by Martin Popoff
As a bonus to our coverage of the Thin Lizzy archival live recording Still Dangerous, we thought we’d get drummer Brian Downey to weigh in on the happy occasion …
“Well, the mood was very buoyant at that time,” recalls Downey, looking back to this captured gig, taking place just before Bad Reputation was to hit the shelves. “Because we were on the road for quite a few years — Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson, Phil and me — and we’d obviously had problems before that with guitar players leaving, so when we got Brian and Scott in, it stabilized the band. And we were playing a lot of gigs in the U.K. and Ireland and all of Europe, a lot of really good gigs under our belt. But yeah, we felt very confident playing.”
And no question, Lizzy had the fire power, from those signature twin leads to Phil’s vocals and lyrics. But Still Dangerous is also a bold testament to Phil and Brian as a crack rhythm section. According to Brian, in Lizzy’s case, the drum-and-bass portion of the show was cut from a somewhat different cloth than is the case in most bands.
“Phil’s a brilliant bass player to play with,” explains Downey, “but the funny thing is, Phil didn’t have much experience in Thin Lizzy playing bass. In fact, when the band formed, with Eric Bell, Phil was a singer — he wasn’t playing bass when the band initially formed. It took him maybe a few months, taking lessons from his friend Brush Shields, who he played with in Skid Row; it took him maybe four or five months to become really proficient on the bass. And then when Thin Lizzy formed, we wanted to play as many live gigs as possible to make Phil comfortable playing the bass because he just didn’t have any experience playing live, and he just took to it like a duck to water; he was just fantastic.
“It seemed to me, this was just waiting to happen, and Phil just jumped at the chance. He realized that he wanted to be a bass player all his life, it seemed to me. And it was much, much easier … because when you have somebody who has no preconditions… I have my own style of drumming, obviously, from previous bands, but he had no preconditions at all on the bass, and so I don’t think he knew what kind of style he wanted to play. He became a very, very steady, stable bass player. These kinds of bass players are very hard to find these days, because they seem to take off on all kinds of solos. Phil had a really good ear for the bass. He laid it down when it needed to be laid down, and he took one or two little breaks here and there when it needed to happen, and it’s just fantastic to play with the guy. He’s just so solid, you know? And he never made a mistake! He was phenomenal. And he was singing as well as playing the bass. And that was kind of a hard thing to do, to actually sing and to keep the bass line going. Without thinking about it, it’s nigh-impossible, and he did it — it was just fantastic.
“It’s just fantastic that we found those tapes in pristine condition,” adds Brian, in closing. “A stroke of luck, to say the least. Because I mean, I did have a soundboard copy of it, a cassette copy of that show, for years. I always knew it was recorded, but I didn’t know that these tapes were preserved, and it was just fantastic luck to find the actual tapes.”
And Scott’s been murmuring that it looks like there is more in the vaults than he thought. “Yeah, he mentioned that to me, too. I think he’s going to have a search in the vaults over the next couple of months, to try find more stuff, which would just be great, you know?”
by Martin Popoff