Everyone knows Thin Lizzy. The music world is awash with their albums and there are enough bootlegs, greatest hits, extended versions, live albums, compilations, radio cuts, cover bands, and once there were even enough versions of the band itself out there to choke the airwaves for the rest of time. Of course, almost every music lover is familiar their ‘big’ rock albums Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox, Bad Reputation, and their touring masterpiece Live and Dangerous; all albums filled with rock radio staples we know and love. But to me, their finest and most interesting period was just before ‘Jailbreak’ and “The Boys Are Back In Town” sent them stratospheric, around the time of the Nightlife and Fighting albums.
Eric Bell had sensationally quit the band during at gig in Queens University in his hometown of Belfast by throwing his guitar up in the air mid-song and marching off stage in a state of epic drunkenness. Not wanting to get caught mid-concert with no guitarist ever again, band leader Phil Lynott decided to hire two of them as a safety net. Brian Robertson was in town trying out for the spot of drummer in another band, and Scott Gorham had flown over from California to audition for Supertramp (how things could have been so very different,) and both of them landed guitar spots in ‘Lizzy. Their first album together – Nightlife was a fairly patchy and poorly produced affair, but the follow up, 1975’s Fighting is a stone-cold classic, and laid all the foundations for their success with Jailbreak. Live and Dangerous was released in 1978 and has since been considered by many to be one of the best live albums of all time. How much of it was overdubbed in the studio has also been a topic of discussion ever since, although this small controversy doesn’t detract from its pure rock brilliance and rightful place as a classic album.
When, in 2008, it was announced there was to be a new Lizzy live album to be released, the reaction was lukewarm at best, due to there being more than a couple of disappointing Lizzy releases out there. However, what is to be found on “UK Tour ’75” is an absolute gem of a collection of Thin Lizzy songs, recorded at a period just before they hit the big time. It’s a snapshot of a band on their way up, not quite yet possessing the hard-boiled confidence they would later display, and way before things started to go awry for Lynott and his various addictions. What you will also find here is some of the best Lynott crowd banter, and a band trying out some new songs and part-songs that will later evolve into chart smashes. It’s bloody fascinating.
Recorded at Derby University in 1975, the show begins with Lynott speaking into the microphone. “One, two, testing,” he says, before telling the audience the gig will be recorded and asks them to “make a lotta noise, hear yourselves on the radio,” and the band launches into ‘Fighting’. What is immediately clear on this album is the quality of the sound. Many Lizzy releases – including the awful ‘Live/Life’ series – sound like they were recorded with two toilet rolls and a long piece of string, but the sound here is crisp, clear, beautiful, and moreover, the band are on great form.
Having been recorded in 1975, the album is years ahead of songs like ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Waiting For An Alibi’, and ‘Don’t Believe A Word’; instead it is filled with great songs that fell away from the Lizzy live roster after around 1976. “Wild One”, “It’s Only Money”, and my own personal favourite of all Lizzy songs, “For Those Who Love To Live” are given a fine run out, with the band sounding HEAVY. Later live staples are in there too, from Bob Seger’s ‘Rosalie’, and earlier Lizzy track ‘The Rocker’. Rosalie sounds particularly fantastic, and just shows that had “Live and Dangerous” not been overdubbed, it still probably would have sounded pretty damn good.
The finest thing about “UK Tour ’75”, though, is the wonderful opportunity to hear a band refining their sound and songs. Track thirteen on the album is labelled ‘Derby Blues’; a working title for a song that would eventually become Lizzy classic ‘Cowboy Song’. It’s simply fantastic to hear Lynott trying out lyrics and rhyming couplets, as he announces it as a “new number, this one, as yet untitled… we’ll call it Derby Blues”. The dual-guitar riff is there, the opening line of “I am just a cowboy, lonesome on the trail…”, and the rest basically consists of a bit of a jam and Lynott throwing in lyrics about being lost on the road and turning up in alien places. It’s a must-listen for any Lizzy fan, pure and simple.
And as if this embarrassment of riches wasn’t enough, there’s also a three-minute sound check jam tacked onto the end, which showcases the guitarists warming up their fingers in a groovy blast of improvisation, and a rather fetching booklet with a few dozen photos of the band in and around the time of recording. Again, the sound check jam is a thing of beauty and of such outstanding sound quality, especially for the time. UK Tour ’75 has now overtaken Live and Dangerous as my favourite live ‘Lizzy album, and maybe it will for you too.