Thin Lizzy


In the second half of 1960’s, Britain encountered a boom of rock music inspired by American blues. British musicians electrified the genre which in turn became a source of inspiration for north-American musicians. The neighboring Irish rockers include musicians like Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore, Van Morrison, or Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. I will focus on the latter as there are currently reasons to do so.

Getting to the stage
The band Thin Lizzy started its musical journey in the late 60’s and was always connected with Philip Parris Lynott known to the world as Phil Lynott. He was born the 20th of August 1949 in Birmingham, UK. His mother, Philomena Lynott, was from a catholic family in Dublin and his father, Cecil Parris, was allegedly from Georgetown in British Guyana and lived in Brazil. Phil’s father might be the source of not only his exotic appearance but his original musical talent. In his youth, Phil played the guitar and was lead singer in various bands. When he was 19, he joined Skid Row, one of Gary Moore’s first bands. Skid Row played covers of famous songs of the time. Their playlist included tracks from The Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Beatles. From the start, Phil was sure he wanted to devote himself to music. When Skid Row became one of the most popular bands in Ireland in 1968, Phil started thinking about composing original songs. However, what could have been a new era for the band evolved into an argument. The other players so disliked Phil’s singing that they asked him to leave. Drummer Brian Downey, Phil’s friend and Thin Lizzy co-founder, was pleased to hear Phil had been fired as it allowed the two to compose and play together.
In 1969, Brian and Phil set up a new band called Orphanage. Perhaps it was because of Phil’s admiration of Jimi Hendrix that left-handed guitarist John Staunton became the band’s lead guitarist. Phil played rhythm guitar using a borrowed Fender Mustang pointing to the strong influence of Elvis Presley. Phil called his new band Orphanage because he himself, being a child of a catholic woman and a black Brazilian man who were unmarried, could have easily ended up in an orphanage. Orphanage was a one-season band and almost no recordings exist. The band’s playlist, consisting of original material, was extensive and Phil would revisit this music later in his career. At this point Phil met guitarist Eric Bell and keyboardist Eric Wrixon who shared the same opinions about their musical progression as Lynott and Downey. Before long a new band was formed with Phil as the lead vocalist and bass guitarist. Eric Bell came up with a name Tin Lizzie, the name of a cartoon robot from The Dandy magazine and slang for the legendary Ford Model-T. The name was slightly modified by his mates, eventually becoming Thin Lizzy.

Up the hill and back down again
The band recorded its first single in 1971 followed by a studio album called simply Thin Lizzy. John Slater, who then worked for the Decca recording label, recalls his meeting with Phil Lynott: “We were discussing the cover of their album. Phil wanted to have a picture of the old American Ford there but we couldn’t get one. Finally we used some old Vauxhall or something like that...” At that time the band was usually paid 10 to 20 pounds for each gig. Following numerous colleagues reaching for their musical goals, the band moved to London where they achieved great commercial and artistic success, as well as disappointment and conflict. With a combination of talent, zealous effort, and good management and the boom of hard rock and heavy metal, the band generated an enthusiastic fan base and numerous chart-topping hits. From 1971 through 1986, thin Lizzie sold millions of albums. Like many counterparts of the day, Thin Lizzy started playing in music clubs and worked their way up to stadium shows. Their shows were a huge success whether sharing the stage with other famous performers the likes of Status Quo, Suzi Quatro, Aerosmith, Rush, Queen, etc., or performing on their own. They were the headliner at many festivals. The band’s message was atuned to the opinions and mood of a generation. The combination of musical innovation, precision performances, and a rough, rebellious attitude proved to be extremely successful.
From 1972 to the early 80s, Thin Lizzy released a string of successful albums and videos and was regarded as one of the best live bands in the world.
Their music combined original melodies, contemplative lyrics, and high energy with a rebellious attitude. This combination was delivered magically with a natural ease that generated audience trust in the music and the band. With their ability to effortlessly deliver consistent precision performances, their album Live and Dangerous, released in 1978, went multiplatinum despite uncertainty whether it was recorded live in its entirety.
Over the years the band experienced several personal changes with drummer Brian Downey being the only consistent core member. Aside from Eric Bell, two guitarists were essential to the band; Gary Moore from Belfast and Scott Gorham from California. Also noteworthy on guitar were John Sykes, Snowy White, Brian Robertson, and Vivian Campbell. Keyboardist Darren Wharton joined the lineup in the early 80s.
But the band would not have its place in rock history and the music would not be so timeless were it not for Phil Lynott, leader and the cornerstone of the band. This is the reason he is the focus of this article. He wrote most of Thin Lizzy’s songs contributing his peculiar guitar style.
The last time Phil played live with the band was in 1983 in Nurnberg, Germany, during the Monsters of Rock festival. From late 1983 through 1985, Phil composed and recorded solo albums with some of the tracks performed by his Thin Lizzy mates. During this period, all the musicians were preparing for a reunion and looking forward to recording new material and touring.
While on holiday in 1985, Phil was hospitalized as a result of excessive drug and alcohol consumption at a party. Despite medical care, he died on the 4th of January, 1986 as a result of the failure of vital organs. At 36 years of age, Phil Lynott was another victim of the rock and roll lifestyle and life in the fast lane.
Phil Lynott’s soul was that of a gentle poet with a tremendous capacity for creative expression. This might have been the source of the charming mixture of Celtic tunes, blues roots, and a portion of harsh, intensive rock served with ingenious coordination, brilliance, and incredible power.

