Rory Gallagher is now 26, a little older than his battered Stratocaster.
In his audience, we find those in their twenties who already liked him in the Taste era and still like him, and 15 and 16 year olds dancing in their seats in the smart Hanburger Congresscentrum on his last tour in Germany.
A new generation in the audience....that is obviously no problem for the Irish blues guitar player. He deals just as easily with success, the victory in pop-polls and the sold-out venues from Frankfurt to Frisco.
Rory Gallagher gets on the stage as fresh, spontaneous, lively and sympathetic as ever. The hard and often inhuman show business has not yet broken him. This makes him an exception in the rock scene, and the reason behind it is just as rare: his honest reliable personality.
Gallagher was born on March 2nd, 1949, in a small town called Ballyshannon in the north west of Ireland. As a child he moved to the south east corner of the green island to Cork, a town of 80,000 inhabitants. Cork is today still his home town where his parents live and where he returns in between recordings and touring all over the world, to rest, enjoy the sunshine and go to the pub with friends, while in between, he writes a couple of songs. For him this means holidays.
“When you're always on the road you want to go home for your holidays” he says. This nationalistic trait in Gallagher’s character is easy to understand, coming from an island with a rural conservative community, very little industry and only one big city (Dublin) in the whole country.
On the other hand, Rory Gallagher has become a world star since 1968, the year Taste euphoria thrived. He lives from a suitcase and is always on the road by car, train and plane.
Many musicians have already been cast aside, been uprooted, had their identity taken away or even destroyed by the stress of touring, success chasing them all over the world and the merciless laws of survival of the music business.
Rory says “With success, you have to change your life style completely”. But for him personally, this rule does not apply. If you would describe him as a nice, sweet, country boy you would exaggerate. But you rarely meet a musician of world fame still so willing to communicate. You can have long friendly conversations with Rory and you always feel the friendly uncomplicated way of living, said to be typical of all Southern Irish, but also typical of him personally.
It would take us too far to investigate the social context that molded Rory in his childhood. It is enough to show the results: his bond with his own environment and his home country was so strong, he never conformed to the stereotype of the world-famous rock musician who feels at home all over the world.
His fondness of Cork, his home town, gives him the feeling of having a foundation, a social stand. With such a background, it is, of course, easier to fight the character destruction leading to megalomania, need for success, instability and break-down. Even so, there is no absolute protection in critical periods.
In the heyday of Taste, Rory assumed superstar airs and started ego-tripping and did not care about the interests of his sidemen, John Wilson (drums) and Richard McCracken (bass). When the band broke up in 1970, however, he pulled himself together and learnt from the past. One lesson was that with employed musicians, yet unknown and with no ambition of their own, he could find his psychological equilibrium again.
And since then he has learnt again: While Rod De’Ath (drums), Gerry McAvoy (bass), and especially Lou Martin (keyboards), have grown with him and improved in quality, he allows them more room for improvisation.
On Gallagher’s last tour, it became clear that the former one-man-band has evolved into a formation consisting of equals. The Irish blues man looks at his own personality with the same calm his fellow countrymen regard him: “In Ireland”, he says, “people don't lose their balance that easily, just because someone has become a big star”.
This quote once more shows his certainty he can rely on being accepted as a person, instead of being put in a golden cage. Rory tries to make this as clear as possible: “People in Cork respect me as someone from their own town”.
For them, he is still a typical Irish lad and they want him to stay that way. When I ask him if his self-image has not changed a little bit in the last years he mocks gently “No, after all I'm not going to change my nationality”.
He would not trade Cork, the town he sings about in “Going To My Home Town”, for any place in the world. “I have seen many places, but that is not the point. It is still very easy to return to Cork for a few days and see the people there again”. He thinks this is only normal: “Chuck Berry always returns to St. Louis as well”.
Why no blues about Ireland ?
When on tour, Rory tries to live the normal life he likes so much at home. He regularly reads newspapers because he wants to keep track of political developments. He enjoys his touring now and not in the heyday of the Beatles when popular musicians were praised to the skies much more than today. “It is no longer today as it was in those hot days”, he says.
