This month, I’m gonna have to split this one up into 2 parts because when you have a band with as rich a history as Thin Lizzy, it will take many words to relay said story.
The band is mainly known for its “classic” line up of bassist/vocalist Phil Lynott, drummer Brian Downey, and guitarists Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham. But we’ll get to that in a bit. The 2 static members from the start, Lynott and Downey, had met in school.
The band was formed in December, 1969 in Dublin, Ireland when Belfast guitarist Eric Bell met up with organist Eric Wrixon in a pub and found that they shared an ambition to form a group. Both had played in Them, fronted by Van Morrison. The same night, they saw the band Orphanage which featured vocalist Phil Lynott and Brian Downey. Bell and Wrixon introduced themselves after the show and suggested they form a band together. Lynott and Downey were aware of Bell’s good musical reputation and agreed with the condition that Lynott play bass guitar and they play some of his own compositions.
In July 1970, they released a single, “The Farmer”/”I Need You” on EMI, the b-side written by John D’ardis, who owned Trend Studios, where the single was recorded. It sold only 283 copies and is now a collector’s item. Wrixon left before the single’s release.
By the end of the year, the band were signed to Decca Records and went to London in January 1971 to record their first album, Thin Lizzy. Around March 1971 the band permanently relocated to London, before the release of the unsuccessful “New Day” ep. Despite the poor sales, Decca agreed to finance the band’s 2nd album, Shades Of A Blue Orphanage, released in March 1972. These albums had more of a Celtic feel, and showed little warning of the hard rock direction the band were to take in the future.
In late 1972, the band went on a high profile tour with Slade and Suzi Quatro. Around the same time, Decca decided to release the band’s version of a traditional Irish ballad, “Whiskey In The Jar” as a single. The band was upset at this, feeling it didn’t represent their sound, but the single topped the Irish chart and reached #6 in the UK in February 1973, resulting in an appearance on Top Of The Pops.
Another album, Vagabonds Of The Western World, released in September 1973, got good reviews but did not chart. Eric Bell left the band on New Years Eve 1973 after a gig at Queen’s University Belfast, due to increasing ill health and disillusionment with the music industry, and young ex-Skid Row guitarist Gary Moore was brought in to finish the tour. Moore stayed until April 1974, but the band recorded 3 songs with him in that time, including the version of “Still In Love With You” that appeared on the band’s 4th album, Nightlife.
After Moore’s departure, 2 temporary guitarists were brought in to complete a tour. After the tour, and with the contract with Decca ending, a disillusioned Downey quit the band and had to be begged to return. Auditions were held for new guitarists, and they decided on Glaswegian Brian Robertson and Californian Scott Gorham. They quickly gelled, dropped most of the old songs from the live set list, and secured a new deal with Phonogram and Nightlife was released. It was a disappointment due to its soft production and underdeveloped style.
In early 1975, they toured the USA for the first time with Bob Seger and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. When BTO toured Europe later in the year, the band again supported them on what was a very high profile tour. They then recorded the Fighting album which became the first Thin Lizzy album to chart in the UK, reaching #60. It also showed the first real evidence of the twin guitar sound that would lead the band toward their greatest successes, particularly the dual harmonies on “Wild One” and both guitarists soloing on “Suicide”.
After a successful tour with Status Quo, the band recorded the album Jailbreak, which proved to be their breakthrough album. Released on 26 March 1976, it featured the worldwide hit “The Boys Are Back In Town” which reached #8 in the UK and #12 in the US. They toured the US with the likes of Aerosmith and Rush, and planned to tour there again in June 1976, this time with Rainbow, but Lynott fell ill with Hepatitis and the tour was cancelled, which set them back a few months.
While ill, Lynott wrote most of the following album, Johnny The Fox. Recorded in August 1976. Tensions in the band were coming to the fore, with Lynott and Robertson arguing over writing credits. A further tour of the US was planned for December 1976 but had to be cancelled when, on November 26th, Robertson suffered a hand injury while involved in a bar fight, trying to protect his friend. Gary Moore was brought back in for another tour of the US, this time with Queen. He was asked to stay on but returned to his previous band.
In May 1977, the band flew to Canada to record the album Bad Reputation, with Gorham handling all guitar parts. A month into the sessions, Robertson joined them, in his own words, “as a session player”, and in Lynott’s words, “as a guest”. He added lead guitar tracks to 3 songs, as well as rhythm guitar and keyboards, and was officially reinstated later in the year. The album was released in September 1977 and did well, reaching #4 in the UK.
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