It’s 50 years since Thin Lizzy performed their first ever gig. Gayle Ritchie looks back at the band’s north-east of Scotland legacy.
The date was Friday the 13th, February 1970. The venue was a school hall in Cloghran, near Dublin.
A hard rock band named Thin Lizzy were waiting in the wings, preparing to put on their very first gig.
The recently-formed four-piece played to an audience of around 100 people and were paid around IR£25.
Dublin-born frontman Phil Lynott was just 20 years old when he took to the stage with original Lizzy members Eric Bell, Eric Wrixon and Brian Downey.
Among the songs performed were If 6 was 9 by Jimi Hendrix and All Right Now by Free.
The band were joint headliners with another local Dublin act called Purple Pussycat.
While Lizzy’s music went down a storm, nobody could have predicted their rapid, meteoric rise to fame.
The band’s name Thin Lizzy came from a robot character called Tin Lizzie, which featured in DC Thomson comic The Dandy.
They adjusted this to Thin Lizzy as a playful reference to the local Dublin accent, in which “thin” would be pronounced as “t’in”.
For some of their early gigs, the band were mistakenly promoted as “Tin Lizzy” or “Tin Lizzie”.
The band enjoyed a string of hits including The Boys are Back in Town, Jailbreak and a cover of Whiskey in the Jar.
Forty years ago, on May 3 1980, Thin Lizzy rocked Dundee’s Caird Hall.
Tickets cost £4.50 and support was from fellow Dublin band The Lookalikes.
They played again at the Dundee venue the following year, on December 4 1981.
The man who runs the Retro Dundee website – who wishes only to be known as GG – remembers singer Phil Lynott enjoyed a couple of drinks in rock music pub, Foreigners, ahead of the 1980 gig.
“The pub was run by Clarke Robertson who used to be in Dundee act, Sleaz Band, and had supported Thin Lizzy in the late 60s and early 70s and so had become friends,” he says.
“A roadie from Dundee, Tam Parks, also worked with Thin Lizzy at one stage, and it was this crowd who were having the booze up with Lynott before the pub then emptied to head down to Caird Hall for the show.”
Former Courier and Evening Telegraph reporter Ralph Barnett was 19 when he went to the gig.
“My memories are slightly hazy due to the passage of time and the fact that I had discovered the delights of drinking,” he admits.
“I’d been a fan of the band for a few years and the album Black Rose, which came out not long before they came to Dundee, featured as one of my ‘top ten albums that influenced your musical tastes’ Facebook things during lockdown.
“Lynott was wonderful, keeping up a good-natured and occasionally slightly lewd banter with the crowd between songs, and the atmosphere was fantastic.
“They were loud – REALLY LOUD – and the big rockers like The Boys Are Back in Town, Waiting For An Alibi, Jailbreak and Rosalie went down a storm.”
Ralph reckons Terence Charles “Snowy” White had joined the core of Lynott, Scott Gorham and Brian Downey not long before this gig.
“It was an outstanding gig,” he adds. “It doesn’t seem like 40 years ago and I still give the band, and especially the Black Rose album, a regular listen.
“Lynott was another one we lost far too young but it’s good that he and the band are remembered with such affection.
“He has a statue in Dublin – I don’t think anyone is going to try pulling it down! – which I visited last year .
“I also bought the postage stamps issued by Ireland to mark the band’s 50th anniversary and 40 years since Black Rose.”
The night Phil Lynott fell off the stage
When Thin Lizzy played Kirkcaldy Ice Rink on August 10 1981, it was a night to remember for more than one reason.
The noise levels sparked complaints from locals, resulting in it being the very last gig to take place at the Fife venue.
The gig was the first leg of a low-key Scottish tour which also took in Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness and Irvine.
Fans at the show recalled it was a great gig, but some reported a strong smell of weed in the air.
Others described Lynott as being “out of his box” and said he kept jokingly mispronouncing Kirkcaldy as “Kincandy” or “Kingkongdy”.
Many fans remembered the star tumbling off the stage into the crowd, with some saying Lynott broke a bass string and launched his guitar into the audience.
“The end of his bass actually hit me on the head when he fell into the crowd,” said one fan.
Others said he kept vanishing off the stage between songs with the band wondering where he had gone.
Steve Fleming and his pal Graham Hill were 17 years old when they went to the Kirkcaldy gig.
“Bands of this size never came to Kirkcaldy so it was a big deal,” says Steve, 56.
“A crowd of us walked from home up to the ice rink. It was a fair trek but we were so excited it didn’t matter. The support band were Red Ellis.
“After they left the stage, the excitement grew and grew until the lights went down.
“Then the police lights on stage came on signalling Lizzy were starting with the classic track Jailbreak. Then it was one great hit after another.”
A guy behind Steve spent most of the gig shouting for the band to play Whiskey in the Jar. He would be left disappointed.
“It was a tremendous night. I remember talking about afterwards and thinking if Lizzy could play Kirkcaldy then who else might come to town. Sadly no gigs happened at the rink after that.”
Steve, a senior training adviser with Scottish Bakers Trade Association, bumped into former Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham at a rock festival in Wales a few years ago.
“Scott was the nicest guy and I got my picture taken with him,” he says.
