So, you might have (but probably haven’t) noticed how quiet I’ve been on a certain tall dark handsome subject lately. It’s not that I’m bored with Thin Lizzy (as if) or haven’t been listening to them (please), it’s just that I’ve been sick and unable or unwilling to dick about on the computer repeating myself as I usually do.
That ends here. So, last week when I was dying of an ear infection (so it turned out I was being dramatic), I bought Solo in Soho, the first Philip Lynott solo record. This wouldn’t really be notable, except that I do already own it on CD and bought the vinyl. Given the means, I could become such a vinyl junkie- I was narrowly outbid for a Philip/Gary Moore picture disc, too. And no, I can’t justify spending twenty-five quid on a record, so yes, I was outbid.
Anyway, that’s not why I’m here. The final filmed live performance by Thin Lizzy was in Dublin in 1983, and has just been released on DVD. And yes, I bought it and I’m watching it.
This is the bit where I yammer on about how Philip looks overweight, tired and otherwise not his ‘usual’ self. This is the bit where I yammer on about how they’re just loud heavy metal boys by 1983. This is the bit where I suggest that Scott Gorham lost some of his powers a la Samson when he cut most of his hair off and started taking drugs (again). This is the bit where I point out that John Sykes may in fact, be my least favourite Lizzy guitarist (brief guys like Midge Ure and Dave Flett don’t count) even beneath Gary Moore, who winds me up for reasons passing understanding.
It hasn’t escaped my attention that the picture of Philip plastered on the front of the DVD is decidedly not from 1983. I’d date it from about 1976 given the size of his afro, the slenderness of his face and the clothes he’s wearing. All in all, it’s not the same-looking feller as who turns up on the disc.
And yes, in my opinion, they start off pretty blah. I don’t like Thunder & Lightning much and likely never will. It’s not like Renegade, which needed to grow on me. It’s much more like Shades of a Blue Orphanage, which has a couple of songs so great that it saves the rest of the otherwise mediocre output (Thin Lizzy were never bad, but they occasionally skirted mediocrity)… and I don’t like the title song Thunder & Lightning. It’s blah. It’s almost interchangeable, in my opinion, with most heavy metal released at the time, and from any other band this would be OK… but not from a band like Thin Lizzy, who were so un-metal a lot of the time to actually defy their own genre. I know some people think Thunder & Lightning was a great renaissance, but most of these are the metalheads who didn’t like Snowy White (great guitarist, stage presence of a junior accountant) and so dismissed the likes of Renegade. I’m generalising, but who gives a fuck?
Oh also, the DVD opens with a few bits of ‘interview’ with guitarists Brian Robertson and Eric Bell, Dave Ling (journalist apparently), George Best (presumably from before he died, but who can tell?), Nick Tauber (producer), artist Jim Fitzpatrick, and his pals Brush Shiels and Smiley Bolger.
The idiotic voiceover says the following concert was a ‘triumphant homecoming’, but how can it be when they’re a shadow of their former selves, the band was over within six months and Philip died within a couple of years.
“He was just born a star, really,” said Robbo in his moment here…. and yes, Philip was. It’s the star quality that keeps this concert from being on a par with the Not-Doors. It’s still Thin Lizzy after all, even if they’re not quite running at full majestic power. It’s still Philip, so to hear that t’ick Dub accent still warms my heart… until he says that Cold Sweat is “for anybody who has the flu”. Right. Got To Give It Up is about an addiction to Sherbert Dip, I presume?
Anyway, I was talking about how blah it is. It is… and then Are You Ready? finally kicks them up a gear (always a great live song, that)… and shit… Darren Wharton is wearing the shiniest, brightest red satin shirt you’ve seen in your fuckin’ life! It’s practically glowing, for fuck’s sake. Other sartorial nonsense: Mr Gorham’s white sneakers with an entirely black outfit. Clever, mate. Don’t even get me started on his fringe, man.
That’s not important. What is important is the way your man Scott is jumping around the stage like a total loon. Now, this is par for the course for about 99% of guitarists, most of whom always feel they gotta compete with the strutting peacock singing, right? No. This is Scott Gorham we’re talking about, a man who personifies the laidback California thing, right? Who will stand and look like he’s shagging the guitar… but this jumping around stuff would be a shock if I hadn’t already seen some of these clips in *cough* bootlegs. John Sykes, with his bleach blond heavy metal perm is no better and they look ludicrous and not cool. Thin Lizzy were always cool.
So I was starting to feel a bit dischuffed… then after Are You Ready? and Cold Sweat came The Sun Goes Down. You know I said there are a couple of songs on Thunder & Lightning that save the record? This is the one. This is a song that sends tears to my eyes, shivers down my spine and aches to my heart. This is a song that has, on more than one occasion, taken hold of my soul and shut everything down but the feeling that this is the most beautiful thing in the world. And the saddest.
The live version, lacking the spit and polish of the studio, remains as musically stupendous, but has a certain poignancy. I know this is the last time they played Dublin, Lizzy’s true home. I know himself would be dead soon. It means everything, and with only a microphone, Philip’s voice reaches into my chest and starts my suddenly-frozen heart beating again. With a voice like that, Philip’s looking less than svelte matters not one fraction of an iota of a nano-thing. And then Scott plays his solo… and it doesn’t matter what fuckin shoes he’s got on, what his hair is like… this solo is, to me, about pain and harrowing, harrowing suffering. It is about heartbreak, despair and that thing that sends people like me crashing to the depths of depression before we know what’s hit us.
The last time I saw this clip, incidentally, I was leaning against the barrier at Vicar Street, Dublin, waiting for the twentieth Vibe For Philo to either start, or for the next guest. Everyone went quiet, and for the first time that evening, I truly felt like crying. I also felt like I wanted to be sick, but that’s another story for another time.
“Is there anybody with a little Irish in them? Is there anybody who’d like a little more Irish in them?”
The first time I heard that line, it was Philip on Live and Dangerous, just before Emerald. I’ve heard that Colin Farrell uses the same line… but to me it sums everything up about Philip- cocky and charming, lecherous and adorable in the way little boys are when they try to be cool. It gets repeated in 1983 (which to a crowd in Dublin seems likely to get a response) and although it lacks a little of the youthful vigour it once had, the song still remains the same, although the solos are too 80s metal twiddly-Halen bollocks as far as I’m concerned.
Then again, Still In Love With You retains its usual ability to break my heart, soul and everything I have, into tiny little fucking pieces. Because yes, to be slightly cheesy, I am still in love with Thin Lizzy and their foolish, grand, broken giant of a singer.
I’m taking too long to explain this, aren’t I? If you want to see a band breaking up, watch Let It Be. If you want to see a band dying, this might be for you. It is sad, it is triumphant. It is beautiful and occasionally blah… but it is never boring. To understand Thin Lizzy, I now know, one must hear what they were live. To see it, even in the fragments a DVD can provide, is even better. I can’t persuade you all to love my boys… but this stuff would convert you. OK, maybe not this one, but should you be passing through an HMV/Tower/Virgin Megastore/Wherever and you happen to see my boy staring up at you… give it a go, hmm?