On January 9th, a service was held for Lynott at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Richmond, and on January 11th he was buried from the Howth Parish Church in Ireland. The Gaelic inscription on his stone reads, “Go dtuga Dia suaimhneas da anam” – “May God give peace to his soul”. A life-size bronze statue of Phil Lynott was unveiled on Harry Street in Dublin in 2005.
Lynott was born in Hallam Hospital (now Sandwell General Hospital) in West Bromwich (then in Staffordshire), England, and christened at St. Edwards Church in Selly Park, Birmingham. His mother, Philomena (or Phyllis) Lynott (b. October 22, 1930) was Irish, and his father Cecil Parris, was Afro-Guyanese. Some news and fan-site sources said that Parris was Afro-Brazilian, but in an August 2009 interview his wife said that he was from Georgetown, British Guiana. This was confirmed by Philomena Lynott in July 2010.
Lynott’s mother met Parris in Birmingham in 1948 and they saw each other for a few months, until Parris was transferred to London. Shortly afterwards, Philomena found she was pregnant and, after Philip was born, she moved with her baby to a home for unmarried mothers in Selly Oak, Birmingham. “They all wanted a photo of this beautiful little black baby but things soon changed. I was thrown into a workhouse and spat at because I had a black baby.”
When Parris learned of Philip’s birth, he returned to Birmingham and arranged accommodation for Philomena and Philip in nearby Blackheath. Her relationship with Parris lasted two more years although he was still working in London and they did not live together. Philomena subsequently moved to Manchester but stayed in touch with Parris and, although she turned down a marriage proposal from him, he agreed to pay towards his son’s support.
Parris’s wife Irene stated in 2009 that Philomena also had a daughter and a second son with Parris, both of whom were given up for adoption. Speaking for the first time publicly about the family’s tangled lives, Irene said: “Cecil was originally from Georgetown, Guyana. It was called British Guyana when he left back in 1947.” Cecil stowed away on a ship, believing he was heading to America, but the vessel was traveling to Britain. “He landed in Liverpool thinking it was New York,” said Irene.
Philomena finally spoke of these children in July 2010, nearly twenty-five years after Philip’s death, when the Irish Mail on Sunday and Irish Daily Mail ran a twelve page interview with her over three days. She revealed that her three children all had different fathers, and that her daughter was white. She had met her now-grown children, but they had never met their brother Philip. He knew he had a sister, but never knew he had a brother. Lynott did not see his father again until the late 1970s.
When he was four years old, Philip went to live with his grandmother, Sarah Lynott, in Crumlin, Dublin. His mother stayed in Manchester and later took over the management of the Clifton Grange Hotel in Whalley Range with her partner, Dennis Keeley. The hotel, nicknamed “The Biz”, became popular with show business entertainers, and would be later referred to in a song on Thin Lizzy’s debut album.
Lynott was introduced to music by his uncle Timothy’s record collection, and became influenced by Tamla Motown and The Mamas and the Papas.
He joined his first band, the Black Eagles in 1965 as a lead singer, playing popular covers in local clubs around Dublin. He attended the Christian Brothers School in Crumlin, where he became friends with future Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey, who was later persuaded to join the band from the Liffey Beats. The group fell apart due to the lack of interest of manager Joe Smith, particularly after the departure of his two sons, guitarists Danny and Frankie. Lynott then left the family home and moved into a flat in Clontarf, where he briefly joined a band called Kama Sutra. It was in this band that he learned his frontman skills, and worked out how to interact with an audience.
Growing up in Dublin in the 1960s, Lynott fronted several bands as a lead vocalist, most notably in early 1968 when he joined Skid Row with bassist Brendan “Brush” Shiels. Shiels also wanted Downey to play drums in the band, but Downey wasn’t interested in the band’s style, so the job went to Noel Bridgeman instead. The band signed a deal with Ted Carroll, who would later go on to manage Thin Lizzy, and played a variety of covers including “Eight Miles High”, “Hey Jude” and several numbers by Jimi Hendrix. Because Lynott did not play an instrument at this point in his career, he instead manipulated his voice through an echo box during instrumental sections. He also took to smearing boot polish under his eyes on stage, which he would continue to do throughout Lizzy’s career later on, and regularly performed a mock fight with Shiels onstage to attract the crowd. In mid-1968, guitarist Bernard Cheevers quit to work full-time at the Guinness factory in Dublin, and was replaced by Belfast born guitarist Gary Moore.
