Monday, January 24, 2011

"Don't Believe a Word"

One of the institutions that we in the UK are spoiled by is the BBC: a public service broadcaster whose reach and whose repertoire extends beyond the dreams of even the most megalomaniac of media moguls. A true multimedia behemoth. What we in this country tend to forget is just how trusted the BBC is around the world as a paragon of accuracy and of impartiality. Its motto is "Nation shall speak peace unto nation", but it might as well be "Truth is the only safe ground to stand on." Whether you're in Kinshasa or Kentucky, it's reliable, regular as clockwork and impartial.
For so many years it was the only "live" record of the UK's history, in documentaries, in light entertainment, even in vox pops on the evening news. Only now, through the internet and through painstaking efforts by curators, archivists and historians, is the BBC's real importance really becoming evident, through a never-ending stream of archive recordings that shine a light not on the world-changing events of years ago, but on the everyday components of life.
I'm not here to start an argument about the value of taxpayer-funded broadcasting; all I can say is that for my part I think I've got out much, much more than I've put in. Thanks, Auntie. Oh and thanks also for that Thin Lizzy retrospective the other week.
One of the things you tend to do with the BBC is use it, but forget it's there. You switch on the radio, you turn on the television and chances are you're tuning into the Beeb. Chances are the program that draws you in, piques your interest, or entertains you is on the BBC. But you'd be hard pressed the next day to remember what channel you were watching or listening to.
Sadly (or not), the same was the case with Thin Lizzy. Too often, if you're a rock fan you can be seduced by the sheer technical wizardry of a guitar virtuoso like Jimmy Page or Richie Blackmore, or the vocal calisthenics of an Ian Gillan, or the polyrhythmic genius of a Ginger Baker. Too often, bands rely on one individual's skill or talent to push them out of the ordinary. You remember their songs for a solo, for an outstanding vocal.
With Lizzy, that wasn't the case: you remember their songs because they're irresistable, unstoppable. Two great guitarists, a superb drummer and a sublimely talented bassist/singer/songwriter meant that the band was always perfectly balanced. And though Phil Lynott was the undoubted star of the band, he didn't outshine the rest of the band in the same manner that other stars have. They were all just as good as each other.
The reason I was comparing Thin Lizzy to the BBC was because, for many years they were as reliable and solid as the Beeb. Albums got better and better - the five albums from "Fighting" to "Live & Dangerous" are as steep a quality curve as you'll find anywhere in rock - they refined their sound until the twin-guitar harmony attack was absolutely perfect, and they managed to walk the narrow path of hard rock without it becoming heavy metal pastiche. In this they were undoubtedly saved by the Irish heritage and Lynott's mournful voice. He's not your typical hard rock singer, nor are his lyrics archetypal rock - his songs seem to come from Springsteen territory rather than the edges of self-indulgent oblivion. "The Boys Are Back in Town" comes across like a statement of criminal intent, but it's really just about any Saturday night.
*This* particular song is probably the best example of the band's ability to marry the sound and attitude of rock with surprisingly sensitive and thoughtful lyrics. Lynott's voice is at its most mournful, the lyric is as open and honest as anything a wannabe bad boy ever wrote, self-aware and full of the sort of rogue-ish charm that Lynott was known for.
It's short, sweet and as good a way to remember this much-missed man.

Of course it's hard to think of Phil Lynott without a smile and a chuckle for his immortal line: "Is there anyone here with any Irish in them? Are there any girls here who'd like a little more Irish in them?"

1 comment:

Russell 'C.J.' Duffy said...

Who could ever forget Rock's first black Irishman?
Great singer/songwriter.
Great band.
And a great post.

PS. I am, hopefully soon, about to do an essay on the Beeb. They are fantastic.