is Rory Gallagher, the star who shuns stardom. COLIN IRWIN sympathised.
IT'S cold that night in Stockholm. An angry, ferocious cold that devours you without pity. Regal Nordic beauties scurry into the Koncert Hall red-cheeked from the wind, coats drawn tightly round themselves, while Bjorn Borg fantasists feign arrogance at their sides.
The less conscious clap and stomp in impatient anticipation of the night's recital. A few of the bolder amongst them even optimistically attempt to bluff their way backstage. But what to find? Mr. Rory Gallagher, of course, relaxed and affable, fresh in from Oslo, anxious for news of home. The Berwick by-elections? How about Liverpool and Everton?
It's not a night conspicuous for its subtlety. Stockholm erupts with undignified vigour as Gallagher, Gerry McAvoy and Ted McKenna trip on the stage and blast unceremoniously into their opening gambit. This night Rory — as the more colourful John Motson interviewee would tell you — is taking no prisoners.
The Swedes comprehensively blow their image of icy reserve. And Rory, the white blues hero who made it though the night, feeds avariciously from their enthusiasm; his solos blister through your body, and even his couple of solo acoustic numbers —including a supreme nod to Leadbelly on 'Out On The Western Plain’ —are undercut with a stirring passion. Sweat bucketing from him, he struts prodigiously around the stage, thick mane of hair spraying behind him. . .“LemmetellyawhatI’mgonna ... DO ... I'm goin’ to my home town. D’ya wanna go?” “YEAH”, they bellow back, word-perfect.
I became a Rory Gallagher fan in 1972, specifically after reading an article in these very pages by Roy Hollingworth about the concert he played in Belfast on New Year's Day. It was at a time when nobody, just nobody would venture anywhere near Northern Ireland to play music, and with hostilities at an unprecedented pitch, it seemed that Rory from the South stood a fair chance of getting blown back to Cork for his pains, even though it was said he'd received an assurance from the IRA that no harm would befall him. At a time when Britain was in the grip of posing drivel like Bolanitis, it was overwhelmingly obvious that Rory Gallagher was a rare specimen of integrity in rock n roll.
And I'll tell you some more about Rory Gallagher. That he's an inveterate musician who is occasionally to be found playing traditional music in obscure bars in the south of Ireland with old flute players and fiddlers. That, when his fogbound band failed to make a gig in Birmingham, he hastily assembled a makeshift band with brother Donal and a friend and played a two-hour set where others would have canceled, returning to Brum a few weeks later to fulfil the gig with his real band. And that when invited to do a session for an album by one of his prime heroes, Muddy Waters, he was away on tour, but drove back to London every night from gigs all over the country in order to make the session. He made such an impression that Waters refused to start each recording session before Gallagher arrived, even though it was sometimes well into the early hours.
He has steadfastly refused to indulge in hype or gimmick of any kind. There's also been a constant aversion to short cuts — he says he'll never appear on Top Of The Pops in its present form — and tangible opportunities of broadening his appeal with a quick kill have been studiously avoided. For example, his approach to conquering America on a grand scale, his grandest ambition, has been to do it by working up through the smaller venues rather than allowing himself to be “launched’ in a blaze of publicity at a prestigious venue.
THERE'S even his new album ‘Photo-Finish” ... they packed him off to the States to record it with big— name American producer (Elliot Mazer) and the whole bit. Cost a fortune. But at the end it wasn't quite right. They re-mixed and re-mixed and the record company began to get a little anxious, but Rory still didn't feel it was quite him. So, despite the protestations that he needed a tour and an album to promote, he scrapped the whole thing and re-did it, producing it himself. That's why he's gone for two years without an album, and that's why it's estimated that “Photo-Finish” is the second most expensively produced record Chrysalis have ever put out (they're not saying just what it was that cost more). But that is the sort of guy we're dealing with in Rory Gallagher.
I'm not as avidly enamoured with his music as many who have sung his praises before, but honesty counts for much and this band — more primitive without keyboards since the departure of Lou Martin — overflows with it. And Rory Gallagher, reading this, will be acutely embarrassed.
