Martin Popoff here - my first new band biography in two years
arrived today and is ready to mail…
Fighting My Way Back: Thin Lizzy 69-76
As the back cover blurb sez…
Dublin’s Thin Lizzy have become one of the most revered cult acts of all time, studious and discerning fans of hard rock the world over reveling in the storytelling acumen of the legendary Philip Lynott and the craft and class of his band.
Fighting My Way Back: Thin Lizzy 69 – 76, through numerous new interviews with most of the principles involved and a mountain of painstaking research, examines the band’s suite of six records culminating in 1976’s superlative and sparkling Jailbreak, home of such hits as Cowboy Song, Emerald, Jailbreak and The Boys Are Back In Town.
Thin Lizzy, Shades Of A Blue Orphanage, Vagabonds Of The Western World, Nightlife, Fighting and then momentously Jailbreak… along the way, alcohol and drugs wreak havoc between band members, producers and managers, but despite lineup changes and a mostly grinding, rockscrabble existence, Ireland’s favourite sons persevere to experience, finally, the smash hit record they’d deserved for so long.
Immerse yourself in Popoff’s celebrated record-by-record methodology and emerge a rejuvenated Lizzy fan, newly appreciative of the deep album tracks hiding within this singular band’s often forgotten early years…
The book’s 280 pages include 328 rare, archival black & white photos and memorabilia shots to accompany my usual in-depth track-by-track play-by-play type o’ crazy biog.
Fresh new interviews for this book included (and most a few times), Eric Bell, Scott Gorham, Brian Downey, Gary Moore and Brian Robertson along with a couple of managers in Terry O’Neill and Ted Carroll, producers Nick Tauber and Ron Nevison, Nigel Grange from Vertigo, Frank Murray who kept it all together on the road, cover artist Jim Fitzpatrick, and a range of others. As well, historical press interviews helped bring out the real Phil in all his dastardly guises.
OK, the usual… books will be signed by me to you, so make clear if it’s a Christmas present – getting a lot of that this time of year.
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Added 21st November 2011
Peter has suggested I provide a couple of sample pages from Fighting My Way Back: Thin Lizzy 69 – 76, so here ya go. I tried to grab something early, mid, and late in the book. Happy reading! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. Er, by the way, if you haven’t noticed, this is not from the page layouts, i.e. with proper fonts and pictures. It’s just from the raw text tiles. In fact, at my peril, it’s before the final edit and proof-read, wich took place inside of the layout, so be kind with it.
One other note, the ordering info isn’t up at my site yet, but there’s an email-able blurb that explains everything. In fact, once it’s up at my site, it’s essentially going to be the contents of the blurb anyway.
Sample 1… sorta first album stuff, or so it seems!
Honesty Is No Excuse is a highlight of the first Thin Lizzy album, featuring a prominent mellotron part courtesy of legendary classical and jazz pianist Ivor Raymonde, also a producer and composer, most notable for his work with Dusty Springfield. All told, Honesty Is No Excuse is the first of many confessionals from Phil, a poignant expression of guilt (here for philandering, in later years for drugging), a gorgeous ballad blessed with tasteful and skilled drumming from Brian, whose fills are legion yet controlled. Busy Brian an element that would distinguish the Bell-era of Thin Lizzy, this idea that percussion can bubble flamboyantly beneath the most delicate of melodies and arrangements. What’s more the production of the percussion is plush and sympathetic, like early Zeppelin at its best.
Asked to cite a favourite Eric Bell moment on the first record, Eric says, ‘I like the solo on Honesty Is No Excuse; it’s a very melodic sort of approach. And that mellotron… this guy had come in. He was sort of like, what would you say, a ‘50s matinee idol (laughs), sort of look. Very, very professional, like no messing about. Just came in, did it, and left, I think. I don’t know whose idea it was to put a mellotron on. It could’ve been Scott English.”
Whether the goodly production job afforded the Thin Lizzy album was something captured by producer Scott English or re-mixer Nick Tauber is up for debate. The band readily admits they were smoking pot immediately upon arriving at the studio, Eric joking that he could barely even see Phil across the room. Then English showed up with his own big bag full becoming legless himself upon short order
“When we met him,” recalls Bell, “we found out that he had written Hi Ho Silver Lining for Jeff Beck, and had also written a song called Brandy, I think. He was a huge American guy with a big black beard and so on, and what actually happened was, he had this enormous bag of grass, and he sort of put it on the table and he said, ‘OK guys, help yourselves’ (laughs). And that was the end of it. I mean, I can’t remember recording the first album, really. And I think Scott English got so out of it that he started mixing up the tracks, because I know he was losing some of my guitar solos, this, that and the other, and we got this other guy in, Nick Tauber, and Nick took over the final sort of mixing. And yeah, I haven’t heard of Scott English since.”
