Tuesday January 4th marks 25 years to the day since arguably Irelands’s most recognisable and idiosyncratic rock star passed away. Whilst most people will be returning to the grind after an extended Christmas break, Thin Lizzy fans across the world will stop to remember Phil Lynott and his inimitable, enigmatic personality.
Philip Parris Lynott was the rarest of creatures; both physically and retrospectively. A black Irish man growing up in working class Dublin during the 50s and 60s, Lynott was an outsider from day one and immediately attracted the sort of attention he would later crave and thrive upon when on stage with Lizzy during the seminal band’s late 70s pomp. Furthermore, friends who knew him describe a charismatic kid who was simultaneously the most popular and attractive guy in school but who also attracted an unnecessary and unacceptable amount of attention via the casual racism that dogged the era and the area.
Lizzy will always be remembered for their most widely recognised signature tune “The Boys are Back in Town” (the exact subject of which remains a matter for debate amongst fans to date), but to focus exclusively on this pub jukebox stable is to neglect the breadth and depth of the quality, not to mention stylistic diversity, of Lizzy/ Lynott’s output.
Thin Lizzy arrived in Britain in 1971 as Celtic folk rock trio with just undertones of the harder, more abrasive (but nonetheless sumptuously melodic) hard rock direction they would go onto make their trade mark. A relentless work ethic saw the release of 5 albums in as many years up to 1976 interspersed by the success of Whiskey in the Jar- the reworking of a classic Irish folk tune featuring arguably one of the finest lead guitar performances of the era from Lizzy man Eric Bell.
It seems appropriate that Lynotts’s first taste of the big time came from the reworking of an Irish song. A man whose identity had been a hindrance in the past (due to the petty prejudice he’d encountered as youngster) now propelled him and his band to a wider audience. It would be incorrect to suggest that following the release of Whisky in the Jar Lizzy were household names, indeed it wouldn’t be until The Boys are Back in Town afforded them this status, but it allowed Lynott a platform from which to map out the band’s progress and which would inspire some of his most majestic music.
The mid to late 70s saw the band enter what is normally looked upon by fans as their golden period. The Jailbreak album was released, perhaps the band’s (now without Bell but expanded to a quartet thanks to the additions of lead guitar players Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson) finest studio offering which contained the aforementioned it The Boys are Back in Town, followed by Johnny the Fox, Black Rose and, in addition the imperious, Live and Dangerous set which captured the band at their thunderous peak.
Unfortunately it is believed that it was during this period that Lynott began dabbling in hard drugs. Whereas in the past there’d been a spliff here and a line of coke there, a much more deadly substance entered the frame, and Lynott became addicted to it- herion. It was this addiction which hounded him for the following years of his life and which ultimately claimed his life.
Mediocre albums (at least by golden era standards) followed during the early years of the 80s, as well as two Lynott solo albums, but the man himself became more withdrawn, more volatile and gained weight as his dependency on drugs and alcohol began to take control. Lizzy were officially disbanded in 1983 with Lynott involving himself in other projects with varying degrees of success; a single with Gary Moore Out in the Fields reached No. 5 in 1985 but few were interested in his Grand Slam project.
Lynott was a man that seemed constantly torn between the wick-at-both-ends excessive life of a rock’n’roll talisman (see “The Rocker and “Fighting”) and that of the wordsmith; the softer, sincere and sensitive troubadour (evident on “Song for While I’m Away” and “Sarah”). Tragically it was the former that would prematurely claim his life when on January 4th 1986 he died from a heart attack and multiple organ failure brought on by years of drug abuse.
Lynott was a man gifted with the bohemian sex appeal of Jim Morrison, the Celtic poetic vision of Van Morrison and undeniable appetite for rock’n’roll and all of its heinous excesses as Jimi Hendrix. Friend and Thin Lizzy artwork contributor Jim Fitzpatrick speaking after Lynott’s death summed the enigmatic musician like a only a close acquaintance could: “Philip didn’t die of a heart attack... he died of a lifestyle”. He was 36 years old.