by Harry Doherty
RORY GALLAGHER looked ruffled, most annoyed indeed. He cast a reflective eye across the current mode of pyrotechnical wizardry in rock and was not happy with the view.
A few seconds later, though, he shook away the blues. “I don't think it's what rock and roll is about,” came the comment that summarized his feelings.
Gallagher, you see, has never been one to go for gimmicks though many argue that his down-to-earth image is an outstanding gimmick in itself, to which he would undoubtedly counter that it is he being him, with no trimmings. And when he notes that many musicians need to call upon theatrics to help their music, he sees it as a sign of weakness.
His objection is that a lot of rock in ‘76, especially from the bands who've grown up in the last couple of years, is stereotyped. Apart from the costumes, the stage settings, back-drops et cetera, he dislikes the present-day fashion of playing a set set, so to speak, night after night, week after week, with no changes.
Gallagher's own show is the total opposite to that approach. There are no frills, bar some lighting, and the music changes whenever the mood hits him. I can vouch be Gallagher when he says that he and his band don't plan their set, although they know that it'll consist of a number from a large repertoire. They aren't even sure what the opening song will be until they hit the stage, and that is the kind of spontaneity on which Rory Gallagher thrives.
“ I hate it when it gets stereotyped. There's certain big bands in this country and America and they put on fantastic shows, but it's Cecil B. deMille, and that doesn't appeal to me.
“It's nice to change opening numbers. I have even to know what the first number is. I know it's going to be one of three or four. Then you gauge the crowd and decide on the second number.
"I'm sure you could sit down and write out this programme of bands in this country. I've toured with bands in America and they do the same set every night.
‘They'll admit it. They'll say that's the name of the game. But it's not. Wouldn't it be terrible to be stuck inside the same list of songs?
“Halfway through the show and you've done five numbers and something happens in the audience that sets off a mood and you might just think of a song that would communicate with that incident in the audience or improvise lyrics or something like that.
“I’d hate to be restricted. Even still, we pull a number out of the bag that we've never done before, a blues thing but naturally everybody is well versed in them. Sometimes in a song, I'll change the key.
“If we're in D, I'll shout E. I’d even like to get less formal than we are. I suppose there's still the old bar and club feel in it, and that's great.
“I'm making it sound very haphazard, but we do know what we're doing. The acoustic set is a mixture of mood: take the audience to a certain point and then glide into my acoustic set.
“It's a challenge to do that acoustic bit, but it keeps the stage show unpredictable. I also want to be efficient on stage and I’d hate it to sound terribly loose, but it's nice to change the set and make a number longer or shorter.
“I'm not saying that we're the only band doing this, but the tendency is that it's getting like putting on a TV programme on stage, all that theatrical stuff, I mean, that's acceptable but where do you go from there?
"I’d like to be in a position where, if it came to it, I could still grab my own amplifier and guitar, plug it in and just play. The music should stand on its own. If we were stuck in a situation where the gear didn't turn up we could make do.
“If it got to the stage where your buzzard got sick or the huge statue of you peering down at the crowd got chipped, and you couldn't go on...”
Gallagher's comments seemed particularly relevant in view of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow’s failure to play at an open-air gig in Cardiff because they wouldn't be able to use their huge rainbow effect, and the band had been spouting about the rainbow being another member of Rainbow. Rory had heard about the incident.
“Ritchie, undeniably, doesn't need that. All the man needs is a guitar and amp and he can play great. The press tend to like the prima donna thing and love this news that they wouldn't play without the rainbow.
“‘But the real reason that they wouldn't show up is probably a secret. We don't know. I mean, is the rainbow that great? (Quite impressive.) Then they could send the rainbow out on a tour on its own.
“‘I’m not being cynical. I’d accept that if Ritchie and Cozy (Powell) couldn't play, but they can. My trouble is that I can see through all these things.”
And, in case you're thinking that Gallagher is all mouth and no action, remember that last year when his band failed to show up in Birmingham because of fog, the gig wasn't called off. Instead, Rory got together a make-shift band consisting of his brother, Donal and a friend and played a two-hour set, returning a few weeks later to play with the band. I reminded Rory about that, and he was quite embarrassed.
“I did, yeah, but I didn't want to make myself look like a martyr by mentioning it. But, then again, Ritchie Blackmore has turned up in clubs and played with a 10 watt amp. He can do it.
