THIN LIZZY. BAND PORTRAITS.1981.
Back when Philip was working on an as yet untitled album, later titled ‘Renegade’, he asked me to come over and stay with him in his house in Kew Gardens, London, for a for days so we could catch up and discuss new work and ideas.
Tex, his driver, picked me up from the airport and Philip was at home waiting for me, ready to go out: ‘Hey Jim, let’s take a walk and talk’. I always enjoyed the serious side of Philip and I could see he was dead serious. He was having problems with the record company at the time and needed me to do some work for him directly rather than through them, as I was used to.
He wanted me to produce a series of serious and realistic portraits of the band. At that point in time the ever-changing line-up had settled and was pretty stable: Philip Lynott, Scott Gorham and the ever-present Brian Downey, Philip’s mate from school days plus the new addition, the wonderful Snowy White, who was also part of Pink Floyd when they toured and performed.
Being a massive Floyd fan since I was a kid I loved the idea of Snowy in the lineup. I even got to see ‘The Wall’ live with Philip, then hooked up with Snowy backstage after Philip gave me his pass (with his rather dark black mugshot on the pass and…eh, I’m pale white, freckly and a redhead… but that’s another story) while he took off for greener pastures.
‘Catch ya later, Jim, have fun’
Luckily I was with Tex, his driver so I knew I had a lift home later.
Anyway, as usual, I digress.
Back to the portraits: When I got home to Dublin I received band photos direct from Philip who was now organizing everything himself which was unusual. Normally Philip briefed me and we went through ideas -and then we worked with the management, the record company and an art agency called Sutton Cooper who put all the packaging together from my artwork. I got on really well with them all so no problems ever arose over the years but I had a sense from Philip that all was not well.
Things were going bad with Vertigo, the record company and he was trying to rescue a situation so he could present them with a complete and impressive package and have them finance it all too. Never quite worked out either and in the end, I never got paid for any of these portraits by Vertigo despite Philip’s best efforts.
Their excuse was simple: “No one in the office had issued an order form so Philip would have to pay for all my work himself. I refused to screw Philip for it and we talked and walked the beach to find a way out of this unpleasant situation
Philip tried to make up for this difficulty -and keep me afloat -by commissioning the Lynott family group portrait in the garden of his Dublin home, GlenCorr in Sutton, Ireland.
His house, Glencorr, where he lived with his beautiful Caroline, Sarah and Cathleen, is on the very same road I live on myself today, just a few houses away. I walk or cycle by it every day. There’s a whole lot of fascinating history there.
Back to the story:
Meanwhile, I worked up a quick compositional sketch for a mooted poster of the band, took a negative print of it and posted it off. Next day I got a go-ahead from Philip and the hard work began.
I produced seriously detailed pencil drawings of Scott, Philip, Brian and Snowy, in that order, and sent them to Philip who could always see immediately what I was at from the simplest sketches and loved the basic concept.
I worked the four pencil drawings into a mockup poster and sent it to him, got the go-ahead and in a month I had finished the four paintings which Philip now wanted to use as an insert for the new album, later titled ‘Renegade’.
When the paintings were finished Philip really complimented me on them and seemed happy but then, a few days later he called and asked me rather sheepishly if I would mind doing a different ‘take’ on his portrait.
Not a problem, I said -and it wasn’t. Philip had always fought my corner with everyone from the band, the management, to the record company and I owed him so he sent me a new photo with his thumb to his mouth and I did a pencil drawing of it for him.
‘Deadly!’ was the reply and off I went with a new painting for the portrait series. I also think I aged him a little too much using the original 1979 pencil drawing as my reference, knowing Philip really liked that one, but that’s just my own guess.
Philip’s reasoning was simple as usual; he wanted himself to look different from the rest of the band, that was all. I kept the original red background too. I painted that one so fast on clear photographic cell that it actually cracked a little as I dried it with a hairdryer in a rush to catch the 9 o’c UK courier collection deadline.
When the new album ‘Renegade’ was released I was disappointed that my own ideas went unused –I had drawn up a few cool ideas too -and I still have no idea why but I would guess with the declining fortunes of the band due to Philip’s excessive spending allied to his obvious drug use combined to put off any spending on artwork. Maybe they –the band, just wanted a new look? Who knows, never did get an explanation but that’s life and the usual stuff cover artists have to put up with. Ours is not to reason why…
(But I’m still curious and the one person who might have known was my great friend Frank Murray but sadly Frank passed away at Christmas 2016, just a few days after we discussed collaborating on a book of the Lizzy artwork.).
Anyway, what did bother me as a perfectionist was the rubbish reproduction of the final poster insert. It was shite.
Fast forward to 2017: This April I found the safely stored pencil drawings and the original portrait paintings of Philip, Brian, Snowy, and Scott in one of those multiple filed folders that are piled up in my attic for safe storage.
It was wildly exciting for me to see them again and it brought back so many great memories too of the last times I spent with Philip in his houses in Sutton, Ireland and in Kew Gardens, London and the great fun we always had when we were together.
I do have to be honest and admit there were many times when signs of real drug use disturbed me; Philip admitted to me he had problems but always denied using heroin just ‘coke and smoke’.
Now I realize he was ‘chasing the dragon’ which meant he was smoking heroin. I saw traces of burned tinfoil in the front room together with a comatose young girl and when I asked about it and he said it was for smoking liquid THC (the active ingredient of cannabis). I believed him and he even rolled me a joint -I was a nighttime dope smoker, but never during the day so I could work properly -and he dripped it with this dark brown liquid. It was far too trippy for me and besides, it was daytime and we were all heading into London with Tex to pick up some leather tour jackets, mine included.
How he could smoke such powerful stuff and function was beyond me and I did notice he seemed, tired, run down and not really himself. He seemed to be putting on an act for me so I would think everything was just hunky-dory.
Last week I photographed all the old portrait artwork, both pencils, and paintings, and tidied all up in Photoshop and Lightroom until it matched the artwork colourwise, then I stitched all the four original portraits together until they looked exactly like my 1981 poster art.
I added an old version of the Lizzy logo as I had originally intended until I finally had the real thing, exactly as it was intended to look, on my Mac laptop.
Check it out. It’s one of my best; at least I think so and hope so.
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