by Colin Harper
RORY GALLAGHER died in
London of liver failure on June 14.1995. A UK resident for many years,
he was born in Ballyshannon in the Northwest of Ireland, on March
His funeral took place at St. Oliver's Cemetery on the outskirts of
five days after his death, and was attended by thousands of friends,
and admirers. Amoung them were guitarists Gary Moore and The Edge,
with Gallagher's longtime bassplayer, Gerry McAvoy. Ronnie Drew of the
Dubliners read words from the Book of Wisdom, and messages of sympathy
were acknowledged from Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and John
Gallagher's career began in showbands, an Irish phenomenon of the 60s wherein touring groups would emulate the sounds of the British hit parade on a thriving ballroom circuit.. When Gallagher left the Impact Showband to form a three—piece in 1965 it was, even within the beat scene, a bridge too far. The story goes that a friend had to to pose for a photograph with a Vox Continental and fill the stereotypical fourth place for the group to gain a residency in Hamburg. A second lineup of the group was formed in 1966 and called Taste. They were always best received in the blues clubs of Northern Ireland, meeting their manager Eddie Kennedy in Belfast and, with a third lineup, moving to London in May '68. Gallagher's reputation for hard gigging and 100 percent performances began at this point.
Taste's career was as brief and dynamic as that of Cream, with whom they were oft compared. Their first, eponymous album reputedly sold 175,000 in its first year (1969); their second, On The Boards, remains as powerful and assured as any other rock album of the period, containing the core elements of style, technique and soul that Gallagher would develop as a solo artist. He shared with Alvin Lee a breathless, soulful urgency in his vocal phrasing, words spilling out like flurries of notes from a guitar — Americanised to a degree but never mid Atlantic. In terms of the crushing intensity and the voice/guitar chemistry of his finest heavy blues recordings - Sinner Boy and Whole Lot of People among them — he was a one man Led Zeppelin.There were also occasional echos of Van Morrison in his work, shimmering acoustic masterpieces such as his perennially crowd-pleasing arrangement of Leadbelly's When I Was A Cowboy never jarred with the harder blues or rock elements of his repertoire. The albums he made for Polydor between 1971 and 1974 - Rory Gallagher, Deuce, Live In Europe, Blueprint, Tattoo and Irish Tour ‘74 - remain a definitive testament to this musical spirit.
It is true to say that his star seemed to have faded in recent years — even in Ireland, where he remained an icon and a pioneer to those of his own generation. Business problems going back to the days of Taste and the late Eddie Kennedy had, friends admit off the record, triggered an alcohol problem for a period. Fluctuating health followed, with a large percentage of his income being swallowed up in legal affairs. His last Dublin show (like his last London one) was in 1992, although there were further concerts in Europe and America. Only two albums had appeared since 1982, although he'd made frequent and increasingly low-key guest appearances on albums by Irish artists including Dave Spillane, The Dubliners and Phil Coulter.
The last recordings Gallagher made were for a forthcoming Peter Green tribute album. In this respect and in others, there was a sense in which Gallagher's life was coming full circle. Fans remember fondly the tangible emotion of BBC Television concerts in the '70s, but almost certainly his final TV moment was an appearance in an Ulster Television documentary on the history of Northern Irish rock’n’roll, filmed in May ‘94. He sat on the edge of his bed in the London hotel room he'd made his home, talking simply and unpretentiously about the path he'd forged between the deep blues and modal scales of Irish music: about Davey Graham and Martin Carthy: and about the old days in Belfast.
As a wonderful musician, and as a wonderful human being, the loss of Rory Gallagher has engendered a genuine sorrow rare amoung rock musicians. He is already greatly missed.
Mailing & Discussion List