The song remains the same
What’s next? Thin Lizzy without Phil Lynott? That is like The Experience without Jimi Hendrix.
The timelessness and popularity of the music has spawned several Thin Lizzy reunion attempts with ever changing lineups. In 1986, the remaining band members reunited for one concert, with Gary Moore, Brian Downey, and Darren Wharton among others. The following year, a compilation, Soldier of Fortune, was released. Since 1987, always on the anniversary day of Phil’s death, “Vibe for Philo” concerts have been organized in Dublin to pay remembrance to him. In 1990, the single Dedication was released. This song was composed by Phil during his solo career and recorded by the other musicians from the band. The song was later included on a compilation with the same name which contained a set of classic Thin Lizzy hits.
Gary Moore, who took part in the compilation project, was thinking about a reunion. With similar thoughts, other remaining band members regularly formed new lineups for concert performances playing the old songs from Phil Lynott’s era. Probably the most famous tribute lineup was John Sykes on guitar and lead vocals, Scott Gorham on guitar, Brian Downey on drums, and Darren Wharton on keyboards. To complete the band, Marco Mendoza played bass guitar. Mendoza came from California having played with Whitesnake among other bands. John Sykes, famous for his roles in Whitesnake and Blue Murder, was the leader of Thin Lizzy at that time. He described the band as a tribute project dedicated to Phil Lynott and his music.
Noteworthy performances of subsequent versions of the band include support on Deep Purple’s North American tour and The Boys Are Back in Town show organized by Gary Moore in August 2005. A DVD of the event went platinum. Gary Moore accepted the award noting the effort to be another tribute to Phil Lynott and his music.
Despite the fact that these tribute lineups included many outstanding artists, they always played early Thin Lizzy music. It seemed that the musicians could not, or maybe did not want to, step out from the sphere of Phil Lynott’s power and charisma. No new songs were composed and John Sykes himself claimed that if a new album with new songs were created, it should not be under the name Thin Lizzy.
John Sykes later left the band and Scott Gorham created a new lineup. Scott now holds the flag of Thin Lizzy – and he has been waving it quite adamantly of late. The lineup included Brian Downey on drums, Vivian Campbell from Def Leppard on guitar, and Darren Wharton on keyboards. Campbell later returned to Def Leppard and was replaced by Damon Johnson from Alice Cooper. Marco Mendozza plays bass guitar and Ricky Warwick is lead singer and rhythm guitarist.
In 2012 the band set out on tour under the name of Thin Lizzy. Both the musicians and the road crew cited a large fan-based support as the reason for the tour.

At full throttle again – London 2012

Thin Lizzy completed a few successful gigs in 2012. The autumn European tour commenced on the 9th of November in Greece and ended on the 17th of December in London in the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire arena, a historical London venue which has played host to countless famous performances. This was an amazing, energetic show with the band lineup of Marco Mendoza, Damon Johnson, Ricky Warwick, Scott Gorham, the legendary Brian Downey, and Darren Wharton. My wife and I were there. The show was well attended by an enthusiastic crowd of fans who were treated to the full range of Thin Lizzie’s music played from the heart with the power, enthusiasm, and precision of its original intent. The show is available on DVD and described in detail below.
Deciding we would not miss the Thin Lizzy London show, my wife and I, to be on the safe side, arrived in London and scouted the venue a few days before the event. By the day of the show we knew exactly how to get there and how long it would take. The show was sold out with ticket scalpers having a good day scouring the huge crowd in front of the hall for prospective buyers.
The Shepherd’s Bush Empire atmosphere is magic inside and out. We could feel the history of the place as we imagined the great names who had performed there in years past. I could almost see roadies moving the equipment through the side entrance for Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Rory Gallagher. With stage-front tickets, we immediately, upon entering the hall, made our way to the right side of the stage so we could have a view of Scott Gorham. We knew for obvious reasons that Phil would not be in attendance.


