(#5 in a series of 10 albums that shaped my musical taste – a little sidestep here, maybe not so.. predictable)
1978 – Two years before, some of us were staying up all night at parties, deafened by The Song Remains The Same, mixing cider with Newcastle Brown and ‘waiting for the sun-rise, man’. In ’78, I’m still feeling the punk shockwave in the North of England, but I wasn’t going to entirely throw all that good old music away, even if it was the done thing. Punk (and post-punk and new wave) was vital, but some rock bands still fit like an pair of comforting old furry slippers or.. er.. (struggles for hipper analogy).. broken-in cowboy boots? Yep, cowboy boots. Definitely.
Gig-going at the time produced some.. eclectic line-ups. Bill Nelson (surely Wakefield’s finest rocker?) and Be Bop Deluxe at the Vic in Halifax, supported by punk poet John Cooper-Clarke. Rejuvenated 60s rock and rollers The Pirates, alongside obscure Cambridge band The Push and a Pakistani escapologist, at Huddersfield Poly. The best of both worlds, you could say. Country and western.
But here’s the seismic event, the blinding revelation of that fateful year: I didn’t have to listen to hard rock any more. I didn’t realise this at the time, of course, but I may as well have just given up right there and then. Hard rock didn’t die. Oh no. It just never got any better** than Thin Lizzy‘s Live And Dangerous.
Spiky little south Glasgow teenager Brian Robertson and Californian Scott Gorham complementing each other perfectly on guitar. The quiet genius of drummer Brian Downey – economical, fluid, sensitive playing. And Phil.. a poet, a dreamer and impossibly cool. Such confidence.. foot on the monitor, punching the sky in such glee, a wink of the eye, a flash of his mirrored bass guitar. Lyrical songs: myth and legend – a man who loved to tell a tale and celebrate life.
The King’s Hall, Belle Vue, Manchester, the tour of the live album – 30 years on, I still remember the lights going down, sirens and red police car lights atop Downey’s drum riser, the stage fills with smoke.. Lynott steps through it on the opening chord of Jailbreak, raises his arm, and instantly my friends and I are just lost in the wonder of our first big gig. Christine and I still have our memories: I don’t know where Jon is these days but I’m sure he won’t have forgotten that night either.
Live And Dangerous (gently massaged, shall we say, by Tony Visconti in the studio) is electrifying from start to finish, genuinely the best representation of that line-up and the heights they scaled. Sure, Side 4 stumbles a little in the middle. Sha La La has a drum solo of more than a few bars and loses me somewhat (I’m sorry, Brian), and Baby Drives Me Crazy is just a rabble-rouser, but those two are bracketed with the thundering swagger of Suicide and a blistering The Rocker. No complaints about any of the rest.. Robertson’s properly tasteful solo on Still In Love With You, a lush Southbound, the shuddering funk of Johnny The Fox Meets.. and a damn near flawless paint-stripper of a Side 3: Don’t Believe A Word, Warrior and Are You Ready, plus THE all-time perfect hard rock moment when Cowboy Song segues into The Boys Are Back In Town, the pause in Phil’s “A cowboy’s life…. is the life for me” and BLAM. Fireworks, chills up the spine, out of your seat and dancing with delight. I’ve heard it a thousand times and it never fails to slay me.
We were lucky to see Thin Lizzy at the top, the zenith. Within a few weeks Brian Robertson had gone, Gary Moore stepped in, Brian Downey took a break (and did return) but despite a few bright flashes of inspiration in later years, Live And Dangerous was the pinnacle, for me.
Hard rock’s high water mark too.
** I grant you Motorhead’s debut (on white vinyl) and AC/DC’s Powerage come close, but when were they released? 1978. I rest my case.
P.S. Part 6 of The Sacred Days You Gave Me: we put our leather strides away and move on to 1979