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Phill Lynott: Irish, Black, Cool…

George Best was the greatest English, er, Irish winger of all time. A legendary Man United soccer player and worldclass swordsman and “Slack Alice” was his night club in the heart of Manchester thirty odd years ago and in the dead of night with Barry White bassing and thumping and cute chicks behind the bar and hooks up happening it was the place to be. Ten miles away Tony Wilson was opening the Electric Circus in a Council Estate but this place had the reek of hedonia.

Except it is six in the morning and Best hasn’t been at Slack Alice tonight and the lights are on and the chicks who have lasted through are looking tired and smudgy but the manager Pete is regaling various members of the Quality Street Gang with stories of Best’ legendary prowess and shoving one chick out the window while another chick bangs on the door and the Gang -the Prince’s of Manchester are drinking tea and shots of Southern Comfort and sitting on a sofa, a chick with her head in his lap and a cig at the corner of his lips and laughing, but quietly, almost to himself, is Phil Lynott. Lead singer and bassist with Thin Lizzy -a hard rock band like no other- and he is watching with his eyes narrow slits, almost closed.

The Quality Street Gang were twenty-something year Jewish gangsters with their hands in the usual tills: drugs, prostitutions, shake downs. Everybody paid, and sure every pub and nightclub, paid. But they weren’t the American type of gangster: these were cool, good looking, guys dating models, hanging out with the Granada Television crowd: favorite sons.
And Lynott was born to romanticise the world around him. Raised on the mean streets of Dublin he formed his band Thin Lizzy from the remnants of Van Morrison’s band Them. But his vision was so Irish, full of blarny, he couldn’t view a situation without mythologizing it. Thin Lizzy’s first hit was the Irish standard “Whiskey In The Bottle”-all theft and lost love.
It took the band a little while to hit their stride -to mesh the secret place where Lynott’s deeply held romanticism and Eric Bell’s strident blues based riffs met- but certainly by 1975 they were moments away from widespread success and this is where Lynott, working from an addictive riff found his voice. “The Boys Are back In Town”. Even the quickest of listens will soon find just how unsavory the boys are. “The drink will flow and the blood will spill…” Lynott warns at one point, it is a vision of night life spiked with horror but it doesn’t scare Lynott: the perennial outsider (he even plays bass!) he is not involved the situation, he knows them, even likes them but he isn’t them.
The “boys” have been out of town for the winter and Lynott is speaking to a girl, a mutual friend, Lynott has run into the Quality Street gang and they want to know where she is, the two remember the boys previous hijinx. The next verse is a look forward to Friday’s night, the boys will be “dressed to kill,” there may be trouble (suddenly “spread the word around” has a double edge) but Lynott will be standing in the corner plugging money into the jukebox and watching the nights getting warner.

Phil did this better than anybody this side of Springsteen -it’s a criminal, sexy, dream of masculinity: it’s a vision of a world of heroes conquering women and killing men and it comes from the smallest of things -Lynott would do this over and over again; he would use the teenage insecurites of boys and turn them to daydreams of manhood and he would do it smart. A band like Led Zep were either ocksmen or fairy Kings but Phil was (or played) a street smart hoodlum, a charmer, an Irish rogue and never better than here.

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