The Romantic Rocker – Some Thoughts on Phil Lynott

phillynottWhat made Phil an ‘outsider’? Well, was this rowdy rocker and party goer, really an outsider? I think so. Of course just the hue of his skin in Dublin at the time would have ‘marked him out’. A black Irishman in the 50s and 60s – there was a novelty. Either he had to live up to that difference  or retreat from it – Phil, ostensibly, lived up to it. In fact he had been born at West Bromich in the West Midlands of England close to where I grew up. But Phil was sent to Dublin to live with and be brought up by his grandmother and family. He pays tribute to her in one of his songs titled ‘Sarah’. He wrote another ‘Sarah’ for his first born.

Phil was ‘black’, living apart from his mother, with an estranged father. He was brought up in Catholic Ireland – so different at the time, say, from ‘Swinging London’ and more generally the ‘swinging sixties’ – the decade when he first began to play music. Phil was tall, very leggy and eventually grew an impressive ‘Afro’ hair cut. There was no mistaking him. But there was always a dichotomy about his nature. I met and talked with him a few times (I’m lucky to be able to say) even got to play drums along with him once! With his doleful eyes, lush Dublin brogue and gentle demeanour OFF-stage (I never witnessed his wild side) – this was contrasted with the posing rocker, ‘eye-for-a-lady’, ‘jack-the-lad’, ‘twinkle in the eye’ hard rocker ON stage. Thin Lizzy were a SUPERB live act. They made their reputation and career from their live performances. And they had (to quote a song and album title) a ‘bad reputation’.

There was though, more to this rocker than one would expect. Yes he could write heavy songs with swagger such as ‘The Rocker’: I am your main man if you’re looking for trouble but also some of the most beautiful ballads, such as ‘Still in Love With You’: Think I’ll just fall to pieces/if I don’t find something else to do/ this sadness it never ceases/ I’m still in love with you. Or there were the songs of yearning, ‘Wild One’ being an example with its lines: How can we carry on, now you are gone, my wild one. There were many songs imbued with Irish legend of myth and adventure and with more contemporary reference such as, ‘Freedom Song’: I believe in the freedom song/Long live liberty/I believe in the freedom song/Doesn’t matter what you do to me.

But there was also his religious/spiritual side. I’m writing these words now because the following lines often pop into my head, from the song ‘Dear Lord’: Dear Lord, this is a prayer, just let me know if you’re really there/Dear Lord, come gain control, oh Lord, come save my soul/Give me dignity, restore my sanity, oh Lord, come rescue me/
Dear Lord, my vanity, oh Lord, it’s killin’ me, it’s killin’ me.

Phil had a sense of the Divine… a sense of the world beyond…I even think he had a sense of his impending mortality. This mix of rocker and romantic gave his songs a quality so often lacking from his contemporaries. Thin Lizzy’s songs had this mixture of Rock; Romance; Celtic History; Religion/Spirituality.

Phil was an outsider by nature not by choice. He was ‘Johnny’ the character popping up in many of his songs – he was ‘The Cowboy’, his childhood reflecting children’s awe then of the Wild West and he bringing these romantic adventures to life in the raw 1970s: I am just a cowboy, lonesome on the trail…

Well if you don’t know, Phil succumbed to the effects of drugs and their long-term use in the mid-80s. Perhaps that was always going to be his destiny. Never to grow old. Always remembered as the rocker, the gypsy with his dangling, hooped earring. His playfulness and talent. But it’s still a damn shame he’s gone.  These words reflect just a slight insight into the man and his songs. If you don’t know him and Thin Lizzy check out their back catalogue. ‘Vagabonds of the Western World’ is a raw, solid, Irish, romantic flavoured album from the band as a three-piece; ‘Nightlife’ is a soulful peculiarity (and my favourite album); Jailbreak is the ‘Classic Line-up’ at its height, containing their most famous hit song, ‘The Boys are Back in Town’.

