Thin Lizzy were an exceptional rock band. The classic mid 70s line up managed to capture lightning in a bottle with Phil Lynott’s charisma and the trademark twin guitar sounds of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. Even when the band shifted line-ups to include Snowy White and, latterly, John Sykes for a heavier sound, they were still a top tier rock band. True legends.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder that Phil Lynott’s last musical outings with Grand Slam have always been treated as an afterthought. Despite being a great live act according to the many people who saw them, it’s unlikely that any studio recordings would have matched classic Lizzy, even if Philo had managed to gain record company trust and the band had made it beyond the recording of several demos. Nevertheless, the demos from 1983/4 have been repackaged on cheap licences several times over the years and, along with various bootlegged live gigs, have helped to keep the band’s memory alive.
This 6CD set from Cleopatra Records is a rather extensive plundering of the Grand Slam archives. As usual, it’s heavily weighted towards live bootleg material, but unlike previous compilation sets, it has the distinction of presenting remixed studio tracks that help to make the old demos sound brighter than ever before. The new mixes are particularly revelatory in a few cases, especially making ‘Military Man’ sound rather punchy for an old, imperfect recording, and in comparison to the regular demo, it very much brings Lynott’s voice to the fore, suggesting how a full blown album version might’ve sounded. There’s a bigger, deeper bass sound running through the could’ve-been-classic ‘Nineteen’; hints of a really moody band during ‘Crime Rate Is Going Up’, and it’s always a pleasure to hear the unfinished ‘Dedication’, which was later rescued and overdubbed by Brian Downey and Scott Gorham for inclusion on the 1990 Thin Lizzy compilation of the same name. The remixed version will still sound rough for those who’ve grown accustomed to Lizzy’s Frankenstein creation, but there are beautiful vocal moments that suggest that, at this point, Philo might have been down, but he certainly wasn’t out. A slightly wobbly ‘Sarah’ pays homage to Phil’s past, and the remixed ‘Breakdown’ shines a light on Mark Stanway’s pompy keys. All the remixing in the world still doesn’t disguise the fact that this number remained unfinished, mind, but it’s never sounded better.
Things can only be tweaked so much, of course, and although Lynott sounds a little more prominent on tracks like ‘I Don’t Need This’ and ‘Harlem’, a shrill guitar sound from Laurence Archer and very raw drum sound throughout gives away the demo origins of some of the recording sources used here. Nevertheless, those who’ve heard the demos time and again and in different configurations since the late 90s should find some entertainment in this box’s “main feature”. For the purists, the demos are included on disc 6, but it’s likely that anyone vaguely interested in a Grand Slam box set will have those several times over already.
With regards to the four discs’ worth of live recordings included, most of them will be familiar to fans. There’s the obligatory ‘Live In Sweden’ issued yet again, and several recordings from the Irish tour of 1984. The latter (filling disc three) has been labelled ‘Live In Lifford’, but appears to be a repackaging of the Zoom Club disc that also credited the tracks as being from Castlebar and Galway shows. Ah, the joy of cheaply licenced bootlegs… Regardless of location, the source used here sounds much better than the old Zoom Club release. It’s pleasingly bass heavy, which brings an extra joy to heavier tracks like ‘Cold Sweat’ and ‘Nineteen’, and as much warmth to ‘Night In The Life of A Blues Singer’ as such a lo-fi recording allows.
A selection of live tracks labelled ‘Live In London’ are sourced from a July 1984 session for the BBC. This half hour set is rougher than some of the Grand Slam recordings doing the rounds, but the tapes used for this set are marginally better sounding than those previously shared on YouTube and elsewhere. There are moments where Lynott sounds obviously worse for wear; some of the sparkle has gone, but the band still has enough power to make it a performance worth hearing. Through the rawness, ‘Nineteen’ and ‘Dedication’ come across like solid rockers, whilst
the softer ‘Sisters of Mercy’ suffers a little due to tape hiss, but there’s still a rattle of bass strings and crisp guitar in places that gives the track a real bristle. Even though the more forgiving fan can still latch onto a great rock band, these performances are outshone by ‘Military Man’ which, on this occasion – a year or so before Lynott would record a definitive studio recording with Gary Moore – conveys a real combination of anger and sadness. Perhaps it’s that we know retrospectively that the band are now on numbered days, but there’s a nihilism here that really captures the lyric’s negativity.
Also a little harder to find previously, a full set from the 1984 Kerrang Woooargh Weekender in Great Yarmouth is a very welcome addition to this box set. Again, the source materials are less than pristine, but Archer tearing his way through ‘Cold Sweat’ and ‘Nineteen’ with a genuine vigour are worth the price of admission, and a particularly sombre ‘Parisienne Walkways’ is a gig highlight. Archer mightn’t reach the bluesy brilliance of an on form Gary Moore, but his tone has a stately presence, and Phil sounds very forlorn…even more so than usual for the track. ‘Yellow Pearl’ sounds really odd stripped of any studio sheen and with extra bass applied, but looking past any uneven qualities, it’s a performance that’s saved by Stanway’s huge keyboard sound, which is more prominent here than at any other point during the gig. Listening back to this show, you can tell the band have the audience on side, and it must’ve been great to hear tracks like ‘Dedication’ and ‘Harlem’ afresh, and experience the wonderment of a band looking forward. Obviously, history has shown that this glimmer of hope was all too brief, but it’s great to have this gig to revisit time and again. Even with a few wobbles, it’s arguably one of Grand Slam’s most spirited shows.
Exactly how many times can various combinations of Grand Slam’s bootlegged and demo recordings be recycled? A near infinite amount, it seems. In an ideal world, this set would be the final word on Lynott’s ill-fated post-Lizzy band, but as extensive as it is at 6 CDs, it still doesn’t cancel out the need for owning the 2CD ‘Studio Sessions’ release, or the official bootleg sets put out by Zoom Club and Mischief Music in 2003 and 2009 respectively. Nevertheless, the Grand Yarmouth set gives it some validity and the remixed tracks are a definite improvement on previous studio tapes. Whether those two factors are enough for a diehard Lynott fan to shell out a reasonable amount of money seems debatable, but for anyone yet to have bought any of the previous Grand Slam anthologies, adding this to the collection should be a no-brainer, despite its obvious rough edges.
Buy the box set here: PHIL LYNOTT’S GRAND SLAM – Slam Anthems