Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pearl of Crumlin

Not many get to do rock and roll without lots of sex and drugs, and Phil Lynott, born 60 years ago today, was no exception.

There were three remarkable things about him (ok, ok, four allegedly
but I'm not going to comment on the nature of THAT gift).

The fact that he was black, in the 70s in Ireland made him stand out. That he
succeeded in rock (then a predominantly white genre) was unusual, but a reflection of his massive talent. And oh man was he charismatic.
Tall and scrawny, with the one eye blocked out by the Afro mane. The 'tache, the stance, the cheeky grin. He was a magnet, a role model for teenage lads like us at the time. And when he'd walk past a bunch of female fans, well... you could hear the moist thud of wet cotton hitting the floor at thirty paces.

There was something awe-inspiring about the man. The looks of Hendrix, the seamless segue of the rolling bass to his deep voice. That quintessential Dublin accent... who else made "knowwarrimean?" his own?

Saying he was a complex character is a) stating the bleedin obvious, and b) not my right as we never met. All I can judge him on is his music, some of which I found frankly shite, but most of it I just adored. I'll still reach for "The Boys are back in town" when I need some energy, a hit of summer, a bit of the Lothario, devil-may-care swagger. He got away with a lot Phil, being Irish, being black and being so cool... red hot... I mean he was steaming.

Could any Irish singer get away with it these days? Can you see Ronan Keating shwhshsing his way through lines like "And that time over at Johnny's place
Well this chick got up and she slapped Johnny's face Man we just fell about the place If that chick don't want to know, forget her"

I only saw saw Thin Lizzy play the once, live, in Dublin. It was 1980 and my first big gig. We were there before the doors opened, jammed against the front of the stage, having to endure a truly awful band called "The Lookalikes" in pastel satin suits before Lizzy hit the stage. The crush was immense, scary. I was dragged from one side of Simmonscourt to the other and eventually spun out of the wringer enough to bang my head and play air guitar for a couple of glorious

And how did they end the gig? The crowd roaring for Whiskey in the Jar and Philo looking bemused. "Wha'? Nah, we can't play that. We need Eric Bell on lead guitar...ah Jayzis howya Eric."

Cue Eric Bell and the roof raised. We stumbled out into the June night, sweat steaming off us and onto the bus home. Unable to hear properly for two days. The inter cert starting in three days. Who gave a fiddlers? Magic.

28 years on and I meet Eric Bell on in the River Palace casino in Kiev. He's playing mighty blues and does more than one spirited version of Whiskey in the Jar. Ironic, as all the websites have it that he quit Lizzy because he thought playing a jazzed-up trad song night after night was just infra dig.

Our mate Ray, the manager of River Place takes me into the star's dressing room before the gig. I got to shake the hand that played all those great solos and mumble something about the 1980 gig. Bell's face tells a tale or seven of
life on the road, and one wonders how Phil would look today.

In fact he'd been seriously ill in the States in the mid 70s with hepatitis. "I contracted a disease I knew could put you of of business completely. It scared me because I had never been ill before, suddenly I was catching every bug going. When I got hepatitis I became a half strength person. The doctor told me to give up drugs, sex and alcohol. Give up all that. No way! So I gave up half of them. I won't tell you which half. The illness made me very sensible."

What's great about Philip Lynott's legacy is that no one has a bad word to say about him. That in a country who's capital city is vicious for the tall poppy syndrome. In fact it's almost the reverse with Phil. Dublin indulges and assists his mother Philomena in keeping his memory alive and loved. The annual Vibe for Philo, run by his mates, just gets bigger every year.

So, let's let her have the final word (see the clip below). She used to call me and my sidekick Tony Mac a lot in the Northside People newspaper, years ago, when the loss of Phil hurt like a raw wound. Organising this. Refuting that. Always up for a chat. Now she carries the loss with dignity, even humour, the same humour that carried Phil through his turbulent life.

