Vibe For Philo 2003, Vicar Street, Dublin, 4th JanuaryBlack was the uniform of choice. Tight jeans, leather jackets and long hair were also in abundance - although balding heads were quite common too, given the average age of the audience. It would be all too easy to poke fun at a gig like the annual Vibe For Philo. Held this year in Vicar Street, some may consider it to be a jaded money-spinner at worst or, at best, a derisory dad-rockers convention. Any one of the capacity crowd, however, would claim otherwise. It has now been 17 years since the death of Thin Lizzy's charismatic frontman Phillip Lynnott but, every January, his dedicated fans turn up at these anniversary tribute concerts to celebrate his memory.
There's no doubting the quality of the man's musical legacy. So, when the Vagabond Kings (introduced by host Smiley Bolger, who seemed to become increasingly intoxicated as the night wore on!) opened up with 'Opium Trail', the fans hoped for at least some decent covers. To be honest, the Vagabond Kings were pretty mediocre. Although there was no doubting this Boston band's enthusiasm (I lost count of the times singer Mike 'Moon' Mooney asked, "How you doin' out there?"), there was something vaguely reminiscent of Spinal Tap about them: big hair, red satin shirts, tight jeans, hairy chests… Despite drummer Barry Spillberg's excellent efforts, by their third rendition ('Bad reputation'), Mooney's attempts at mimicking Lynnott's voice were grating on the nerves of all but the drunkest fans.
After some acoustic Lizzy numbers from Ronan Byrne (including a great version of 'Old Town'), came one of the unexpected highlights of the night. Fifteen-year-old Leanne Harte took to the stage with her guitar for 'The Rocker' and 'Look what the wind blew in'. Despite her initial nerves, the crowd really warmed to her, especially when she was joined onstage by a group of unruly-looking Vikings (presumably meant to be Celtic warriors, but I don't think anyone cared about their ethnic origin by that stage) for 'Emerald'. This girl can really play. My only misgiving about her is my own personal grudge that she's up there doing exactly what I dreamed about when I was 15. I, however, had no talent. Or guitar.
Not to be outdone, wunderkind James McIndoe joined Leanne on saxophone for 'Parisienne walkways'. This kid is just 11 years old. As Midge Ure stated when he came on stage immediately afterward, "This is where tomorrow's talent lies - not on 'Popstars'." You have to feel a bit sorry for Midge Ure, though. He's been in the business since 1969 and played with Stumble, Salvation, Slik, Rich Kids, Misfits, Thin Lizzy, Visage and Ultravox but, no matter where he goes, it always comes back to that song. And here it was no different. After playing some lesser-known Lizzy ballads, including a great version of 'Little girl in bloom', the poor guy caved and the whole of Vicar Street resounded to a collective roar of 'Vienna'.
Next up was Japan's Lizzy Boys, who played lesser-known covers including 'Warriors', 'S&M' and 'Johnny the Fox'. Midge Ure joined them onstage for 'Get out of here' and 'Rosalie'. And I must admit, although it took a while to get my head around the fact that the Lizzy Boys look... well, nothing like Thin Lizzy, they really won over the crowd. At this point, some random punter from the audience came onstage and proposed to his girlfriend - and yes, luckily for him, she accepted...
Thin Az Lizzy - the act that most people had come to see, followed. These hardy perennials make an appearance every year and seem to have the monopoly on the most popular songs, opening up with 'Jailbreak' and racing through a set that included 'Emerald' (those Vikings again), 'Waiting for an alibi', 'Dancin' in the moonlight', 'Hollywood' and, of course, 'The boys are back in town'. Both John Earle and Midge Ure joined them for 'Baby drives me crazy', finishing up a genuine stormer of a set.
As Thin Az Lizzy finished to endless cheers, Philomena Lynnott came onstage to speak to the crowd. During a minute's silence held "for departed loved ones", some fools in the audience just couldn't hold their piece and did their best to ruin the atmosphere. But there was a genuine sense of respect amongst the crowd for this lady, who spoke with a rare eloquence that seemed to touch even the drunkest rocker in the audience.
After this, Laurence Archer's Grand Slam couldn't help but be a bit of an anti-climax and the crowd thinned out considerably. Although they finished up with 'Parisienne walkways' and a torch-bearing, semi-acoustic 'Sarah', the audience had pretty much lost interest and the whole situation was a little embarrassing for both Archer and any members of the audience who were still sober enough to notice.
After a final wrap-up from Smiley Bolger, that was the Vibe For Philo over for another year. I don't know what the shelf-life is for these tribute gigs but, as long as fans can relive their wasted youth and play out their rocker dreams, I suspect the Vibe For Philo will continue for a while yet. In the meantime, the crowd who filed out of Vicar Street returned to their sedate office jobs on Monday morning, with the leathers safely packed away for next year.
Mary Anne Kenny.