By John Curley
There is a lot to like about the film Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away. If I were going to nitpick, I would point out that the one fault the film has is that no songs used in the film are shown or heard in full. Otherwise, it’s an outstanding piece of work that does a deep and fascinating dive into Lynott’s professional and personal life.
The film uses archive audio of Lynott and his mother, Philomena Lynott, to narrate part of the film. On-screen graphics are also employed for narration purposes. The rest of the story is told with archive clips of Lynott performing with Thin Lizzy and solo. In addition, many new interviews with Lynott’s bandmates, musical associates, family members and friends are included. Among those interviewed are Thin Lizzy’s Eric Bell, Scott Gorham, Darren Wharton and Midge Ure, U2’s Adam Clayton, James Hetfield of Metallica, Suzi Quatro, Huey Lewis, journalist Niall Stokes, Lynott’s one-time girlfriend Gale Claydon, Lynott’s uncle Peter Lynott, Lynott’s wife Caroline Taraskevics, and Lynott’s daughters Sarah Lynott and Cathleen Lynott.
Lynott’s difficult childhood is examined, particularly the racism that he endured as a Black child in Ireland. Peter Lynott recalls going to school with Phil where other students would racially abuse him and refer to him as “Blackie.” Lynott had been sent to live with his maternal grandparents in Dublin at age seven because his mother thought that they would take better care of him than she could. He did not know his father. Lynott later wrote two songs about his mother, “Wild One” and “Philomena.”
Lynott’s musical progression is examined in great detail, from his early days with the bands The Black Eagles and Skid Row to the embryonic days of Thin Lizzy to the later superstardom, his solo work and his fall into drugs and, ultimately, his death at age 36 from septicemia and pneumonia in January 1986.
It is the music that Lynott created that really drives the film. Among the songs heard in the film are “Saga Of The Ageing Orphan,” “Dublin,” “Things Ain’t Working Out Down At The Farm,” “The Rocker,” “Black Boys On The Corner,” “Whiskey In The Jar,” “Showdown,” “Still In Love With You,” “The Boys Are Back In Town,” “Cowboy Song,” “Jailbreak,” “Don’t Believe A Word,” “Dancing In The Moonlight,” “Emerald,” “Sarah,” “Bad Reputation,” “Waiting For An Alibi,” “Got To Give It Up,” “Old Town” and “A Song For While I’m Away.”
While Lynott is usually considered a hard-rock musician, the inclusion of the more mellow and nuanced songs from his repertoire in the film reveal him to be a very talented songwriter and one who was comfortable writing in multiple musical styles. Lynott’s identity as an Irishman meant a great deal to him (he is shown correcting MTV’s Nina Blackwood when she identifies him as “British”) as did his interest in Celtic mythology. Adam Clayton may have summed Lynott up best by saying that Lynott was “a very intelligent, cultured man in spite of all the razzmatazz.”
Songs For While I’m Away is a Globe Production in association with Fís Éireann/ Screen Ireland. It is produced by Alan Maher and John Wallace for Cowtown Pictures and Peter Worsley for Eagle Rock Films and directed by Emer Reynolds. It is available for purchase from Amazon, iTunes and other digital platforms. The film runs one hour and 52 minutes.
The film’s trailer can be seen below: