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Music

Phil Lynott's late-night connection to Manchester United legend George Best

The history of music is peppered with stories of unlikely friendships. Be it, George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, Jerry Only of Misfits and Sid Vicious’ grieving mother, or otherwise, it seems that fame opens up doors to friendships that, on paper, would normally seem impossible. Another unlikely duo that struck up a friendship was Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott and Manchester United legend George Best, who met in the most bizarre of circumstances.

Lynott’s mother, Philomena, connected two icons of popular culture, whose work in Manchester led to Phil meeting a whole host of the city’s colourful characters, including suspected members of the notorious crime syndicate, ‘The Quality Street Gang’.

Famously, Philomena moved to England to find work in the 1940s, and in Birmingham, she met Phil’s father, an immigrant from British Guiana, in a dance hall. Phil was born in August 1949, and looking for a place to raise a mixed-race baby as a single mother, Philomena ended up in Moss Side, Manchester. Phil wouldn’t stay in Manchester long though, when he was four years old, he was sent back to Philomena’s native Dublin to stay with his grandmother. Struggling, Philomena took three jobs so she could afford to pay for her son’s upbringing. 

“Manchester is the warmest and loveliest city,” she said in an interview with Manchester Evening News. “I was down and out when I’d had my little black baby. In those days to have a child out of wedlock, you were spat on, battered, beaten. I’d been thrown into a home for unmarried mothers.” She explained: “But when I settled in Manchester, I found it the warmest city. I met wonderful people there.”

Philomena held down an array of jobs in her time in Manchester, and in 1966, she found herself taking charge of the Clifton Grange Hotel in Whalley Range with her partner. It earned a nickname as ‘The Showbiz Hotel’ as it was run to cater for the city’s stars, with breakfast served at noon instead of 8am, to accommodate for its visitors’ raucous lifestyles. 

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The guests included singers, dancers and comedians – a wide array of Manchester’s most colourful characters. This was perfect for the young Phil Lynott. By 1970, he was the frontman of a new rock outfit calling themselves Thin Lizzy, and this was set to be their decade. From there he started visiting the hotel as a teenager and loved it. He had always loved the city of Manchester because of his love for the football Manchester United, and he found the hotel to be a place of eccentric delight.

Philomena would keep the bar open until the early hours, and these late-night sessions attracted George Best and Jimmy ‘The Weed’ Donnelly of ‘The Quality Steet Gang’. Much like Philomena, Phil struck up a friendship with the late-night regulars, something that was to prepare him for the fame he’d enjoy later in the decade. 

The friendships he gained at the hotel even made it into Thin Lizzy legend. Tracks like ‘Clifton Grange Hotel’ and ‘Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed’ remain fan favourites to this day and are inspired by those heady days at the hotel. It’s even claimed that the band’s biggest hit, ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ is about the gang of criminals he was rubbed shoulders with. 

“All of those people came in my bar and Philip, liked them. They were characters,” Philomena described. “He loved the nickname Jimmy ‘The Weed’. When the song became a hit, he gave Jimmy his own gold album. And Jimmy came over for his funeral.” It seems as if Lynott made a mark on everyone he met, even as a young man.

Strangely, in life and in death, there would be many parallels between Lynott and Best. When looking at pictures of them both happy at the Clifton Grange Hotel, the strange feeling that they were kindred spirits quickly grows. Relentless in their lifestyles, often attracting “the wrong crowd”, they were both geniuses in their respective fields, who were taken too soon. 

Listen to ‘Clifton Grange Hotel’ below.