The greatest rapper of all time* died on March 9th....
….but the greatest rocker of all time died on January 4th.
Most people who know me, know I am a big fan of Thin Lizzy and their leader, Philip Lynott. They were probably the first Irish rock band to make a big impact internationally, performing and recording from around 1970 to 1983. Over that time they made a dozen studio albums, a couple of live albums and Lynott made a few solo albums that were very different to the music he made with Thin Lizzy. By modern standards, that is a tremendous output, even more so when you consider the intensity of their touring at the time, but what is remarkable is the quality and consistency of the music they made, hit after hit and the variety and evolution of their sound from blues and prog rock to folk, pop and heavy metal.
Lynott died in 1986. On the anniversary of his death, every year since, a tribute to him called “The Vibe for Philo” is organised by his close friend Smiley Bolger. This weekend was Vibe 33.
I have been to a few of these tributes over the years, but hadn’t been to any in a while, until last year when I went to the Philip Lynott Birthday Bash (mainly because the special guest was Graham Bonnet, legendary singer of Rainbow), which is a summer celebration of his music run by Lloyd Barber and I decided to check back in to what was happening with Smiley Bolger and the Vibe.
And there is an orthodontic parallel here. There almost always is!
The Vibe is now a 3 day event, and the venue is packed with good mannered and enthusiastic people, many not born when Philip Lynott died. It began with a one man play, “Vagabonds” by Rob Mountford of the Leviathan’s Goat Theatre Company. I’d seen this play at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago, and the last time I’d been in that venue was to see a performance of Hamlet conducted in French, using only toys instead of actors to play the characters - not my choice of show but it’ll give you an idea of the kind of audience that usually goes to these things, so Mountford was up against it performing to a crowd of rockers. But he nailed it and was well received. Then the music started….
...and it went on for another 6 hours with barely a break.
One live band after another, each with different styles from shred metal to trance-ambient dub, playing Thin Lizzy tunes until about 2.30 in the morning and finally the event wound up with a charity auction, including several items of hand-made Philip Lynott kitchenware.
This is the one
The mark of a great Thin Lizzy tribute, like both The Vibe and The Bash is that it’s by and for people that are serious about the appreciation of a massive body of music that evolved over many years. If you had Family Fortunes asking a survey of 100 people to “name a Thin Lizzy song”, most would say “Whiskey In The Jar” and “The Boys Are Back In Town”. The bands at The Vibe had performed for maybe 5 hours without duplicating a tune before either of these songs were played. Most people at a Vibe or a Bash love these songs, but they aren’t there to hear just these songs, they want to hear “Dublin”, or “Still in Love With You” (which contains my favourite guitar solo ever).
There are a few dental and orthodontic treatments that are actually well known brand names. You see them on adverts or hear people talk about them like they were cars or mobile phones or laptops or tablets. But there are many different kinds of dental and orthodontic treatments, many manufacturers of orthodontic products, many orthodontic devices that are hand-made uniquely for each patient and have no brand name. An orthodontist will know the difference and the right one for each occasion. Simply because something is well known, doesn’t mean it’s right for an individual patient.
It’s unlikely that one orthodontic system will treat every orthodontic problem equally well, even if it is a household name, so if someone offers treatment with just one or two sorts of braces, chances are it’s a bit like a covers band at a wedding that only knows a few songs by the band they’re celebrating. Which is fine if it’s the same songs as the audience knows, and the audience doesn’t need more than that, but it’s not enough to an audience that knows, an audience that requires more.
Thin Lizzy songs can be challenging to play. The music can be fast, intense, intricate, but also very soulful and expressive. To be that accurate and emotionally articulate in front of an audience takes many hours of practice alone and many more with others (who have already spent those hours alone) with no audience or reward, but people do it out of the pleasure they get from knowing they have done a great job. You could hear a busker playing a recognisable version of “Whiskey In The Jar” but this was an audience that recognises scores of other Thin Lizzy songs and they know when they’re done right.
And it’s not just the audience that are listening – it’s the other bands as well. Even the top level musicians playing last night acknowledged they have to “up their game” in the months before a Vibe.
Orthodontics takes a long time to learn. Not least because it takes a long time to see treatments from start to finish. When a specialist orthodontist treats a patient, they know that patient will return to their own dentist some day and the dentist is a discerning audience – they’ll know if the work was done well, even if the patient doesn’t. That’s why the orthodontist has to do good work.
Thin Lizzy opened doors for other Irish bands, they drew attention to Ireland in a positive way at a time when most of the news associated with this country was extremely grim, but they had to go to England to do that and at a time when attitudes towards Ireland and Irish people were very negative. U2 are very popular in London, have played there many times, they worked very hard and toured across the UK from very early in their career, but they didn’t have to move there to become successful.
The first orthodontic specialist in Europe, who went on to become Europe’s first orthodontic professor, was a guy in Dublin called Sheldon Friel. They celebrate him every year at the European Orthodontic Congress. But he had to go to America to learn what he did. Nowadays, we have orthodontic specialist training in Dublin and Cork for post graduate dentists, but for years, most people in this country who wanted to become orthodontists had to move to the UK to do it.
I visited the Alamo many years ago. There’s a sign there “Be silent, friend. Here heroes died to blaze a trail for other men”. Clearly the sacrifices of orthodontists and rock stars don’t compare to those of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie and the rest, but the point is that we do what we do because of the efforts of the people who went before us.
There are legacies that come in many forms and we should honour them where they have made our lives better, or our work easier, or our efforts more effective.
And we should be thankful for that. I thank Thin Lizzy for the hours of music they made that entertains me to this day.
And I thank Smiley Bolger for keeping this legacy alive in such a unique way.
*I appreciate that this is open to some debate. Please don't shoot me for quoting a well known opinion on the matter. For my money, it's not true as Chuck D still lives.