Sometimes he is recognized when walking the streets, but he just gets asked for an autograph or information: people want to know about the concert or about his guitar play. Rory says: “If I want to draw attention, I could walk around in a bright green cape and a broad red stripe dyed in my hair”, but for him it is more important to be able to move around freely.
Freedom and independence are keywords for him in business also, and since the beginning of his solo career he has managed to keep his cool, because not only he has a sense of business and of reality, he is also highly intelligent. And all these are due to his Irish childhood as well.
He could retire into the ivory tower and leave the music business outside the spot lights to his roadies, managers and agents, but he consciously chooses not to. He manages his tours with a relatively limited number of people and material. He values a friendly relationship with the technical staff responsible for the equipment.
Still it worries him what could happen to him if his popularity increases. As a warning example he mentions the Rolling Stones, with whom he recently played for a recording. “For them the public has become a monster” he thinks. The Stones would rather play under more simple circumstances, but the all mighty popular demand does not let them.
He already has enough difficulty to keep his head with all the success. It is widely known how he loves to play, and he says: ”the battle is already half won if I can play the music I like”.
He is still able to do so. He mentions his “absolute freedom” in record production. What he wants gets recorded, no one can talk him into doing otherwise, not at Polydor nor anywhere else.
He also has his finances under his own control. Faithful to his agreement with the rest of his crew, he does not talk about this, but he says “I don't think about it all the time, but I know what's going on.”
Rory Gallagher earns his living with the blues. No one will argue he is one of the very few white Europeans who can really play and sing the blues. In his learning years, he absorbed the music and feeling of black examples like Muddy Waters, and he could connect this with his own life.
The blues had originally a political dimension and function as a means of communication for the suppressed black minority in the USA. Merely music and political stance cannot be separated or it would not be blues anymore.
From this angle, the authenticity of Gallagher’s interpretation is seemingly - but only seemingly – in the twilight zone, and his sincerity seems to show cracks. In an earlier Sounds story on Rory Gallagher (“Der Sensible Profi” no. 10/73), we remarked that his music firstly consists of “feeling”, text and voice are limited to a strictly instrumental function, and his songs are personal and non-political. In his case, however, conflicts lie at his front door, the political explosive can be picked up in the truest sense of the word.
Ireland is not just the green paradise of the holiday brochures. In the northern part, belonging to the United Kingdom, a bloody civil war with no way out is going on. Even when the Irish republic declares it does not interfere in the internal affairs of the north, the Irish of the independent south are still not indifferent to the problems in the north. Even if they do not have a personal reason, they have a political one. The inhabitants of the whole island have for centuries fought the English dominance; the Irish Republic gained its complete independence in 1949, the northern part of the island (the province called Ulster) remained British.
The joint battle for over a century has made a bond that is not dissolved so easily.Captain Beefheart, the American, wrote a blues song on the German concentration camp Dachau. Rory Gallagher, the Irishman, has up till now not written a blues song on Northern Ireland. Could he even write, sing and play a song on the conflict in Northern Ireland?
“Possibly”, he says faltering a bit. “It is possible...but...I believe...well it is possible”. But I am not that much involved. It is not easy at all to understand the whole situation. It is very complicated, you cannot describe it in simply black and white.”
But this situation in Northern Ireland, I reply, is important for life in all Ireland. He regards himself as a true Irishman, therefore this conflict is also part of his life.
“Probably”, he answers, “it is too close to me. As I live with it day by day, it might not be original if I wrote a song about it. I think I could do it. But you cannot simply decide to do it, turn a switch in your mind and write a song on this matter. It must grip you, turn your head around. There are hundreds of songs about the conflict in Ireland. I don't think I could write one that is better. “
The memberable Belfast concert
Is Rory perhaps hesitant to attack England in a song which encourages to detach Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom, as England is commercially very important to him ? He mentions English singers who did go in that direction and whose songs became popular: John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
McCartney takes his song title “Give Ireland Back To The Irish” seriously; the song is for him no clever gag, as is often said, but serious commitment. Paul's grandmother was Irish, so he has Irish blood as well. John Lennon’s grandfather was Irish. And what they wrote in their song is what many people in England were thinking.
