Marking Time: Phil Lynott

Emma Connolly

Emma Connolly

Emma lives in England. Ace the dog keeps her feet and heart warm while she writes about music and culture.
Emma Connolly

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In the 1960s Ireland was a poor country from where many more left than arrived, still experiencing waves of exodus that had begun in the previous century. There was little glamour; it might have seemed, to be derived from Irishness. But a force was gathering, picking up momentum from the Celtic Literary Revival of the late nineteenth century and taking it in an unexpected direction.

In Belfast in 1964 a teenager named George Ivan (Van) Morrison put together an r’n’b group, which came to be called ‘Them’. By 1966 Van had gone on to become a solo artist, recording the now legendary album ‘Astral Weeks’ in 1968. The incorporation of folk music and a Celtic mysticism on that album led to the coining of the term ‘Celtic Soul’. A year later, in 1969, two former members of Them, Eric Bell and Eric Wrixon, met up in Dublin then went out to see a band. Afterwards they approached and poached two of its members; vocalist Phil Lynott and drummer Brian Downey. The newly-created band was called ‘Thin Lizzy‘. For over a decade, through line-up changes, Phil Lynott would be the unmistakable voice and image of Lizzy.

Phil Lynott 3 at Pinkpop 1978 by Chris Hakkens

Phil Lynott, 1978 | Chris Hakkens

‘I am a messenger / The message here, you must know / I am the warrior’
Thin Lizzy, ‘Warriors’

“A lone warrior approacheth us here,” cried Laeg to Cuchulain. “What manner of man?” asked Cuchulain. “A dark, black man, strong, bull-like, and he unarmed.”
Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Táin)

Philip Parris Lynott was born in England on 20 August 1949. His mother, Philomena Lynott, was originally from Dublin, Ireland; his father, Cecil Parris, from Georgetown, British Guiana. At the age of four, Phil went to live with his grandmother in Dublin. He went on to attend the Christian Brothers School in Crumlin, where he became friends with Brian Downey. By the age of 16, Phil was lead singer in a covers band, ‘The Black Eagles’.

‘Gave a girl a baby boy/ He said “This child is my pride and joy / I’m busy running wild and free / make sure he grows up like me / And I’m a vagabond” Vagabond of the Western World, Thin Lizzy

“No need is there of wonder or surprise, if he should do great deeds”
The Táin

While Van Morrison’s ‘Celtic Soul’ evoked spirits of the Irish landscape, and Dublin band ‘Horslips’ recreated the words of Old Irish manuscripts as rock opera, Phil Lynott brought together an idea of modern Irishness that would take deep root. It was a concept that ‘The Pogues’ would later riff upon and extend. He took ancient legend and mixed it with the ideas represented by nineteenth and twentieth-century Irish writers. He took nationality seriously but knew that icons such as George Best and the modern myth of the American Cowboy were, in their way, just as important to his country.

“The friendly ranger paused / And scooping a bowl of beans / spreading them like stars / Falling like justice on different scenes” The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle, Thin Lizzy

“Whence comest thou?” asked Medb. “From Alba, after learning prophetic skill,” the maiden made answer. “Hast thou the form of divination?” “Verily, have I,” the maiden said.
The Táin

The Thin Lizzy albums that resulted from a long-term collaboration with the artist Jim Fitzpatrick were gorgeous affairs. Fitzpatrick creates elaborate work incorporating Celtic knotwork and mythical and historical figures. He writes on his website “I started my Celtic Irish artworks in the early 1970s at a time when very little attention was paid to our distinctive and unique ancient histories, myths and legends, and they were certainly not cool.” In Fitzpatrick’s hands, Phil Lynott’s vision of Celtic warrior-cowboy-rockers became tangible reality.

30 years ago today, on January 4th 1986, Phil Lynott died in Salisbury Infirmary, in England, the result of complications arising from a heroin overdose on Christmas Day 1985.

“Pray tell me the story of young Cuchulainn / How his eyes were dark his expression sullen / And how he’d fight and always won / And how they cried when he was fallen.”
Black Rose, Thin Lizzy

Philip Parris Lynott 1949-1986 / The Black Rose – An Roisin Dubh / Go Dtuga Dia suaimhneas da anam
Inscription, St Fintan’s Cemetery, Dublin

Thin Lizzy - Black Rose album art by Jim Fitzpatrick

Thin Lizzy – Black Rose |Album art by Jim Fitzpatrick