“I joined Decca Records as an assistant producer and A&R man,” explains Nick, on rectifying the situation, “and then Thin Lizzy, the first Thin Lizzy album came in, after being made, produced by a guy named Scott English, right? He wrote Mandy, that song by Barry Manilow. He co-wrote that afterward, but that came in, and the band and the A&R guy that signed Thin Lizzy, a guy called Frank Rodgers, they weren’t happy with the mix.”
“I don’t know why he got the gig,” says Nick, asked what he knew of English, who, after all, didn’t actually produce much before or after Lizzy. “All I know is that he was an American and he was a friend of Dick Rowe, the A&R manager, and that’s how he got it. All I know is that I thought it was a bit of a strange choice, but those things happen. He made the record but he wasn’t really a rock producer, and I think that’s why the album came out a bit weird. It was strange, not what they were looking for. I don’t think it was bad, but I didn’t think it was hard enough and tough enough and big enough.”
“I was young, really young, only 18, 19,” continues Tauber. “I’d played drums in a band, I’d been an engineer at a studio called Regent Sound studio where I worked as an assistant for Black Sabbath, I engineered for Cat Stevens, people like that, and I was just the youngest guy. To be honest, I think I got it because I was the youngest guy in the flaming department. And they said, ‘Look, go and see if you can remix it.’ Basically, ‘Do you think you can make a better job?’ Well, I said, I think I can, but I’ll give it go. So they said, ‘OK, go off and do it.’ So I went off and remixed the whole record, and Phil Lynott, and Frank Rogers the A&R man, thought it was much better, much better. And so they were really pleased and so I got to do the next record with them, which was the New Day EP.”
And whoever deserves credit for the lucky sound of Thin Lizzy, it’s indeed quite good given the record’s vintage, and given the fact that it really does mix delicate guitar and vocals with an active, aggressive rhythm section. In fact the other track of which Phil speaks, Diddy Levine (incidentally, yet another from the suite of guarded broken family lyrics from Phil), is a second example of this, again, Led Zeppelin coming to mind, as does The Who. Further on the mix, as good as it turned out, the band weren’t even aware that it was happening, and in the process, Eric was quick to find out that they had used the wrong guitar tracks in places, leaving his preferred takes on the cutting room floor.
Not that there are signature Thin Lizzy dual guitar leads this early in the band’ history, but indeed, while recording the album in London (at Decca, in Hampstead), the band had tripped down to the Lyceum, where upon they saw for the first time, this technique as performed by the legendary Wishbone Ash.
Also in this department, Lizzy managers ex- and present (Terry O’Neill and Brian Tuite) looked after a band called Elmer Fudd who, like the Lizzy of the future, shared lead between two players. “Actually, yeah!” says Eric, upon mention of Elmer Fudd. “Some bands in Dublin had twin guitars, yeah. There was another one called Peggy’s Leg, I think. They had lead guitar and rhythm guitar, but the rhythm guitar would sometimes double up leads, with the lead guitarist. There was all that going on, yeah.”
“I can see that,” agrees Fudd vocalist Benny White. “But we weren’t the first, because there was a band from England called Wishbone Ash. But I think we were the first band in Ireland to have it. They probably did get the idea from listening to us, because we played a lot together the same shows and we were a serious guitar riff band. We did a lot of stuff by Purple, Mountain, Spirit, the original Byrds, and we had a really heavy version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. But we also did a lot of our own stuff. We wrote a lot of really, really good songs, which unfortunately, there are no good recordings of. There was one called Beautiful Death and a 27 minute one called The Harpooner. Beautiful Death wasn’t a suicide song, it was about somebody who is dead, and the person was really missing her. It was the sort of drug-fueled music of 1969, you know?”
