Film review: PHIL LYNOTT – Songs For While I’m Away


Break Out/ Eagle Rock Productions [Release Date 30.10.20]

Autumn 2020 is one of those times when the Thin Lizzy legacy is getting one of its periodic dusting downs.  Alongside a bumper budget compilation and a 6 CD box set of rarities comes this specially commissioned feature-length film of Philip Lynott’s life, directed by Emer Reynolds.

At an hour and 50 minutes it can be seen as the definitive account, with a star studded list of contributors including former wife Caroline, his two daughters Sarah and Cathleen, his former long-time girlfriend, and family members, as well as musicians including pearls of wisdom from a very un-Irish sounding Adam Clayton of U2. This puts it in a different league to the BBC4 documentary a few years ago that trod similar ground.

The major input from bandmates come from Eric Bell and subsequently Scott Gorham who delivers his reminiscences in wryly humorous fashion with a wild glint in his eye. Midge Ure and Darren Wharton also appear, but the one glaring hole is the non-participation of the man with whom he shared the longest musical history in Brian Downey. The man himself occasionally adds to the story  through archive audio recordings.

Much of the story of his rise and fall – from a black youngster raised in Dublin by relatives, to iconic rock star, to his tragic drug and alcohol -fuelled downfall – has already been told. However, the first hand testimony of the guests mean it is told in richer detail, and judging by the closing credits their participation has also paid dividends in terms of supplying rare or private footage.

It brings out some of the contradictions in the man- the shy poet who gained in confidence to ooze stage presence and charisma; the artist who moved to London in search of fame but remained such a proud Dubliner that he insisted his children were born there; the lover of all things American who failed to crack the States; and his ambivalent relationship with first hit ‘Whiskey in the Jar’.

The one health warning is that the text that links the footage is so small that reading it on a TV set is like undergoing an optician’s test, which hopefully will be less of an issue in cinemas.

The soundtrack tends to be of short excerpts of Lizzy (and a few solo) songs, which are a nice balance of hits and rarities, chosen to better illuminate the story. However this is much broader than a solely musical film. Lizzy purists may scoff that elements of the band’s story are given relatively short shrift – the role of the harmony lead guitars in their sound, the Snowy White and John Sykes years – while oddly the reunion with Gary Moore and success of ‘Out In The Fields’ near the end of his life is not mentioned at all, perhaps because it did not fit the narrative of inexorable decline?

Instead this is a portrait of the family man as much as his musical legacy, and what really adds to the sum of knowledge are interviews with his wife and daughters-  both of whom had songs written for them – and their fleeting memories of him. His demise is not glossed over, though to hear old friends recall their last meeting with him, and the footage of his young family at his funeral is almost unbearably poignant.

It signs off on a sad note, yet the film is the definitive legacy yet for a rock legend and a nice complement to what is still one of the best catalogues in rock.  *****

Review by Andy Nathan

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