THIN LIZZY (Live at The City Hall, Newcastle, U.K., December 2, 2007)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Scott Gorham, lead guitarist with the legendary Thin Lizzy chatted with Mick Burgess about the newly unearthed live album Still Dangerous: Live at The Tower Theater, Philadelphia 1977.

Thin Lizzy are just about to release a new live album called Still Dangerous: Live at the Tower Theatre Philadelphia 1977. How did you end up coming across this recording?

We knew we had a lot of tapes in a lock-up and were going through them to see what we had lying around. We didn’t realise how many tapes we actually had and a great deal of these were live tapes. I have to admit there were a lot of them that I don’t even remember doing. There was one particular box that had written on it “Philadelphia 2” and as soon as I heard it I knew we had something special that we needed to put out so everyone could hear it.

What were your first thoughts when you heard them?

It was interesting for me to sit in the studio and listen back to this remembering what was going through our heads at the same time. I couldn’t remember the second night at first so I called my manager about it and then I listened to it again and it came flooding back. It was certainly a case of the good, the bad and the ugly at that time.

Why did you decide to record this performance?

I remember doing the King Biscuit Hour at Philadelphia. I remember doing one night but I don’t remember doing the two nights. We were going to go out and do a three month tour of America with a few major bands with two weeks of warm up shows as headliners. We’d just finished the Bad Reputation album but it hadn’t been released yet so we saw this as a great opportunity to road test the material. We thought this was our chance to break America although “Boys Are Back in Town” and the Jailbreak album had done well for us; we hadn’t really done extensive touring in America. We figured that this was our shot and conquer America. The King Biscuit Hour people asked us to do these shows. It was originally only going to be one show, which was in fact the first show of the tour and we just said we’d do one show for their programme and we’d record the second night for us. The second night was for Lizzy fans whereas the first night was for King Biscuit people. This show is just us going out with the attitude that we were going to conquer America.

The band sounded like they were really on fire at that show. How did the rest of the tour go after this?

The problem was we only really got that 2 weeks with the warm up shows. Right at the end of that 2 week period Phil had been complaining about being extremely tired, he’d come off stage breathless and had no energy. It was the last night of the warm up shows that he came off the stage and laid down on the floor and he just could not get up. We were due to fly to Ohio that night to start the arena tour and we just thought we had to get Phil to a doctor. The doctor said “You’re done pal, you shouldn’t be walking around, in fact you shouldn’t be in contact with anybody, you’ve got an advanced case of highly infectious hepatitis C” He was sent back to England into an emergency hospital. That was it…..bang!!….tour over!! There was no conquering of America, we were done. We were all concerned about Phil’s health but we also felt really crushed as we were playing so well at the time and it just came to a screeching halt. At least we got this recording from this 2 week period. It wasn’t like we were aiming to get an album out of this, it’s just that this radio show came up and we did it. It shows what the band was like at this point. We played some new material from Bad Reputation and wanted to gauge what the audience reaction was going to be like, whether we’d got the songs in the right place and how well we were playing these songs.

This was recorded back in 1977 before the release of Bad Reputation and features live rarities “Soldier of Fortune” and “Opium Trail” which’ll keep the completists happy. Did you use your time on the road to fine tune your new material before you recorded and released a new album?

We did as we practically lived on the road. We only ever came off the road to do another album or occasionally to get our breath back. We tested our songs like that all the time at sound checks and at shows. People would come up with a riff here and there and we’d glue them together in a song. This show was a little different as the album was already done but we hadn’t played any of it in front of people before. It’s interesting to see that we start the set off with a brand new song. Whether that running order would’ve made it to the next step in the arenas I’m not sure but we stuck to that running order for the 2 weeks of shows we did. It gave us the chance to see how the new songs panned out and where we were going to put them in the set. It was certainly strange for me hearing “Soldier of Fortune” as the first song of the show.

Arguably your most popular album was Live and Dangerous which has been hailed by many as the finest live album of all time. How would you say the Philadelphia show compares with Live and Dangerous?

You know I think it sits right next to it. I really do, quality wise and playing wise. At one point I even said it was a better album than Live and Dangerous. That came first and by the time we’d done the radio show we were playing that much better. It just seemed as though at the Philadelphia show everyone was clicking at the same time. When I say that people get their feathers ruffled a little bit as Live and Dangerous is one of people’s favourite live albums. So it’s tough for me to say that this is even better. I just like the fact that the songs we did from Bad Reputation we never recorded live after that.

