Although I have Irish roots, I have few strong musical connections there. Music via Ireland flows through one man, and it’s not Van The Man. It’s Phil The Man. Phil Lynott was actually born in the West Midlands but grew up in Dublin adopted by his grandparents and effectively, by Ireland itself. A statue of Lynott is right there in Dublin’s town centre.
Lynott was a frontman from the age of frontmen – a leader, figurehead, creative force and ultimately, cultural icon. He was a rocker of course, but so much more than that. Growing up as a black Irishman was a rare thing in the 50s and 60s and though it did not define him, it shaped him. His songs very much embody something of the Irish rover, vagabond and charmer. He was a ‘half-caste’, outsider, and a renegade. And a creative, sensitive soul to boot. A writer and a fighter if you will.
I really got into Lizzy via the guitar. I would pitch up to lessons each week with intent to learn this or that Queen or Police riff, but my teacher Mike Bray would tell me every session “I’ve got to get you into Lizzy”, until he finally broke through. Mike, wherever you are, here is almost 40 years of thanks.
As Lizzy’s creative genius, for just over a decade Lynott effectively led two bands, or perhaps more like one band with two distinct flavours. One was a British rock institution, the other something far more…chilled. Sweet ballads, bluesy jams, flirtations with Jazz & folk, mellow pop tunes - he could do them all, threading the songs with easy-on-the-ear melody and vivid lyrical storytelling. He was a poet too after all. His quieter songs would be about troubled relationships, his tough upbringing and a complex, sceptical bond with religion and god. He wrote songs addressing subjects as well as any of his peers and many artists since. When it comes to the ambiguous god stuff, one can place him alongside Nick Cave, Polly Harvey and fellow Irishman Bono. Listen in and hear it for yourself and be surprised and delighted. Did you ever think a ‘rock/metal’ band could sound like this?
I often think if only…if only Lynott had stayed alive. He chose to exit life when (and maybe because) his career was at a low ebb, in 1986 at the age of just 36. It was before the age of catalogue revival and of legacy tours, creative re-assessment and career longevity for any band of decent standing from rock & pop’s golden age. Had Lynott stuck with Lizzy, been called up for Live Aid by his fellow Irishman Bob Geldof and just kept on, Lizzy would now surely be enjoying a revival status similar to that of ELO, Fleetwood Mac, Def Leppard.
It wasn’t to be. But the legacy is right here, possibly still under-appreciated and under-rated. These songs exemplify Lynott’s, and Lizzy’s dexterity and diversity. Maybe that stemmed from Lynott himself being different. He was a rogue and a tough guy who wrote heavy rock bangers but also sweet love songs, and catchy pop tunes (remember, his song Yellow Pearl was adopted as the theme to UK music institution Top Of The Pops). He was a real leader however, and a generous mentor, inviting guitar players of varying styles into the band (Snowy White, Gary Moore, even Midge Ure at one point, alongside the classic rock & metal talents of Brian Robertson, Scott Gorham and John Sykes) to do their career-best work. Who knows what St. Patrick would have made of such a man, but Ireland should be, and is, proud. Happy Saint Patrick’s day to Ireland.
Playback notes: However you like, but preferably as scheduled. As ever, no skipping! This playlist is the sister to Lizzy Kills, so watch out!