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(Credit: Harry Potts)

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How Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott stunned Cliff Richard

@TomTaylorFO

The highs and lows of Thin Lizzy always come to the fore at this time of year. Despite the triumph of albums like Nightlife and Jailbreak, it is the grisly ending to a musically stunning career that taints Thin Lizzy with a dower light when it comes to the festive season. On Christmas Day, in 1985, frontman, founder and bassist, Phil Lynott collapsed after a drug overdose. 

The 36-year-old had succumbed to a heroin overdose and collapsed in front of his two daughters, Sara aged seven and Cathleen aged five. He died 11-days later in hospital after entering a coma. This tragic end naturally signified the dark undercurrent that swirled beneath the magic of his music. It is also indicative of the duality of Lynott, which was reflected on by his friend Bob Geldof who commented: “He was a hard-living sort of bloke, a good bloke, a laugh but a hard nut”. It was the latter sentiment that stunned Cliff Richard when the two oddly met. 

Notoriously devout in his religious beliefs and clean-cut ways, Richard is not the sort of person you would expect to find caught up in the darker side of the rock ‘n’ roll industry. Thus, Thin Lizzy guitarist, Scott Gorham recalls his astonishment at encountering Lynott in a Parisian recording studio partaking in drugs. 

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As Gorham remarks in an interview with Nuclear Blast Records: “Phil said ‘come on, let’s drag over Cliff and see what he thinks,’ So, we sat Cliff in front of the desk and right behind him there’s this ****ing dealer chopping out a line of smack. I’m looking at Cliff and, God bless him, he didn’t look. I thought, ‘this has got to be uncomfortable for him’.” The incident took place in 1979 when Thin Lizzy were working on Black Rose: A Rock Legend and Richards was in the studio next door. They invited him in to listen to some of their new tunes, as the album was almost completed. 

“There was literally two drug dealers chopping up lines of coke, racking them up. Cliff walked in, and you know that he saw what was going on. You just know this. But he would not look in that direction. He just sat down, face forward. We played him a couple of songs. He never looked behind him no matter what was said. I mean, he could hear the scraping of the razor blades for god’s sake,” Gorham recalls, coining a blasphemous phrase that Richard also would shirk at. 

Gorham adds: “But he never looked around. But I’ve got to give it to him, after the end of the two tracks he said, ‘Wow, that was so great, thank you for letting me come over to listen.’ Then he got up left and still never looked at these two guys. It was just this weird surreal situation that you found yourself in with Cliff Richard! And Cliff is a really nice guy! He’s a heavyweight Christian, we’re not, but that’s okay, we’re all musicians together, but, boy, he would not look behind him.” Naturally, the meeting didn’t lead to a collaboration or any intervention either, but it did show what a weird world rock ‘n’ roll is.