Glyn Johns has mixed the album. How did you tempt him out of his cosy retirement?

I think if you used the “R” word with Glyn he’d be kind of pissed off with you!! Glyn is a golf buddy of mine and has wanted to do something with Lizzy for quite a few years now. When I heard the tape I immediately thought of him. When I mentioned it to him he just jumped all at it. Glyn is not retired; he just concentrates on things that he wants to do. I listen to that album and listen to things that Glyn has done in the past and it’s a great marriage. He’s worked with The Beatles, The Stones, Zeppelin and The Eagles and I was sitting next to him working on our album and was totally amazed that he was doing this.

Quite often with vintage recordings there’s problems with deterioration of the tape. Did he have to use any techniques to transfer the recordings over to a digital medium or were the tapes pretty well preserved?

After so many years you’ve got to start taking care of those tapes otherwise they’ll go through the process of oxidising and disintegrate. We knew we had a lot of tapes and that we’d have to go through a process called “baking”. This involves taking the original recordings and getting them down to a digital format so that you can preserve the music.

Tony Visconti produced Live and Dangerous. How was his approach different to Glyn John’s?

There isn’t really a whole lot of difference but I think Glyn just got it a whole lot quicker. With Glyn the mixing took 5 or 6 days and with Tony it was a couple of weeks. That was the great thing with Glyn, he just got the sound just right so quickly. He had a real feel for it really fast. Once he got the initial sound sorted he was off and running. It was a real thrill sitting next to Glyn watching him do this so effortlessly.
Do you fancy doing any production work after sitting in with Glyn?

I don’t think I really have the patience for it. They work long hours, it’s a tough job and you have to have pretty good concentration powers. My concentration wavers quite quickly so I think I’ll stick to making music. Those guys have trained ears and they can sit in that chair and just work on these things until they get it right.

As far as the packaging of the album goes what will be included?

Someone has written the sleeve notes for us and there’s a host of photos from that era in the booklet. It looks pretty cool.

Has Brian Downey and Brian Robertson had any input into the album?

No, it was just myself and Glyn sitting in the studio making sure everyone in the band got an equal amount of the spotlight.

Are you still in touch with these guys?

I haven’t heard anything from Brian Robertson as I don’t know where the hell he is. Brian Downey has heard it and he loves it. Brian is playing his ass on this album. He’s such a great drummer. I think maybe he got overshadowed in the band but I think he’s the unsung hero in the band. I played with him for 11 years and I was amazed with his stamina and the power that he had.
I think Brian has a similar style to Ian Paice of Deep Purple; they both have that sort of shuffle style to their playing.

I have heard Brian and Ian being compared before. Both Brian and Ian have lighter styles but a big sound comes out of it. I’m not quite sure how he does that but I think Brian Downey is King of the Shuffle!! For regular Rock drummers trying to get that shuffle beat is a really difficult thing to do. It’s a real specialised kind of groove that you need to work hard on but Brian has it, it’s a real natural thing for him.
Has Brian ever been tempted back to do the odd show with you?

He hasn’t yet but it’d be fun if he’d get up with us as all the fans would love to see him every once in a while. If Brian wants to get his butt up here for a couple of songs that would be great.

I think most consider your partnership with Brian Robertson as the classic years although your work with Snowy White, Gary Moore and John Sykes has many high points. Why do you think you both hit the mark musically during this period of time?

If I knew that I’d bottle it and sell it. I just had a great time hanging out with him, there was a lot of laughing and fun and there was no ego between us. There was no fighting over solos; it was a natural thing that we got into. It was an easy going partnership that we had. It was really easy to play with Brian. When you find yourself in that situation ideas seem to flow more easily. You don’t mind someone saying that they don’t like an idea, it’s easier to take both sides of the criticism.

How would you say Snowy, Gary and John differed from Brian?

