To mark the 36th anniversary of his passing, we revisit our review of the remarkable documentary by Emer Reynolds chronicling the life and career of Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, from his relocation to Crumlin in the 1950s as a young child to his premature death in London on January 4th 1986.
Director: Emer Reynolds
Talent: Phil Lynott
Chronicling the life and career of Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott, from his relocation to Crumlin in the 1950s as a young child to his premature death in London, Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away is a celebration of the legendary figure as a friend, father and greatest rock star to ever grace the stage. With a protagonist as effortlessly cool and engaging as Lynott, the stories revealed in Emer Reynolds’ feature documentary will leave audiences feeling simultaneously exhilarated, deeply emotional and extraordinarily proud of the legacy Lynott left across his music with Thin Lizzy and as a solo artist.
Featuring interviews with Lynott’s family including his daughters Sarah and Cathleen along with his former wife Caroline Crowther, the latter eloquently paints the legendary figure as an extremely loving and multi-layered individual when it came to his home-life. Naturally, numerous tales from Thin Lizzy’s time recording in London and travelling around America come courtesy of the band’s revolving cast of musicians from founding member, Eric Bell to Scott Gorham and Midge Ure providing moments of comic relief between devastating anecdotes of a young Lynott desperately trying to find his father in London.
A slew of A-list fans including Suzi Quatro (whom Lynott met in 1972 whilst touring with Slade), Adam Clayton, Huey Lewis and Metallica’s James Hetfield appear, each reiterating the impact the Irishman left on them personally. One of the more striking contributions comes from broadcaster and journalist John Kelly. As a teenager, he recalled the first time he saw the band live: “I went in wearing a brown cardigan and left in a leather jacket!”
The documentary makes a conscious point of portraying Lynott sensitively. Reynolds navigates his life story through a patchwork of photographs from his school days, adolescent dalliances in music right to intimate snapshots of his domestic life with his wife and children in Howth.
Furthermore, clips of Thin Lizzy playing on various television shows, namely The Old Grey Whistle Test, solidify Lynott as an unstoppable force as a frontman and the band’s unwavering ability to keep audiences’ attention and make you rock-out in your seat.
Throughout, emphasis lies on his incredible songs written during his short thirty-six years rather than his drug addiction, which is briefly touched upon in the final act of the film. Instead, we’re told of the lesser known aspects to his personality. Before meeting Brush Shields, he’d been a fan of Paul Simon and Nico and The Velvet Underground while he also held a deep passion for mythology and comics, notably Dennis The Menace. In this regard, we’re shown a very human and relatable side to the star.
Phil Lynott: Songs For While I’m Away is an enjoyable watch, if not for the tremendous archival footage and brilliantly entertaining snippets of Lynott’s exchanges with ignorant journalists alone. It’s a wonderful reminder of what a truly unique character Phil Lynott was within Ireland’s cultural history, not to mention the wealth of songs like Old Town and The Boys Are Back In Town he left for us to infinitely enjoy even in his absence.
Words: Zara Hedderman