THE story so far: Thin Lizzy are practically bankrupt… again. Their next album MUST take off or they face an uncertain future. In an extract from his book, Harry reveals their radical change in fortune.
Back in England, Lizzy had the air of a band that knew they were holding all the right cards, and as they undertook a club and university tour playing tracks from their forthcoming album, you began to sense that they were about to produce a killer hand. I remember seeing them play at Colchester University on that tour and the combination of songs from Fighting and a number of new ones really impressed. The ace they held, of course, was Jailbreak.
In preparation, the band’s management decided it was time to move out of the clubs and get them into a concert environment. Tickets on the RockOctober tour, with Lizzy supported by String Driven Thing and City Boy, went on sale at the grand price of £1.00. The ploy worked.
Next a suitable producer had to be found. Managers Chris O’Donnell and Chris Morrison felt that the strain that had been put upon Lynott in producing Fighting was counter- productive. Singing, writing, playing bass and producing was just too much, so they looked around for a suitable candidate… carefully, as it happened, after the Ron Nevison debacle. Roy Thomas Baker was in the frame but couldn’t make the schedule. It had already been decided that the album would be recorded at The Who’s Ramport Studios in Battersea after a recommendation by Scott Gorham’s brother-in-law, Supertramp drummer, Bob Siebenberg. O’Donnell was aware of an engineer there called John Alcock, who, though he was light on production credits, had been instrumental in building the studio for The Who, “I hadn’t heard anything John Alcock had done; this was a management hunch,” he said. “He worked an awful lot for The Who and never really got credited for it. He knew the studio inside out. He had worked for Alice Cooper as well. It was just intuition. If anyone is going to know the studio, it’s going to be John.”
O’Donnell asked Alcock to come see Lizzy play in Bracknell and duly made arrangements to pick him up. “I hadn’t met him so when I went to pick him up, I was greeted by this 6”3’ massive guy at the door. It was a psychological thing. If a guy could look down at Phil and tell him what he shouldn’t be doing, that could work.”
A deal was worked out and Alcock went to watch Lizzy rehearsing to hear what they had for the next album. The band had already told their managers they had ten good songs to work on. Alcock wasn’t so easily impressed. “When I spoke to John he said ‘No, they’ve got about six good riffs and three songs’. So I knew immediately that he was a guy who knew what he was talking about.
“John Alcock actually cancelled the Jailbreak sessions that were scheduled and put it back a month. Then he came down to the Farmyard every day and routined the band. Again it was a case of Lizzy not being that great a band technically. Live is one thing, doing it in the studio another. What the band wasn’t good at was structuring songs, but Alcock helped them with that. ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ on Johnny The Fox was a drab blues song until he heard it.”
Jailbreak turned out to be an inspired set from a powerful rock band with its own unique identity, playing songs that could pass the famed old grey whistle test – ie utterly memorable. Brimming with raw power, pop nuance and Lynott’s wonderfully warm vocals, the music business and media woke up to what thousands of people who had seen them live already knew. Thin Lizzy had arrived. And for good measure, they had a killer single, ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’.
But it so very nearly wasn’t… As with many classic singles, ‘The Boys Are Back…’ was very nearly consigned to the reject file. Its origins go back to a Manchester gig during the Fighting tour when Phil Lynott went on stage and, taken aback by the immense reception, shook his fist like a warrior chief at the crowd. This would later manifest itself as the famous Lynott call to arms: “Are you out there?!”
Chris O’Donnell noticed this reaction, and spoke to Phil about it after the gig. “I was saying to him that every band has one song that defines them,” said O’Donnell. “That was what Lizzy needed – a song that reflected the crowd reaction wasn’t written, so Phil went off to write it.”
It started off life on a predictable theme about a soldier coming home from Vietnam, ‘GI Joe Is Back’. But it lacked life and any discernible identity, and so was dumped. O’Donnell, though, felt that the seeds of something were there, and asked them to persist with it.