Sample 2 – this is some Andy Gee and Frank Murray about the German tour…
As it turns out, Andy’s fluent German became an asset as well on the short jaunt. “Yes, well, Phil asked me to do all the announcements in German, which was really embarrassing for me. I mean, I’d never done that before, and to be honest, apart from the Ellis tour I did previously, and me visiting my parents sort of over Christmas and new year, I hadn’t been back in Germany in six years (laughs). And now here, suddenly, he’s, ‘Now talk to them in German.’ And I said, ‘Look, they don’t want to listen… they’re all keyed up to listen to English. They don’t want to hear German.’ So I felt a bit awkward and embarrassed, to be honest. In Stuttgart, I remember, ‘Oh, tell them so and so just scored.’ I said, ‘Oh, by the way…’ You know, I was always used to the singer doing it, gift of the gab and all that. It’s his job, and they always did. But Phil thought it would be a great if I spoke to them in German. And they looked at me like I was from Mars (laughs).”
“And initially when we got there, I had to do all the translating, get them to the hotels,” continues Andy. “I spoke the language, so I had to translate the menu, order everything - it was like double the job. And I said, ‘Listen guys, if I didn’t speak German, Frank would be doing all this. You got on all right last year. If there’s any problems, I’ll help you out, but don’t make me do everything.’ And because I did that, along with the girlfriend thing, I think, they started sort of needling me and said, ‘Oh, you must be gay or something; what’s wrong with you?’ But they didn’t get involved with anything! I mean, that was really the only time. I wasn’t sorry. I mean, I was sorry a couple of weeks later (laughs). But you know, no big deal – you get a jab, take a pill, take some pills for a couple of weeks, put everything back together, which you can’t do these days (laughs).”
But as alluded to, this version of Thin Lizzy was not going anywhere. Whiskey In The Jar had frankly shone brighter than al of the band’s albums so far, and the drummer was grumbling.
“For sure. Brian was saying, ‘Look, we’d done the same thing last year, and I really don’t feel like it’s going anywhere.’ Once Brian sort of went, ‘Look, we’ll go back to London, we’ll call you up, we’ll try somebody else as a replacement for John…’ We were motoring away, heading for Amsterdam, spending a couple of nights overnight, and then taking the ferry from there instead of Hamburg. We were driving past a huge concert and we could hear it in the car. We were on the motorway driving past the stadium and you could hear there was a band playing, and Phil actually turned around and said, ‘We were supposed to play there.’ And that was the only time I saw John actually really quite upset (laughs). So of course, the van had already left. They had to leave earlier than all of us, and they were already on their way to the ferry to get back to London. There was no way we could just turn up and play there, and to be honest, I just looked at Phil and laughed, because I could tell that John was really taken aback by that. He didn’t expect it.”
What do you mean you were supposed to play there?
“We were actually to play there, but Brian called it a day, the day previously or a couple of days before the last gig. The one where John was really like, in a different band kind of thing, where it felt like hey, we’re back to a three-piece, but we’ve got four on stage. That’s when Brian turned around and said, ‘I’ve had enough. I want to go back to London and we’ll see if we can sort something out in London, with a replacement for John.’ And Phil turned around to me and said, ‘Look, it’s got nothing to do with you.’ From what I’ve heard, Brian has confirmed that in a book as well. He said no, there was no problem with me, but he didn’t really feel that John had fitted in.”
Andy thinks Brian might have put the brakes on a couple of gigs that had been booked on this tumultuous tour. “I don’t know how many there were, because I’d never did see the contract. But as I said, we had to be 500 k’s away from the next gig, so we wouldn’t draw a crowd… let’s say, if we were playing Stuttgart, then it had to be all in the south, and the next one had to be all the way up north. So we were spending five or six hours on the motorway every day, just so we wouldn’t pull the crowds from the next gig, so to speak. Which was a hell of a strain on everybody, driving on the motorway. It was constantly north, south, north, south; that’s the way it was booked. But I never did see the contract, so I didn’t know what was still booked afterwards or what was coming. It was just… when we drove past and heard this band playing, you could hear the vocals, and you could tell it was a stadium with a big gig. And you know, John looked a bit put out at that point, because he obviously didn’t expect that.”
“I thought was kind of strange,” recalls Frank, “because we were near the end of the tour. We had a few more shows to do, and in fact, I think we were heading into Holland, for a festival and one other show in Amsterdam or something. And I remember after a show, Brian called Philip outside the dressing room, and had a chat outside, and they called me out, and they said, ‘BD wants to stop the whole thing. He doesn’t want to go on.’ And I tried to go, ‘Well look, we only have two or three more shows,’ but Brian was adamant. He didn’t want to get back on stage with the band, in that form. We couldn’t do anything and we couldn’t talk to management until the following morning. There were no mobile phones in those days. Nobody would be picking up a phone. And so we spoke to management the next morning and they arranged for us… truth be told, I think we invented some kind of illness; we said Brian Downey caught the flu or something. I know we made up some kind of excuse and then we high-tailed it out of there, and I remember driving through Holland actually, and seeing posters for us at the festival (laughs), and driving by, knowing we were never going to turn up there because we were heading for the ferry down in Belgium.”