For me, I found them all pretty easy to play with as they were all good players. That was the main reason for getting each different guy in. Everybody knew there was a Thin Lizzy guideline. Things that went before would have to be adhered to a bit but they weren’t expected to have to copy note for note as we wanted them to bring in their own styles too but to work within the Lizzy framework. We didn’t want to stifle anybody or piss them off; we wanted them to be able to show off their true talent. We made sure that any new guy that came in, there was a lot of leeway. I really enjoyed playing with all those guys. My only problem was that it kept changing. It seemed like you had a pretty good thing going and they would be off and you were back in rehearsals teaching the new guy something you’d already played 500 billion times. That part was tiresome for me but I did enjoy playing with everybody.

The harmony guitar parts that become such a trademark of Thin Lizzy was developed while Brian was in the band. How did you first come up with that signature sound. Is that what you had intended or did you stumble across the formula by accident?

It wasn’t a premeditated move at all. We were recording one of the early albums. We were in the studio and had to put down one single line and the idea was I was going to go in and double that line. The engineer had left the echo on at a millisecond late. When it came back to you a couple of milliseconds later it harmonised itself. We listened to that and thought it sounded pretty cool. We got Brian to go back and record the line then I recorded a harmony line and we thought it sounded great. I had another line and I suggested doing the same thing with that. On the next album we thought we’d do the harmony thing more on purpose. I remember back then reading a review of one of the albums and it mentioned a “patented Thin Lizzy harmony guitar sound” and I thought “Shit !! We’ve got a sound!!” So we kept doing it and it was that simple.

It’s always great to hear some new Lizzy recordings and in the past year we’ve also had the UK Tour ’75 release from Derby. Are there any other recordings live or studio in the vaults which may be released one day?

There were actually more tracks from the Philadelphia show but we got hold of one of the tapes and somehow the machine that recorded the show fucked up!! It was like someone had put their finger on the spool and slowed the recording heads down. There was a whole reel that was totally destroyed. I was kind of crushed when I heard that as we were playing so well.
Once I put the Philadelphia show on I stopped listening to the other stuff at that point but there’s plenty of other tapes to go through at some point. I hadn’t realised how much stuff we have recorded. Now that Philadelphia is out I can go back into the vaults and hopefully can find some more gems whether studio outtakes or more live recordings. It’ll be interesting to see why some of the outtakes didn’t make it onto an album, maybe it was just a shit song…Ha!! Maybe there were just too many songs recorded and they couldn’t all make the final album. You could only fit so many minutes of music onto vinyl otherwise you’d lose some quality. That’ll be interesting to go back in and unlock those to see what we have.

As a unit Thin Lizzy are back and touring with yourself and John Sykes. Some people have said that you shouldn’t go play the songs without Phil Lynott and can’t accept a Thin Lizzy without Phil. Do you feel that you have a responsibility to keep the music alive?

That’s absolutely right. For a long time I never played a Thin Lizzy song. It took me 10 years before I even played a Thin Lizzy song. I thought why the fuck should I go out there and play them when Phil’s not here? I thought there was no way I was going to go out and play without the big guy in the middle. I then thought they were our songs that we wrote together. When we first started to do this there were quite a few people totally against us doing it and I could totally understand that. I think it proved that they really loved the band and they really loved Phil. Phil was one of my very best friends ever and to have people feeling that strongly about Phil was fine with me. I was totally on their side and totally agreed with them. On the other hand, as a musician playing these songs live became an irresistible kind of thing. It was never supposed to go past the one Japanese tour that we did. It was only supposed to be 7 shows, then shake hands and walk away from it but there were so many people that would call and write asking why we were only playing in Japan. They were like “How dare you not play for us”. I didn’t see it as a serious plan. We just thought, OK, next year we’ll do 5 shows there and the next year we’ll do 10 shows over there. It took quite a long time for us to get to where we are now to do a three month tour then take a break and go out again for another couple of months. It took us quite a long time mentally for us to get to this point.

Were you surprised at how much interest there is in Lizzy after all this time?

To be honest, I was. When the band broke up in 1984 it was so sad as it was a big part of my life. I knew it was going to be gone. I thought at best people would remember the name Thin Lizzy and then the name would disappear in 5 years and every once in a while the radio would dust an album off and play a couple of tracks. It didn’t actually pan out that way. The records kept getting played, people kept writing about the band and kept the interest going. When John told me in 1993 when he went out to Japan for his solo tour he put in 3 Lizzy songs into his set. He told me that the reaction was unbelievable and that they nearly tore the roof off !! I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, it had been over 10 years since any of that stuff had been played. He kept telling me and it eventually gave me the confidence to say “OK, let’s do some Lizzy songs, let’s have some fun” and that’s how it all started again.

