Adam Shaw spoke to Englishman Rob Mountford about playing his hero, Irishman Phil Lynott
The Irish are pretty influential around the world, least not because they’re everywhere and, if you’re ever in need of a drink, you can be sure to stumble across somewhere marketed as an Irish boozer.
That, of course, is to do the people of Ireland a disservice – there are hundreds of Irishmen and Irishwomen who have made very meaningful contributions to history. The Duke of Wellington, James Joyce, George Best, Sinead O’Connor, to name but a few; if you think about it, you can really establish an impressive list.
There’s one name, however, which wouldn’t necessarily score highly on Family Fortunes in a ‘Famous Irish People’ category but could prove useful on ‘Pointless’.
Phil Lynott, the lead singer of 70s rockers Thin Lizzy, is hardly an unknown. But his story – one that is unusual, inspirational and, ultimately tragic – is rarely told. It was this which inspired actor and non-Irishman Rob Mountford to write his first ever one-man show; to tell the tale of a true Irish hero.
“I wanted to do something which was funny, something which was poignant and I realised that if I wanted it to be just how I imagined, I’d have to go ahead and pen something myself,” he said. “I was watching Top of the Pops 2 one evening and Thin Lizzy were on. And I just thought ‘I’ve got to do a show about Phil – that just hasn’t been done before’.”
Rob admitted that it was the fact that both he and Lynott were tall and mixed race which initially convinced him to pursue it but, as time went by, he realised that there was much more in terms of similarities.
“The more I looked into it and the more I read about him, I could see that there were a lot of areas of our lives which interlinked,” he said.
We were both born in Birmingham and I was adopted by a white family while he of course went to live with the white side of his family back in Dublin.” Another connection the two shared was, despite Rob describing himself as English, was the feeling of Irishness. Rob might not end up with a lifesize statue of himself erected just off Grafton Street – though you never know – but he has always felt a strong affinity to Ireland.
“Growing up, in a weird sort of way, I felt Irish,” he explained. “I went to a Catholic school and I grew up in a Catholic suburb so everyone around me was Irish.
“And I’d look at my brother with his red hair, freckles and blue eyes and you could see where these feelings came from.”
The actor explained how his love of Irish culture, and Irish humour, influenced the show, which he wrote alongside director Chris Larner.
“The play begins, for example, with Cu Chulainn explaining how this is a story about heroes and how he knows a thing or two about them,” he said.
“And that is pretty much the central theme of the play; that we all have our heroes, be they rock stars, mythological or family members.”
Lynott might not have always been one of Rob’s heroes – even though he was raised on rock ‘n’ roll – but he certainly is now.
His position as an outsider, as a black guy in Crumlin determined to make it, has had a lasting impact. He’s also provided him with some comfort every time he steps onto the stage – any feelings of fear and anxiety can be somewhat soothed when thinking ‘what would Phil do?’
“I’ve never done anything like this before. I’ve played Macbeth and other lead roles which have required a certain bravery but you really are on your own with something like this,” Rob explained.