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Phil Lynott: The Early Years

Why Phil Lynott was the greatest rocker of them all.

January 4, 2016 marks 30 years since the death of Thin Lizzy’s iconic frontman. This month Classic Rock celebrates the man, the myth and the music. But first, to Dublin in the late 60s – and the birth of the legend.

The early days of Thin Lizzy were the fun bit,” says Gale Claydon. “But that doesn’t mean they were simple. Phil was a really complex person.”

In the early 1970s, Belfast-born Claydon was Phil Lynott’s live-in girlfriend; the person that knew him best, away from the stage and gang of rootin’, tootin’ good-timers he surrounded himself with even before he became famous. Gale has always refused requests for interviews about her years with Phil. Now, on the 30th anniversary of his death, she has broken that silence.

“We were just kids when we met,” she sighs. “I was 18, he was 20. It was simple: Phil had a dream. We all had dreams. It was going to be wonderful. The world was going to be great.”

Gale was with Phil when Thin Lizzy signed with Decca Records and moved to London in 1970. There for those first three albums Lizzy made for Decca, none of them hits, but all pointing to the direction they would later find success with. But as Gale suggests, the story of Phil Lynott – the real Phil Lynott – is far from straightforward.

“Everywhere I read about him, he’s a caricature: a Playboy of the Western World. The leather, the afro, the wild boy. Well, he wasn’t. He was so complex. Not how people picture him now.”

But then that was ‘Philo’ for you. Or “Philip, to my friends,” as he once told me, though I rarely heard anyone address him so. The life and soul of the party with the wary brown eyes. Always good for a joke and a toke, but who always kept that little bit back from you. A complicated man with a tangled background – half-black, half-white, part Catholic, part God-hater – who would write poetry one minute, knock you out cold the next. A man who would slap you on the back, but never fully trust you.

“I don’t think Philip trusted anybody his whole life,” says Gale, who went on to become a television producer in the 80s and stayed in touch with Lynott until the end of his life. “But then you look at his upbringing and you understand why. Why he was so insecure, so angry and so determined to bloody make it. He simply had to.”

Or die trying.

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