By Martin Popoff
Thin Lizzy and Motorhead legend Brian Robertson has happily existed out of the spotlight for eons now, preferring life as bluesy axe partier for pub rocker Frankie Miller, a life experience, it seems, that has informed his long-awaited first solo album “Diamonds And Dirt,” importantly issued on SPV.
And what’s cool about this record is that it’s anything but the expected, Brian rolling down a train track somewhat traveled by Brian Howe-era Bad Company, touched and torched by the magic of early Whitesnake.
Indeed the main nods to Lizzy (and there are none to Motörhead!) come not through tones or twin leads, but in remakes of obscure heavy “Nightlife” track “It’s Only Money” and two re-configurations of “Running Back” from “Jailbreak.”
Anyway, this wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Robbo’s best bud Soren Lindberg, who has dedicated himself to getting Brian back on his feet and writing and recording again.
“It was basically an album that’s sort of a personal thing really, between me and Soren,” explains Robertson, down the line from Sweden. “We had all these tracks that I have found over the years, or he did (laughs). It was him that decided that maybe we should do an album. But we only did it for ourselves, really; we had no intentions of it going quite the way it’s gone. We didn’t think there would be this much interest in it, to be honest. So it’s kind of a personal journey. Also, I feel I’m probably playing better now than I ever have done. And happier with my playing.
And I kind of wanted to, after spending about 10 or 15 years with Frankie Miller. I loved playing live with him; it was such great fun. I kind of wanted to take that spirit into it, hence the lineup.”
The album’s timeless vibe (if forced, I’d call “Diamonds And Dirt” something most akin to ‘80s rock, enriched by a life lived through the ‘70s and recorded up to today’s standards) is the result of the arc of time from which the compositions originate.
“They kind of span nearly 15, 20 years,” notes Robbo. “As I say, I gave sort of a plastic bag full of cassettes to Soren and I didn’t know what was in there. I was over in England picking up a bunch of my recording equipment to take back to Stockholm, and I found this plastic bag in amongst all the equipment, and I said, ‘Have a listen to that on your drive back; it’s a long drive.’ And he got about halfway to Stockholm and he called me from a hotel and said, ‘Listen, there’s some great stuff on here. You need to do an album.’ So I flew over here to have a listen, and we haven’t listened to all of them. There’s still a lot of stuff there (laughs). But we kind of picked the ones we wanted, and the ones we thought that could be brought up to date, and obviously most of them were written on keyboards, so I had to transpose it for guitar and whatnot. And that’s basically how it came about.”
Wondering from whence the album’s almost Southern vibe comes from, I asked Robertson if one source might include touring Lizzy did down in the deep south with any of those legendary bands from the rock ‘n’ blues tradition.
“Yeah, we played with ZZ,” recalls Brian. “Not Skynyrd. We played with ZZ quite a lot; well, not quite a lot, a fair few gigs with them. I’m a big ZZ fan anyway, from the early stuff, ‘La Grange’ and whatnot. I first heard that when I was touring in Texas, I think, which wasn’t with ZZ. I heard it at a truck stop and thought, ‘Wow, that’s great, I like that.’
But I didn’t consciously put that in. It was more a Bad Company thing, really. Because when we were touring with Miller, we had Simon Kirke on drums; so that was really cool, with Simon and Chrissie Stewart on bass. And I was basically left to put all the big heavy bits in that weren’t on any of the records. So that band was kind of a template for what we were doing here, that sort of feel.”
And why this title, “Diamonds And Dirt”?
“Well, it’s kind of a comment on women,” laughs Robbo. You know, it’s very much a song for me where I… I changed the lyrics around and transposed it for guitar, and heavied it up a bit, because like I said, the demos were pretty much done on keyboards. It’s about women, you know, how you meet somebody and in their eyes there’s diamonds, and she’s great, and then after a few months, it’s like (laughs), they turn on you, and in her heart, there’s dirt, right? And as I’ve said before in a couple of other interviews, it applies to men as well. So I’m not being heavy on the women too much (laughs). But to me, it’s about specific women.”
As it turns out, Brian’s been wanting to get down to a solo album since as far back as 1975… “Yeah, although I had a different idea at that time. I basically wanted to do a whole album of me just playing all the instruments (Brian plays drums as well as keyboards and guitar). It’s just something that was stuck in my head at the time. But obviously, with Lizzy, you didn’t get time to do that. Because the minute you finished recording you were straight back out on the road. So there was no time to get into all that. It would be a lot easier for me to do it now and do all the instruments, because you’ve got your computers and everything else now, so you can make sure that everything is in time and whatnot. But you know, having worked with the new band, I don’t see the point, when you’ve got… I mean, maybe it’s a project for the future when I’m about 110 years old, I don’t know. But for this band now, I just love the way they play – they inspired me a lot.”
And what should we make of the strange inclusion of two versions of “Running Back,” one blues and one party boogie woogie?
“‘It’s Only Money’ was the only Lizzy one, up until Soren and I sort of had a little discussion, and we were probably pissed one night and thought it would be a good if I had a bash at ‘Running Back’, because it was done badly, in my opinion. I mean, we even changed the timing of it. Because on the original it’s a shuffle, and we’ve gone to 4/4. And the reason we did the slow version as well is simply because we were just arsing about in the rehearsal studio, and we played it. I suggested we do a Little Feat-type version of it, just for a laugh. And we had such good fun with it, and everybody enjoyed it, so we thought, why not just record it and see what happens? And we decided to throw it in because it’s kind of a weird one to do two versions of one song, completely different versions, on the one record.”
“You can’t really get anybody to sing quite like Frankie Miller, you know?” opines Robbo, asked about one of his favorite track on the album, ‘Mailbox’. “I just like that feel, basically. I really like ‘Mailbox’, which is a very, very early Frankie song, which I heard when I first came down to London. In fact, Phil Lynott played me it, and I just thought it was such a great song. It’s always been in my head, and I love the way it turned out. I think Frank is pretty pleased with it as well, you know?”
At this juncture, Brian is hesitant to commit to any touring plans in support of “Diamonds And Dirt,” given that the musicians on the record all have their own bands (drummer Ian Haugland is in Europe, bassist Nally Pahlsson plays for Treat and Therion, singer Leif Sundin may be working with MSG and back-up singer Liny Wood is a solo artist – Robbo plays on her album).
But the record shouldn’t be too hard to find, given its major label issue. And if you need yer Thin Lizzy fix, well… Lizzy is back on the road and touring hard, Robbo’s classic twin lead partner Scott Gorham now capably celebrating the magic he and Robertson made together with none other than Dio and Def Leppard axeman Vivian Campbell.