He may have refused to continue with the Thin Lizzy name, but the guitarist aims to keep the spirit of his former band alive, writes Ed Power.
When Phil Lynott passed away in 1986, claimed by years of spiralling drug use, it seemed absurd his band Thin Lizzy might one day reunite. Yet Lizzy did come back together, lead by the group’s definitive guitarist Scott Gorham, with respected heavy rock singer Ricky Warwick stepping into Lynott’s sainted shoes.
But while touring the classic Lizzy catalogue proved rewarding, success as a live act brought with it pressure for new material. The fans liked what they heard; now they wanted more.
This didn’t sit well with Gorham, who felt putting out original music as Thin Lizzy disrespectful to his late pal Lynott.
So a compromise was reached: the musicians would return to the studio, but not as Thin Lizzy. Thus was born Black Star Riders, a retro heavy rock crew committed to head-banging first principles. A just-released third album, Heavy Fire, has gone in at number six in the UK album charts — a testament to the perennial appeal of chugging riffology delivered sincerely and without irony.
“Recording songs as Thin Lizzy — to me that was not going to work,” says Gorham. “I had always done all the recording with Phil. Why would I do it without him? When it came to it, I was honest — ‘Listen guys, there is no ways I am going to write and record a Thin Lizzy record without Phil’. It turns out they have felt the same. It was as a relief to all of us.”
The record label didn’t see things in quite the same terms. “When you’ve got a brand name twice as much money gets pumped into it. Because if it’s a new name then you have to work hard at establishing an identity. But we weren’t okay with using the Thin Lizzy name. The decision was mutual among the musicians.”
Gorham hooked up with Thin Lizzy in 1974, in unusual circumstances. The rangy Californian had flown to London under the impression he was to join soft rockers Supertramp. Instead, he found himself seated opposite Lynott in a restaurant.
It was shock,” he would later reminisce. “The first thing was nobody told me he was black. Secondl y nobody told me he was Irish. It took me by surprise — like, ‘Who’s this black guy with the Irish accent, what the hell is going?’ It didn’t take long for us to click. Soon we were the best of friends.”
Partly out of tribute to Lynott and Thin Lizzy Blackstar Riders have utilised that group’s classic ‘duelling guitars’ sound, with Gorham partnering with Damon Johnson.
“If you’ve two guitar players it always struck us as the natural thing to do. When I first joined Thin Lizzy there was me and Brian Robertson and we just went for it. A lot of people are doing it now. Back then, it wasn’t common. I thought it was obvious — two guitarists, you should use them.”
Gorham has been collaborating with Lizzy’s record label on a new box set, to be released later this year. Delving into the archives was emotional — but thrilling also. “It’s great that the music has lasted and that people still care about it and that Phil hasn’t been forgotten.”
Black Star Riders will celebrate the success of the new record with a European tour that includes a stop-off in Dublin. While in Ireland they plan to make the pilgrimage to the Lynott statue just off Grafton Street.
“We really have three home town gigs. Playing California is special because that’s where a lot of the band are from. London, because of the time Lizzy spend there. And Dublin — that’s always a big one. It feels as if you are playing to a home crowd.”
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