Thin Lizzy

Peter Brennan wishes Phil Lynott was back in town

In the pre-Bono era, he was Ireland’s first rock and roll superstar - a tough-talking, hard-living Dubliner who lived the dream with Thin Lizzy.

Like the U2 frontman, Phil Lynott had an unshakable desire to succeed, a drive and ambition that shocked even his bandmates and which helped catapult his band onto the global stage.

Unlike Bono, however, he embarked on a path of self-destruction which would lead to the demise of his band, his marriage and ultimately himself.

20 years ago, Phil Lynott died at Salisbury General Infirmary in Manchester after suffering a massive heart attack on Christmas Day 1985. His health problems had been brought on by years of drug abuse.

Nevertheless, the legacy of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy remains as strong as ever. A film about his life, based on his mother Philomena’s book ‘My Boy’, is due for release this year and a recent Greatest Hits album sold in excess of 300,000 copies and entered the UK charts at Number 4.

Music journalist Stuart Bailie, author of ‘The Ballad of a Thin Man’ - Lynott’s biography – believes the enduring popularity of Thin Lizzy’s music proves it is exactly that which he will always be remembered for.

‘Phil’s death was wretched, very sad, but later on people remember the good things and they tend to gloss over his situation at the end,’ he said. ‘The sad thing is that when he died, while the popularity of his music was in decline, it was just on the edge of being regarded as classic.

‘Today their legacy can be clearly seen in bands like the Darkness – at the silly end of the Thin Lizzy spectrum – but they have also had a huge influence on artists such as Henry Rollins and Billy Corgan. They gave rock music a more sentimental pop dimension.’

Thin Lizzy were at the height of their powers between 1974 and 1979, when albums such as ‘Jailbreak’ and ‘Thunder and Lightning’ – with their unique blend of romance and machismo - cemented their title as kings of rock and roll.

Lynott was the bands distinctive frontman – a black Irishman from a tough Dublin neighbourhood – who displayed the energy and charisma required of all rock superstars.

He thrived on the adulation and fame which resulted from the band’s success and became a folk hero to pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Stuart Bailie likens his popularity in Dublin to that of his former friend, George Best in Belfast.

‘This year Belfast mourned the loss of George Best and I think that Phil was held in a similar regard in Dublin,’ he said. ‘He was this exotic, charismatic rock star who was both sexy and emanicipated.

‘But he was also incredibly vulnerable. It was something he managed to disguise very well, but every now and again you got a glimpse of what was behind the mask. It could also be seen in some of the songs like ‘Still in Love With You’ – that would just break your heart.

‘Thin Lizzy were great for Irish rock music at the time and gave a lot of important support to bands both north and south. They played with The Undertones for a few gigs and also gave a leg up to punk bands like Radiators From Space, while they also had a great rivalry and camaraderie with U2, who supported them at Slane.

‘They had a period between 1974 and 1979 where they just did everything right. They typified the energy of rock and roll at its best and even when punk came along they weren’t out of place.

‘I saw them at the Ulster Hall during their peak period and they were amazing live. After a while but Phil lost his nerve and tried the new romantic thing.

After Thin Lizzy struggled to maintain their popularity in the early 1980’s, the band called it a day in 1983. This, together with the break-up of his marriage with Sarah Crowthers – had made Phil Lynott a broken man.

His dependency on heroin increased during this period, causing the multiple health problems which eventually led to his death on January 4, 1986.

Stuart Bailie believes that, were Lynott alive today, he would have been appalled at the number of accountants involved in music and would ‘probably be hanging around with Pete Doherty or someone like that.’

Today, nevertheless, it is clear that his legend lives on.