All the same, Rory sticks to his own opinion: “I don't feel obliged to write something like that”. And he says jokingly: “If I come up with a completely new idea for the conflict, I'll write a song about it”. And he adds casually: “It's better to play over there than make another version of always the same song”.
This last remark is important. It takes away every doubt concerning his credibility of blues interpreter. Blues is not just, as some books try to teach, a twelve-bar musical piece. Blues is also a way of life. I heard a very good definition in the TV series “Sympathy for the Devil” that was broadcast here years ago (a one-time-only highlight in national TV). “Blues is the way of how you deal with reality”. A blues singer can only be judged on this principle. Therefore, the before mentioned opinion that Gallagher’s songs were personal and non-political, is totally wrong. Because Rory has sung his songs in the northern-Irish terrorist city of Belfast, while all other big rock stars kept their ass in London in those days.
British journalist Roy Hollingworth was at the concert and wrote a very personal article about it in Melody Maker of December 1972. In this article, he explains why for him Rory Gallagher was musician and man of the year. “It was on January 1st, and it was the day Rory Gallagher played for the youths from Belfast, in the Ulster Hall in the centre of town. He did not have to play in Belfast. It would have been easy for him to cancel the concert, and no one would have asked questions. Don't say: “Well, Gallagher is Irish so it is no problem for him.” Such an argument does not hold at all, as Rory is from the south of Ireland.
The people in Belfast had not experienced a decent rock concert in many, many months. 2,000 youngsters came to the hall – so hungry for music, you'd believe they would have eaten the amplifiers on the stage. It was an incredible atmosphere that afternoon. Twelve bombs had exploded the night before, and we had heard them all. And still here were a rock band and an audience, and for two hours nothing else mattered in this bloody world. I will never forget this.
Lennon and McCartney gained a lot of respect for their attempt to mention Ireland in rock ’n roll lyrics. To some people, including me, this was terribly unimportant. You know, Gallagher has done the only thing a rock musician could have done for Belfast without even making a fuss about it. He has played in the god damned place. So far Roy Hollingworth. Rory does not talk often about this concert on January 1st 1972. “I think it was our duty to play there”.
A fellow worker at the same wavelength
Rory Gallagher’s credibility, his open, spontaneous nature get automatically into his music and thus effect the audience. Whether he is seething on stage, concentrating on his magnificent solos or bringing an audience to a frenzy with a few loud chords, you always feel everything is real and nothing is artificial about him.
Sure, on stage, there is a famous guitar player, but he has no gimmicks, he is a natural person radiating a lot of human warmth. This makes it easy to identify with him and explains why he gets the sympathy from both younger and older rock fans.
Rock music is a means of communication, it expresses a human feeling different from society's convention, despite Emerson, Wakeman and other gravediggers. But there can only be that electrifying spark between musician and audience when there is trust and solidarity. For the audience Rory is a fellow worker at their own wavelength.
One can admire Frank Zappa or Ian Anderson, worship Bob Dylan or Eric Clapton, but with Rory Gallagher you can have fun. It goes without saying that this wave of sympathy coming to Rory influences his playing as well. This interaction makes him stronger, being a human outsider in a ruthless SHOWBANDS.
Rory Gallagher is reproached repeatedly, his checkered shirt and battered guitar are just a gimmick. I think people should not get stuck on these appearances.
The bluesman from Cork looks like he feels. And the record company has a tough time trying to fit him into a marketing concept designed at the manager's table. So that only leaves them the option to declare him an anti-star.
There has to be commercialism to have record sales, so
they try to make a virtue of necessity.
This article was taken from DEUCE QUARTERLY 3/86.
I believe it was originally posted in an earlier issue of SOUNDS
Thanks to John Wainwright for passing it along and to Ina De Zwart for translating it
reformated by roryfan
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