Bristol, England. August 7, 2004.
Every time I hear those opening dual guitar harmonies, it takes me back to the summer of 2004. Blazing sunshine and six glorious weeks of freedom from school ahead with all the promises they bring.
The previous autumn, I had discovered Thin Lizzy and my dad – a lifelong fan – had happily encouraged my discovery, digging out his old 45s and talking me through each line-up of the band with expert knowledge as we listened together.
For months, he had been telling me about the legendary Live and Dangerous, one of the greatest live albums of all time, and how he had reluctantly sold his copy as a teenager for some extra cash.
The internet and online shopping hadn’t properly taken off yet, so it wasn’t as easy as it is now to track down an old album. So, when we heard a new secondhand vinyl shop had just opened in our city, we jumped at the opportunity to go there and try to sniff out a copy.
Clifton Arcade Music – sadly no longer in existence – was a real treasure trove for music lovers. It was poky, yet stacked floor to ceiling with every possible LP, CD, music VHS and piece of merchandise you could imagine.
And the pièce de résistance: a humongous poster of Phil Lynott – Thin Lizzy’s frontman – on the wall, looking so bad ass with his afro, moustache, leather trousers and black Fender Precision with mirrored scratchplate.
The funny story behind the poster is that the shop owner had mistaken Lynott for Hendrix and had paid a fortune to have it blown up to A0! It was a costly mistake and he refused to sell it to me no matter how many times I begged over the years.
Anyway, that day in August 2004, I struck gold. Flicking through the T section of vinyl, I stumbled across a mint condition Live and Dangerous. I picked it up with shaky hands, staring in awe at Phil on the cover, legs wide open at an impossible angle, right fist raised. And it was a bargain at just £8. I quickly snapped up the record and left the shop with it clutched firmly to my chest, scared that someone might take it off me.
At that time, I didn’t own a record player of my own, so we stopped at my grandparents’ house to pick up my dad’s old one from the attic: a Ferguson 3057. We carted it home and my dad installed it in my bedroom. Then, I opened the gatefold of Live and Dangerous and placed the record on the turntable, setting the needle down carefully.
Immediately, I heard the excited crowd chanting “LIZZY, LIZZY” and clapping, followed by the opening E chord of Jailbreak. It almost blew me out the window! It was so much louder and more powerful than their studio work.
“I’ll leave you to it,” my dad said, wanting me to savour the experience for myself of listening to the album for the first time.
I lay back on my bed, closed my eyes and soaked in the sounds of Lizzy at their absolute finest. The bulldozing force of Emerald, the beautiful ballad Still in Love with You, the super slick Johnny the Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed, but there was one song that stood out above all others for me: Southbound.
Southbound was Phil at his poetic best. A beautiful tale that tapped into his fascination with America. Of a little place that had become a ghost town following the gold rush and a man destined to leave and wander on – like the eternal plight of the Irish – travelling at sundown and disappearing over the horizon. Those lyrics were so emotive and really painted the scene before my eyes:
Tumbling with the tumbleweed
Down the open road
I’ll be taking just what I need
Before my head explodes
Simply beautiful. I might have been in an inner-city terrace house in England, but in my head, I was on the open highway in the US, flanked by desert sands.
The guitar solo by Scott Gorham in Southbound also really captivated me. As I came to understand later, it was perfectly reflective of him – the cool, calm and collected Californian. Not as flashy as Robbo or Gary Moore, but a constant and solid part of the band and essential to their sound.
My love for Lizzy was consolidated that day. I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to Live and Dangerous on repeat and designing my own Lizzy logo, which I proudly stuck with Blu Tack on my bedroom window so that anybody who passed by in the street could clearly see that a Lizzy fan lived here.
I recently came across a cartoon on Facebook that showed a young boy putting Live and Dangerous on his record player. “You’ll always remember your first time,” the caption said.
I certainly do.
August 7 2004 was a moment that changed my life forever.
Stereo Story #686