“Listen, I'm delighted to see that bands are being well catered for, decent dressing rooms, good stages, et cetera, et cetera, and the audiences deserve that. But you've got to keep a little eye on the situation or one of these days, one of these guys is going to try and fly the city of London out to San Francisco and use it as a backdrop, something mad like that.
“The music should be the first priority, but I think that a lot of artistes are afraid of their own power as people. They know they can play, but they're afraid to develop their own presence on stage.
“I mean, you can watch Muddy Waters in Oxford Street with a guitar and he's just got that presence and power. And that's not something you're going to develop if you're part of a backwash.
“That's only something you can develop by seeing people and them seeing you. It helps your music. You get more confidence in yourself, without becoming stagey. A lot of artists have that quality. Muddy has it to such an amazing degree that it's frightening.”
Gallagher, himself, has had his own problems with images and confesses that he does get annoyed when the predictable descriptions of checked shirt and jeans are churned out. His style in fashion is derived, he says, from the blues heroes he idolizes, as well as his Irish personality.
“The Irish are usually a bit cynical about gimmicks and stuff. They've brought up among musicians in a kind of folk tradition where you want your stuff to make sense to you and the audience and you want it to be there for fifty years.
“I don't want just to buy the Bentley and show up at a couple of social gatherings and end up in the gossip columns every week. Movie star stuff.”
You get a lot of people who are a little lazy when they're describing you, maintains Rory, and feels that that is particularly so with his music. They see only one side to his character, when there are many more that they miss. There's Gallagher the guitarist and rocker, the song-writer, the ethnic blues man, the acoustic guitarist, the singer, and it goes on.
His records are criticised because they lack the excitement that he generates on stage, although that can't be said about the new album, “Calling Card” which, when judged purely as a studio album, is easily his best to date. But too many people still look to the “live” albums with Taste and his own bands for the definitive Rory Gallagher.
“I think that's a criticism that can only go so far. It can he applied to anybody. Sinatra live is better and the Rolling Stones are better live. It just seems to apply to me more than anyone. The only way you can justify people who throw that criticism at you is to actually give them a bottle of sweat and a little video of you playing the stuff with the album.
“With ‘Calling Card,’
I just went in and I wanted to sound good and strong and tough, with a
good blend of songs. You still try and get the live excitement but eventually
you say to yourself 'There's no way, I'm going to get a live album in the
studio’ so you try and make it the best studio album you can and in that
way, you end up with a very exciting studio album, which
is a decent parallel to the live thing.
“In the earlier albums, I used to try and get that live excitement by doing an absolutely live guitar, live vocal and a very so-called honest approach, which is fine but that way, it's touch and go because you might end up with a fantastic vocal and not such a great guitar.
“It's just leaving it to chance. There're so many different elements. This way, you can concentrate on getting a really good voice and guitar.
“I know there is a stock of opinion that would say that the live albums are the definitive ones. It's fair comment, but I would think that ‘Calling Card’ is the closest yet to the definitive set, including the live albums.
One of the marked changes on “Calling Card” was that the songs relied more on the arrangement than on Gallagher's guitar playing, although he has always been hailed first and foremost as a guitar hero. Perhaps the arrival of a producer, Roger Glover, Gallagher's first since Tony Colton worked on the early Taste albums, had something to do with this.
‘“I never consciously go in and say that this is going to be a guitar album or that the guitar will always make these songs sound good. Never did I do that, but, on the other hand, I don't like to downplay the guitar.
"I make no apologies for saying that I love rocking on the guitar and hammering away on it and playing it with real gusto . . . but anyway, it's more important to have good songs, well arranged and have everybody in the band playing well.
““Even a bad guitar part will sound acceptable in that set-up. That's more important than having fantastic guitar. The guitar part isn't the absolute important thing, but if you can have everything ...."
Gallagher has spent the past 12 months gaining a foothold in America and the lad has decided that it is time more time was spent playing Britain again. His last jaunt here, at the end of last year, was confined to the major cities and venues. That will change.
“It went from a 21-date
tour to a 15 and eventually to an eight. But you have to do the Hulls,
the Norwiches and the Dundees. You have to. And the same in Ireland. I'm
starting to get a bit guilty about not playing here."
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