations where Robbo was just impossible to work with. We'd be recordin' - I always remember this, 'cos it was the thing that triggered me into thinking that we really couldn't work together - and he'd do a guitar solo, and I'd say, 'Come in and check it out,' and he'd go, 'If it's good enough, it's good enough... Tell me which solo you want, and I'll play it,' that kind of thing.
Would he come in and listen to his guitar solo, and tell us it was what he wanted? No... but we're still very good friends. Once we're not in a band, it's okay.
You once jokingly referred to yourself as a black Paddy bastard. What are your views on illegitimacy?
If it happens, you've gotta face up to the responsibility. I think it's different for each personal situation. I find nothing offensive about it, not at all.
I never found much discrimination because I was illegitimate; a 'love child' as they say in the papers. I don't know what happens to the rest of them, but I have a good family. I think questions like that could make it an issue. I never thought of it as an issue before; it's just accentuatin' the fact. It's like somebody goes 'Do you know you've got a mole on your face', and everybody looks. It's there, but you just don't see it.
Were you ever verbally or physically abused because of your colour?
Er... you mean attacked? A couple of times people have said something, but we buried them shortly afterwards.
What did you think of the abortion referendum?
I thought it was silly...
I do think that politics should include religion, but I don't think that that religion should include politics, y'know? I think that the referendum was more the religion of the country dictating the politics.
Politics should take a liberal aspect of all things, not just the majorities. That's what I'd like in a perfect society. Ireland, however, is far from perfect.
Do you think that Irish people in particular get confused when it comes to differentiating between political and religious issues?
I think they do... I get confused. There's so many alternative answers, y'know? It's almost like tryin' to justify anarchy. How do you justify anarchy? The minute you try to explain anarchy, what you're sayin' is not anarchy. It's a problem that not only the Irish have...
Do you think that priests should align themselves politically, given the potentially persuasive hold they may have on their congregations?
I do, yeah. In a general sense, I'd say every man - including priests - has the right to his own political beliefs. In certain conditions, he should be able to stand up and state his political views. If, however, he's usin' his position of religion - where he would be held in reverence, stop bein' a man, and become a special man who can perform the rites of the Mass - if he's using that position to give a political view that was against the religion he's preachin' then that's wrong. But if he's doing it in a sincere expression of his own conscience then you can't really fault him. If he's decent and intelligent you should be able to dissuade him verbally.
I wouldn't like to set meself up, y'know? By the same token, I'm tellin' you this now, and I might influence people by my point of view, so I would like it to go down that I'm no expert on these matters.
What political views do you hold?
I always have trick answers for these... there's a lot of truth in them, though. Me heart leans to the left, but me hand in me pocket leans to the right. And we're not talkin' sex here, folks.
I think Garrett FitzGerald is a good man, and that's his problem. He reminds me of Jimmy Carter; he was a nice guy too, although he got very little done. I think that could be Garret's problem. He has the best of intentions, mind.
I think Charlie Haughey is clever, but he's lookin' after No. 1 first of all.
What do you think of Ronald Reagan?
I don't like him, I must admit. Why? Because he probably wouldn't like me if he knew me. (laughs)
I think there's somethin' very right wing about him. He's a hawk. Y'know in American and Russian politics, they have hawks and doves? Well, Ronald is being controlled by the hawks, I think 'Spittin Image' [the satirical TV programme] is really like my politics.
Would you welcome a 32-county republic?
Yeah, I'd like Ireland to become one nation, but then, we are. We seem to be all Irish when we're away from Ireland.
When I'm in Ireland, I say I'm from Dublin, when I'm in Dublin, I say I'm from Crumlin. When I'm in Crumlin, I say I'm from Leighlin Road, and when I'm in Leighlin Road, I say I'm a Lynott. So, it's that type of attitude.
What do you think of Gerry Adams?
I haven't heard too much of him.
What is your attitude to violence? Is Philip Lynott a violent man?
I don't like violence. I don't like it in myself, but it's in me. I have been violent, and I don't like it.
One of the good things about rock music is that it can take a lot of the aggression, and put it to a good use. But aggression sometimes turns to violence. You get youthful aggression and a couple of drinks, and it can turn into senseless violence. Not that there is a sensible way to use violence - I don't think there is - but I do think there is aggression. However, it isn't as clear cut as violence.
What's your favourite drug?
Sugar... I'm off the ciggies... Alcohol, it must be. I'm not a lush, but I do like a drink sometimes.
Do you gain any solace from the use of drugs or alcohol?
No, I just use it as a drug, to get silly and see the world from a different perspective. I think drugs are there to be used.
If you're goin' to ask me about drugs in general, as opposed to 'drug' drugs... that's the reason why I mentioned sugar and alcohol; to show that there are a lot of drugs about that you aren't even aware of. I found out that tomato ketchup has 23% sugar in it. I've got this big thing against sugar at the moment, 'cos I'm the father of kids... all those Easter eggs...
