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Interviews   

Thin Lizzy : still live and dangerous


Thin Lizzy is doing great these days. Pretty strange considering the band, formed by God Himself, the late Phil Lynott, has been coming and going for the past twenty years with an ever changing line-up. Why the sudden attention, these few past months? First clue: the new line-up, featuring two newcomers, and prestigious musicians: Vivian Campbell, the eternal “new Def Leppard guitarist”, and Ricky Warwick having to bear the weight of the sacred microphone. Along with them comes Marco Mendoza on the bass and longtime members Scott Gorham (guitars), Brian Downey (drums) and Darren Wharton (keyboards). You’re looking at a dream team of musicians which is also getting back in touch with its Irish roots.

Secondly, Scott Gorham himself says: “Alright! The fans are unanimous: Thin Lizzy has never sounded more like Thin Lizzy than today. The band is even thinking about hitting the studios for the first time since 1983 and their Thunder And Lightning ».

We couldn’t miss the opportunity; we asked Scott Gorham, who’s behind this new version of Thin Lizzy, to give us a call in order to learn a bit more.


« Part of the reason I wanted to sort of get away from the last version of Thin Lizzy was because I, in particular, thought it was becoming a little too metal. We never thought of ourselves as an actual metal band, we thought of ourselves as a hard rock band. […] I thought it was time to get back to the original Thin Lizzy sound. »

Radio Metal : So how are you doing?

Scott Gorham (guitars) : I’m doing pretty good. I just woke up, we arrived at 4.30 this morning. So I’m a little dingy right now!

Rick Warwick and Vivian Campbell had never been involved in Thin Lizzy up until now. How did they end up joining the band last year?

A lot of it had to do with Joe Elliott from Def Leppard. He’s a big fan of Thin Lizzy. He knew that myself and Brian Downey were getting the band back together. So he called me up and asked me: “Who are you actually gonna use for the vocalist?” And I said: “That’s gonna be a tough one, we’re thinking hard on that right now”. And he was the one who reminded me that a couple of years before, I had flown over to his place, and a guy named Ricky Warwick was recording his solo album in Joe’s studio. I remembered doing Ricky’s album, and I remembered what a great singer this guy was, what a great character he was. And now I’m thinking: “Getting Ricky into Thin Lizzy is a perfect choice”. He’s got kind of the same personality as Phil, kind of the same vocal timbre. That was absolutely the perfect choice. I got Ricky’s number from Joe, I called up Ricky and I asked him: “What would you think about being the vocalist in Thin Lizzy?” And Ricky being such a fan of the band, he just jumped all over it. It kind of became a pretty easy thing, really. As for Viv, he found out that I was looking for another guitar player for the band. He was the one who actually asked Joe: “Would you call Scott and ask him if he would consider me as the guitar player on the other side?” I didn’t have to consider at all: I’ve known Viv for years, I know his guitar playing, I know what he’s all about. So I called him, and he too jumped at the chance of being in Thin Lizzy. This time around, putting the band together was an extremely easy thing to do. I thought it was gonna be really tough, I thought we were gonna take months trying to find the right guys. As a matter of fact, it only took maybe two weeks to put everything together!

Both Ricky Warwick and Vivian Campbell are Irish. Was it an important factor when you asked them to join the band, in order to bring back the band’s original roots?

It’s about that, yes. We’d already been thinking about that before. Part of the reason I wanted to sort of get away from the last version of Thin Lizzy was because I, in particular, thought it was becoming a little too metal. We never thought of ourselves as an actual metal band, we thought of ourselves as a hard rock band. We used to push that all the time. I thought it was time to get back to the original Thin Lizzy sound. And each guy that got into this band – myself, Brian Downey who’s back with us, Ricky, Viv – wanted to get this thing back to the sound we originally intended it to have. Fortunately, that’s what happened; we were able to draw this back to the original Thin Lizzy sound. You can say from all the comments from our fans and supporters that they agree with this. We have a sold-out tour here in the United Kingdom. They agree that we’ve actually gone the right way in the kind of sound that we’re trying to get.

