Phil Lynott: Songs for While I'm Away review – diverting glimpse of Thin Lizzy's poet star

Peter Bradshaw
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Fin Costello/Redferns</span>
Photograph: Fin Costello/Redferns

Phil Lynott was lead singer and bass guitarist of the 70s rock band Thin Lizzy, and is the star of this moderately interesting but very respectful and sometimes oddly incurious documentary. There are entertaining interviews with people who knew Lynott and worked with him – and some who just admired him. In this category, I think, comes U2’s Adam Clayton, who is interesting on what fame on that level gives you and what it takes out of you. Clayton sounds like a soft-spoken clergyman or Oxbridge academic.

Oddly, there is little or no footage of Lynott being interviewed on TV (except for moments when he has to correct American interviewers who called him “English”), although there is some audio material. Was it a copyright problem? Well, the music is what speaks for him and it’s a pleasure to hear the legendary power chords that begin The Boys Are Back in Town.

Lynott was the rock’n’roll wild man of mixed race from Dublin with the soul of a poet, who was blessed with great songwriting skills and a crucial ability to intersperse the stadium stuff with reflective, gentle songs, drawn from a folk tradition. His lyrics could sometimes be fanciful – the film gives us another chance to ponder that famously strange announcement in Jailbreak: “Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak, somewhere in this town.” At the jail, presumably.

Did Lynott suffer from racism? Yes, apparently, at school but not – it seems – in the world of rock. For a while, he was a sweetly devoted husband to music PR Caroline Crowther and father to two girls (although very strangely, the film doesn’t point out that his father-in-law was the legendary British children’s TV entertainer Leslie Crowther, one of the most surreal juxtapositions in the history of pop culture; the Phil and Leslie pairing is itself worthy of a biopic). This film, though giving us a PG-certificate account of what Phil’s life was like on tour away from his wife, and hinting coyly at his addictive problems, can’t quite bring itself to say the word “heroin” and his eventual, cruelly early death seems weirdly unexplained until you grasp this grim fact. A diverting trip down a sweet, sad stretch of memory lane.

• Phil Lynott: Songs for While I’m Away is in cinemas from 30 October.