At one table Steve Upton, drummer with Wishbone Ash, and Rory Gallagher’s brother and manager, Donald, play backgammon, pushing the pieces around the board with the ease of people who often have time to kill. At another, the Gallagher band are talking and joking with the local music cognoscenti…..
It is almost two in the morning, the table is littered with empty beer bottles, and everybody is beginning to show signs of a weary, after-hours pallor. Keyboard player Lou Martin is engaging in good-natured banter with a local journalist. The journalist is obviously drunk, shouting English swear-words with an alcoholic vigour, arguing the toss over the next round of drinks. Rory himself is patiently undergoing benign interrogation for the umpteenth time that evening. This is, after all, supposed to be a press reception.
“The thing about this band is that we're all old blues men,” says drummer Rod de’Ath. “Well, old…..26, 27. But we've all got the same roots. The blues standards and rock and roll classics, that's what we all grew up with and what we all like. Old blues men…..” he rolls the words out, savouring the sound …..”You know, there aren't too many of us left…”
On stage the dance band
winds down to an acute and embarrassing silence.
“Rock and roll…..” somebody shouts. The band blushes in perfect harmony. This is probably the hardest performance they've ever had to do.
A couple of hours earlier the stage had been graced by a performance more appropriate to the occasion; an impromptu jam sessions by Rory, Lou and Wishbone Ash's Martin Turner, an appetizer for the next day's main course….an open-air festival featuring Rory, Wishbone Ash and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Sponsored by the local
government as part of the Turku Music Festival,
“Ruisrock” as it is called, is a major event on the Finnish music calendar. Like the rest of Scandinavia, Finland has a large and enthusiastic audience for rock.
“But people still think we don't have electricity yet” complained one local musician. “And the first thing any rock group does when they're booked to play in Finland is look on the map to see where it is….”
”Spain to the right and
Afghanistan to the left, isn't it?” jokes Lou Martin as we drive into
Turku from the
airport. This is the band's first visit to Finland and the prelude to a
extensive Scandinavian tour either later this year or early next. 1975
promises to be the customary endurance test for the Gallagher band. A
of France earlier in the year and one off date at the Montreux Festival
which culminated in an unforgettable 15-man jam between the band and assorted jazz and blues giants.
An American tour scheduled for October, then England, Europe, Scandinavia and studio time to record a new album, the group's first studio album in two years.
We arrive at the hotel. The band disappears inside, Rory to tape a television interview, Donald, the band's road-crew, and the local promoter drive out to look at the festival site. It is in an idyllic setting. The stage has been erected on a narrow strip of beach, a river to one side, a pine forest to the other. But the press enclosure extends a good 30 yards from the stage, terminating in a high wire mesh fence, and the mixingboard, three sides concealed by canvas walls, has been set against the fence directly in front of the stage.
The first of the audience are arriving as we leave, curling up in sleeping bags, under the trees, watching the stage crew threading wires and leads, arranging the equipment littering the stage into some semblance of a sound system. We drive back to town. In the hotel, Rory is winding up the television interview. The first guests are arriving for the reception. The local dance band are straightening their bow-ties and tuning up.
THE GALLAGHER band are scheduled to go on stage at 12:30, after the Mahavishnu Orchestra and before Wishbone Ash. Rory, Rod and bass-player, GerryMcAvoy sit in the hotel lobby drinking beer. Lou is lying down in his room, recovering from the previous night's excesses. " It's a good omen," says Donald. "If Louie's sick before a gig we know it's going to be OK." Word arrives that the festival is running up to an hour late. Donald reaches for his backgammon set. The band orders another round of beers.
THE OMEN turns out to be dubious. We arrive at the site to learn that the guitarist with the opening act; a local band, had thrown an epileptic fit on stage and been taken to the hospital. It is after Mahavisnu's set that the PA system packs up. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. There has been a fire near the main generating station at Turku and the power supply to the site had been cut off.
Finally, after an hour and a half, the power is reconnected. The long wait has sharpened the crowd's appetite. The band takes the stage and heads straight into a hard-line boogie perfectly attuned to releasing the pent-up energies of the audience. A rhythm section from Gerry and Rod thick enough to cut with a hatchet, Louie's keyboard embellishments providing the perfect melodic foil to Rory's knife edge guitar flurries. The band's roots may be in the blues, but all have an innate sense of the dynamics of rock.
Rory himself is the infinite showman, orchestrating the group.....and the audience....with his guitar, rapping the instrument sharply against the microphone to punctuate a solo burst, strutting back across the stage as if to reconnect with the rhythmic source of the band , trading riffs with Lou or Gerry, then steaming back to the microphone to pick up the vocal. The songs are established favourites: 'Tattoo'd Lady', "A Million Miles Away', "Laundromat'.
The band leaves the stage as Rory reaches for the National for an acoustic break. 'Too Much Alcohol' is given a classic bottle-neck overhaul, Rory shouting out the lines, amplifying the song's sentiments with some anguished guitar phrases. "Pistol Slapper Blues' is an exquisitely picked piece of rag-time that gives some idea of the breadth of inspiration and talent in Gallagher's guitar playing style.