If you don’t know Thin Lizzy and you like your rock delivered with feeling and intensity and yet with some beautiful slow ballads and thought-provoking lyrics – you will be highly delighted when you do. If you already know them – you’ll understand everything I have written. Phil’s life was a romantic-tragedy – with all the paradox that those two words combining bring. I’ll leave you with this stanza from his song, ‘Spirit Slips Away’. Written when he and the band were on the cusp of real stardom.

And when the music that makes you blue
Unfolds its secrets, the mysteries are told to you
May the angels sing rejoice to you
That fateful day when your spirit slips away

By Tim Bragg

Phil Lynott (20 August 1949 – 4 January 1986) was best known as the singer, frontman and bassist with Thin Lizzy

Tim Bragg is author of ‘Lyrics to Live by: Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life: https://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B07FW1BC5D/thirdway0c

 

 

 

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 Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Freddie_Mercury_performing_in_New_Haven,_CT,_November_1977

Freddie Mercury:  a skilled performer with flair

PG-13 | 2h 14min | 2 November 2018 (USA)
Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Anthony McCarten (story by), Peter Morgan (story by) | 1 more credit »
Stars: Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee

Wow! I loved this film. It transported me back to the 80s and reminded me what a great group Queen were and of the power of Rock music. 

The film tells us the story of Farrokh Bulsara (played superbly by Rami Malek) as he becomes Freddie Mercury. Bulsara is the son of immigrants from Zanzibar (now in Tanzania) who were Parsees, Zoroastrians who fled to India from Muslim persecution in Persia during the 7th–8th centuries. His family had moved to Zanzibar so that his father could continue his job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office. At the age of 17, Mercury and his family fled from Zanzibar because of the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution, in which thousands of Arabs and Indians were killed. To the credit of the film this is made clear (though not explained or emphasised).

I was intrigued by his family relationships. His father Bomi Bulsara (Ace Bhatti) was a conservative figure who had a portrait of our Queen on his wall and emphasised the three commandments preached by Zoroaster: good thoughts, good words and good actions repeatedly and sometimes critically to Freddie! His relationship with his Father, thankfully, improved over time. It can’t have been easy for either of them given their different natures. Brian May noted in 2016, “It’s probably true to say that Freddie’s father, strongly committed to the Parsee faith, didn’t find it easy that Freddie took the path he did, as a rock musician, and a fairly irreverent one, at that. Nevertheless the support was always there.”It’s one of the joys of this film that we see their understanding and acceptance of each other develop. His mother Jer Bulsara (Meneka Das) was more directly supportive.

We also see a young Freddie working as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport and experiencing the casual racism that was sadly the norm for many back then, there and on the street. Music was another side to his life. He was writing songs and watching local bands at small clubs. We see how Freddie first meets Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy). Bohemian Rhapsody leads us through the history from the origins of Queen right up to Freddie’s tragic death (he died from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991).

There is so much of interest in Bohemian Rhapsody that it is only possible to mention some of it in any review. I loved to see Freddie’s relationship with his cats, his love of opera and his interest in fashion. His personal relationships with Kenny Everett and his manager (a devil figure in the film) and record companies are worthy of separate consideration. The effects of addiction to alcohol and drugs on his health and music and personal relationships are a darker theme.

The film doesn’t shy away from looking at Freddie’s sexuality. Freddie married Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). In one scene Freddie tells Mary “I think I’m bisexual.” She says: “No, Freddie. You’re gay.”

Some have called the film out on this. Billboard said: “For many out there, this particular moment almost rang too true to real life. Bisexual people face the reality of bi-erasure on a near-daily basis, being told that they’re either “too gay” or “not gay enough,” with little to no attention paid to their actual sexual identity. So it’s natural that many critics and Twitter users would call Bohemian Rhapsody out for attempting to erase Mercury’s bisexuality in this scene, especially in a film meant to celebrate him.”

I’m not sure about that. Freddie wanted his private life to be private. He wanted his fans and the press to focus on his music. He never publicly identified his sexuality. Should he have had to? Should anyone have to define their sexuality publicly? At the time Freddie was pressured by the media to do so, now some LGBT people take the view that he somehow let the side down. Freddie saw himself first and foremost as a performer who was there to entertain the public with great shows and music. That was his choice.

