Life after Lizzy
Scott Gorham's voice softens to a whisper. "When I heard Phil Lynott had died I could not believe it," says the Thin Lizzy guitarist. "I mean – this was Phil LYNOTT. He could take more drugs, screw more chicks, stay up more days in a row than anyone else. He was THE guy. He'd had hepatitis and come through with flying colours. I learned he had a heart attack and was in a really bad way. Then he was gone. And I was thinking . . . 'man, what the hell just happened?'"
Nearly 28 years have elapsed since the death of Thin Lizzy's iconic frontman. An occasional drug user and full-time party animal, Lynott was discovered unconscious at his home in London on Christmas Day 1985, passing away in hospital soon afterwards. Decades later, his former bandmate is clearly still processing what happened.
"To lose him was a total shock," says Gorham, a shaggy-permed California-born guitarist of the old school. "It was not on the menu – it was NOT supposed to be how it ended for Phil."
The picture Gorham paints of Lynott, a native of Crumlin, Dublin, is of a swaggering, devil-may-care lead vocalist of the sort they stopped making aeons ago.
"Phil was not the wallflower kind of guy at all. He was incredibly charismatic – more than is realised today, I think. If you walked into a room with him, it was like you weren't there. People just didn't notice. All they saw was Phil."
Thin Lizzy, a grandiose hard-rock crew who should have been a parody of themselves but, strangely, never were, had long broken up when Lynott died. Several years ago, Gorham rebooted the group, with members old and new. He wanted to bring Thin Lizzy to a new generation, not to burnish his ego but because it appalled him to think their legacy might be forgotten.
"If someone asks me 'what's your name?' and they don't recognise Scott Gorham, well that's fine. If they say 'what band were you in?' and don't recognise Thin Lizzy . . . now that I have an issue with. It is one of the reasons I put Lizzy back together. I was determined to raise awareness of what we had achieved. Phil was such a close friend. For him to be forgotten would not be good."
Around the time Thin Lizzy were reforming (with a succession of vocalists standing in for Lynott), Metallica covered their early hit 'Whiskey In The Jar'. The reading was respectful of the original, frontman James Hetfield biting off the lines 'as I was goin' over/the Cork and Kerry Mountains . . .' with the zeal of someone who'd been waiting to howl them to the world since he was 14 years old. Overnight, Lizzy's profile soared.
"That was a great version," says Gorham. "I've heard other versions of Thin Lizzy songs that were . . . okay. What I really like is that they made it their own while keeping it recognisably Thin Lizzy. They put a lot of thought into it."
Gorham and several other members of the revitalised Lizzy will be in Dublin next week, playing songs from across the group's catalogue – a repertoire encompassing everything from Celtic soul to 1970s power-pop to non-ironic crotch rock.
For the first time in some years, however, it won't be under the Lizzy banner. Over the summer, Thin Lizzy 2.0 released a collection of new material, All Hell Breaks Loose. Worried they might be accused of cashing in on the Lizzy legacy, it was decided to record under a different name. Hence their current touring moniker, Black Star Riders.
"We would give all these interviews as Thin Lizzy and the question inevitable came up, 'So when are you guys recording new songs?' So as not to disappoint, I'd say, 'Oh we're working on it'. Deep inside I was thinking, 'Man, I don't feel comfortable'. I finally said to the band, 'Guys, it doesn't sit well with me to release a new Thin Lizzy record without Phil'. Turns out they were thinking the same."
Gorham vividly remembers meeting Lynott for the first time. In the summer of 1974, he flew to Europe on the understanding he was going to join London chart group Supertramp. Instead, he found himself making his way to an African restaurant in north London, told Lizzy might have a berth for a decent hard-rock guitarist.
"It was a shock. First of all, nobody told me Phil was Irish. It took me by surprise – like 'who's this black guy with the Irish accent, what the hell is going on?' It didn't take long for us to click. Soon we were the best of friends."
Though Lizzy were an international affair with members from Ireland, the UK and America, Lynott 's Celtic soulfulness set the group apart, Gorham feels.
"The whole Irish element we had going on really thickened it up. I'm delighted they put up that statue to him in Dublin [outside Bruxelles pub].
"Phil was so proud of being Irish. No matter where he went in the world, if we were talking to a journalist and they got something wrong about Ireland, he'd give the guy a history lesson. It meant a lot to him."
Black Star Riders play Academy Dublin next Saturday, December 14