BD: Firstly, thank you for taking the time out ahead of your shows next weekend in London at Nells Jazz & Blues on Friday 24thNovember and Saturday 25th November (SOLD OUT) with your new band Brian Downey’s ALIVE AND DANGEROUS, performing a 40th anniversary concert of one of the greatest live rock and roll albums of all time – Thin Lizzy’s “Live and Dangerous”. Before we talk about drums, Thin Lizzy and your new band lets go back to the beginning.
BD: What were your first musical influences growing up in Dublin?
Brian: First influence was my Dad’s record collection mostly Ceilidh music and a mixture of pop tunes of the time including Ruby Murray, Mike Holliday. Music of the late fifties a mixture of what was being played on the radio and Dad’s collection. The music was a mix of Irish plus what was happening in the late fifties pop charts and American bands. Dad used to play drums in a pipe band in Dublin so there was always drums and pipes in the house. There were house parties and hooley’s. They were crazy with fiddles and dancing. Steeped in music growing up unlike now there was little entertainment except for pop music dancing and movies. Ceilidh is easy to listen and dance to. The Pogues were popular putting Irish music back on the map again in 1980’s
BD: What makes Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous album such a legendary live album in the world of Rock n’ Roll?
Brian: We wanted to do a live album, during this period bands were recording live albums. Everyone was saying we sounded better live than on a record. We had the material from the early albums Vagabonds of The Western World, Jailbreak, Johnny The Fox. Lizzy was always a live band. Phil says we should record a live album. Finances from record company sorted so we did a double album. The record company had so much faith in us as we were on the crest of the wave. We knew how to play the songs so took out a mobile unit to Hammersmith and Rainbow in London for the video. Around that time live albums were popular with The Who, Live In Leeds, and Peter Frampton‘s Frampton Comes Alive!. Phil Lynott believed the live album would be popular recording exactly what Lizzy sounded like. I played to the best of my ability as did the rest of the band, for me, there were few bands that could do live music better. The album was recorded at Hammersmith Odeon, Seneca College Toronto and Tower Theatre Philadelphia. Three good nights of music on the tour so we had a nice mix of gigs to choose from so no real overdubbing. Though Tony Visconti did say there were overdubs about 70%. From what I remember about 20% was overdubbed, and there were no drum overdubs. The cymbal and snare I was happy with the performance live. Scott Gorham and Phil Lynott did minimal overdubs yes they cleaned up some of the vocals and solo. Hear Still Dangerous contains never released material which we decided to release and can hear no overdubs can hear just as the songs as they were played on the night. The proof of the pudding, Thin Lizzy can be recorded live with no overdubs, it was a mistake on Visconti’s part.
BD: Do you have a favourite Thin Lizzy Track and why?
Brian: Have to look back to the early years, to this day my favourite track from our first album, Look What The Wind Blew In. The first album was such a novelty for us a brand new experience. The signing of a contract with Decca, leaving Dublin travelling to London to do the recording. The lyrics are really good, and the music a is a tale about Gail, Phil’s girlfriend. The other favourite is Boys Are Back In Town, this is the single that made the band. Phil presented the song in the studio a prototype rock we were all impressed how he was seeing it, the Jailbreak album, Boys Are Back in Town the big-hitting single. These are my two favourites, big hits that still feel good today. These songs put us on the map, especially in Europe and USA. It was at the time frantic, and looking back it was the turning point of the band. Without these hit songs, we certainly would not have recorded fourteen albums. At that time if you did not appear on Top Of The Pops (TOTP) you were not in the loop it was the structure to get on TOTP. The modus operandi of the time, today it is a very different situation. Once you appeared on TOTP guaranteed a top ten single. Whiskey In The Jar overnight sensation and on the back of performing on TOTP we sold a bucket load of singles. Thin Lizzy was not like Led Zeppelin who refused to appear on TOTP, we were the opposite couldn’t wait to get on. Top Of The Pops was at the heart of our culture, it was what we talked about the next day in the pub/work or school. It is a show that is definitely missed still today.
BD: Your new band Alive and Dangerous performing mainly Thin Lizzy songs. You are joined by bassist/lead vocalist Matt Wilson, guitarist/vocalist Brian Grace and guitarist/vocalist Phil Edgar. Is it your drumming and links with the original Thin Lizzy that gives your sound an authenticity and not just another cover band?
Brian: Yes, drums do add to the authenticity. The band was originally called the Lowriders who asked me to play with them at Vibe For Phil 2016, I could definitely feel the synergy, I have jammed with other guys playing Lizzy material and it just didn’t feel right. The first thing I noticed with the Lowriders they are close to the original and Matt’s vocals are close to Phil’s I had a chat with Brian after the gig and after a week I still had the same opinion we should have a rehearsal. I invited them down from Belfast to Dublin to play with the band we rehearsed did some gigs and played at the next Vibe for Phil for the whole three nights 4th/5th & 6th January. Had the idea to record those nights and put up on the website. Half the battle as they sounded authentic, the whole set Alive & Dangerous reflects that album we play others in the repertoire so do mix it up a bit.
BD: You have two dates next weekend in London are there any plans to tour the UK in 2018?
Brian: Looking forward to the two nights in London few tickets left for Saturday. We are planning to do a UK tour in 2018, promoters are coming to listen to the show so it would be excellent to have a proper UK tour in 2018. We are looking forward to getting out and doing shows across the UK.
BD: How did you get into Drumming and who are your influences?
Brian: Simply my Dad. He was a drummer in a pipe band had early lessons when 6 or 7. Was a member of a pipe band and did some St Patrick’s Parades when I was 8/9 years old. When I heard pop music on the radio especially the Beatles I was flabbergasted by the music. I wanted a drum kit. I pestered for a year and then had my first kit, Olympic Drums, Premier from Leicester. There is so much more than playing the snare drum. I had lessons with Jimmy Doyle who played Jazz & Rock he taught me the basics of playing the drum kit. He also taught me how to read the dots. I used to practice, write the stuff out and practice playing 3-4 hours each day for a couple of years. I joined a band, playing with different musicians, guitar, bass and vocals. The impetus for me was to play better. Played drums at rehearsals with the band and in the house. Lots of practicing. Even when rehearsing and touring with Lizzy I practiced everyday with practice pads kept up to date when away gigging. Joining a band was a big eye-opener to get the drums right have to keep your ear open for the other instruments. Need an open mind and ear to the songs we played. It is vital ears are open when playing in a band.
BD: Over the years what musicians have influenced you the most?
Brian: Two guitarist have influenced me. Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Jimi Hendrix the guitar on the first album is mind-blowing combined with the drumming of Mitch Mitchell struck a chord with me. Then Eric Clapton’s approaches influenced my drumming. Eric Clapton playing with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers was an absolute revolution. Incredible experience hard to believe anyone could play so good. His sound everyone else copied Les Paul & 50 W Marshall Amp. Quality of the songs John Mayall picked massive revelation and followed Clapton’s career into Cream. In fact all the offshoots of the Bluesbreakers I have followed Fleetwood Mac, the blues boom of the sixties. Plus over in the USA Paul Butterfield, and Electric Flag were equally inspiring. So many great musicians and albums. I couldn’t afford them all so had to scrimp and save to buy albums
BD: Thank you for your time and insights into your music ahead of the exciting shows in London.