Happy Birthday to Phil Lynott – had he lived, it would be his 62nd birthday today. It would be very easy to grumble on about what was a sad demise and a profound waste of life of a charismatic and talented musician, but I am quite sure that Phil would have no truck with all of that and anyway I would like to focus on the good stuff.
When I was growing up, I guess Phil might have seemed a rather bizarre choice of Irish hero: he was black, his father had scarpered before he was born and he was decidedly Irish in a way that was decidedly uncool. He was interested in folk music, celtic art, mythology and poetry at a time when we as a nation were not keen on admitting an interest in anything so downright Gaelic. He drew friends and collaborators from the unlikeliest places and was a fantastically colourful dandy in the Vatican state that I grew up in. Some of the songs were macho and sexist, yet everybody’s mammy had a soft spot for him because he was the most charming and unaffected of rockers – very bashful despite the on-stage posing.
From the early to mid seventies he wrote pop and rock music with a lyrical quality and a deft touch with melody. He was a fixture on Top Of The Pops – who else would be cock sure enough to install a mirrored scratchplate on his bass so that he could blind us all with his brilliance? We were proud of him and we were in his eyes his “supporters” – Phil was always a bit of a Manchester United fan.
With Live And Dangerous, Thin Lizzy launched the template for the heavy rock live album oft copied but truly never bettered – all the guff about studio overdubbing is rendered superfluous when you listen to the result.The Boys Are Back In Town remains one of the most played songs on US radio, but his musical legacy has been blighted by his own fractious relationship with record companies and collaborators who have found it all too easy to rehash the catalogue rather than explore.
In an obituary, Fintan O’Toole wrote that Phil was a nicer bloke than Geldof or Bono and that he had wasted more talent than they could ever dream of. Two clips can summarise what he was about and maybe where he could be, and twenty five years after his death, that is really all we have along with the indelible memories for those fortunate enough to have seen him in his prime.