By David Hennessy
Photos that capture Phil Lynott’s “spirit” are among the images of a new London exhibition that also includes images of The Clash, Ian Dury, Debbie Harry, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Rotten and Sid & Nancy. Welsh-born photographer Chalkie Davies worked with the NME and The Face in the 1970s and 80s, touring with acts such as Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello and Thin Lizzy numerous times. He forged a strong friendship with Lynott and the photographer and rock star lived together in Cricklewood and Kew.
Having such a strong relationship with the Thin Lizzy front man allowed Davies to snap the real and relaxed Phil Lynott, as captured meeting some school boys in Tokyo: “In the pictures that I have, he looks so happy and great because we’re friends, it’s easier to take pictures of your friends but he was always approachable to anybody. He would always see all the fans that queued up outside the dressing room and give them autographs. He was a great guy and it was great fun to be around him.”
Chalkie travelled to America, Australia and Japan taking photographs of Thin Lizzy and most enjoyed their home country: “I really, really enjoyed spending time with him in Ireland. It was fantastic to go to Ireland and see the Irish react. I was made to be an honourary irish people by the people in Dublin, it was very sweet. I loved the people and they just loved him. If he went to a bar, it would be minutes before the bar was packed because word would travel that fast. But he would want to go to the bar, he wouldn’t want to sit in the hotel bar, he would much rather be out and meeting people.
“A lovely man, a fantastic musician and one of the nicest people you could ever meet: Happy, mischievous. If you look at that picture of him in the diner (below), to me that’s what he looks like. When the guard was dropped and everything: That was Philip. That was what he was like. He radiated. Some pictures you can see past the rock star, you can see the person.”
Chalkie shot the Live and Dangerous album sleeve on the road with the band. This sleeve include roughly 80 live shots of the band. Sure he could not top this, he moved away from live music photography to do studio portraits. When they started living together in Cricklewood, their home would see various musicians visiting.
“After one of the American tours, he needed to move from where he was and he was going to buy a house but he needed something in between and so we took this house in Cricklewood. Mick Jones and Joe Stummer came around, Sid and Nancy, Gary Moore would come by before he was actually in the band and there were other musos from other bands not quite so well known.”
But Chalkie stresses it was not as wild a house as you may imagine, with Phil and his guests really recharging batteries in the short time they were not touring: “The guy’s at home, even rock stars relax a little. I don’t remember ever there be being any big parties. It was like living with someone who just happened to be in a group and very well known.”
Lynott and Davies lived together until Phil married Caroline Crowther in 1980 and they remained in regular contact. Chalkie describes receiving the awful news that his friend had died on January 4 1986 after collapsing at his home: “I remember that sometimes I used to leave the radio on at night when I couldn’t sleep and I remember hearing something about a musician being dead around 7.15/7.30. It was a Sunday morning so I went out to buy a paper because there was no other way to find out news, it would have been another hour before there was anything was on the radio and I just had this horrible, horrible feeling. So I went out and got a paper and they had the news. And I was just totally, totally shell shocked. I’ve lost a number of friends but it was just so, so sad that Philip had gone.
“I think of him all the time. If only they were still around now, you could only imagine how huge they would be because of how good they were and what a great live performer he was, they would be just massive. Nobody was better than Lizzy live at getting that audience going. It would be really great if they were still around. It’s sad.”
Chalkie knew little of his friend’s drug taking, and nothing of how bad it had got before his death.
Visitors to the Cricklewood address were Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen who Chalkie describes as ‘well behaved’: “They came to our house and so they came as people. They respected us because we were a little bit older, people would talk about music and play a little music or whatever. They (Sid and Nancy) loved watching black and white Elvis Presley movies. Philip had one of the first video recorders, a big huge clunking thing, and he had some Elvis Presley movies and Sid and Nancy would just sit transfixed in front of the TV. I remember one night, we went to bed in the early hours and they were still watching it and I was like: ‘Okay, probably won’t see you guys tomorrow..’ And I came down in the morning and they had cleaned up. The ash trays were empty, the videos were put back in the pile: It was very, very sweet. Because I think they had a night off too. Really they (rock stars)’re just musicians and musicians are good people to be around That’s what I saw with that really, I never thought of them as anything else.”
This will be the first UK exhibition of Chalkie’s photographs in 33 years and is a prequel to a bigger museum show of his work at the national museum of Wales next year. What was it like for the photographer to review his archives after so long? “The biggest thing is how young everyone is and how young they look and realising that people we thought were ancient, like Keith Richards and Paul McCartney, were only 34,35. It would be cool if we could bring it to Ireland.”
Chalkie Davies’ photographs are being exhibited at Snap Galleries in London from 15 March to 26 April. The exhibition is named Chalkie Davies goes Click and further information is at www.snapgalleries.com/.