Gallagher at a gallop

RORY GALLAGHER moves and talks so fast you would swear he gives off his own vapor trail.  “You’re born with this energy thing, or whatever it is,” he says.

You almost expect him to come soaring through the doors of the Polydor offices, fists clenched and thumbs extended in that peculiar way of his.  He was not long back from a four-month US trip and now he was cranked up ready for another round of British dates.

Even onstage you sense he’s just passing through on his way somewhere else.  He moves constantly – darting from one part of the boards to another and diving and leaping in rushes of pure energy.  He says a tour just about destroys him, but a day off the road is more than enough.  By the second day he’s playing along with records and tuning his guitar and writing songs.

People are always asking him why he doesn’t settle down and make artful statements, the sort of music to give a hard-on to folks who delight in psycho-semantics.  (The blues vignette is the authentic statement of the emancipated urban beer swiller …) It leaves him cold.  

“I hate sitting down and talking about the reasons why of the blues … you know working in the factory and the cotton fields and the isms of it.  Anyone who sits down and listens to the music as a kid and loves it and devotes himself to it and just lets it flow … that’s as close to the natural blues as you can get.”

A conversation with Gallagher can be exhilarating or awkward and drawn, depending on where his mind happens to be.  On the subject of the appalling state of radio or Ireland or the blues it sprints along and he jostles to be heard.  Or he can be staggeringly uncommunicative on issues that don’t touch him.

Above all he loves his audiences.  The 11- and 12-year-olds and the near middle-aged who come to see him at American clubs and bars.  At the end of every concert he reaches deep into the front rows and shakes as many hand as he can.  At Edmonton the other week, somebody leapt onto stage and hugged him and Rory hugged him back and they hung there for a while wondering what came next.  A rugby tackle from the wings ended the celebration but Rory managed to hand over a guitar pick to his young admirer.

The same scenes are repeated everywhere he plays and it’s particularly strange in these post-cool days.  The new cool is much more insidious and Rory wants no part of it.  The new cool is a straining of the bonds between the performer and his audience.  The camp, alien figures who want the people to stomp their feet in frustration while they shine up their sequins.  They are disdainful, unavailable and often untalented.  Gallagher reaches to his audience and wants to shake every hand in every hall across the country.

“I don’t dislike the element of stardom because everything cooks up the broth a bit better, but that’s not the main thing.  If I wanted to be a star, I wouldn’t play the guitar.  I’d just hold the microphone and … you know.  It’s so easy to be a star, particularly in the music scene.  If I was given seven days to write a hit song and change the image and all that I could do it.  I’ve seen it done.  You see it.  People saying certain things in interviews to draw on all that pop thing.”

Gallagher’s been playing since he was six – first with a ukulele, then a wooden guitar and, at 12 years of age, with a solid body electric that cost him 12 guineas.  He wanted to be Lonnie Donegan or Muddy Waters and play every damn club in the country, and still does.

“I see Muddy Waters and he’s in his mid-fifties and he still has all the energy.  You talk to him and he says tomorrow night we’re in such and such a place and he’s still excited.  He’s probably not as agile as I am, but he’s got the energy.  It’s only journalism and pop success and hit singles and the weight of make-up that makes you a tired musician at 25 years of age.  You’re told to be tired and you’re psychologically brainwashed into thinking, ‘oh, I’ve done it all now.  Relax.  Take it easy and become a serious artist.”

“Sitting at home isn’t art.  It’s getting out and seeing the people.  The people are the art.  That’s where the whole vibration is.  It’s just the artist or musician who has his own gift and picks up the vibration from the people.  So maybe, what I’m playing is, as you say, young blues, because I’m trying to keep in touch with what young people are doing and thinking and so on, as compared with just going from recording studio to recording studio to mansion to TV show.  But then I don’t sit down and say this has to be a blues song.  A lot of songs don’t even touch the blues but being a blues fan it creeps out.

He has a flat in Earls Court that he shares with brother Donal.  The neighbours keep him in check.  Only acoustic guitar is permitted, or a spot of electric if he keeps the noise down.  He’s looking for a new place, not a mansion or anything, but something bigger and a little more detached from sensitive ears.  Being on the road makes it difficult to flat hunt.  Someone might put him on to a place but they’ll say you’ve got to be there Monday morning and if he’s playing Inverness he’ll miss out.

Egg Box

“Meanwhile I think I’ll use the old egg box trick with tape and clothes around the wall.  That should keep the volume down a bit.”

It means that a rehearsal with his band is a big deal where everyone sets times to meet in a strange place instead of being able to drop around to his flat and drink Guinness and fall about.

Only Gerry McAvoy remains from the old line-up.  Wilgar Campbell is now drumming for Mick Abrahams but thinking about his own line-up.  In his place is Rod de Ath.  Lou Martin, Rod’s former partner in Killing Floor, has come in to handle keyboards.  It’s a new element to the Gallagher sound.

Rory’s pleased with his new men but there have been mutterings since the Edmonton gig that the new men aren’t up to scratch; that Rod’s drumming is too fiddly and genteel and Lou’s piano playing is simply not saucy enough to complement Gallagher’s guitar.

“It’s fine,” Rory had said before the start of the tour.  “If you have good musicians you can have a band of a million but I didn’t want to end up with that kind of Hammond organ thing.  And he’s versatile because he plays all the other keyboards and a sort of Jimmy Rodgers second guitar, but that particular side hasn’t been explored yet.”

On New Year’s Day 1972 Gallagher took a lot of faith and joy to the city of Belfast with a concert at Ulster Hall.  He shrugs it off easily now as if nothing less should have been expected and he’s said to think that a similar move looks highly improbable in 1973.

He could slip into Queen’s University, he says, but a Belfast concert means an event in the city centre.  The authorities and promoters get edgier by the day.  “You’ve got to consider the audience as well,” he says.

But you’d be surprised how many clubs run at night, says Rory.  People still go to the pictures and discos and eat fish and chips afterwards.

They’ve grown up with the situation … but as far as outsiders coming in … as far as major concerts are concerned, that’s just out of the question.”

Belfast was the home of Taste for about nine months of 1967.  It was a couple of notches up on Cork and in those days it was more like Liverpool and less like Saigon.  Van Morrison country, says Rory, a down-at-heels rhythm and blues town.

“The toughest R’-n-‘B, I always thought came from Belfast.  Dublin was more wrapped up in Tamia and pop and beat as it was then.  Belfast, being a port, had all the latest records coming in the shops from England because they were dealing with England then.  And an artist was always prepared to go to Belfast because it was regarded as part of a British tour.  So it’s no wonder it was ahead of other cities.”

Another show in Belfast might soothe some frazzled nerves for a few hours but that’s about all.

“Oh sure, you could probably get all together at a concert for one night but a hundred concerts aren’t going to solved the situation at all.

“It’s too complex.  It’s not just a question of two sides, as the newspapers would have you believe.  It’s more complex than that.  If Bob Dylan came over everyone would say ‘oh yeah, great’ and they’d go the concert and it would be a couple of hours of enjoying themselves.  But then the people who are deeply involved in the situation probably aren’t interested in the music, anyway.  It’s a different age group.”

He doesn’t pretend to have any solution.  Like any Irish man he can sup a couple of pints of the dark brew and see a city without soldiers and snipers.  And he can hope.  “Let’s hope,” he says, “that before the year end, it will cool off.”

from the  February 24, 1973 issue of  Disc
thanks to Brenda O'Brien for sharing & preparing this article
reformatted by roryfan
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added 8/24/08