Music Interview: Thin Lizzy

GUITARIST Scott Gorham joined Thin Lizzy in 1974, playing on key albums such as Jailbreak, Johnny and the Fox and Live and Dangerous.

The million-selling hard rockers broke up in 1984 but in 1996 they reformed as a touring tribute to their late frontman, Phil Lynott.

They continue today, with 51-year-old Gorham joined by Brian Downey, Darren Wharton, Vivian Campbell, Marco Mendoza and Ricky Warwick. In January they play at the O2 Academy in Leeds.

What was the inspiration behind this tour?

To be quite honest we had some trouble a little over a year ago and myself and John Sykes parted ways. It was a period where I felt a bit down and I didn't know if I was gonna carry on with Thin Lizzy. I actually got a call from Brian Downey and he said 'we gotta keep it going' and he wanted to come back and be in the band.

It had seemed for the longest time he didn't wanna play and now for the last couple of weeks he's been working harder than the rest of us!

Vivian Campbell – he's such a big fan, he knows all of the songs – was teaching me parts of songs I'd written years ago!

The good thing about Viv joining and with Ricky Warwick singing is that they know all of the obscure songs also. In the past we've stuck to the Live and Dangerous set but now we are starting to pull out songs we've never played, or haven't played in years.

Do you think that the band has suffered from being associated with the early songs too much?

The Lizzy fans know almost all of the songs anyway – it's the casual Thin Lizzy listener that will only know those two or three songs – The Boys Are Back in Town, Jailbreak, maybe Waiting For an Alibi. But I've heard over and over again that people say 'I didn't know these guys wrote that song'.

You've got to play your The Boys Are Back in Town and the Jailbreaks, but I hope that when they hear what we're doing they'll download a couple of the other ones and check them out also.

Musically we were never a one trick pony, especially with Phil and his writing – he could show a lot of different sides to himself and he was never afraid to show that.

Lots of bands get their formulaic thing and stick to it. Maybe that's why we didn't break America so much, because we didn't stick to one sound the whole way through. But then you speak to some fans and they say that's why they love us, because we have that variety.

How would you describe your fanbase now? Is it diehard Thin Lizzy fans or are you appealing to a fresh set of ears?

It's both. The last time we were out there playing that's what we were noticing – the younger crowd were up at the front and the older guys were at the back just taking it in. There is a well-rounded fanbase now whereas before I think it was just one age bracket. Now the age bracket has widened quite considerably.

I kinda dig that fathers are passing the albums on to their sons and we're playing to the new generation. I've had fathers say to me 'My son was listening to this pop crap but now I've introduced him to Thin Lizzy you're his favourite band.'

My Dad wanted me to go into the construction business, like him, and I wanted to do music – we were always butting heads over that. I always used to hear the phrase 'Well, you know, you're gonna need something to fall back on.' A fair few years down the road you realise 'I was actually really lucky.' Because I wasn't sensible or serious!

Any plans for new material and who would be writing it now?

Well, that always seems to be the number one question – that has probably been the biggest hurdle of the whole thing. There are parts of Phil's family that really don't like that idea – they'd rather not.

It's a moral thing; there are moral hurdles you have to overcome all the time. As far as writing the material goes there are six songwriters in the band – there are no passengers!

I've got another band, a group called 21 Guns, and we've made two albums already. My partner lives in Oslo, so it's always tough to try and find time to try to work on that. We have recorded in the studio there and have 12 or 13 songs in the demo state and now it's weeding-out time to decide which ones will go on it – it will probably be after this tour. That's the fun bit – once you've worked out all the hard stuff.

You joined Thin Lizzy on the brink of their breakthrough. What was that like to live through then and look back on?

It wasn't their breakthrough; they were going broke! They were heavily in debt and by the time I got to that first day for the first jam with them they had already gone through 25 guitarists and not found the right one. I walked in and I was the last piece of the puzzle for them. We then spent three weeks in the rehearsal studio going over and over these songs, just for four shows. The fourth show was the London Marquee and it was on that night we had to secure a record deal and if we didn't it was over. Thankfully we got it and everything was okay.

It must be a challenge to replicate the chemistry between yourself and Brian Robertson with the dual guitar attack – how close do you think the live sound you achieve with Vivian Campbell gets to that signature sound?

Well, I think it gets a lot closer than it did with John Sykes and that's not to say anything against him. What happened with John was it started to sound metal-sounding. We always said this is an Irish rock band not a metal band. With Vivian, it's been easy to pull it back to what we originally wanted soundwise.

How do you feel the current vocal arrangement is working overall compared to Phil's voice?

It wasn't only the texture of his voice but the timing and his phrasing that was unusual – I haven't heard anyone that's got in there and phrased like Phil. Ricky is kind of in the same ball park with a deep voice, he gets a real authentic sound being from Northern Ireland on that and he's a helluva nice guy as well. The last thing we wanted was a Phil clone. When everyone comes into this band I tell them you're here for a reason – because we like what you do, so we're not going to tell you what to do, you're up there for your personality. You gotta get in there with the spirit of the song – it's not karaoke hour.

What do you think Phil would say?

I think Phil would be the first guy up on the stage! I don't just miss Phil as a band member – I miss him because he was my friend for 11 years. We did every single thing together then all of a sudden he wasn't there. It was sad and it was tough. The first time I got up there and played a show without him it was strange – I'd look to my right and he wasn't there when for years he had been. It was a really hard thing.

What is your favourite Thin Lizzy track and why?

I really don't have a favourite – I have lots of favourite parts in the songs, moments that I look forward to – these songs are great guitar vehicles to play on!

Jan 10, O2 Academy, Cookridge Street, Leeds, 7pm, 23.50. Tel: 0844 477 2000. www.ticketweb.co.uk