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Song Of The Month January 2011: “Old Town” by Phil Lynott

January 5, 2011


On the 4th January 1986 (25 years ago), an Irish man took his final breath. His death was at the very least untimely at the age of 36. This man was born into the world on August 20 1949 and was named Philip Parris Lynott.

It is safe to say that Phil Lynott became the first real Irish rock ‘n’ roll hero, achieved via the heavy rock band that was and is Thin Lizzy. Thin Lizzy are remembered in popular music quarters largely by their take on the Irish folk song “Whiskey in the Jar” and “The Boys Are Back in Town” which was their biggest hit. For more keen listeners, there are a mass of great records to remember the band by, were it singles such as the double A-side “Dancing In The Moonlight”/”Bad Reputation” or indeed plenty of albums (a personal favourite: “Black Rose (A Rock Legend)”). They are widely perceived as the pioneers of guitar harmonisation in rock music (admittedly disputable, cite Wishbone Ash) and are indeed noted as a huge influence on many heavy-rock and metal groups that have sprung since.

His death was ultimately the result of the hard and heavy lifestyle in which he led akin to a true all-or-nothing rocker but the song I’ve chosen from the Dubliner’s back catalogue is one not of such a rock ilk. Released as a single(with its B-side: “Beat The Drum”) in September 1982 and to be included on what was his 2nd solo album “The Philip Lynott Album”, “Old Town” is certainly not a Thin Lizzy song by any stretch of the imagination . There are no dual guitar harmonies or hard-hitting drum beats. It is to all intents and purposes a “pop” song of its time with its bright arrangement and vocal hooks-a-plenty complete with promo video. Set in Dublin, it mainly consists of him standing on Ha’Penny Bridge singing about the failure of a relationship (something recreated by myself on my 18th birthday pilgrimage to Dublin albeit minus the glamour and abundance of cool), wandering around the streets of his old stomping ground and stopping in a bar as you do. The song itself is an illustration of the romantic aspect to his character, an aspect that seems well-illustrated across both of his two solo albums in truth (Solo in Soho, his 1st solo LP, was released in April 1980). The solo albums served to be an extension of him as the poet that he was (he did indeed have 2 books published) prior to the rock star he would become.

“The Philip Lynott Album”, a delayed release in itself, would turn out to be his last solo release of new work in his lifetime. Indeed there would be only one more album by Thin Lizzy, “Thunder and Lightning”, as metal an album as Thin Lizzy could do and with yet another new guitarist, John Sykes, in tow. Thin Lizzy would soon after disband in 1984. Members of the band have and indeed tour to this day under the name Thin Lizzy but that’s something I won’t comment further on.
Phil would try again with a new band, the ill-fated Grand Slam, which failed to secure a recording deal. 1985 did see two very different collaborative efforts released. “Out In The Fields” with former Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore was released to relative success in the May while a collaboration with Paul Hardcastle, “Nineteen” (nothing but pure coincidence of song title, according to Lynott himself) would be released some 6 months later. Within 2 months of its release, Phil Lynott had died. He’s survived by his two daughters, Sarah and Cathleen (both had songs written about them: the later honoured on “The Philip Lynott Album” with a track bearing her name).

“Old Town” has of course had its recorded cover versions. The most popular was by Irish familial group The Corrs, first in live performance on MTV Unplugged where Andrea Corr introduced it as a “Thin Lizzy cover version” and later when released as a studio recording on their 2005 album “Home”. It was also covered by the Dutch group Ten Sharp and was released on their 1996 live covers album “Roots Live”.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 20, 2011 00:08

    Writing about footie and music…? It’ll never catch on…

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