Phil Lynott’s influence on me: Richie Egan
The Jape songwriter and musician on vocal melodies and constantly moving bass lines
Thin Lizzy: Phil Lynott at the Hammersmith Odeon, in London, in 1976. Photograph: Erica Echenberg/Redferns
One time a friend was going through a bad break-up: his head was melted. We were sitting on the Dart in silence, and I could see the strain in him. I took my headphones out and put on the Thin Lizzy album ‘Bad Reputation’. The song ‘That Woman’s Gonna Break Your Heart’ came on, and I placed the headphones on my friend’s head. As soon as it got to the lines “that woman’s gonna tear your soul apart, that woman’s gonna wreck your head, that woman’s gonna leave you sad, so sad” a smile came on his face. Phil Lynott knew, because he had been there.
The way Lynott used the character of the cowboy or the outlaw to tell a story could have been cheesy in the wrong hands, but his humanity always lent the stories believability.
I doubt he ever actually worked for a rodeo, but in ‘Cowboy Song’, when he sings “down below the border in a town in Mexico, I got my job busting broncs for the rodeo”, you kind of imagine him there, in a cowboy hat, one hand on a saddle, the other in the air.
As a bass player who has worked out a fair few Lizzy and Phil Lynott songs, I can say that they are some of the best lines I’ve ever played. The way his vocal melodies fit over the constantly moving bass lines and still leave room for those guitars (those guitars!) is an incredible thing to get your head around as a musician.
We were working out ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ for a friend’s wedding recently, and when I was showing the bass line to the other seasoned, professional musicians, they stared at my fingers on the bass for a while until slowly their jaws collectively dropped a bit. They kind of sheepishly said: “Okay, we might need to take notes for this one . . . ”
Lynott had an amazing ability to make complicated arrangements sound so fluid and intuitive to the listener, but when you get under the hood you really see what a genius he was. A great example of this is not even a Thin Lizzy track but the song ‘Old Town’, from his second solo record, ‘The Philip Lynott Album’. It’s three minutes 27 seconds long, without an ounce of fat in it, a catchy and concise musical jigsaw, from a man who is normally associated with leather and hard rock.
‘Old Town’ showed he could have been up there with the Elvis Costellos or Joe Jacksons of this world if he had wanted to be – Phil could have done any style of music and it would sound like him. When he was on form his artistic voice transcended the music and let us feel the essence of the man.
‘Old Town’ is also the reason that the Long Hall [on South Great Georges Street in Dublin] is one of my favourite pubs.
So RIP, Phil Lynott. Thanks for the education. Love from another Crumlin bass player. I really wonder what you would have made of Conor McGregor.