The band returns for 'Goin' to My Hometown', a prodigal son's blues perfectly arranged to accentuate the footstomping syncopation which is the essence of the song; Rory opening with some firmly struck mandolin chords; then Rod's bass-drum picking up the beat, before keyboards and bass put the final layer on the cake. The encore is 'Bullfrog Blues' with Rory's guitar swooping and soaring into a bass solo from Gerry, a sequence of precision drum rolls from Rod and then an almost tangible feeling of release as Rory steams in with a guitar chord, which brings the audience to their feet in one seemingly involuntary movement to steer the song to its conclusion.
THE PARTY that evening is an occasion for a loosening up. Wishbone Ash and their crew crowd around one table. The Gallagher band are at another, drinking champagne to celebrate Donald's birthday. Even Mahavishnu puts in an appearance, sitting detached from the mainstream of banter and conversation, quietly conferring with his sound engineer. Rory is discussing the magic of the Celts, explaining his conviction in the power of paganism.
"People think the Church is all-powerful in Ireland, but the belief in paganism goes much deeper. Man's relationship with the soil, the water, the elements. Y'know there's a man in Ireland cures cancer by applying a poultice of herbs, drawing the disease out of the body of the sufferer. That's the kind of power we should all be trying to rediscover. Man's going to the moon now and missing what we should be chasing altogether......"
"There is the pop of another champagne cork, somebody throws a roll of toilet paper across the room in a graceful arc, and there are the first stirrings of a sing-song "'Twas a year ago today I left old Eiran's isle..........' Rory reaches for the champagne with a shout " Come on lads....'let's do this stuff some justice." At the next table one of the road crew, blighted by road madness, upends an ice bucket over his head. It's going to be a long night.
RORY GALLAGHER comes from Donegal, where the humour is sharp and sly and music runs in the life blood. The humour is apparent on first acquaintance, the wink of an eye and verbal dig in the ribs of an unsuspecting victim.
Gallagher began performing professionally with an Irish show band in the early 1960's, played the beat clubs of Hamburg in 1965 and then formed Taste, a three-piece band that enjoyed considerable critical and commercial acclaim in this country and Europe. When Taste disbanded in 1970, Rory put together the basis of what is now the Gallagher band.
Throughout, Rory's music reflected a penchant for earthiness and simplicity. His guitar style is a goulash of blues, rock and roll and folk influences, heavily spiced with his own singular innovations: in harness with his band, the sound is direct and to the bone, nerve ending exposed, "We like to keep it unsophisticated and gritty," he says. "we all grew up with rock and roll, so that leaves its mark, but the important thing is to keep that blues feel there."
This is reflected in the group's approach to live performing. They travel light, eschewing the circus trappings of many bands. "I like the way that John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters work in that respect. They can create sets just by sitting there: that gaze at the audience and they've got them. Anything else would be superfluous at that point. I like a small outfit. If they could make a PA system the size of a guitar amp, and you could just travel with that in a station wagon. it would suit me fine. I don't like the big Cecil B. DeMille thing. I suppose if your music takes the form where you have to supply gimmicks, sets and stuff, then it's perfectly valid. I might even end up that way myself" ...he grins......."It's unlikely though...."
Rory will be going into the studios later this month to record the Gallagher band's seventh album. "We've been rehearsing down at Manfred Mann's "Workhouse' studio "he explains, "and it's the most relaxed I've ever seen the band. The boys are playing really well now; the keyboards are blending in a lot more. I think it will be an interesting album. I hope it's a step forward anyway."
Rory hopes to have the album completed by the end of September to tie in with a mammoth tour of Canada and the States. "We're going to really try and crack it over there this time. We sell a lot of records already, but in quantities matching up to our popularity as a live act. I'm not fanatical about getting a big hit LP, but it's a sad fact that some people just don't take you seriously until you have one."
"We'll just have to see what happens after that I suppose. We don't work on any preordained plans. Half of the beauty of the band is that we hold on to what we've got, carry it along with us. We don't shed everything we have at the end of each year to go into something new, country and western whatever. We just try and keep the nitty gritty thing, make it relevant to the moment. And keep it moving ahead. There's still a lot of ground to be covered..........."
THE BAND spends the next morning killing time, waiting for the flight back to London. Rory explores the town, ending up in an art gallery, looking at paintings of traditional Finnish life; rural people with dour, humorless expressions on creased and weathered faces. He pauses in front of one painting, which depicts seafarers, warding off a lurid banshee with spears and staves.
'Y'see that? Paganism again...." He laughs. It reminds me of the song last night. What was that? Rory recites the opening lines. " T'was a year a go today, I left old Eiran's isle...." There's a turn of phrase for you there. Those old Celtic ballads could present a setting in the first two lines which very few rock writers can do, and they're still being sung today. I wish I could write songs like that, I really do," He pauses for a moment , lost in thought. "Now there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to, is there? No reason at all..............."
by Mick Brown
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