There is a harrowing press conference in the film where we see the gutter press try to pressure him to answer questions on his sexuality in the style of a baying mob.

This wasn’t a case of exaggeration the press had no shame. In December 1974, the New Musical Express asked him, “So how about being bent?”. Even his illness was seen as ‘fair play’ by the irresponsible media. In October 1986, the British press reported that Mercury had his blood tested for HIV/AIDS at a Harley Street clinic. A reporter for The Sun, Hugh Whittow, questioned him intrusively about this. Anyone whoever read the late and unlamented News of the World will know full well how the gutter press hypocrites tried to trash people. Yet who now remembers the low-lives of the British gutter press? Yet Freddie Mercury left a legacy of great shows and music behind him. His music continues to uplift people.

Bohemian Rhapsody ends with Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985. I remember watching this at the time. To be frank to that point Live Aid wasn’t matching the hype. The performance from Queen changed that. It was electric. It’s given an incredible poignancy in the film by the knowledge that Freddie is doomed. Bittersweet and emotionally moving. Freddie knew how to deliver to his audience. He went out on a high note with a strutting, high energy and also nuanced performance as he was determined to do. True to his art and his fans to the very end.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop

Blazing A TrailTill 25 November 2018
National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Rip it Up: The Story of Scottish Pop is the first major exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, the first big exhibition dedicated to Scottish pop music, exploring the musical culture of the nation over more than half a century, from influential indie pioneers to global superstars.

Featured artists and bands include Lonnie Donegan, Gerry Rafferty, the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Lulu, The Rezillos, Midge Ure, Simple Minds, The Skids, Big Country, Garbage, Franz Ferdinand, Young Fathers, and many more. The exhibition has been brought to life through original stage outfits and instruments, many loaned by the artists themselves, plus memorabilia, props, film and, of course, music.

Stephen Allen, Exhibition Curator said:
“Popular music is a shared experience, and a really important one in many people’s lives. We want the exhibition to capture people’s imagination and allow them to reflect on their own experiences of listening to and enjoying music. Between the objects, the AV and the music, people will be able to learn more about their favourite artists and see their treasured objects up close, but also to discover music that is new to them in a whistlestop tour of over six decades of Scottish pop.”

Everyone will have a different experience of this exhibition. It covers a broad time period and diverse types of music. There are over 300 items on display as well as film contributions and music. Some was familiar to me. Although sometimes I don’t know why and I didn’t know there was a Scottish connection at all when I first heard it. I always liked The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (particularly Faith Healer). I think it was how theatrical and unusual they were! Much later I was drawn to punk and politics. So I was interested to see the Rock Against Racism (RAR) poster from 5 August 1978 advertising the Scars, Valves and Josef K (among others) playing in Craigmillar Park. It’s interesting to note that the reasons for the foundation of RAR are somewhat glossed over. RAR was formed because of comments made by Eric Clapton at a Birmingham concert in 1976.Clapton had urged his audience to back former Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration stance. The guitarist, who has since said he is not a racist, suggested Britain was becoming “a black colony”. Inconvenient history.

Less so the Proclaimers poster for anti-apartheid gigs!

I was also interested to see that emphasis was given to independent Scottish record labels such as Postcard, Creation and Fast Product. These helped foster bands in Scotland. The media and production centre was always very much London of course but there was an attempt to do something different by creating local centres.

There was also a lot of material which provides you with further avenues of enquiry. I was really intrigued to listen to the excellent Needle of Death by Bert Jansch. As someone who has lost friends to heroin addiction it really moved me. I’ve since listened to many of his songs. All thanks to this exhibition. That’s just one of the things I took from the exhibition and followed up. As a big Bowie fan I was intrigued to see his connection to The Beatstalkers highlighted. They recorded a Bowie song called Silver Treetop School for Boys. A connection to another band Clouds wasn’t featured.