'Drug' drugs are really bad for you. They can cause you an awful lot of misery. Initially, you get some great kicks, and it does give you different perspectives, and you can find all the reasons in the world for taking them, but there's juts as many reasons for not taking them. In fact, more.
The reasons for not taking them obviously include addiction, they can change your personality without you knowin', so you lose control of your mind and body, and therefore you lose your dignity. And the stigma attached to taking drugs socially is bad news.
A lot of people look to Keith Richards, and hold him in reverence, like a hero, but I know if Keith had his life again - he said to me - he wouldn't do them again.
Sid Vicious is also held in reverence. He was just a guy fucked up on dope. It sounds like you're preachin' or condescendin', like (adopts admonitory accent) 'Don't take drugs, I've been there'. So I'm not even goin' to try. Just don't.
If anybody really wants to find out about drugs, they should go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
What do you think of the present heroin situation in Dublin?
It's bad, it really is.
Can you see any solution to it?
Again, that's an instant question, and I think the answer is important. I'd like to know more about the situation before I could give you a positive reply. At the moment, I can't see a solution to it.
For the past 15 years you've been living a lifestyle that condones - sometimes encourages - the easy availability of drugs and sex.
I don't agree with that. I think the media picked up on those aspects, and blew them up out of proportion.
I remember there was a film out, called 'The Stud', starring Oliver Tobias. Me and Oliver were knockin' about at the time, and he was stuck in one room, and I was in another doin' an interview with the Daily Mirror and I had a studded leather bracelet on. Anyway next day, I buy the paper, and it's like 'The Black Stud'.
I do things that are wrong. I make mistakes like everybody else as far as society is concerned. I don't try and promote that. If you listen carefully to all those songs, 'Got To Give It Up' or 'The Opium Trail', which is actually - jokin' aside - an anti-drug song. The message is fairly serious.
Now, to speak about such things, you have to be experienced - Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have.' Some of the things I'm proud of. Some of the things I'm not. I'd hate to think that I encouraged people to go over the rails, y'know what I mean? I always thought that I was sharin', laughin' with the people. I'd hate to think I was corruptin' them.
Y'see, the word 'macho' has really become associated with chauvinist. You always see 'male chauvinist'. For some reason there doesn't seem to be female chauvinist at all... I seem to get that a lot... Now, I do write about masculine things. Joni Mitchell writes about feminine things. For me, I get a great insight as to how females think, from her songs.
What I was tryin' to do - these are the Lizzy songs - I was just givin' a masculine point of view, talkin' about my own aggression - which obviously might cross over into the chauvinistic thing.
Not knowin' me father, and always bein' surrounded by women - wife, daughter, mother, before I was married I knew a few girls - I've always enjoyed female company. I'd hate to think that anybody who knew me to that extent would think that I'm chauvinist.
If a woman couldn't sit me down and explain to me why I was bein' chauvinist... then I'd try and change it. That's happened a few times... bein' put in me place. At the times I've deserved it, though. I just needed to be sat down and told, 'You don't need to be doin' this.' It's like when people are discriminating. Some people are discriminating just because it's second-nature. They don't realise they're doin' it.
Do you think that macho types have an implicit fear of women?
We used to call them 'hardmen'... Er... I don't think macho men are. I think chauvinists have a fear of women. I think chauvinists are probably thick and ignorant. They want women put in their place...
Now, macho is fast coming to have the same meaning as male chauvinist. Maybe they'll have to change the meaning in the dictionaries, but I always thought macho was masculine, y'know? like all his attributes are masculine! Especially with guys like Boy George around... Now, you couldn't call Boy George a masculine man. He's a feminine man.
How important is sex to you?
Er... I couldn't live without it. I mean, it's fairly important. My sex is so tied up with love.
Would you call yourself a selfish lover?
When I'm in love, I give. You can't be in love and not give... I love me kids... the whole thing about being in love is being unselfish.
What sex symbol do you particularly admire?
I've always gone for weird ones... I've never liked the Brigett Bardots or the Marilyn Munroes...
I like early Vanessa Redgrave, when she was in 'Morgan, A Suitable Case For Treatment' and 'Camelot'. There was a lot of soft focus shots, but the imagery was there. I used to be crazy about Catherine Deneauve, I was never one for puttin' pin-ups on the wall, But Catherine Deneauve...
Vanessa Redgrave has control over her femininity. I just liked that so much, whereas Catherine Deneauve was so good looking.
Prior to your marriage, I'd imagine you had a fair amount of sexual freedom. When your daughters grow up, would you allow - or like - them to have the same degree of freedom?
As a parent, no. As individuals, as friends, I'd say 'go out and enjoy yourselves'. I'd try and give them the benefit of me experience.
