It is some thirty four years now since I caught Thin Lizzy live, at the Hammersmith Odeon in London ,on the Black Rose tour. Arguably they were at their creative zenith, with Live and Dangerous already established as one of rock’s great live albums and from which most of the set was culled. In those days rock bands were adopted with the fervour of football teams, there was not much subjectivity, they were one of “your” bands, and that was it.
Time can play tricks on you. Equally it can offer perspective. Not only was it one of the great rock shows I attended, but as time has passed, why, becomes more apparent. They were no Johnny-come- lately, they had earned their live spurs on the Irish show band circuit and had gigged for a decade, their milieu was live, rather than recorded, performance.
Why so few black men have become rock stars is a bit of a mystery. Phil Lynnot was integral to the band’s image, and an incredible asset. At a time when racism was still commonplace, it was no obvious impediment to rock stardom, Jimi Hendrix had ensured that. Lynnot was a showman, the leader of the gang, MC for the evening, comic , and cheerleader. His down to earth bonhomie was an Irish parallel to Bruce Springsteen’s American grass roots appeal. Both ensured that when you came to one of their shows, they would personally guarantee that you would have a good time.
The twin lead guitar attack was favoured by several successful American Deep South bands, the Doobie Bros, Allman Bros and Lynyrd Skynyrd, although check out the intro to Sweet Jane on Lou Reed Live with Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter trading licks in ’75 and you will hear a template which was ideal for rock performance. Although Lizzy went through a dizzying array of guitarists in their time, it was that formula which served them well.
Lynnot died aged 37 in 1986. It seemed as that would close the book on the band. But as time has gone on, so the music has grown in stature. Lizzy without Lynnot was never going to be the same, but various reincarnations of the band have re-emerged in response to popular demand, Gary Moore when he was alive continued to play Lizzy hits, and tribute bands have also flourished to feed that increased, and increasing interest.
Foremost among these is Limehouse Lizzy. They comprise Wayne Ellis, Andy Fox, Greg Alcock and local boy Tim Read from Burton upon Trent. Tribute acts have come of age recently with several, Limehouse Lizzy amongst them, having been gigging in their own right for well over a decade. The obstacle that “it isn’t the original band” is over. Does anyone ever go to a Mozart concert and exclaim “It was rubbish, Mozart wasn’t playing?”. Either the music stands up, and the spirit of the band, is captured, or it isn’t, and Limehouse Lizzy do both.
Limehouse Lizzy play Tamworth Assembly Rooms on Friday May 31st, 8pm