2019 marks not only the 40th anniversary of Thin Lizzy’s timelessly brilliant "Black Rose" record, but also the 50th anniversary of the band itself in that it was spawned back in December 1969. Although yours truly tends to think of Lizzy as starting out in the early 70s due to the debut album not arriving until 1971, the first rehearsals and meetings between Eric Bell, Brian Downey, Philip Lynott, and Eric Wrixon took place in Dublin in late 1969. The story goes that Bell, who was from Northern Ireland, was frantically searching for talented musicians to form a band with. When visiting the Countdown Club in Dublin one night in late November with his friend Eric Wrixon, a band named Orphanage was performing. The latter consisted of Brian Downey, Phil Lynott, Joe Staunton, and Pat Quigley. Bell was blown away by Orphanage (mostly by Downey’s stellar drumming) and immediately thought that he had at long last found who and what he was looking for:


[Eric Bell and Eric Wrixon] sauntered through the club in a comfortable daze, suitably soiled with cheap sherry and sat down on the floor to listen to the band on stage. Under such influence, Bell foresaw a band in his brain as he sifted through the dying embers of his showband past; he was convinced that what he was witnessing was the road to musical salvation. (Renegade 29)


Bell then went backstage following the first half of the gig to present the idea of forming a band with him and Wrixon to Downey and Lynott, but according to author Alan Byrne, the latter were somewhat skeptical, and Bell’s offer received a lukewarm response, mostly from Downey. However, before Bell left, Lynott had second thoughts and convinced Downey that perhaps they ought to pursue other musical interests and that Orphanage had run its course: "As [Eric Bell] started to leave it was Philip who spoke up and announced that The Orphanage had been taken as far as it could go so maybe Eric’s idea to form a new band was the right way to go. Downey was reluctant at first but eventually agreed to try it out" (Renegade 30). In "Thin Lizzy: Album by Album", the backstage encounter between the four original members of Lizzy and subsequent birth of the band appear more straightforward and simpler: "After a backstage encounter, during a break in the set, Bell convinced the pair to wrap up their obligation in Orphanage and form a new band with him and Wrixon, which they promptly did" (3). Either way, the meeting between the four of them was fruitful in that they met up for rehearsals shortly thereafter and as Byrne emphatically states, Thin Lizzy was conceived "in the Countdown Club that night of winter 1969" (Renegade 30). As Bell told the Belfast Telegraph in a 2017 interview, he and Lynott met the following week to work on three songs that Phil had written: [Phil] came up to my flat a week later with a reel of three songs, just him and an acoustic guitar. They were really quality lyrics, singing and chord construction". It would not be long before the fearless ensemble of musicians started making waves in and around Dublin. Even though Thin Lizzy were originally a quartet, Bell had always envisioned a band with the classic trio format and so Wrixon did not stay with the group for long, but we shall get back to that later.

      The band name was the result of Bell browsing through an old comic book. Rumor has it that they were desperate to come up with a name as they had already been rehearsing quite a bit and felt ready to be officially launched and perform in public:




As the band continued to rehearse and get their material tight a press release was drafted to announce their arrival on the scene. Of course they still needed a name and it eventually unfurled itself in Bell’s imagination while he was reading a comic called The Dandy. A character in the comic known as ‘Tin Lizzie’ caught his attention and with a few minor adjustments the bad agreed to the name Thin Lizzy. Though a rock legend was not yet born yearnings if legendary status certainly filled their fevered minds. (Renegade 32)


The first official Thin Lizzy gig went down in February 1970 a mere two months after they had formed, and their first recorded output, more specifically "The Farmer", was released by Parlophone in July 1970. It contained two tracks, namely the title track and "I Need You". As mentioned earlier on, Bell’s vision of Thin Lizzy was a three-piece band and so "The Farmer" turned out to be the only appearance of Eric Wrixon and "it was the only officially released Lizzy product to feature a contribution from [him]" (Are You Ready? 9). The songs were cut at Trend Studios in Dublin and co-produced by Lizzy themselves, and the single was limited to 500 copies.

      The self-titled debut offering followed in April 1971 and it is pure magic in the humble opinion of this writer, perhaps even one of the most underrated Lizzy albums out there along with "Renegade", but that is a discussion for another day. Following the release of "Shades of a Blue Orphanage" in 1972 and "Vagabonds of the Western World" in 1973, Bell left the band, which left Downey and Lynott to soldier on and recruit new members. Those first three records are often overlooked, which is a shame as they are quite stellar, and those early years of the band are definitely worth looking into and examining in more detail.

      2019 will be a truly special year for Lizzy fans in that the band will perform "Black Rose" in its entirety at the Steelhouse Festival in Wales in July as well as a greatest hits set at the Rewind Festival North in early August. On top of that, original Thin Lizzy axe man Eric Bell will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Lizzy by means of a few appearances in the UK and original drummer Brian Downey is also out there touring the legendary "Alive and Dangerous" record, so it looks as if 2019 is going to be a fucking marvelous year for all of us. It is also the perfect time to immerse yourself in the band’s majestic discography and revel in just how varied and captivating it truly is. From the aforementioned "The Farmer" to "Jailbreak" and further on to the superb 2012 live recordings from Shepherd’s Bush Empire or even the riveting 2016 live rendition of "The Boys Are Back in Town" from the "Live at Ramblin’ Man Fair 2016" CD, there is simply no other band like Thin Lizzy out there and it is undoubtedly an entity that is both larger than life and greater than the sum of its parts…and it came into existence fifty years ago!


Works cited:

  • Byrne, Alan. Philip Lynott: Renegade of Thin Lizzy. Dublin: Mentor Books, 2012. Print.
  • Byrne, Alan. Are You Ready? Thin Lizzy: Album by Album. London: Soundcheck Books, 2015. Print.


Links of interest:

Thin Lizzy on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ThinLizzyOfficial/

Brian Downey’s Alive and Dangerous: https://www.briandowneysaliveanddangerous.com/

Eric Bell on Facebook: https://nb-no.facebook.com/EricBellOfficial/