Every crisp Irish January, Thin Lizzy fans come together for the Vibe for Philo, an event celebrating the life and legend of Phil Lynott.
Even though the event signified the end of something, it has now become the start of something too. Thin Lizzy’s much loved drummer Brian Downey attended the event and left with a whole new band- Alive & Dangerous. After taking a break from music, Brian enjoyed jamming with Brian Grace, Matt Wilson and Phil Edgar so much that he wanted to continue.
Coincidentally, the band arrived just in time for the 40th anniversary of Thin Lizzy’s iconic album Live & Dangerous. They booked two London shows which were instant sell outs. This made Brian very nervous indeed.
“The second night we played in Nells Jazz and Blues was pretty hair-raising.” Brian said, “We were under the impression that the second night wasn’t sold out but when we actually got there, the place was jammed so that’s brilliant. Two nights in a row, we had a packed audience. I got a bit nervous on the second night because of it.”
Despite his nerves, Brian proudly perched behind his drums and played without so much as a sweat. Pleased with the turnout, Nells Jazz & Blues club booked Alive & Dangerous for another show this February. Brian intends to switch the songs around a bit but still taking the majority of the set from the Live & Dangerous.
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Brian is noted by drummers all over the world as one of the best in the industry. Despite having a large loyal fan base and iconic status, I was surprised to find that fame had not got the better of him.
“I tried to keep it on an even keel,” he says of his fame. “To not let it get too dominant in your life. When you finish playing, you forget about it for a while. When more gigs come back up, you’re back into that groove. You have to leave it there, forget about it and get on with the rest of your life. If you have that sort of philosophy, to take it as it comes, you don’t get too carried away with fame.”
The ’70s were littered with the demises of deceased rock stars and fallen icons due to a life of excess. Even his own friend and frontman Phil Lynott turned to drugs and drink which eventually lead to his death in 1986. Brian had maintained a balance between work and play.
“With members of your bandmates on the road, it can turn into a drug and drink fest…. You don’t want to go that way. And we did, don’t get me wrong, we did do all that back in the day…” Brian reflects, “I found, after a while, you couldn’t be going on stage, drunk or half out of it. I never took any drugs in the studio or on stage. What happened off-stage was a different matter. We had to keep it together before any gigs or studio recordings. I said to myself, no I’m not touching that… none of that Brandy. But again, you know, people are different and some people cope differently to what I would. I suppose that would be my advice for budding rock stars.”
With his pretty impressive career, back catalogue and professionalism, Brian isn’t short on advice for people who want to make it in the industry.
“You have to be really involved with all aspects.” Brian pondered, “Not just playing. There’s another side to the music industry as well. I think when you’re starting off, you have to get used to all aspects of the business. That’s what you should do.
“Get a good manager and a good agent. Let them concentrate on the business end, though you have to keep an eye on that side but if you have a good manager and a good agent, that’s half the battle.”
During rehearsals with Alive & Dangerous, the band has started to discuss working on some original material. “I think that’s a good thing because eventually, we’d have to break out and play our own. That’s what we’re going to do when we’ve had time off this year- get into the studio and put some demos down. See how things turn out. Maybe at the end of the year or maybe next year get some kind of single, EP or even an album.
“The natural thing would be to let these songs or ideas to come out in the demo studio, that’s the plan. We’ll have to put some stuff down that we enjoy. We definitely have to enjoy the material. That is the plan at the end of the day, to enjoy ourselves as well.”
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Brian is credited throughout Thin Lizzy’s discography but contributes the majority of their work’s successes to his long-time collaborator Phil Lynott.
“When I heard Phil’s songwriting back in the 1960s, I was totally impressed with what Phil was playing. He was writing some incredible songs back then. A lot of those songs ended up on the first Lizzy album. It was slightly different there.
“With Thin Lizzy, the band was very short of people who could write songs on their own, although we did contribute to the songs that Phil wrote and we got credit for that on the albums. But Phil really was the main lyricist in the band. He wrote all the lyrics and a lot of the actual music as well. I just hope it rubs off on this band, I really do! That’s in the future, in the next couple of months I hope we discover who’s got talent! I’m kind of looking forward to seeing how things work out in the studio.”
So the future looks bright for the new band and fans are electric. Thin Lizzy’s songs shouldn’t be buried in time, and neither should Brian hide his amazing talents from those who maybe just didn’t get the chance to see the original band.
“If it doesn’t work out, we’ll all just go back to playing Thin Lizzy, the Live And Dangerous Album for the rest of our careers. But hopefully, that won’t happen.”
Brian Downey’s Alive & Dangerous is touring this year with a London date on the 10th of February. See full details on the official website.