Todgers, Jukeboxes and Greedy Bastards: Friends Of Phil Spill! #1

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This Irish Rover was never short of a companion at work or play. We got some tales from the people who knew Phil Lynott best - his bandmates, friends and confidants.

Brian Robertson

When Phil got more than chocolate stains on his pants…

“Life in Thin Lizzy was always full of practical jokes – it was an antidote to the boredom of being on the road. On one US tour, I’d fallen asleep in front of the TV, smoking a cigarette. I burned a hole in my finger and had to go to the doctor because the poison was spreading up my arm. He gave me this antiseptic cream which caused real pain when applied.“We were playing with Steve Marriott’s All-Stars, who were the headliners. We’d do a set to open, they’d go on and Stevie would belt it out, and we’d go back on again later, which was a bit bizarre.“At the end of our dressing room, in the basement, were these old-style toilets with shorter doors that meant you could see the feet of the occupants. We were getting ready to go on stage for our first set and – I’ll put this as diplomatically as possible – let’s just say Phil had been rather busy with the ladies. He was complaining about his nether regions being sore, trying to pull on his leather strides, but they wouldn’t go over his member. From the bottom of the cubicle, which revealed this pair of legs, I could see him struggling and hear the cursing. Eventually, he asked whether anybody had any cream.

“Well, luckily I had. So I handed this tube of really strong antiseptic ointment to Scott Gorham to pass under the door to Phil. I knew exactly what would happen because it had killed me applying it to my finger. I just sat there and waited, looking at Phil’s little feet wiggling about.

“Suddenly, those feet went up in the air with a cry of, ‘Oh, ya fokken bastard! Gorham, I’m gonna kill you!’ I kid you not, after Phil had lifted off, it took several seconds before he returned to earth, effing and blinding. Eventually, I held my hands up and accepted the blame for what I thought was a great joke: ‘If I’m going to suffer, so are you, mate – you’ve had all of the pleasure and none of the pain.’ And, of course, we made it up again very quickly. Things were back to normal by the end of the gig.”

(Image: © Rex)

Scott Gorham

Breakout! The surprise hit 45.

“There were so many shared moments, but one of the coolest was learning that a song we hadn’t even considered worthy of release had become our first ever hit single. It was 1976 and we were touring America. Jailbreak wasn’t shifting and we weren’t selling any tickets, but there we were, gigging around.

“We were somewhere in the south of the country when the manager came in and told us: ‘Well guys, it looks like you have a hit record.’ We looked at one another in amazement. We couldn’t pick a single out of our ass, so we had left that to the record company.

“Our response was: ‘Wow, which song are you talking about?’ When he replied, ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, it was a case of, ‘Really?’ We’d demoed maybe 15 songs and The Boys Are Back In Town wasn’t among the 10 that we chose for the album, which in some ways made it a double surprise.

“We owe it all to two disc jockeys in Louisville, Kentucky. They fell in love with the fucking song and played it incessantly until other stations in the surrounding area picked up on it. It snowballed from there. Had that song not kick-started the sales of the album then the band was over with. And we knew it.”

Joe Elliott

How Pyromania turned Lizzy Dreams to ashes.

“I remember meeting Phil in the men’s toilet at Frank’s Funny Farm in Camden, He was talking to Midge Ure and we were the only three people in at the time. Phil said hi – as you do – and I introduced myself. We’d delivered Pyromania and with us sharing a label with Lizzy, he’d heard it. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘I heard your album – it’s the reason I’ve split the band. I can’t compete with that.’ The crappiest backhanded compliment I’ve ever had. I wish I had been brave enough to shove him up against the wall and say, ‘Well, make a better album then!’

But I just said, ‘Oh,’ and scuttled off. Weird…”

Higgins, centre back row, with Lynott and pals.

Higgins, centre back row, with Lynott and pals.

Nick Higgins

Early bandmate on the Black Eagles’ ‘controversial’ name.

“As the drummer in Phil’s earliest band, the Black Eagles, I was there when Phil stepped on stage for the first time. When the band started, Philip wasn’t the singer. That was his uncle, Peter, who was about six months older than him. As we got nearer to our first gig, Peter dropped out. Philip said, ‘I’ll sing.’

He sang just as badly as we played that night, but there was something different about him, even from the way he stood over the mic, with that slight bend in his head. The girls loved him before he even opened his mouth. There was a presence.

“Philip would have been thirteen or fourteen and those were very different times. Political correctness hadn’t even been invented. Philip never considered himself black, and it wouldn’t be unusual for him to turn up at rehearsals and say, ‘Hey lads, I’ve got this great nigger joke.’ You couldn’t say that now, but back then it was commonplace. Phil considered himself a Dubliner and an Irishman – end of story.

“However, his heritage played a part in the naming of our band. Trying to get gigs, we considered calling ourselves The Eagles, until discovering an American group was already using the name… and it wasn’t even the one that became famous. Eventually, and this was the only time
I ever heard him use the term, Philip said, ‘Jesus, lads, I’m black. So why don’t we call ourselves the Black Eagles?’ And that’s what happened.

“Brian Downey replaced me after about two years and we lived in very different worlds. But we met again after a number of years and when he died, all I could think was: what a waste of talent. Had he lived, he’d have turned out to be one of the finest record producers to come out of Ireland.”