Shortly after eight pm, the support band, The Quierboys, kicked off the show delivering a decent ration of hard rock. Skilled musicians who have been around since the eighties, they played very well that night. The audience was enthusiastic and sang along with much of the 50-minute performance. After a 30-minute break and a prolonged tuning and sound check, the stage went dark again and the capacity audience started screaming. As figures veiled in shadows took to the stage, the middle took the microphone shouting “What’s in London, are you ready??!!” The auditorium erupted in response followed by another ”Are you ready?” to which the reply was a resounding “Yeeeaaaah”. With a four count of the hi-hat and a keyboard intro kicking in, the lights went up to reveal a huge Thin Lizzy logo backdrop.
At this point the audience is going wild and, with another hi-hat four count, the band kicks into a fast- paced version of Are You Ready. At this point we knew we had made the right decision.
From our perspective Marco Mendoza, Damon Johnson, and Ricky Warwick were on the left with Scott Gorham right in front of us. On an extended stage behind them were legendary Brian Downey and Darren Wharton.
The sound was vivid with the dominant chord kick-off providing a great start.
The first song was played in A-flat, not a typical rock guitar key which may explain why the intro does not sound dated or cliché after all these years. The band played with precision creating a tight harmony between rhythm, guitar, and keyboards. It is interesting how Ricky Warwick’s honors Phil Lynott’s vocal style. His mastery of each song clearly reflects his appreciation of the band and the music. The colour and texture of Ricky’s voice and his dedication to the music has persuaded even those in doubt that today’s Thin Lizzy is much more than an imitation of the younger band. Brilliant guitar work shifts the song to a polyphonic finale.
The second song is the legendary Jailbreak with the characteristic wah-wah introduction. The initial pace does not fade, the motifs are clear, the guitars are brilliant, and Ricky Warwick’s singing is persuasive. When the chorus comes with “Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak, somewhere in the town…”, most of the audience is singing with the band. Warwick then introduces Don’t Believe a Word. We hear a rolling boogie far removed from any café-like swing. Gorham and Johnson played brilliantly from the onset, their guitars synched in a precise polyphonic rhythm setting the scene for the melody. You can feel the poetry of Phil Lynott through the rock/boogie essence of the song. Through this song, which exemplifies different tiers of rock guitar, we enjoyed the playing of both artists. The melody was soft and lyrical combined with an Allman Brothers-like guitar coordination and a rolling and heavy drive reminiscent of the Deep Purple engine.


On this night in London, Thin Lizzy played as they had always played, living up to their reputation as one of the greatest live acts.
Next was another well-known track and typical Lynott piece Killer on the Loose. Lynott, was a gentle poet on one hand and a rough guy on the other which might account for the music’s ability to bridge the gap between rock music’s ironic exaggeration and the negative spirit of some metal-based genres. While some bands, be it for commercial or other reasons, strive to provoke audience aggression, Thin Lizzy is always, similar to a James Bond movie, exaggerating. The aggressive mood with no destructive intent. Any historical destructive tendencies of the band and its members were always self-destructive. When Phil Lynott wrote Killer on the Loose, the song was accepted by fans, but criticized by the officials because at the time of the song’s release murderer Peter Sutcliff, known as the Yorkshire Ripper, was committing his crimes. Today, we simply hear a detective story of a murderer on the run from Ricky Warwick and his mates.
The band could not omit Chinatown from the playlist. The song warns us of a place from which one has little chance of escaping uninjured. Through the song we became immersed in the mystery of the story as though comfortably reading a novel or watching a film. This song is again a fast-paced boogie with a sense of melody and lots of room for quality instrumental performances, characteristic of Thin Lizzy’s music.
With Dancing in the Moonlight, the audience is singing from the starting bass line. Ricky Warwick is singing at his best and communicating with the audience who are enjoying themselves. The audience sings this ballad from the start to finish applauding with the rhythm.
Then the rhythm shifts to a new level and the music becomes more straight-forward. The swing turns to rock again, and we hear a polyphonic tune lasting only a few bars before evolving into yet another heavy track, Massacre which is delivered both musically and lyrically with a sense of urgency. Everything is precisely coordinated and emotional. Were I listening to this track for the first time with no previous knowledge of the band, it would be apparent the music is not composed, as is so much with popular music, solely for commercial success. The excellent guitar work and thunderous rhythm lures us into the story of a real massacre taking us to new levels of entertainment.
Next Alibi starts with a Lynott-like bass line and singing guitars joining in, as Ricky Warwick tells us the story and Scotty and his mates provide backing vocals. Though a lighter song than the previous one, this performance does not diminish the energy of the room.
The applause is hardly over when the stage goes dark and the spotlights focus on Darren Wharton who uses his full range of keyboard equipment to envelope us in a sound collage at the level of famous live solo performances of Jon Lord. I mention Jon Lord also in the context of the introduction of the next song, Angel of Death, which evokes the feelings one might have listening to such a piece as strikingly focused as Perfect Strangers.
During the show, Ricky Warwick introduces each musician including Darren Wharton who is introduced as a singer of Still in Love with You. Damon Johnson and Scott Gorham simultaneously play the lyrical melody, both on Les Pauls. The song includes Santana-like guitar and a harmonic instrumental ending, typical of the band.


