Phil Lynott: The Interview (1976)
In 1976, the NME’s Chris Salewicz spent some time with Phil Lynott in Los Angeles as the band began their ascent to international stardom.
In the late spring of 1976, I flew to Los Angeles to write an article about Thin Lizzy for the NME.
I’d already met Lizzy several times and was thoroughly aware that although guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, and drummer Brian Downey, played significant roles in the group, it was Phil Lynott who led the band.
They were in town to play a show on June 2 at the Santa Monica Civic, not topping the bill but supporting Journey. Since the booking, their single The Boys Are Back In Town had surged up the US charts, pulling the Jailbreak album behind it.
As we sat by the pool on the roof of the Hyatt House hotel, we both knew this was a pivotal moment. The cavalry, in the form of the hit single and album, had arrived just in time, heading off the group’s creditors at the pass and saving them from breaking up. Now, the only way was up.
Like a reflection of this, Lynott seemed chipper that day. Perched on the edge of a sunbed that had been pulled into the shade of a parasol, his bare feet stuck incongruously out from the bottom of his black leather trousers, which was somewhat inappropriate wear considering the baking heat. His top half was encased in a black cowboy shirt, its silver press-stud buttons snapping the sleeves firmly shut around his wrists, as though he was making a point about his attitude to life.
But as we talked, I couldn’t help noticing that he looked quite exhausted. Despite his natural bravado, the demands of newfound success were having an effect on him.
“I mean, okay, the band’s breaking,” he told me in that rich Dublin brogue. “It’s not that important that we break as fast as we’re breaking. It’s never been that important to me. It’s the quality of the breaking. If we break with quality we’ll last like all them bands that are me heroes. Like The Who. That band’s great. It’s got integrity and that’s why it works. Pete Townshend never lost contact with his audience and he didn’t go through too many mind fook-ups.”
I’ve noticed that you seem to believe almost passionately in a kind of total contact with Thin Lizzy’s fans. And you seem to certainly believe in songs, as opposed to just getting up there and creating a series of sounds.
Yeah [nodding]. Well, I was a singer, right, and the 60s proved that melodies played in the rock idiom… That whole weird thing rock went through when the arrangements dominated – ELP, Jethro Tull and 10/4 time – was very harmful to rock because although there are a lot of good musicians, musicianship and melody don’t always have to be the same thing. And there’s a lot of false focus. The very harmful stage of the whole thing was when the bands just got up and just let it float. Put screens and films on and hoped the audiences were tripping and that they’d get off on it.