Apparently, you asked Brian Robertson to come back in the band, and he declined your offer. Why?

I asked Brian as a courtesy. I knew that the whole Thin Lizzy thing wasn’t his kind of thing any longer. By now he’s playing and promoting his own solo album. It’s a more blues-based kind of thing. But I asked him out of courtesy. I called him and asked him what he would think about it. He said he would love to, but he had his own solo album to promote. I said: “That’s fine, I just wanted to come up and give you the first shot at it”. That’s how it all kinda worked.

Should we see this incarnation of Thin Lizzy as a real band or as a tribute to Phil Lynott’s life and work, just like the band was presented in 1996?

Well, no, this is a real band. But it’s 25 years this year since Phil passed on. As a group of friends, we’re dedicating this whole tour to our friend Phil Lynott. The fans understand that. When we introduce the band on stage, we actually introduce Phil as well. He’s still part of the band. Most nights, he gets the biggest applause of all of us. And that’s the way it should be. He’s why we’re there. He was our buddy, we all miss him to death. We all wish we were here. It’s kind of the main thrust on this particular tour.

« We’re getting over the emotional hump of not having Phil with us as a songwriter. When I look around on stage and see the guys that are with me – Ricky and Viv and Marco and Darren Wharton on keyboards –, when I look at the absolute plethora of songwriters on stage with me, I have no doubt that we could, as a group of guys, put together an absolutely great album.« 

Have you ever considered changing the name of the band, just like Queen did recently by calling themselves Queen With Paul Rodgers?

No, not at all. We play Thin Lizzy’s songs, we don’t play anybody else’s stuff. We’ve got three of the original members in the band. We go out as Thin Lizzy.

The tour started at the beginning of January. Were you anxious to go on stage for the first time with this brand new line-up?

I think you always kind of wonder how you’re gonna deal with each other, how it’s gonna sound, how the songs are gonna come out. There’s always going to be a small bit of anxiety there. But I know each of these guys very well as people and as players. I know what all these guys can do. For me, it wasn’t a nerve-wracking kind of thing, because I knew in my heart this was gonna work. We had a few weeks of rehearsal, so we were well prepared when we got live.

Everybody must ask you this question, but I kind of have to ask it myself: can we expect a new Thin Lizzy album with this line-up? I know this is something you already had in mind back in 2009…

Yeah, that’s the number one question from everybody. As you imagine, I do quite a number of interviews during the year, and it really is the one question I can count on everybody to ask! All I can say is, everybody is softening to the idea. We’re getting over the emotional hump of not having Phil with us as a songwriter. When I look around on stage and see the guys that are with me – Ricky and Viv and Marco and Darren Wharton on keyboards –, when I look at the absolute plethora of songwriters on stage with me, I have no doubt that we could, as a group of guys, put together an absolutely great album. So right now we just have to talk about it a little bit more, make sure that we all feel it’s the correct way to go. As soon as we agree that it is, we’ll jump into the studio, or at least in the rehearsal room, and start writing the songs. Then we’ll actually go in the studio and record them. I know that we all have songs ready to go. It’s just getting together with that in mind, that we’re actually going to record an album together.

The last Thin Lizzy studio album is almost 30 years old. Do you think that after all this time, the band could still make an album that would sound like classic Thin Lizzy?

That’s the 64-thousand-dollar question! Do we write an album where we’re trying to copy the style of 30 years ago, or do we go with how we used to record the albums? If you think about it, when we used to record an album, we would all bring songs in, and there was no particular style we would actually go for. It was how the song was written, how we felt at the time and how it went down on tape. That’s pretty much what we’ll do this time if we record an album. It depends on the song, how it’s written, recorded and played. I don’t think it would be a great idea to say: “We’ve got to copy the Jailbreak album, or the Bad Reputation album”. I think that would be a terrible way to think about recording an album.

In 2009, Thin Lizzy Productions put out their first release, with Still Dangerous, a live album recorded during the Bad Reputation tour. Is there more live material waiting to be dusted off, or even some studio material?