Pop quiz! Which Scottish artists did James Bond themes?

The exhibition had so much in it of interest that I couldn’t absorb it all in one viewing. I’m actually thinking of going again.

If you are interested in pop culture you would be foolish to miss this. I hope it tours other areas to make it easier for people to see who don’t live near Edinburgh! Go see it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3X9T3rxmRk

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Songs from the Kop

songsfromthekop2

The Kop

Brunswick Young Women`s Players (Australia)
C too at St. Columba`s by the Castle

Inspired by the grandfather (a £10 Pom from Liverpool who emigrated to Australia in the post-war period) of Josie Coyle ,who introduced the performance, this was a lively and fitting musical tribute to a great period (1962-1994) in the history of Liverpool Football Club through the eyes of the Kop. The Kop was a terrace holding 28,000 standing supporters at the Anfield Road end of Liverpool`s Anfield Ground. Originally it was a vast mound of earth which acquired its name because it reminded soldiers returning from the Second Boer War (1899-1902) in South Africa of Spion Kop, the Hill on which many soldiers from Lancashire had lost their lives in an unsuccessful attempt to relieve Ladysmith.

Before 1962 Liverpool F.C. had enjoyed an undistinguished history, inferior in every way to that of their great local rivals Everton. This was transformed by the appointment of Bill Shankly as Manager, which co-incided with the advent of the Mersey Beat, of which the Beatles are by far the most important example. Shankly`s rapport with the crowd and the performance of his team on the field transformed the atmosphere at Anfield. Success in Cup and League was accompanied by Shankly`s encouragement of the Kop to sing the hit song from “Carousel”, re-popularised by Gerry and the Pacemakers, “You`ll Never Walk Alone”, which has been the Liverpool Anthem ever since. By the time of Shankly`s retirement in 1974, although he never enjoyed success in the European Cup, he had become a legend. His successor, Bob Paisley, built on this, with his success in League and Cup AND three European Cups. Liverpool`s slow decline began after his retirement, and at the time of writing it is 28 years since Liverpool last won the League title. They have never won the English Premiership.

Unsurprisingly, the production concentrated on the glory years. The production was imaginative and performed enthusiastically. The songs, particularly the adaptation of the “Fields of Athenry”, were both relevant and moving. The inclusion of numbers hostile to Liverpool`s great rivals of the period, Nottingham Forest (who knocked out Liverpool in the First Round of the European Cup in 1978 and went on to win two European Cups themselves), Everton (inevitably) and Manchester United (who have won two fewer European Cups than Liverpool but two more League Championships) were not inappropriate. No-one who has ever attended a football match at Anfield can fail to have been moved by the Kop`s rendering of “You`ll Never Walk Alone” – an experience surely unequaled at any sporting venue in the world – and the audience participation in it proved a fitting end to the performance.

The Hillsborough tragedy of April 1989, when 96 Liverpool supporters lost their lives, took over the last third of the performance. The anger of the population of the city at the way in which the supporters were traduced by the press, blamed unfairly by the police and let down by the criminal justice system, was transmitted to the audience effectively by the whole cast, with Matt Hood`s solo as a climax. I was, however, left with an uneasy feeling. No mention was made of the events of May 1985 in Brussels, when 39 Juventus supporters were killed when charged by a group of Liverpool supporters, compounded by the Club`s attempt to deflect the blame elsewhere – a mirror image of the behaviour of the police at Hillsborough. Don’t the deaths of Italians also matter?

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

Gold star

Gold star

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Joan Baez: a Tribute by Miss Irenie Rose

joanbaezirenerose

Irene Rose

Venue 53 The Space @ Surgeons’ Hall Theatre 2

August 3rd to 25th

Launching straight into the mournful Scottish ballad, Arise Mary Hamilton; with nothing more than an acoustic guitar to accompany her; Miss Irenie Rose takes her audience through the canon of the songs the American singer and political activist Joan Baez has made her own over the last five decades.

