Thin Az Lizzy -
                                Where it came from

 

Thin Az Lizzy - Johnny D FoxThin Az Lizzy started as a result of an absolute passion by Johnny Conlan – stage name ‘Johnny D Fox’ - for the music of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy.  When Johnny was 15, he was learning the piano, piano accordion and guitar.  He passed eight grades in his classical training on the piano.  It was 1985 when he first heard the music of Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy.  In Johnny’s words “it was like an explosion of music in my head”. 

Phil Lynott became his role model.  Therefore he decided to teach himself the bass guitar.  He didn’t own a bass guitar, but he did have an old acoustic guitar.  Then on 4th January 1986, Phil died at 36 years of age.  Johnny was devastated as he was just getting in to him.  He bought all the Thin Lizzy records and taught himself the words and bass guitar by ear to every song within one year. 

He used to sing the songs everywhere he went - in the garden, on the streets, his bedroom.  His neighbours and friends told him that he couldn’t sing.  Feeling pity for him for not being able to sing they said that he could play the piano and write songs.  Johnny ignored them all. 

His motto “Believe in yourself, listen to nobody negative”. 

Johnny was in the company of some very famous entertainers here.  Fred Astaire was told by a director for his first screen test that he couldn’t act, sing or dance.  The Beatles were told by a recording company that they “don’t like their sound," and guitar music is on the way out.  Walt Disney was told he lacked imagination and had no good ideas and was fired by a newspaper editor.  When Lady Gaga signed to a record label, she was dropped after three months.  Beethoven’s teachers told him he was hopeless.  However he kept going and wrote some of the best-loved symphonies of all time - five of them while he was completely deaf.

Johnny was obsessed with music.  After school every day and at weekends, he used to practice the piano, accordion, bass and Thin Lizzy music.  He played the bass guitar with Thin Lizzy records, threw shapes, looked in the mirror and took photos.  He wanted to be Phil Lynott. 

For the next ten years, Johnny started a few bands, played in a few wedding bands and general pop groups.  The passion for Thin Lizzy still continued and grew.

Thin Az Lizzy is born.

This Az Lizzy - The early daysAt 25, when he was a full time musician with the Longriders, he met Paul Owens from Clare.  Paul was an acoustic engineer with a master’s degree in physics who also had a love for Lizzy music.  While Johnny was a full time professional musician, Paul was a part timer because he had a day job.  Johnny and Paul were writing songs together for more than two years.  Due to the love both men had for Lizzy music they decided to play some of their music at gigs.  The music went down very well with fans.

Johnny felt the time was right for him to start his own Lizzy band so the two initial members were Johnny and Paul.  Johnny used to jam with Sean McGeeney’s Time Bandits and that extended into Willy Owens and Ginger Tompkins joining the Thin Az Lizzy lineup.  They spent a lot of time practicing and rehearsing and had their first Thin Az Lizzy gig on Friday 11th May 1995.

This Az Lizzy - The early daysJohnny invited Philomena Lynott and Smiley Bolger to the next Thin Az Lizzy gig on 29th June.  They were so impressed when Philomena said that Johnny’s voice and bass guitar were as close to Phil’s as you can get.  He was over the moon with that and it gave him the motivation to develop the band.  That was the trigger to continue.  Now he has to pull it together professionally.  He wanted to develop the band as a business.  But what did he know about business?  Not a lot.  His dad ran his own business so he asked for his advice.

He met Jake Walshe who eventually became the manager of the band.  Johnny decided to run it like a business and this was Jake's job. 

Hard Work

2 Nov '96 - Thin Az Lizzy's first visit to Ennis, Paul's home town. They stayed over in Paul's Ma's house in Kincora Park.
2 Nov '96 - Thin Az Lizzy's first visit to Ennis, Paul's home town. They stayed over in Paul's Ma's house in Kincora Park.

In 1995, Thin Az Lizzy only did four gigs.  In 1996, they did 30.  1997 was a 100, then from 1998 for the next six years or so, they did 150 per year.  They were touring all around Ireland, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.  Audiences varied in size from around 200 to 50,000 at festivals.  They bought their own van, all their own equipment - like sound, lights and so on.  They also had their own sound and lighting engineers.  They were a professional band touring Europe, UK and Ireland.  The photo on the left is dated 2 Nov 1996.  It shows Thin Az Lizzy's first visit to Ennis, Paul's home town. They stayed over in Paul's Ma's house in Kincora Park.  In the photo Kieran Conachy is on the left, next is Willie Owens, Pauls Ma, Johnny D Fox in his favourite shirt (with a bit of hair), Paul Owens (with even more hair) and Ginger the drummer is on the right.