Thin Lizzy’s legacy stretches across many boundaries beyond the usual Hard Rock crowd. You appealed to the fans of more mainstream Pop and you were also one of the few Hard Rock bands that were embraced by the Punk crowd too. What would you say was the reason for appealing to such a cross section of music fans in a way few other bands did while retaining you’re musical integrity?

I’m not really sure but I know that when the Punk thing came around a lot of bands at that point got scared to death of the change but us and especially Phil embraced it. It was really just like a younger version of ourselves with the energy and “fuck you!!” attitude. We loved those guys and their personalities. We even started a band with the Sex Pistols called The Greedies. We had a great time with them. Their whole attitude and dress sense, we thought that was amazing. A lot of people cottoned onto that fact. We weren’t just some dinosaur Rock act, we embraced all that other stuff too. We had a lot of Top 20 singles too so somebody out there liked what we did.

When Lizzy split in 1983, do you think in hindsight you called it a day too soon bearing in mind the strength of Thunder and Lightning and the success of the tour? Maybe taking some time off would have been a preferable option?

That’s exactly right. You have to remember where we were at that point. Phil had a really bad drug problem and I had a really bad drug problem. Brian was just flat out tired of the whole thing. The only one well up for it and willing was John Sykes and he was the new guy. I think someone on the management side should have got us together and said that we were beat up and that we individually had problems that needed sorting out and that we shouldn’t split up but take a year off or two years off to get our heads together and reconvene then to see what the state of play was. A year off back in those days was almost like death to your career and we were constantly being told that. They told us to never come off the road because as soon as you come off the road everyone is going to forget you. The fear factor was pretty high at that point but I think mistakes were made at an executive level. What we should have done is have that nice big intake of breath, walk away and then come back and look at it with fresh eyes. We weren’t thinking like that then though and we thought the only way to get better was to get out.

Thunder and Lightning was one of Lizzy’s strongest studio albums. Do you think there’s some unfinished business there for you and John? Will you be writing new material together at any point, not necessarily as Thin Lizzy but as an outlet for your creativity?

We have already written a fair bit of stuff together. It’s kind of the number one question “When are you guys going to record something and put it out?” Most people want to know if it’ll be under the Thin Lizzy name. It’s a moral question, an emotional sort of thing and as time passes, Phil has been dead for 23 years and I think there’s a whole new audience and I see a sea of young faces out there now. It amazes me that people of that age know who we are. It’s good to see so many youngsters at our shows. A lot are there to see how we do it. They’re doing it the right way, going out and seeing bands and see how certain people do certain things. It’s how we all learned how to do it.
People often ask me what I think about musicians today and if I think whether they’re as good as back in our day. I think that’s an unfair question as the spotlight now is in a way different place to where it was when we were coming through. Now the spotlight is square onto the singer. When we were around we all had a share in the spotlight. There’s a lot of great young bands and players out there now who aren’t getting the spotlight they deserve and I think that’s why people think music was better back then. I think there’s so many great players out there. I think one of the problems with today’s music however is everyone is trying to sound like “them over there” or them over there” and there’s not so much individuality now. In our day if you sounded like anybody else it got thrown immediately out. That’s what I think is the main difference with bands today.

What about your own projects? Have you considered a new 21 Guns album or maybe a solo record?

I just got back from Oslo last night and have been working on new songs. I don’t think we’ll be using the name 21 Guns though, it’s a bit ’80’s !! We’ve been working on that and some of the guitars and drums sound fantastic. We’ve got a 24 year old singer called Pete Shoulder who used to be in Winterville and he’s also a great guitar player. His manager gave me their CD and I loved his voice, like a modern day Paul Rodgers. I wanted to see him on stage and see how he could handle a crowd so I wanted him to support us and it just went from there. This guy can sing, I love his voice to death. We have 9 songs in the can right now and we need a couple more and I think it’ll take one more session in Oslo and I hope to have this album out this year. I’m excited about getting this out.

What have you lined up for 2009? Can we expect to see you back on the road soon?

The word that I’ve got is that we won’t be touring this year but concentrating on America and South America and festivals in the UK and Europe but we won’t be touring in Europe. We’ll be pretty busy and I’m tired just talking about it!!


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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