There is, but I’m not sure when we will actually bring that up. What’s coming up right now is what Universal calls a “deluxe edition” of the Jailbreak album, the Johnny The Fox album, and Live And Dangerous. The first CD is the original album, but it’s just much better mastered. On the second CD, there’s a live performance of things that I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard before. But the cool thing is, I asked Universal if Joe Elliott and myself could go in the studio, pick two or three tracks from each of those albums, tear them down and totally remix them. Just to give them more of a millennium kind of mix, as we call it. And that’s what we did: we tore these tracks down, strengthening guitars, putting another guitar here and there when I thought we were weak… We just remixed them, and I love them. That’s kind of the new stuff on these limited edition albums that will be released by Universal.

« Trying to get something free, nobody in my business thinks that’s correct. […] A lot of bands count on that extra revenue of record sales. But now, I can imagine a lot fewer bands actually getting out on the road because they just flat out can’t afford it.« 

I’ve read somewhere that you were worried about today’s music industry. I think it’s interesting to have the opinion of a musician like yourself, who’s seen it evolve since the 70s. So what’s your input on this subject?

I think everybody’s worried to a certain degree about what’s going on. For the past week, it’s been all over the news that HMV, Britain’s major CD-selling company, are starting to go down. It looks like they’re gonna be out of business. There are fewer and fewer places where you can actually buy CDs. We all know you can buy it online, but for musicians like myself, it’s a new system that we’re not all aware of or on top of. I can see the advantages and the disadvantages of all the downloading and Internet-buying and all that. There are advantages and disadvantages to the whole thing. We’ll wait and see. I think my main worry is more the younger bands coming up. There aren’t a lot of major record companies the younger bands can go to in order to get advances, buy equipment, get out on the road and start a career. I’m not sure how the younger guys are gonna handle this whole thing the way we did. That’s my main worry: how the younger guys are going to get all this done.

What do you think of those people who download music illegally those days? Do you think they have no idea what it takes to be a musician, or even that they have no respect for musicians?

Trying to get something free, nobody in my business thinks that’s correct. That would be like me going to the plumber and say: “Hey, listen, I got a leaky toilet here. Now, by the way, I want you to fix it for free”. It’s just not done. Trying to get what we do for a living and then get out and give it out for free all the time, it’s not right. It’s like cutting out your arm a little bit, and it makes it tougher for bands to get on out the road and travel to each city to be able to play live. A lot of bands count on that extra revenue of record sales. But now, I can imagine a lot fewer bands actually getting out on the road because they just flat out can’t afford it.

In France, the government have enforced a very controversial system to track down illegal downloaders, send them warnings and ultimately cut their connection down. Do you think that a repressive one is the only kind of system that can be put in place in order to stop this situation?

I like the way you say that: a “repressive system”! It sounds as if you’re actually for the downloading thing, is that right?

I’m not, I’m totally against it!

It’s a strange choice of words, though.

I chose these words because it’s what most people in France call it.

We’re getting into a political discussion here, and I’m probably the least political guy you’ll run up against. I’ll tell you what, I’ll pass on this question and go straight to the next!

« It’s understandable that Phil would write songs about political things and religious things at the same time. As far as being a prophetic kind of guy goes, I’m not too sure about that! (laughs) He just wrote what he felt.« 

The next one is the last one: in 1983, on the Thunder And Lightning album, the song “The Holy War” talked about religious wars. Do you think this song was kind of prophetic, considering the rise of religious fundamentalism we’ve experienced these past years?

It certainly seems like it. It looks like Phil had his finger on the future’s pulse. But Phil, being the crazy hellraiser that he was, was actually a kind of religious guy, in his own way. He read a lot about not just history, but religious history at the same time. When you grow up in Ireland, a lot of times it seems like religion goes hand in hand with politics. You can’t really grow up not understanding both. It’s understandable that Phil would write songs about political things and religious things at the same time. As far as being a prophetic kind of guy goes, I’m not too sure about that! (laughs) He just wrote what he felt.

Interview conducted by phone in february, 2011.

Transcription : Saff

Thin Lizzy’s Website : www.thinlizzy.org/



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