I really would like to be a liberal dad, rather than be a (adopts parental tone) 'Don't do that... If I find that fella 'round here again, I'm gonna kick him up the arse... come up stairs and tell him to go'
It's goin' to be difficult... there has to be a period where I'm going to (adopts maudlin tone) lose my little girls to some other guy... and I'm going to be jealous. I'll tell you when it happens. At the moment, I'm hopin' I'll be liberal, but I also know there's a streak in me that would scare the life out of the fellas.
I'm lookin' forward to it. Everybody thinks, 'You've got girls, what are you goin' to do when they grow up?' Well, I'm goin' to try and make them as suss as possible, y'know, to the way men think.
There's nothin' really wrong with the way a lot of fellas think, except when they start treatin' women like they were objects. I'll try and make sure that they're liked for themselves... If they don't respect their bodies, then nobody will. It's much harder for girls, at this present time, anyway. Hopefully, in the future it'll be better.
There seems to be a current trend in pop music for talented transvestites and androgynous males...
Danny La Rues? I really do like Danny La Rue... Boy George I'm not so sure about. I remember Boy George as a Steve Strange imitator. Now it looks as if Steve Strange has gone. Steve had 'The Blitz' and Boy George was a cloakroom attendant; Marilyn used to wear red dresses...
The image looks pretty... To me it's like the king with no clothes. Boy George is a good pop idol. He's harmless to the kids, as a pop idol, but I think there have been better.
What are your opinions on homosexuality?
I've always got on as well with gay people, y'know? Maybe it's because I'm such a masculine guy. I think the whole point of bein' homosexual is to attract men, so they're very pleased if somebody doesn't take offence. I hate talkin' about them as if they were a different species. I find the thought of what they do behind closed doors offensive, but, as people, as mates... great. I really have a fun time. It never bugs me. I don't ever want to call it a problem, 'cos I've never regarded it in that aspect.
Do rock'n'roll stars ever grow up?
I think people who entertain grow up...
You know when you look at yourself in the future? I'd like to think that at a certain age, I'd have written a book, have a nice little place in Howth, on Sundays I'd go down and play in the jazz band, y'know? Have two very exuberant daughters, one an athlete with a gold medal...
To become wise about a subject means you must have been a fool at some time. I don't actually think you become wiser, you just get more experienced. And if you have happy times, there have been sad times. There is, however, a price to pay for the good times.
I still enjoy playin' a guitar in front of a mirror, posin'. (laughs)
Is Philip Lynott an egotist?
No, I have an ego in certain things. Because I'm self-critical, because I'm me own worst critic. I know me good points, so I wouldn't be modest when I know I'm good. For example, if we did a good gig...
From the death of Thin Lizzy to the birth of Grand Slam - what differences will there be, musically?
It's a different mixture... there's old guys like meself, and there's young guys like Laurence Archer. Now, he's very talented musically, but he's not very experienced in goin' on the road or tourin'. It's also different from the personality aspect.
The other thing musically is that we're gonna feature one lead guitar as opposed to two. Also, it's a lot looser. There's no pressure for us to be like anybody else.
Initially, we'll do a few Lizzy songs, but that is just to let us get on our feet. I mean, when Lizzy started, we used to play other people's material, so...
We're goin' to have a much broader outlook in contemporary music, and in music of the past. For instance, we've been dabblin' with 'Like A Rollin' Stone' and 'Whiter Shade Of Pale' and we're stickin' them together. Years ago, they called that a medley. But we're puttin' them together and calling' it a concept.
The contemporary stuff... it's amazin' what you can do with all this technology. That sounds really corn, doesn't it? No, but we'll be usin' Simmonds drums and keyboards. Another thing about Grand Slam, which I think is good, is that rather than just make good demos, and then get a deal, we thought we'd go on the road, warm up, and become a 'live' entity before we signed a deal. And therefore, be able to get more money; there is a business side to it too.
I do think that there's so many bands gettin' deals because of the make-up they use, and how good a demo they make, instead of being a good live act.
What can we expect from Grand Slam?
A good band, good musicians. We'll be goin' for the stars... We're havin' fun experimentin' at the moment. Obviously an amount of ritual has to go into it. We're tryin' to get a deal...
Obviously, everybody is gonna compare Grand Slam to Thin Lizzy, but I don't wanna be dragged into that competition. They're two different bands. I just hope Grand Slam are as successful, without livin' off the Thin Lizzy thing.
At the moment, I'm in a new band, with a chance to write some new songs. We have the freedom of expression to get on with what I do best, which is what I should be doin' now.
I can take a hint... do you want to say anything to your countless legions of fans?>
Look, I hate those guys in interviews that say 'Come and see the band, and buy all the records.' They always sound so insincere.
So I'd like to say, really sincerely, Come and see the band and buy all the records.