In her good-humoured style, she recounts how Baez’s politics and pacifism has permeated all her work. She was more political than her old beau Bob Dylan and made much more use of some of his songs. Bob was paranoid when he was on drugs; Baez never did drugs.

The venue is intimate, so Miss Irenie Rose makes it seem that she is talking and singing just for you. All the old standards are there; Blowin’ in the wind, the haunting Donna Donna and the darkly humorous Farewell Angelina.

The audience joined in a rousing chorus of hope in the time-honoured civil rights standard, We Shall Overcome and went into ecstasy when her sister, Elsa-Jean McTaggart, joined Miss Irenie Rose on stage to finish the show with The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.  Joan Baez is in her seventies now; although she is still touring.  Fans who want to remember her at the height of her powers will enjoy this superb, respectful tribute from a young, talented Scottish folk singer.

Reviewed by David Kerr

#EdFringe2018 #EdFringe #IntoTheUnknown

five-stars

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 Just William’s Luck

justwilliamTheatre (comedy, family)
Venue 61
Underbelly, Cowgate – Iron Belly
12:10
Aug 23-26
1 hour
Suitability: 3+
Group: Shedload Theatre

This adaptation of Richmal Crompton`s only full-length “Just William” novel did full justice to the spirit of its creator. It was fun throughout, faithful to the original without ever quite merging into parody. The obvious enthusiasm of the actors communicated itself readily to the audience.
The plot revolves around the antics of the Outlaws, a “gang” from a more innocent era when 11 year olds got themselves into scrapes, before the emergence of the gang culture we know to-day. Its self-appointed leader, William Brown, and his associates Ginger, Douglas and Heny, occupied their spare time by devising a series of adventures which although well-intentioned, never quite achieved their objectives. The one girl, Violet Elizabeth Bott, was kept at more than arm`s length. In this production, however, she was allowed fuller participation, a concession to our contemporary values, perhaps. The roles of the adults were acted by the Outlaws themselves. William remained himself, but his much-older siblings, brother Robert and sister Ethel, were played by Douglas and Ginger, his father by Henry (using a hairbrush as a moustache) and his mother by Violet Elizabeth. This imaginative deployment of the cast was similarly evident in the changes of scenery, using sheets and banners to make the most of the limited resources available.

William`s confused recollections of his History lessons led him to the transformation of the Outlaws into the Knights of the Square Table, a round one being unavailable, with a mission to right the wrongs of the world. Improbably, the impending marriage of Ginger`s elder brother and his gift to Ginger of a bicycle, led the Outlaws into attempting to arrange the marriages of all their older siblings to acquire bicycles. The resulting mayhem was played by all the cast with infectious enthusiasm, and, of course, all ended happily.

A highly enjoyable performance, strongly recommended.

Reviewed by Henry Falconer
#EdFringe2018 #EdFringe #IntoTheUnknown

Gold star

Gold star

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 Alma, a Human Voice

almaTheatre (new writing, solo show)
Venue
26
Summerhall – Old Lab
11:50
Aug 23-26
1 hour

Group: Nina’s Drag Queens

Lorenzo Piccolo gives an accomplished performance as Alma Mahler. Visual aspects of the show are excellent from the start with Lorenzo entering with a suitcase and laying out clothes right up to the fizzing pills placed in twelve glasses of water at the end. We hear Ingrid Bergman’s voice in the telephone conversations which show a deeply disturbed woman. This woman, driven mad by love, is the subject of Jean Cocteau’s poetic drama La Voix Humane. Bergman played the role in one of the many film versions. We also hear the surreal story of the creation and ultimate destruction of a life-size doll of Alma by her former lover, the artist Oscar Kokoschka.

The performance is, however, let down by the narrative. No clear context is given and a knowledge of Alma and her significance as a muse to (amongst others) Gustav Mahler, Walter Gropius and Franz Werfel is assumed. For me the show is about love, loss and obsession. It’s a show that is very good but could have been excellent.
Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

#EdFringe2018 #EdFringe #IntoTheUnknown

Gold star

Gold star

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