Despite increased success, and the release of a single “New Faces, Old Places”, Shiels became concerned about Lynott’s tendency to sing off-key. He then discovered that the problem was with Lynott’s tonsils; he subsequently took a leave of absence from the band. By the time he had recovered, Shiels had decided to take over singing lead and reduce the band to a three piece. Feeling guilty of having effectively sacked one of his best friends, he taught Lynott how to play bass, figuring it would be easier to learn than a six string guitar, and sold him a Fender Jazz Bass he had bought from Robert Ballagh for £36, and started giving him lessons.
Lynott and Downey quickly put together a new band called Orphanage, with guitarist Joe Staunton and bassist Pat Quigley, playing a mixture of original material alongside covers of Bob Dylan, Free and Jeff Beck.
|At the end of 2006 a number of Skid Row and Orphanage demo tapes featuring Phil Lynott were discovered. These were his earliest recordings and had been presumed lost for decades.
Towards the end of 1969, Lynott and Downey were introduced to guitarist Eric Bell via founding member of Them, keyboardist Eric Wrixon. (Bell had also played in a later line-up of Them). Deciding that Bell was a better guitarist, and with Lynott now confident enough to play bass himself in a band, the four of them formed Thin Lizzy. Wrixon, generally felt superfluous to requirements by the others, left after the release of the band’s first single, The Farmer in July 1970.
During the band’s early years, despite being the singer, bassist and chief songwriter, Lynott was still fairly reserved and introverted on stage, and would stand to one side while the spotlight concentrated on Bell, who was initially regarded as the group’s leader. During the recording of the band’s second album, Shades of a Blue Orphanage, Lynott very nearly left Thin Lizzy to form a new band with Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Paice. He decided he would rather build up Lizzy’s career from the ground up than jump into another band that had big-name musicians in it. Due to being in dire financial straits, Lizzy did, however, soon afterwards record an album of Deep Purple covers anonymously under the name Funky Junction. Lynott did not sing on the album as he felt his voice was not in the same style as Ian Gillan.
Towards the end of 1972, Thin Lizzy got their first major break in the UK by supporting Slade, then nearing the height of their commercial success. Inspired by Noddy Holder’s top hat with mirrors, Lynott decided to attach a mirror to his bass, which he carried over to subsequent tours. On the opening night of the tour, an altercation broke out between Lynott and Slade’s manager Chas Chandler, who chastised his lack of stage presence and interaction with the audience, and threatened to throw Lizzy off the tour unless things improved immediately. Lynott subsequently developed his onstage rapport and stage presence that would become familiar over the remainder of the decade.
Thin Lizzy’s first top ten hit was in 1973, with a rock version of the traditional Irish song “Whiskey in the Jar”, featuring cover art by Irish artist and friend, Jim Fitzpatrick. However, follow up singles failed to chart, and after the departure of Bell, quickly followed by replacement Moore, and Downey, led Thin Lizzy to near collapse in mid-1974. It was not until the recruitment of guitarists Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson, and the release of “Jailbreak” in 1976, that made Lynott and Thin Lizzy international superstars on the strength of the album’s biggest hit, “The Boys Are Back in Town”. The song reached the top 10 in the UK, Ireland and Canada, and peaked at #12 in the US. Billboard Hot 100 Archive on July 24, 1976.
Thin Lizzy tour manager Adrian Hopkins, on the band’s latter touring days: “I used to note specifically these shady characters … who used to turn up backstage. I knew they were drug-pushers and I made an effort to stop them getting passes. He [Lynott] said ‘They’re my mates!’ But I said, ‘No Phil, they’re not your mates.'”
Having finally achieved mainstream success, Thin Lizzy embarked on several consecutive world tours. The band continued on the success of “Jailbreak” with the release of a string of hit albums, including “Bad Reputation” and “Black Rose: A Rock Legend”, with Gary Moore, and remained a very popular act in Europe and North America, particularly after the release of the live album “Live and Dangerous” in spite of various personnel changes.
Towards the end of the 1970s, Lynott also embarked upon a solo career, published two books of poetry. By the early 1980s, Thin Lizzy were starting to struggle commercially, and Lynott started showing symptoms of drug abuse, including regular asthma attacks. After the resignation of longtime manager Chris O’Donnell, and Gorham wanting to quit, Lynott decided to disband Thin Lizzy in 1983. He had started to use heroin by this stage in his career, and it affected the band’s shows in Japan when he was unable to obtain any. Fortunately, he managed to pick himself up for the band’s show at the Reading Festival and their last ever gig (with Lynott as frontman) in Nuremberg on September 4th. After Thin Lizzy disbanded, Lynott assembled and fronted the band Grand Slam, of which he was the leader until it folded in 1985. The band’s last show took place at the Marquee in London just before Christmas.