“His current band Black Star Riders were playing the festival. He and a few others wandered in to the bar area. He was happy to chat over a beer. There was no superstar ego. He was a great guy.”
Skint Lizzy and the Aberdeen connection
Bob Scott, aka Blitzkreig Bob, formed a tribute band called Skint Lizzy in Aberdeen.
“Thin Lizzy are one of the best live acts that ever was,” says guitarist Bob, 60.
“I would even put Phil Lynott above Freddie Mercury for best-ever front man…and I’m a massive Queen fan too.”
Bob saw Lizzy perform at Aberdeen’s Fusion Club on August 11 1981.
“It was an unusual mini-tour of Scotland at the end of the Chinatown tour in small venues not known for live bands and especially not as big as Thin Lizzy,” he recalls.
“We arrived at The Fusion to find Lynott stood outside the stage door with one of the crew.
“We shouted: ‘Hey Phil, give us a good one!’ He smiled and waved back at us.
“We got in and the place was bursting at the seams and the atmosphere was electric.
“As soon as Lizzy walked on, it was like the biggest party you’ve ever been to.”
There was no stage and instead, the band were on the ground, at the same level as the audience.
Bob recalls Lynott’s bass sound cut out in the second song.
“They finished the song minus bass and Lynott told the crowd his bass amp had blown up.
“There were crew members buzzing round his bass rig changing cables, fiddling around for what seemed ages and then the sound we all wanted to hear – Lynott’s bass rumbling through the PA again. This brought a massive cheer from the audience.”
Bob remembers some of Lynott’s cheeky stage banter.
“When he introduced the song Bad Habits, he said he used to smoke the same stuff Paul McCartney smoked. McCartney had been in the news for growing cannabis on his farm.
“Lynott said: ‘I can’t remember what it’s called’ and the crowd screamed back ‘dope, weed, joints’ and so on.
“He gave a cheeky grin and said: ‘cigarettes, I used to smoke cigarettes’.”
Bob remembers for the song, Rosalie, the band was joined onstage with Dave Flett from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band.
“Dave was a native Aberdonian who briefly toured with Lizzy before Snowy was recruited,” he explains.
“They played their single Trouble Boys and Lynott instructed the band to bring it down.
“He then told the audience: ‘I used to go out with Kirsty McColl…until the wife found out!’ and without dropping a beat they burst into her hit song There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears he’s Elvis. They were phenomenal.”
After the show, a mate of Bob’s called Jock McKay from Inverurie blagged his way into Lizzy’s dressing room.
“Jock’s party piece was his Phil Lynott impersonation,” says Bob.
“Lynott was so impressed that he told Jock he would get free entry to any Lizzy gig.
“Jock and his mate then took Lynott and guitarist Scott Gorham down Aberdeen’s Beach Boulevard on bikes.”
When Thin Lizzy returned to Aberdeen a few weeks later and then again in 1983, Lynott was true to his word and ensured Jock was given a free pass.
Bob saw Lizzy’s last UK show at Reading Festival in August 1983 and then formed a tribute band called Southbound, later renamed Skint Lizzy.
Lynott the legend
Philip Parris Lynott was born to Philomena Lynott, a white Irish Catholic, and Cecil Parris, a Brazilian, in West Bromwich, near Birmingham on August 20 1949.
Incredibly proud of his Irish blood, his music was mixed with images and themes of Irish mythology, particularly demigod Chu Chulain.
As a child, Lynott lived in Moss Side in Manchester before moving to live with his grandparents in Crumlin, Dublin while he was still in school. Later, Lynott lived in Clontarf.
Lynott joined the group The Black Eagles as lead vocalist when he was a teenager living in Dublin.
Brian Downey, whom Lynott was friends with at the Christian Brothers School in Crumlin, played drums for the band.
After The Black Eagles, Lynott joined up with Skid Row, fronted by bass guitarist Brendan “Brush” Sheils.
It was around this time that Lynott began to play the bass himself.
In 1968, Belfast native Gary Moore replaced guitarist Bernard “Ben” Cheevers in Skid Row and later that year the band released their first independent single, New Faces, Old Places.
Sheils opted to reform Skid Row as a three-piece group, which led Lynott to exit and form his own band Orphanage which featured Brian Downey on the drums, Pat Quigley on bass, and Joe Staunton on guitar.
The group wrote and performed original material.
Later in 1969, Orphanage was approached by guitarist Eric Bell who suggested the formation of a new band with Lynott, Downey again on drums, and Eric Wrixon on keyboards.
This resulted in the first configuration of Thin Lizzy. Over the years, the band would release 12 albums.
As well as being a talented musician, Lynott was a keen poetry writer.
In 1974, his book of 21 poems entitled Songs for While I’m Away was published.
All poems in the book except for A Holy Encounter were lyrics from Thin Lizzy songs.
Various other volumes of Lynott’s poetry were published.
All good things must come to an end…
Following years of drug and alcohol abuse, Lynott died from pneumonia and heart failure due to septicaemia in London on January 4 1986, aged just 36, robbing the world of Irish music of one of its most charismatic figures.
A bronze statue honouring Lynott is located on Henry Street in the south side of Dublin.
Meanwhile, the band got their very own stamp to mark their 50th anniversary and have been nominated for the 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions on November 7.