“I don’t think they quite got Lizzy,” muses Frank with respect to Andy and John. “It was a strange thing; they were trying to replace Eric Bell, who is a very unique guitar player. And the songs they had at that time were also unique, in a certain way. And I think they came from a different background, musically; they wouldn’t have had the subtleties of Eric, let’s say. It wasn’t working out the way it should’ve, or up to the standard we wanted it to be at. We were just trying to get through a tour. Again, we were doing a German tour that we’d been contracted to do. Also Philip wasn’t the kind of guy who wanted to knock the road. He would just be like, ‘Well, let’s just audition some guitar players.’ So we started auditioning, and ended up with John and Andy. But it was a very, very, weird tour as well. We went to all kinds of, I suppose, one-horse towns around Germany, the strangest towns, probably towns the Germans, people who live in Germany all their life, never got to. And maybe that wasn’t helping things either. We were getting good crowds and things like that, but things just weren’t working out down on the farm (laughs).”
Sample 3 – Seems to be some Brian, some Nigel, some Jim, all talking about Jailbreak…
Addressing this fortuitous choice of single, Downey recalls that, “The Boys Are Back In Town was one of a few. Jailbreak was another contender to be a single. But ultimately, it came down to one of the record company people that was hanging around the studio. They always liked the sound of The Boys Are Back In Town. There wasn’t anything wrong with the rest of our judgments either. We liked it, but we weren’t exactly sure which one to actually pick for a single. Running Back was another one that was knocked around as a candidate for a single. But at the end, one of the record company people who happened to come down to listen, he came back with the idea that maybe that should be the single. And it just happened to be, that when we went to the meeting, I think they considered Boys Are Back In Town was more commercial than the rest of the songs that we had in contention. I mean, I thought personally Jailbreak, at one stage could’ve been the single. It’s one of those songs that sounded more commercial than The Boys Are Back In Town (laughs). But how wrong can you be? (laughs). But I think The Boys Are Back In Town, having listened to it over the years, with the shuffle beat and the quick-fire lyrics, it just escaped us at the time, but there again, the record company were seriously very impressed with it, and we went and abided with their judgments.”
“Of course, when The Boys Are Back In Town came in, it was like, what the fuck’s this?!” remembers Nigel Grainge. “It was amazing. So they really delivered on that third album. I mean, there was never really any disagreement that that was going to be a single. I can’t remember if it was the first single off the album. I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t have been. But I was getting busy at the time. I had signed 10CC, I had signed Steve Miller, so we were having a lot of success. The company was really happening. We were also having a lot of American success, with R&B things, that I was sort of in the middle of too. So my day wasn’t 100% concerned with Thin Lizzy. I was really tied up with the acts I was working on. But when this came in, obviously we were thrilled, and it really exploded.”
“The big millstone we had all the way through was Mercury,” continues Grainge, referring to the label that was issuing Thin Lizzy product in the US and Canada. “They were appalling. It was just like dealing with the town hall – just clueless. Funnily enough, very good people worked there, in terms of the promotion people, marketing people; not so much the marketing people, but certainly the press people and the promotion guys, were fantastic. But they were overruled by heads of the company who just fixed their priorities and were clueless. Mercury was 100% wholly-owned, bought by Philips, and it was owned by Phonogram. So basically it was a company that ran out of Chicago, that was owned by Philips. We distributed… you know, basically we were the rest-of-world distributor for their records. We automatically had the right, and in turn, they had the right of first refusal for anything that we put out. Which is why they automatically got off of Thin Lizzy. They released Fighting, but Chris and Chris had had the same kind of complications of personality and belief that I had had, and we just felt they didn’t have a clue how to promote them properly. And this is a recurring problem I’ve had with virtually any act I signed. Certainly had it with Graham Parker, where they didn’t have a clue, and also had another problem later with Boomtown Rats, with Mercury. Where they would not listen to us, with our ideas, of how to promote them. And they had nothing like any kind of new wave or punk acts to work with. They were just stuck in this kind of American bland FM format of working things.”
