While Phil Lynott was the public face and voice of Thin Lizzy and the twin lead guitars their identifiable sound, the contribution of drummer Brian Downey throughout the band’s original existence should never be underestimated.
He was even tempted back at the start of this decade to give the Ricky Warwick-fronted reunion some added authenticity but chose not to go on their subsequent Black Star ride, perhaps a wise move given their relentless touring schedule.
However a couple of years ago he re-emerged with a new line up of well-respected musicians from the Irish scene playing the music of Lizzy and this has been so successful they have since become regular tourers on the mainland, with this gig surprisingly well attended.
There was the bonus of a 45 minute support slot from Rebecca Downes who would have been a worthy headliner in her own right. I had seen her acoustic support for the Quireboys earlier this year but when I last caught an electric show couple of years ago, she was very much a rising blues star.
However this time the opening trio of ‘Take Me Higher’,’Wave Them Goodbye’ and the radio playlisted ‘Hurts’ rocked unexpectedly hard. Her partner in crime, guitarist Steve Birkett, also seemed to enjoy playing in a heavier style as well as sharing a few vocal lines while new drummer Neil Ogden is very much from this tradition.
It was understandable she wanted to show off this new direction with a cover – I was disappointed it had to be the grossly over played ‘Rock And Roll’, yet it went down well with others.
Only on the title track of her current album ‘More Sinner Than Saint’ did the keyboards of Nigel Darvill finally take equal prominence in the mix, while the oldie ‘Sailing On A Pool of Tears’ was a marvellous slow blues. With her cropped blonde hair and proudly displaying her West Midland roots, she projects plenty of character to match that gutsy voice.
‘Big Sky’ returned to a more rocking template and saw Steve play some excellent slide, which he repeated on her signature song ‘Believe’, the instrumentalists trading lines off each other as it concluded a thoroughly impressive set.
As he took his place on the drum stool, Brian Downey heralded the start of’ Jailbreak’ with the most precise tap of a cymbal. As you might expect from the band name, the set initially faithfully followed the ‘Live and Dangerous’ album with ‘Emerald’- though the solo from Brian Grace seemed substantially improvised from the original, ‘Southbound’ with those beautiful duelling guitars, and ‘Rosalie’.
Singer and bassist Matt Wilson, despite being a relative youngster had both the hair and many of the Lynott mannerisms, and stirred up a crowd chant during ‘Dancin’ In The Moonlight’. The man himself, trim and dapper in a smart shirt, did not draw attention to himself and there were no speeches or set pieces, but he was a delight to watch, always solid and driving a change of tempo as needed, notably with a fierce military style drumming in the middle of ‘Massacre’.
The two guitarists- ironically sharing the first name of the Lizzy founders – have a slightly different but complementary style – Phil Edgar has a beautifully smooth tone and plays with great fluidity and feeling, while Brian G’s style was somewhat more raw and heavy. He also appears to be a joker judging by the way both Matt and Phil kept breaking into laughter whenever he sidled up to them mid–song with a cheeky grin and a wisecrack in their ear.
After a breakneck opening septet of songs, the pace dropped with ‘Still In Love With You’, giving both guitarists ample scope to solo quite beautifully, then in the first break with the ‘L and D’ running order, ‘Sha La La’ saw heavier guitar riffing and a short drum break from Brian D. It teed up nicely a classic mid-set duo of ‘Cowboy Song’ and ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, the front of the stage now populated by geezers of a certain age jumping around and conducting a beery singalong.
There was no sense of anticlimax, indeed the set had entered a golden period with a rare dip into later Lizzy but one of their finest ever in ‘Waiting For An Alibi’, those twin guitars at their best, as they were on ‘Don’t Believe A Word’.
‘Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed’ was a change of pace with Matt expertly wrapping his tongue around the lyrics, but ‘Warriors’ was heavy with more impressive drumming and a fierce wah-wah solo from Brian, leading into ‘Are You Ready’ and ‘Suicide’ as the rest of the main set just flew by.
With Live And Dangerous all but exhausted I was curious what the encores might be but bamboozled by a number with an almost punk urgency, ‘Got To Figure Out’. I like to think I know the Lizzy catalogue pretty well but was this original, or a Greedies collaboration I’d somehow missed?
In contrast another dip into the post L&D era in ‘Black Rose‘ was an epic with some colossal work from both guitarists, proving this is a song best delivered in the hands of genuine Irishmen.
Talking of which, even though it was over curfew and the band moved as if to leave the stage, there was time for one final crowd pleasing encore in ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ – I am sure Matt sang the lyrics in the wrong place on a couple of occasions but such was the atmosphere that few would have noticed or cared.
In the right hands, an evening of Thin Lizzy music is always a good experience. When it is led by a bona fide founder member and such skilled interpreters of the legend, an even better night is guaranteed.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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