By Eamonn Keyes
Philip Parris Lynott, or Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, as he was better known, was a remarkable character. Different aspects of his life story would each be worth a movie in themselves.
Born in 1949 to unmarried mother Philomena, he grew up in Dublin at a time when mothers would have been sent to the Magdalene Laundries, at a time when illegitimacy was regarded as the ultimate shame in Ireland.
Not only was he illegitimate, but his father was from British Guiana, and Philip was coloured, growing up in a city where coloured people were completely unheard of. He rose above everything to become a poet, a musician, and the front man of one of the most important bands in the world, Thin Lizzy.He lived the rock and roll dream, which slid, as too often happened, into the rock and roll nightmare, becoming dependent on drugs and alcohol which lead him to a tragic death at only 36.
And I never met him. But something almost more magical happened.
His home town, Dublin, decided it was time to honour him with a statue, and it was decided to put one up outside his favourite watering hole, the Bruxelles Bar.
It would feature his favourite black Fender Precision bass guitar, with the mirrored scratch-plate he would use to reflect spotlights into the crowd at gigs.
As it needed to be cast in bronze, permission was sought from his mother, Philomena, as she had the guitar in her home where it had sat since his last gig in 1985. Philomena duly agreed, and she sent the guitar off to Belfast, to the Guitar Emporium there, and on May 7th 2005 I found myself standing staring at a guitar case with the simple stencils that said so much-
‘Phil Lynott-Thin Lizzy-Fragile’
It was a spooky moment. This was a truly iconic guitar, and I was about to be able to see it.
As I was taking the photographs, it was only fitting that it should be opened by another bass guitarist- Micky Waters of the Answer, who was a huge fan. He snapped open the lock and there it was.
It was amazing. The strings from Phil’s last gig twenty years previously were still on the guitar. It hadn’t even been cleaned after the gig, was rusted from his sweat, and there were Phil’s fingerprints all over the mirrored scratch-plate. It was sobering to know that he had no idea that when he put this in the case that it would never be open again in his lifetime, as he died the next year.
We could almost feel his ghost in the room watching us as we lifted the guitar out with great reverence, and passed it around, and I got my chance to hold and play it. I’ll never forget that moment.
That night in the Belfast Limelight there was a special tribute gig for Phil, with his mother Philomena Lynott in attendance. She is the most dignified lady I’ve ever met. Forget royalty, this is a woman who held her head high through difficult circumstances in bad times, and came out prouder and stronger.
I was truly honoured to meet her, as the mother of one of the greatest poets Ireland ever produced, and it was a night I shall never forget.
Rest easy, Philip Parris Lynott.
Blimey, Eamonn. I was wondering when you’d next write a piece for TON, and here it is. You’ve come back, full throttle.
So much there – yes, how Phil Lynott had what would be flippantly referred to as a ‘hard start’ in life. People can’t see the illegitimacy – they can easily see the colour.
And the guitar – that’s his DNA your talking about – his DNA will still be there. Blimey.
That image of the stencil on the box……………..holy moly. “Fragile” – he was.
This really is a solid piece of writing, Eamonn. Takes you there, takes you through all sorts of ideas, feelings.
I must admit I’m not a big Thin Lizzy fan, but I know a lot of folk who are – mainly the younger generation of my family in Ireland, and I’m sending them the link to this piece.
It’s a corker.
And….you did meet him, you did.
Thanks so much, Bernie. I was in two minds as I wasn’t sure it was substantial enough.
I liked the stencil irony.
It reminds me of the last Who album, Who Are You, which had a cover photo featuring Keith Moon sitting on a chair with the legend ‘Not To Be Taken Away’. And he died just after its release. Spooky.
But back to Phil. Check out his solo song ‘Old Town’. Among the awful 80s production you can hear the cry for help there as a visibly declining Phil sings. ‘This boy is cracking up, this boy has broken down’
It’s not just ‘substantial’ – it’s moving.
Believe in yourself!
Keith Moon was in self-destruct mode – as are so many extra-ordinary people.
Thanks again, Bernie. I’ve been listening to his music this afternoon. Very sad.
PS I keep thinking of the moment that young man opened the case………..phew-eeeeee.