To many disillusioned die-hards the latest incarnation of Thin Lizzy are nothing more than a tribute band.

But to the more discerning rock fan the reality is that this could be the best line-up since the band’s Phil Lynott-inspired heyday.

Hired hand and Def Leppard guitar hero Vivian Campbell is in no mood to disagree as he prepares to head out on Lizzy’s latest UK headline tour.

rushonrock: What are your first memories of Thin Lizzy?

Vivian Campbell: I can vividly remember watching the band play Whisky In The Jar on Top Of The Pops and after that I saw Lizzy a bunch of times. My first band, Sweet Savage, ended up opening up for them a load of times and we did the whole Renegade tour of the UK which, at the time, was a huge opportunity for us. We opened up at the King’s Hall in Belfast and again at Slane Castle 30 years ago. And we always played this club in Dublin which was right next door to a pub called The Bailey where Phil Lynott would drink on a Saturday afternoon. We’d go in there and see him and he’d get up and play Are You Ready. Lizzy were a hug influence on me as a kid and as I was growing up. Phil was an iconic rock star and, as a guitarist, I was influenced by all of the band’s guitar players apart from, perhaps, Eric Bell. Scott Gorham, Brian Robertson and Gary Moore were very, very influential and had a great bearing on my playing.

rushonrock: What was the first Lizzy song you learned to play?

VC: Well the Johnny The Fox album was very much on my radar and when I was 17 or 18 I could play all of those songs. I remember playing Don’t Believe A Word as a young kid and Lizzy were so much a part of me growing up in Belfast. It was through Lizzy that I first heard of Gary Moore and he’s always been a huge influence on my career and style. You could say I’m very, very familiar with Lizzy’s back catalogue and we just did a couple of weeks in rehearsal before Christmas – it was a blast! I’m a bit of an anorak when it comes to the band’s music – so much so that some of the parts Scott was playing were, in my view, wrong. And I told him so! Over the years Scott’s combined some of his guitar parts and some of Brian’s parts but I know them all so well I can tell where he’s changed things. I was very, very well rehearsed even before I joined the band and I don’t know whether Scott knew what he was letting himself in for. He’s changed a lot of the original parts – he’s morphed some parts into others and co-opted some of Brian’s parts and let’s just say there were a few incidents during rehearsals where I pointed this out. Scott refused to believe it at first but I’m such an anorak I watched the YouTube videos again just to prove my point!

rushonrock: What was the first thought that went through your head when you were approached to join Lizzy?

VC: I remember thinking what an exciting opportunity this was for me. As a guitarist their music has always been such a huge part of my life. I’m entirely self-taught and taught myself a lot of Lizzy songs. Marc Bolan was my first point of reference as a rock guitarist and then I discovered Rory Gallacher. From there I found Lizzy. It’s very exciting to be in this position. It’s reconnected me to the electric guitar. I’ve been in Def Leppard for 20 years and if I’m honest it’s not a terribly challenging job for me as a guitar player. Phil Collen plays most of the widdly guitar parts and I do what I do. But this job has reignited my love for guitar playing.

rushonrock: So how did the opportunity come about?

VC: It was Joe [Elliott, Def Leppard singer] who came up with the idea. He’s been helping Scott with some of the Lizzy remixes for the reissues and he came up with the idea about a year ago now. Leppard were going to be inactive for a while and I would have been sitting around getting fat. Joe suggested it to Scott and he called me. I know they were trying to get Brian Robertson to come back and, as a fan, I have to admit that would have been very exciting. But for whatever reason Robbo couldn’t or wouldn’t do it and by all accounts I’m the next best thing!

rushonrock: Were you actively looking for a new project or were you enjoying your time off from Leppard?

VC: I don’t enjoy taking time off full stop. I don’t really agree with the concept of taking a whole year off and so even before the Lizzy thing came along I’d planned to do a lot of work during the last 12 months. I’ve been writing with people in LA and I’ve formed a bar band which has been playing around the LA area. We’ve been avoiding the Hollywood bars and playing the San Fernando Valley area. It’s all covers stuff and we do it for $100 a free beer! And the funny thing is that the bulk of the set is made up of Lizzy covers – we do seven, eight or nine Lizzy songs a night!

rushonrock: Do you think the time was right for a Leppard hiatus regardless of your own misgivings?

VC: I do think it was the right time to have a break. For Joe in particular it was important. He was burnt out. We’d been touring for five years without a break and it was starting to take its toll. As for the rest of the guys I’m not sure. I don’t honestly know what Sav’s been doing. Rick Allen’s been pretty busy and Phil’s been busy with his own band. I just think Joe wanted a complete break from Def Leppard rather than a break from everything. As it turns out he’s been working harder than ever with the Lizzy stuff and the Down N Outz.

rushonrock: So what does the immediate future hold for Leppard?

VC: We’ve got a couple of new songs on the go. We have a live record coming out in 2011 and we’re looking at attaching two, three or four new songs to that album when it comes out. There are also plans for a career-encompassing box set. It will happen but we need to sort a few things out contractually. As it happens we’re talking to our old label Universal about re-signing with them. That would make things a lot easier. Leppard will be back this summer and we’ll be touring North America and Canada.

rushonrock: If the chance to join Lizzy was a highlight of 2010 then was the passing of your former band mate Ronnie James Dio a low point?

VC: You know, I was numb to the whole thing. I hadn’t talked to Ronnie in 25 years so it wasn’t as if we were close. My mother died nine or 10 days before him so I was preoccupied with that. And my father died nine months before that. It was a really tough year on a personal level and I had enough to think about. The news about Ronnie James Dio just bounced off me. It was a difficult relationship on a personal level anyway. I was really proud of the music we made together but it was tough being in a band together. But he died way too young.