Over the years, the lineup changed.  Towards the end of 1997, the pressure of being a touring band took its toll on Paul and he pulled out of the band.  Johnny auditioned for another guitarist and Gibson Les Pauls being a requirement for the band, Declan Campbell got the job.  The lineup now was Johnny, Willy, Ginger and Declan.  Due to the pressure of touring, Declan left and was replaced by Flash, who also did the audition a year earlier. 

This Az Lizzy - Johnny and Flash with an early vanNow, I have to ask you to please forgive my next comparison.  Some years ago, I wrote a four piece article on The Beatles.  You can get it here.  In 1957, they started life as The Quarrymen and through a whole series of changes became The Beatles that we know today.  It’s a fascinating read that shows the long and winding road to their development, setbacks and is full of their videos too.  But, back to my point, The Beatles developed a strong work ethic during their time in Germany and their long hours.  It was a kind of apprenticeship.  Thin Az Lizzy also developed a strong work ethic doing over 150 gigs per annum.  Let’s talk work ethic with Elvis too.  Over his 24 year career, on a per annum basis he did 1.4 films + 2.04 albums + 0.66 TV specials + 74 US concerts.  In his final seven years, he did an average of 140 concerts pa, nearly three per week.  Some of them were twice a day in Las Vegas.

Thin Az Lizzy 2016 - Eamon, Flash and JohnnyAround 2004, the pressure of touring for nine years took its toll on Johnny, so he slowed the band down.  He took a break from it, went back to it, took another break. 

That final break continued until late in 2016, when he decided to re-form the band.  This time, it is being done with a different business edge using modern techniques.  It started with a plan.

He has surrounded himself with new management, a new marketing and internet team, almost the same band members who have proven themselves over the years, a new business approach that is adapted to suit the changing markets, new backroom staff members to suit new technologies, choreographers and stage/show professionals. 

Where to from here?

Thin Az Lizzy 2016 - Johnny and Eamon behind the drumsThin Az Lizzy are recognised as being the best Thin Lizzy tribute act in Ireland.  There is no doubt to that.  His next goal is to bring Thin Az Lizzy to the point of being the Best Thin Lizzy Band in the world.  This will be achieved though the new team that he has amassed.  Whatever has to happen to achieve that goal will happen.  Johnny has a renewed sense of motivation and focus.  While we are not going to tell you the financial objectives, we are going to tell you that within 2 years, it is planned to be doing 150+ shows per annum all around Europe.  Then it is planned to bring it further afield.

Johnny admits that “the better the audience is the better we are on stage”.  So part of their job onstage is to create good audience participation.  TAL are bringing their own flavour to songs and at the same time holding on to what makes the songs great and what the audience loves. 

For example, I was videoing a gig in Sligo in November 2016.  The venue was packed to the rafters.  The promoters didn’t expect half of that crowd because it was November, pouring with rain and freezing cold.  I spoke to a few people there who told me they were there purely to see TAL.  Within one minute of starting the show, the hall was packed (they came from everywhere in the pub) and people were singing to every song.  During their version of Whiskey in the Jar, Johnny got as far as the first four words of the song and stopped singing.  The band kept playing and the audience took over for the next two minutes.

Working together On-Stage – Collaborations.

Thin Az Lizzy 2016. Willy 0n lead guitar, Johnny - Bass and vocals, Eamon - drums and Flash - lead guitarOver the past years, Thin Az Lizzy and Johnny have played with people like Henry McCullough of Wings, Midge Ure, Brian Robertson, John ‘Irish Earl’ and Eric Bell.  He played support for Status Quo and played at the Vibe for Philo for over ten years for Smiley Bolger.

It is planned in the future to play on stage with other music professionals and entertainers.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that it will ensure the same ‘staleness’ does not set in as happened around 2004.  It will also fuel ongoing creativity, give an insight as to how others operate, create a larger fan base for Thin Az Lizzy and create further opportunities.

 Thin Az Lizzy 2016 - Flash, Johnny and Willy