Venue: Fibber McGees - Dublin
Philip Lynott died on the 4th of January 1986, as a result of having lived his life far too fast over far too long a period. He was thirty six years old. This son of Philomena Lynott and an unknown Caribbean sailor had, in his short life, created some of the greatest rock music. The theme of this year's tribute was The Rocker, and it was fitting because Lynott was just that, the best and coolest rocker this country has ever produced.
Philip Lynott had a unique charisma and style. Artist and long-time friend Jim Fitzpatrick remembers him as someone who, "could walk into a room and everything would come alive. He just had this magnetism, crazy wit and wonderful presence." Jim and Philip had been "nodding acquaintances" as they strolled up and down Grafton Street in the late Sixties. Introduced formally in a pub - where else? - they soon became great friends, with Jim designing many of the Thin Lizzy album covers.
Philip lived the cool, lived it to its extreme. Not that he was arrogant or condescending. As Shay Healy - who is working on a TV documentary on him - pointed out, "Philip had a capacity to accept being cool without being a big head about it." But he was always the last one left standing, always able to 'drink like a man'. And never willing to fully admit that he had a problem with the drugs and alcohol. For Jim Fitzpatrick, "he had this crazy assumption. He wouldn't believe that anything could happen to him."
They say Robert Johnson made a pact with the devil so that he could play and sing the way he did. (He died young too.) If that be so, then the devil has some great tunes. If Philip had a devil on his back then it was the devil of fame and what's expected of our stars. He was a dandy, he turned heads and loved doing it. He was exotic, this Black Irishman, as he strolled down Grafton Street, all dressed up to the nines and ready for action. The Rocker.
It is said that we Irish like our heroes dead and well buried. That's a crappy attitude, of course, but maybe, sadly, it rubbed off on Philip. Was it that he believed that if he wasn't always on the edge, flaunting it and living it up, then his fans - or 'supporters' as he liked to call them - would stop supporting him? Did he not realise that he had already amassed more great songs than the majority of artists will ever be able to lay proud claim to? Who knows?
But the songs do endure, and tonight, whether on old video footage or being covered live, they shone and sparkled like black roses made of diamond. Groups like Limehouse Lizzy, Viv, Brush Shiels, Lir, Whipping Boy, Aslan, DJ Mek, KTM, Richie Buckley and The Elite lined up to pay homage to these songs and his memory in front of a jam-packed Fibber Magee's.
Jam-packed indeed. Unfortunately, the change of venue from Ormond Buildings to the much smaller Fibber's - due to loss of bar licence - left you feeling like a paranoid sardine. It was very hot, it was very stuffy and it was incredibly full.
Still, everyone was out to enjoy themselves and reminisce about the Thin Lizzy days. For Brush Shiels, "The name will always live on." He talked about the classic The Boys Are Back In Town. About how it was the most requested record by the American soldiers returning from the Gulf War, about how it has been played on the popular Gladiators TV programme, and about how groups such as Bon Jovi - and even himself - like covering it. "It's a classic rock song," as far as he was concerned. "Up there with 'Satisfaction', 'Gloria', 'Stairway To Heaven', and all them. And as Vince Gill, the fella who won the CMT award said, 'We'll be gone but the song will be here long after us'."
Philip Lynott's songs will indeed live on. As will his memory. A new Roisin Dubh trust was launched before the gig, to, as Smiley Bolger - the one who has probably done most over the years to ensure that Philip's name is remembered - put it, "co-ordinate the numerous activities that are happening in Ireland and throughout the world." He went on to point out that this year there will be commemorative events for Philip in Sweden, Japan, England, and, of course, Ireland. Hot Press' Jackie Hayden is the first Chairperson of the Trust, and he pointed out that such an organisation was very necessary to "help spread the load" in relation to the constant stream of visitors and inquiries about Philip and Thin Lizzy.
Philip's mother, Philomena, is part of the committee and she thanked everyone for all the help and support. Her partner, Dennis Keely, later talked about the huge interest that there still is in Philip. About the many visitors who come to the house and about how his grave is always bedecked with flowers, plectrums, poems, drawings, and all sorts of other mementoes. (There were a number of visitors over from America for tonight's event.)
Jim Fitpatrick couldn't help but smile as he surveyed the crowd which had gathered to celebrate Philip's memory. "He would have liked this," Jim mused. "Tonight is for him. If it weren't he would just walk in and meet and talk to everybody and everything would come alive. But he won't."
No, there will never be a return for Johnny The Fox. But his songs walked in and everyone greeted them like old friends. Old friends who had not lost their shine and never will.
"The reality of Philip Lynott is that, whatever he was, Dublin hasn't been the same since he left. But then as long as January 4th is commemorated in the same way, some comfort can be drawn from the fact that should the clouds ever part and a deep Irish voice enquire if anybody is out there, a fiercely positive response is assured".
These were the last words written by Mark Putterford, in his Phil Lynott biog The Rocker with only weeks left to live. Putterford travelled to Dublin on the 4th of January 1994 for the Vibe For Philo. Terminally ill, he told us he'd finished the book. Shortly afterwards, he died...
There is currently no gallery for the 8th 'The Rocker' Vibe, but images may be updated soon.