By Steve Newton
See that Thin Lizzy mirror pin I’m holding? That’s not just any old Thin Lizzy mirror pin. That’s the one Thin Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham gave me backstage at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum on October 12, 1978.
That was an unforgettable moment for me.
Lemme tell ya about it.
At the time I was a 21-year-old student at the University of British Columbia–or “UBC”, as we liked to call it. I was working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in English Lit, so I had to study a bunch of weird-ass novels by guys like John Barth and Thomas Pynchon instead of my usual faves like King, Bloch, and Matheson.
This was just four months after Thin Lizzy had released its Live and Dangerous double album, which is widely believed to be the “Greatest Live Album of all Time“. For the past five years–ever since hearing its first great LP, 1973‘s Vagabonds of the Western World–I’d been a huge Thin Lizzy fan. Back in ’78, you could have dangled backstage passes for Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and the Rolling Stones in front of me and I would have said, “Got any Lizzy?”
I’d seen Thin Lizzy in Vancouver the year before, opening for Queen on its Day at the Races Tour, and they were stunning. I can’t say that they blew Queen off the stage, because back then nobody blew Queen off the stage. But when I heard they were coming back in ’78 to open for Styx–who had just released Pieces of Eight, which boasted the decent Tommy Shaw tunes “Renegade” and “Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)”—I was more than psyched. The thought of having to eat more Hamburger Helper as a result of buying a ticket didn’t phase me in the least.
The night of the show I even got all dressed up, meaning that I put on my black Bad Reputation t-shirt, which sported the image of Thin Lizzy’s latest studio album on the front. I always thought it was weird that coguitarist Brian Robertson wasn’t included on the cover, especially since he played lead on my favourite track, “Opium Trail”, but apparently he was being a bit of a knob back then.
Anyway, taking full advantage of the fact that most people at the gig were there for the headliner, I easily worked my way up to the front of the stage and rocked out about 10 feet from my heroes. I was quite shocked to find that Robertson wasn’t on stage, because I was primed to hear him and Gorham trade solos on the gorgeous ballad “Still in Love With You”, just like on Live and Dangerous. But he had been replaced, yet again, by off-and-on Lizzy member Gary Moore. Lucky for me, Moore was a complete madman on guitar, and his fierce performance helped make it the most thrilling arena-concert experience of my life.
Completely and utterly blown away by the opening act, I couldn’t really give a rat’s ass when the headliner hit the stage. I was still in kind of a daze from the sheer rockingness of Thin Lizzy and was wandering around the Coliseum concourse when I spotted a familiar looking longhair. Leaning up against a railing, smoking a Marlboro and watching Styx, was none other than Scott Gorham! I approached him in wide-eyed wonder, all “I’m not worthy!”, and he was incredibly cool and friendly. I told him that there was no way a band like his should be opening for Styx, and he seemed to agree.
Though not a smoker, I asked Gorham for a cigarette just so I could have one as a souvenir, and he offered me his last one. When I happily took it–as well as the now-empty Marlboro packet to keep it in–he must have realized I was a pretty hardcore fan. He motioned me to follow him, and the next thing you know we’re headed backstage. When we got to a security checkpoint he slapped a green all-access pass on my leg and we continued on our journey.
As we were walking along a long hallway I noticed a guy strolling alone ahead of us and realized from the silver runners that it was Gary Moore. I asked Gorham what happened to Brian Robertson, and I’ll never forget his answer: “Oh, this guy’s way better!”
A few minutes later Gorham parked me outside the band’s dressing room, told me to wait a minute, and then headed inside. Looking back now I like to think that, in his infinite kindness, he was seeing if it was cool to take me back and meet Phil. I’ll never know for sure. But he came back out with a resigned look on his face, handed me that little Thin Lizzy mirror pin, wished me well, and told me I could just hang out backstage and watch the rest of the show.
I vividly remember Tommy Shaw and the other guys from Styx walking past me, all smiles and laughter, to play their encore, but I couldn’t tell you what song it was. I was stuck in my Thin Lizzy moment, and have been ever since.
That little rectangle of glass with the pink-and-blue Lizzy logo has become one of my most prized possessions, and the green backstage pass has been permanently affixed to my vinyl copy of Jailbreak.
Not sure what happened to the Marlboro.