Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Irish rock group formed '69 by Phil Lynott (b 20 Aug. '51, Dublin; d Jan. '86), a mixed-race Irishman who'd sung with Black Eagles and Orphanage, learned bass in Skid Row; drummer Brian Downey (b 27 Jan. '51) played with Lynott in the first two; guitarist Eric Bell (b 3 Sep. '47, Belfast) played in various groups incl. (briefly) Them, showband Dreams (which he left to join Lizzy). Signed to Decca, relied on heavy rock for stage act; Hendrix-lookalike Lynott featured two of Hendrix's songs on stage, but Thin Lizzy and Tales From A Blue Orphanage '71--2 reflected folk, blues and lyrical imagery of Lynott, who was also a poet of sorts (two vols of poems and lyrics from the '70s were compiled in Songs For While I'm Away '97). Freak hit single with non-LP track, a rocked-up version of trad. Irish 'Whiskey In The Jar', UK no. 6 '73; but other singles flopped, as did Vagabonds Of The Western World '73 (incl. 'The Rocker' but retained Lynott's lyrical gentleness in songs like 'Little Girl In Bloom'). Bell left; replacements Gary Moore (ex-Skid Row), Andy Gee and John Cann came and went; eventual choices were Brian Robertson (b 12 Sep. '56, Glasgow) and Scott Gorham (b 17 March '51, Santa Monica CA; ex-Fast Buck). Signed to Vertigo '74; Nightlife And Fighting '74--5 flopped; Jailbreak '76 hit: first chart LP in USA reached top 20 (on Mercury; their best hit there) with double lead sound … la Wishbone Ash, Downey's hard and heavy double drumkit, Lynott's sneering vocals, but his tongue-in- cheek humour still in evidence. It was unusual hard rock with a lyrical, romantic twist. Johnny The Fox '77 did well; Lynott's hepatitis and Robertson's hand injured in a brawl caused touring problems. Robertson left, leaving a trio for Bad Reputation '77; rejoined for Live And Dangerous '78 (possibly their finest hour, with standout 'Still In Love With You'); left to form Wild Horses. Moore rejoined for Black Rose '79 at their commercial peak, topping UK chart with four hit singles, the deftness of touch that ensured pop acceptance rivalled only by Rainbow among HM bands. But Moore departed acrimoniously; Ultravox's Midge Ure filled in before Pink Floyd stage sideman Snowy White joined, but White didn't gel; Chinatown and Renegade '80--81 disappointed. John Sykes (ex-Tygers of Pan Tang) provided more of required attack; group incl. Darren Wharton on keyboards for Thunder And Lightning '83, then Lynott disbanded, claiming rightly that the format had become a clich‚. Live two-disc Life was their epitaph.

He'd begun solo career with Solo In Soho '80 and The Philip Lynott Album '82, giving free rein to his romantic side in 'Sarah' (for baby daughter) and 'Yellow Pearl' (co-written with Ure), which became Top Of The Pops theme tune; but group venture Grand Slam with Downey and others remained unsigned (too many Lizzy songs in repertoire didn't help). He began solo career proper with single 'Nineteen' on Polydor, but died of drugs. His combination of bubbling personality and rebel stance helped Lizzy win over even punks (formed group with Sex Pistols Cook and Jones called the Greedy Bastards for Xmas single '78); an outstanding writer in the genre. When the band made top ten with 'Killer On The Loose' '80 during the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, one had to believe it was foolishness rather than opportunism. Stuart Bailie's The Ballad Of The Thin Man '97 was the authorized biography of Lynott and the band.