“As I said, it was a question of relating,” continues Grainge, asked specifically what was wrong with the way the band was marketed stateside. “We just felt that the marketing was just badly handled. Copy lines of the adverts were pathetic. It was very old-fashioned thinking, very normal, very staid. There was nothing modern about the way it was being presented, and it was just being… you knew the things they were pressing the buttons on and it certainly wasn’t Thin Lizzy.”
Yet still, The Boys Are Back In Town was a hit, as was the record’s title track, as was second to last track on side two Cowboy Song, another middle volume yet spirited rocker with a singsongy twin lead. One trivia note, the deluxe reissue of Jailbreak includes an early version of Cowboy Song, provisionally (spontaneously?) entitled Derby Blues, said work-in-progress containing some alternate lyrics. Elsewhere on the second side of Jailbreak, there’s bluesy ballad Fight Or Fall – again, the deluxe edition includes an alternate version, this one extended, studio, and with extra guitar licks and R&B-ish ad-libs from Phil. All told, it’s a somewhat mournful ballad, very much a Fighting-style track, another lighter Jailbreak moment politely put aside, allowing for the flashier and more electric material to shine – and shine the light on a purpose for Thin Lizzy right to the end.
Closing the album is the masterful Emerald, a triumphant concoction mixing heavy metal with Irish folk, somewhat a precursor to Black Rose and very much more in focus, and, as NME’s Phil McNeill called it, “a pulverizingly violent piece that crescendos into a positive military assault by a battery of guitars and drums.”
Explains Downey, “Emerald came about because we were into Irish traditional music. There’s a certain instrument called the bodhran here in Ireland, an acoustic instrument that people play, folk musicians, traditional musicians. And it has a very sort of raw, ethnic feel to it. It sounds like a tom-tom that can be tuned as you play it. So lots of guys play it with the 6/8 feel, because most traditional songs are played in a good 6/8 or 3/4 format. So I tried to get the 6/8 feel on Emerald, even though it’s in 4/4 (laughs). I knew I had to do, because we wanted to get a Celtic, and especially a Gaelic Celtic, feel to it, which was obviously an Irish feel, to Emerald.
“And the whole idea behind the Emerald song was this mythological thing that Phil was going through at the time. We remember our lessons from school, Cuchulain, and all the mythological heroes that were around in Irish mythology in school, and Phil came up with this great lyric that had connotations of some of the stuff we were learning in school from way back, and he wanted to put this into a song. So yeah, I remembered this traditional beat that was happening, but I wanted to put my own inflection on it, which became the tom-tom part in Emerald, where it goes from one part of the song into this instrumental part, with the dual guitars as well, which take over. And the drums obviously laid in with this fairly ethnic-sounding beat. So that was the whole idea behind that, and that’s what my contribution to that song was. I came up with the idea of maybe putting a bodhran feel to it, and that’s what happened.”
“Philip was totally into the whole Irish thing,” adds Fitzpatrick. “Philip was a very, very strongly patriotic Irishman. I used to have arguments with him because I’m a pacifist and I felt that the whole Provo… you know the provisional IRA campaign was a disaster, but he was a great admirer of the people involved, Bobby Sands, the people who died in the hunger strikes and all that, and we would have slight arguments about it. Because I would take the piss out of him a bit. Not about Bobby Sands, but about his attitude towards him. I thought there was another way forward, but he was very, very into being Irish, and very proud of it too. It was only later that he began to really look at his black roots and realized that there was a whole avenue there. Because I was a fanatic. When we would go over to Vertigo, I remember, we would go down to the basement; I had a special carrier bag, leather, that was square, the you can shove full with albums (laughs), and we used to go down and loot the place. But I would be taking Little Walker and Howlin’ Wolf and all that sort of Mississippi blues shit. This was manna from heaven for me. You didn’t get stuff like that in Dublin. And Philip would say, ‘What are you getting that stuff for?’ And I would say, ‘These are the real black artists. These are the men that rock ‘n’ roll came from.’ Rock ‘n’ roll was a white phenomenon – Bill Haley And The Comets and Elvis Presley – but it came from black roots. It has to be taken back there. I was blacker than Philip. I mean, the whole black movement… in America now, in America, there’s equality. There’s Oprah, we have things happening like Obama that we could never have imagined in our lifetime. But like the year I left school, that was the year that you had the riots in Little Rock. Where they had to send in the American army. So black students could go to white schools. And we identified with them, because we had the same problem with being Irish and you know, our history here of 800 years of oppression.”
Best wishes from Martin and Peter :-)