On Live and Dangerous he says: "Are there any of yiz out there with a bit of the Irish in them? Are there any of the girls who'd like a bit more of the Irish in them?" Good God. Imagine anyone in Westlife saying that on stage.

Or his famous reply to the quesiton "what's it like being Irish and Black?"

"Just like a pint of Guinness".

Good on ya Phil. Gifted, Irish and Black. Shame you were a Man U fan,
sorry if Burnley ruined your 60th. Sleep well, even in the darkest
night.... And God bless you, Philomena.

p.s. am uploading this via mobile and difficult to manage more than one pic - will rectify that as soon as I have a laptop.



  1. This evokes memories of Thin Lizzie practising in St. Pauls, Raheny on Saturday afternoons as young boys trooped in from the rugby field for the obligatory shower en masse. Though I was not too impressed with their debut album, The Lonely Ranger of Clontarf Castle, I saw Lizzie many times over the years including the inaugural Slane concert when U2 played as support. A few years later I saw Phil in the VIP section at Slane Castle as The Rolling Stones headlined. He was helping himself to champagne from the boot of a car. I covered his last court appearance on drug charges in the Dublin District Court and remember how boyishly handsome and innocent he looked despite the nature of the charges being brought against him. The point of bringing all this up is that his Irish fan base were colour blind and the colour of his skin was peripheral to his talent as a musician and the appeal of his working class Dublin braggadocio.

    Dublin is no longer colour blind. Ireland neither. When Phil died it was rare indeed to see an African on the streets of any Irish town. Just last week I saw a family of Somalis paddling in Tramore and Dublin abounds in black African taxi short Ireland is well on its way to becoming a multi-racial society and for people of colour it poses challenges given the discrimination and racism they often encounter from a people who suffered the same for much of their history.

    There were 18 Africans among the 38 migrants who recently contested the local elections in Ireland, none was elected but it is refreshing to read their reflections on their experiences in that great Dublin newspaper The African Voice whose editorial policy is to search "into depths that seem untouchable. Importantly, it is more about you and nothing about us."

    One Ignatius Okafur who stood unsuccessfully for Fingal County Council threw a "victory" party to celebrate what support he did achieve. He came up against a phenomenon not unknown to the mainstream politicians in Ireland, the split vote, as two other Africans also stood in the constituency. But the Independent young IT engineer from Temple St. Hospital will be back and aims to build on his community work with the Gaelic Athletic Association. Another Nigerian, George Enyoazu, who also polled well now prefers to be addressed as AC "Almost a Councillor." He considers that his four children will be proud of the legacy left by their father and other African would-be politicians seeking to make a contribution to national life and the country which their children will rightly claim as theirs every bit as much as it is the country of Phil Lynott and Paul McGrath, another of Dublins Black Pearls.

  2. Philo was a very charismatic figure and 'Live and dangerous' is a favorite on my i whatchemocallit. But the story is a tragic one! All that talent, all that energy, all that love and what a dismal (and very painful) demise. That in itself should be a message for the new Ireland. With regard to attitude to new immigrants I think we have a tendancy to be very hard on ourselves. The demography accross the country has radically altered in the last decade and a half. We've had to put up with a bunch of loud mouthed Northsiders out on the southern side of the bay for example. But most of those who come (anecdotally anyway) appreciate what the state and it's citizens have done for them. Ireland of the Lizzy years was not so tolerant, I recall a fair bit of gay bashing, single mother persecution and remember what they did to poor Eoin Hand when we didn't get us to a world cup!!!??? We're not there but we're making progress!

  3. reminded me that i once babysat for Phil Lynott's kids. i was about 14 at the time and PL lived in a huge house down the road. we rang on the bell, the gate opened and we walked up the driveway and there HE was standing in the bay window watching us coming. i was extremely gauche at 14 so walked so self-consciously, putting one foot in front of the other ...... and when we got up level with the bay window we realised that it was not Phil Lynott but a life-size cut-out of him propped up in the window. never felt so stupid :)