Next is the first peak of the show. After a very nice introduction played mainly by Darren Wharton and Damon Johnson, the band launches into Whiskey in the Jar. When Phil included the song in the band’s playlist they did not expect it would be so successful. The song, also covered by Metallica and probably composed by the members of the Irish folk band The Dubliners, is Thin Lizzy trademark. The audience applauded and sang every word with the band.
Almost an hour into the show we had been treated to so much of superb music, one could imagine the show being complete. But Thin Lizzy does not agree and launches into Emerald. Warwick’s persuasive singing, the determined harmonies, atuned with Celtic roots, and precision bass and drum work provide a strong foundation that the energetic guitars can easily build on. The fans in the first row start screaming enthusiastically to Damon’s and Scott’s guitar playing.
A brief diversion to mention Scott Gorham and his role in the world of rock music. If anyone is at the core of and embodies the spirit of Thin Lizzy aside from founding member Brian Downey, it is Scott. He played with Lynott and Thin Lizzy from 1974 until Lynott’s death in 1986. He is the co-author of many classic Thin Lizzy songs and, together with Lynott, he played a key role in developing the band’s style. You can feel his connection with and dedication to the band through his stage performances. He delivers expressive, stellar performances while leaving plenty of space for his younger colleague. Scott plays with a distinct sense of teamwork and a keen awareness of everything that happens on stage. He lives the music and the music lives inside of him.
The next song is Suicide, proof of Thin Lizzy’s passion for the rock-boogie style. Drums and bass are precisely coordinated with the keyboards supporting the rhythm in harmonies that the guitars build on as they exchange tight, melodic solos.
Next Cowboy Song starts in a lumbering way which, through well-built sequences, evolves into a heavy composition signaling the approach of the show’s climax. The song’s melody naturally corresponds to the playful guitar solos and precise harmonies.
The music shifts to piano as the singer jokes with the audience and we feel the calm before the storm which ensues immediately with The Boys Are Back in Town. There is not much to say about this song that is not explained by the ticket resellers in front of the hall shouting “Boys are back in town…” The teamwork of the band is apparent as the audience sings along appreciatively to a fast-paced version of this symbolic hit.
As the band reaches a fast heavy boogie finale, the singer again prooves his skill as the rest of the band peaks to the final beat. As Ricky Warwick thanks the exulting crowd and Thin Lizzy disappear backstage, I say to myself this cannot be the end. The audience seems to have the same opinion and they express their desire for an encore.
Following a few minutes of anticipation, Thin Lizzy is back on stage with an electrifying rendition of Rosalie, a song that you cannot get out of your head. Aware of this, the band plays one repetition after another, seemingly never reaching the end. The musicians use the song to communicate in various ways with their obviously pleased audience.
Brian Downey counts four and with the typical glissando the band enters the notorious motif of the hit Black Rose, an obvious way to end the show. No more words are needed. Only those who are not fans do not know Black Rose and will become a fan once they listen to this magnificent song! As the song culminates with the giant audience screaming I am uncertain if I should watch the band or the thunderous crowd of spectators behind and above me.
Black Rose reaches its final chord, which brings the end of the show. The musicians come to the edge of the stage, as the spectators stretch to shake hands, and a couple of trophies fly to the stage, a classic ending to a successful rock concert. It might be symbolic then, that as was leaving the stage, Scott Gorham turned around and threw his plectrum randomly to the audience. As a girl caught it by chance, Scott noticed and gave her a thumbs-up and a smile.
The concert, and I hope you agree the story, were worthwhile. An evening well spent indeed…

So, Thin Lizzy keep on rocking and have something relevant to say into the third millennium.
If you visit Dublin, walk down Grafton Street and turn left by the music store. You’ll meet Phil Lynott in person. Well, not actually him rather a life-sized statue erected in his honor. Should you decide to send a postcard from Dublin, you can purchase a Phil Lynott commemorative stamp. But who could ever forger Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy?

Martin Koubek