Rory Gallagher made two startling discoveries during his week at the Montreux Festival. One was that Swiss beer has remarkably potent characteristics, despite its deceptively mild flavour. The other is that you don't always need 2,000 watts and a rock orchestra to communicate the wonders of music.
For Rory’s one man appearance on Guitar Night at the Ninth International Festival, was a sensational success, drawing plaudits not only from the audience, but from fellow musicians like Larry Coryell.
Rory is the quiet man who can step on stage and more than hold his own against all the technique in the world. And plenty of that was thrown against him when he jammed with Coryell, Philippe Catherine, Steve Khan and John Martyn, without a rhythm section to help them along.
Gallagher just loves to play, which explains why he was jamming almost non-stop at the festival, in dressing rooms as well as on stage, and why he works all year round, as he tours the world like a communications satellite.
Of all the guitarists in rock. he has remained true to his blues convictions, and while he's hardly altered his style, he has improved over the years to the point where he knows exactly what he can do with a very healthy technique, and employ it in a most meaningful fashion A few well chosen notes from Gallagher, played with sincerity, can mean so much more than a thousand played with the speed of light.
But while Rory has scored a triumph as a solo artist with his acoustic slide guitar work and blues shouting, what has happened to his group and the hard business of recording?
As we sat at a pavement cafe in Montreux last week, watching the trolley buses whizz silently and efficiently past, Rory ordered several biers Cardinal and revealed all, pausing only to swop stories about Van Morrison and the old days in Belfast.
“I'll be recording again soon, but it's no big deal when exactly. We usually decide three days beforehand and go into the studio. Probably when we get back to London in September. It'll be with the full band and we'll also be starting work on another American and European tour. We did two world tours in succession in the last 12 months and then had a summer lay-off. I think it must be the longest holiday we've ever had. I'm looking forward to doing the next LP and I may do a completely acoustic album as well. I think it's well due, and in fact I taped the solo gig at the festival.
“ When you start recording you have to stop touring and that's a decision I hate to make. I love touring, and even when I feel I need a break, I'll end up jamming with someone like Larry Coryell. I can't wait to get back to full scale touring again. And it's not just me, the rest of the guys in the band like to work too. Since 1971 I guess we've done about eight or nine tours.
"But last year, the only record we had out was the Irish Tour ‘74” so I suppose a new one is due y’know? Yeah, I guess the albums sell well, but its always been a problem to get the ‘live’ thing across on record.
"The past albums have been 90 per cent stage act and studio additions. Basically it's always been a stage thing. But it's hard to recreate the excitement. I’d like to be able to strike a balance between the rough and ready live LP thing and studio sophistication. We're getting closer to ‘it and using a mobile studio helps. We used one on the Irish tour. Ideally you should be able to record in your living room. I believe Led Zeppelin do a bit of that, with John Bonham’s drums in the hall.
“The trouble with the new studios is that they feel like a lot of rooms within rooms. The old studios had a kind of ambiance about them.”
How did the Montreux trip work out, if the Gallagher band I was temporarily off the road?
“Well they've invited me once or twice before to play with the blues fellows, but I couldn't bring the band over as well, so I always turned it down. But this year I thought I’d give it a try and play with Ronnie Hawkins. We'll be having a couple of days rehearsal so I thought it would be nice. Unfortunately, there was no rehearsal for the jam session and it's a pity we had all these marvelous guys blowing and no bass or drums. It was Larry's idea, and we started out playing ‘Memphis Underground,’ but the rhythm machine he uses with Steve Khan broke down. Something went wrong and there were five of us on stage, guys you'll never get together again, trying to play something.
In the end I thought I’d do it by mathematics, and call the soloists up, one by one, from left to right. But it was all Larry's idea to do it, and he's dead keen. You couldn't get him off the stage in the end, and all the house lights were going up! The most enjoyable thing for me was working solo with my acoustic. It was a kind of test for me. I was alone, but I knew I could do it.”
Was Rory surprised when promoter Claude Nobs produced his harmonica and started sitting in?
Oh you've got to watch
these promoters. They always turn up with a bag full of harmonicas! But
Claude knew what he was doing. Most guys suck and blow and have to be ejected
from the stage. It's nice if people jam more, even if it goes haywire.
Last night was like a music shop gone mad. I've jammed with Larry before.
The last time was at the Bilzen Festival in Belgium in 1971. But the best
thing when you're jamming is to have a framework to work from.”
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