Brian Downey


Brian Michael Downey, born on January 27, 1951, an Irish drummer renowned as a founding member of the iconic rock band Thin Lizzy grew up in 66 Cashel Avenue, Crumlin with his parents Michael John Downey(c.1916-1992) and Elizabeth “Betty” Talbot (1912-1979).

Growing up in Crumlin via Harold’s Cross, Downey’s musical influences stemmed from his father’s love for jazz and involvement in the local pipe band in Harold’s Cross. In Brian’s childhood home, there were always snare drums and bass drums, providing him with the opportunity to indulge in some drumming. At an early age, Brian had taken drumming lessons with the Fintan Lalor Pipe Band, giving him a couple of years’ worth of tuition and laying the foundation for his drumming skills. On one Christmas morning when he was around 10 or 11 years old, Brian discovered a sparkling new drum kit in the sitting room. This Olympic kit included a bass drum, snare, and a sixteen-inch cymbal, acquired from Santa (through a hire purchase deal from Cavendish’s on Grafton Street).

From the age of 13, Downey had been part of various Crumlin school bands, such as The Liffey Beats, Mod Con Cave Dwellers, and The Black Eagles, briefly collaborating with Lynott who was in the same band and went the same Christian Brothers school .

The Mod Con Cave Dwellers had opened for the Black Eagles, and Downey’s performance had left a lasting impression. Lynott, recognising Downey’s talent, extended an invitation for him to audition. Reflecting on the search for a drummer with the ability to play a drum beat independently of the bass drum and snare, Lynott recalled many years later,

“We were looking for a drummer, and the best way we could tell that was to play ‘You Really Got Me’ [by the Kinks]. He came down and the minute he could play that beat he had the job. Plus, he had tom-toms, which the other drummer didn’t have.”

Downey remembers the audition distinctly:

“We played maybe eight songs at the audition, ‘You Really Got Me’ by The Kinks,
‘I Saw Her Standing There’ by The Beatles and I got through them well. Then I asked how they thought I was doing and they started saying it was good and that there was a gig coming up on Saturday night. I was looking at them a bit shocked as this was the Monday or Tuesday before. So the audition turned into a rehearsal for the Saturday night gig. ”

Downey lacked a complete drum kit, specifically a set of tom-toms for the audition,therefore he borrowed a set from the departing drummer, Mick Higgins, who was on the verge of joining the army.

“After about three weeks of playing with the band I was talking to my dad. Well, it was me pestering him about getting some tom-toms. So he went down to a shop called Cavendish’s and put some money down on a small tom-tom. He took the bass drum down to Cavendish’s and they moulded the tom-toms to the bass drum.”

The Black Eagles secured a residency at a Dublin club, granting them the opportunity to perform four nights a week, leading to a surge in bookings and they served as opening acts for prominent showbands in ballrooms across Ireland. The band ultimately disbanded when their manager lost interest, particularly after both of his sons departed from the group. Brian found himself without a musical outlet, although he enrolled at Clogher Road Technical College, where he was expected to acquire a trade. Coincidentally, Phil Lynott, also a student at the same school, initially training as a fitter and turner but left to join a band called Kama Sutra.

Both Brian and Phil were asked to join Skid Row by Brendan “Brush” Sheils with Brian declining but Phil taking up the part alongside renowned guitarist Gary Moore.
Brian then joined the Burma Boys Showband briefly before joining Sugar Shack. He not only appreciated the genre of music the band performed but also seized the chance to record a single. The chosen single was a rendition of Tim Rose’s ‘Morning Dew,’ which successfully climbed to No. 16 on the Irish music charts. Despite receiving offers for gigs across the country, internal disagreements about musical styles ultimately led to their disbandment.

Downey and Lynott dipped in and out of a series of bands but reconvened when the two friends formed a band featuring Pat Quigley on bass and Joe Staunton on guitar, named Orphanage. The initial concept behind the group was to create a flexible ensemble, with different individuals playing together, not necessarily the same ones all the time. Orphanage provided Brian and Phil with the opportunity to showcase original material written by Phil, marking the beginning of their performance of original compositions.

In 1970, the first Thin Lizzy was born. Brian Downey with the addition of guitarist Eric Bell and Eric Wrixon. Despite many people thinking they were an overnight success, Downey is never hesitant to state that it took 5-6 years of hard work to get the recognition and stardom they deserved.

(Note: An in-depth look into the band’s successwill be upcoming in a future article.)

Despite changes in the band’s lineup over the years, Downey remained the only other permanent member beside Lynott until its disbandment in 1983. There were some trying times though, in 1978 Thin Lizzy were heading to America for the “Live and Dangerous” tour and a temporary replacement drummer came in to do the tour as Brian needed some downtime to recuperate:

“I was totally exhausted. I just couldn’t take any more. I didn’t want to see another stage again, and I certainly didn’t want to go on to Australia, as had been proposed.”

Around the same time, Brian was also dealing with the death of his uncle Patrick and mother Betty who lived in the Cashel Avenue home.

When the band returned to London to begin work on the next album, they were joined by a rejuvenated Brian Downey, and Thin Lizzy released their studio album “Black Rose” in April of 1979.

Downey’s significant contribution to Thin Lizzy includes co-writing several of the band’s songs. Thin Lizzy member, Eric Bell stated ‘Brian Downey wasn’t a drummer, he was a musician who played the drums. There is a difference.’

Following Phil Lynott’s death in 1986, Downey participated in the tribute Thin Lizzy lineup. Despite absence from subsequent Thin Lizzy touring bands, Downey returned after John Sykes’ departure in 2009. The revamped lineup, featuring Downey, Mendoza, and Wharton, alongside newcomers Vivian Campbell and Ricky Warwick, embarked on an extensive world tour in January 2010. This lineup continued until early 2013, with Thin Lizzy considering recording new material under the Black Star Riders name, a project Downey opted out of due to the demands of consistent touring.

In 2016, Downey formed the band “Brian Downey’s Alive and Dangerous,” a trio initially and later expanded to a four-piece ensemble. The group, consisting of Downey, Matt Wilson, Brian Grace, and Phil Edgar, primarily performs Thin Lizzy songs on their European tours.

Brian married Terri O’ Leary , who sadly passed away in 2005 and they had three children Graham, Colin and Ciara. Outside of drumming, Brian likes to relax by fishing.

Today, as we celebrate Brian Downey’s birthday, we salute his enduring impact on the world of rock music and wish him continued success in his musical endeavours. One wonders if Cashel Avenue might be included in his next tour, there’s no doubt the people of Crumlin would abide.

Person Photo
Connection with area: Irish Drummer who was born and raised in Cashcl AvenueCrumlin