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Television review: A night with Philo and Rory

  • Phil Lynott: Scealta On Old Town (RTE1)

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Thin Lizzy band members Brian Downey, Phil Lynott and Gary Moore

Thin Lizzy band members Brian Downey, Phil Lynott and Gary Moore

Thin Lizzy band members Brian Downey, Phil Lynott and Gary Moore

It was rightly pointed out in Phil Lynott: Scealta On Old Town, that Thin Lizzy were one of the greatest, if not the actual greatest Irish rock band. I think it would be fair to add that Lizzy, for a considerable period, were the greatest of all rock bands, anywhere.

I saw them at the Dalymount Park Festival of 1977, perhaps the first major open-air rock and roll event in Ireland - certainly the first one that I'd been able to attend - when it seemed that they were unassailable.

Supported by Graham Parker And The Rumour, and the Boomtown Rats who were about to have their first hit with Looking After Number 1, and the Radiators From Space, among others, Lizzy were at their most glorious.

I remember that the few bits of merchandise I bought on the day - a scarf, a badge, a poster - seemed to me like relics of a holy pilgrimage which sustained me in my otherwise meaningless existence until the next visitation from such gods of rock, whenever that might be.

This was the classic Lizzy of Philo, Brian Downey, Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, which had released the Jailbreak album in 1976, from which The Boys Are Back In Town had come. This was immensely powerful stuff.

And yet the monument to the achievement of Phil Lynott which is lasting the longest is the song celebrated in this fine documentary, the song and the video of Old Town which happened towards the end of Lynott's career and indeed his life - a time when it is agreed that on the whole, he was not doing his best work.

Certainly his record company at the time seemed to hold this view, as the video was made by RTE's Anything Goes almost as a favour to Philo, who had personally contacted them. He knew that the record company didn't believe in it enough to pay for a proper promotional effort, and so it was that RTE's finest such as director Gerry Gregg and presenter Dave Heffernan played a part in Lynott's late masterpiece.

If there is any kind of balance in the universe, you could see Old Town as the ending that Lizzy never had, a kind of a belated lap of honour to celebrate the magnificence that they had touched. Because it wasn't just bad luck and bad vibes and bad whiskey that stopped them being as enormous as they should have been in America, there was a sense from 1977 onwards, that the heroic posturing of the rock star was no longer tenable - and while Philo was always cool enough to move with the times, he had been a kind of ultimate rock star, and he could never be as brilliant in another guise.

Until Old Town, that is - until he put together a final statement that he knew was so good, he would actually phone up RTE himself to ask them to make a video, this man who so recently had owned the world. Though as Gerry Gregg recalled, Philo did show up late for the first day of filming on the Ha'penny Bridge. He was still, after all, some kind of a star.

Later that evening, TG4 showed Rory Gallagher Irish Tour 1974. Rory had actually reached the Promised Land before Philo, but what this famous film showed again, was that he was an essentially different kind of artist.

Yes, he was a rock star, but there is an almost ascetic quality to Irish Tour. You are looking at a man dedicated to his art with monastic zeal, who happens to be performing in front of crowds of young people going crazy, but who is himself utterly immersed in the music, and that alone.

There was this purity at the centre of Gallagher's mission, all the more remarkable given the fact that he was emerging from a culture which was saturated with eejitry at every turn - it was as if he had taken it upon himself somehow to banish all that eejitry, with his Fender Stratocaster.

At the end of this night with Philo and Rory, thinking of all the wonders they had performed, it was a line from another giant of the 20th Century, Frank Sinatra, which came to mind: "to think, they did all that…"

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