BACK IN STOCKHOLM: mayhem. Absolute mayhem. It's the last night of the European tour — the first with the new band since Lou Martin and Rod de’Ath left (both now with Ramrod) and former Sensational Alex Harvey Band drummer Ted McKenna came in — and everyone seems to have gone a little crazy.
The Swedish promoter is elated —the 2500-seater hall was full — and the sound engineer content. “Nice night,” he's saying, “nice night. Not as good as Hamburg, that was great, that was the best, but a nice night.” The band are too wiped out to reflect on anything but hit the nearest booze, which they duly do with full-blooded determination. Rory stands there accepting compliments gracefully, and the backstage area is thick with people.
There's some dismay that the blonde girl in Abba — the one with the unbelievable bum and the unpronounceable name — isn't among them. She's a fan, it transpires, and said she'd be there when he came to Sweden; Abba once supported Rory in the States before they got into their world domination trip, and were apparently paralysed by nerves, “They asked us to do support on one of their tours in Europe” says Donal Gallagher, Rory’s brother/manager, “but we didn't think it was quite us somehow. Know what I mean?”
Frankie Miller, the well - known Scottish chart star, is appearing at a club next door. He's all fierce smiles and rampant accent. “Well, well, well,” he growls fearsomely, his band grouped around him like Mafia bodyguards. “Ye can tell tha’ Harry Doherty tha’ ae donna like his endings.” He'd been along to see Rory earlier ... Greet . . . jis’ greet.”
Rory’s bopping away at the front as the Miller band — who seem to have acquired an unexpected sophistication — get into their stride. The place is full of people dressed in those rude black “Frankie Who?” teeshirts, and the Miller promo people have certainly been energetic.
Miller's set ends and Frankie is replaced by a disco booming round the room. Rory’s spotted and is quickly surrounded, courteously making conversation with all who approach him, yet refusing to let any of them interfere with his drinking. The guys want to discuss makes of guitar and the girls just gaze from a distance in awe and lust — the anti-hero who is idolised from all directions. He regards it all with undue equanimity, only becoming agitated when a drunken male Swede takes to saying how wonderful he is and running hands through his hair.
The drinking begins to get more serious as we transfer to the hotel room. Donal tells of the time Dylan came to see Rory at a gig in the States. He came backstage after and Donal, not recognising him, wouldn't let him in the dressing-room. “Well,” says Donal, “He was just this bedraggled guy, who looked like somebody trying to look like Dylan and had ended up looking like Ian Hunter. There's any number of guys like that in the States.” Dylan said he understood and was halfway down the stairs when Donal registered who he was. “I just called out ‘Bob’ and he turned round and I knew it was him. I just kept apologising and he kept saying no, it was okay, he understood, and he kept trying to leave. Jesus, I was freaking. I said Rory’ll kill me if he knows you've been here’ and he said ‘That's okay, man, I understand’. I just grabbed him, and dragged him back up those stairs.”
Rory, seemingly, was less flummoxed by the visitation, though he understood Donal’s dilemma. They both remember the time they gave the red carpet treatment to somebody they both believed to be Dylan who turned out to be an impostor. Meeting the real thing was, concedes Rory, “quite a shaky experience . . , y’know . . . like meeting Presley. But he seemed a nice enough guy.”
What did you talk about? “Well, he picked up my National guitar and we played some tunes. And we talked about Martin Carthy.”
A crowd of Chrysalis representatives and assorted liggers heard that Bob Dylan was holding court with Rory Gallagher and busted past Donal, frightening off the great man, Dylan sent Rory tickets when he came to England, but Rory didn't try to see him backstage. That's not his way.
GALLAGHER carries the quietly beguiling eloquence that seems exclusive to natives of Eire. Though he lives in London, his home, very firmly, is Cork, and he returns regularly. “I find I can actually do much more writing in Ireland,” he says.
He was in a showband — the Fontana Showband — at 15, and has a whole fund of stories about the experience. They were a subversive showband, slipping in rock ‘n roll whenever they felt people weren't paying attention, but a showband nevertheless, doing Jim Reeves songs and the Top 20 hits of the moment.
“At 15 or 16,” he says, without apology, “it was an opportunity to play through an amplifier. The only opportunity.” For a kid bred on Lonnie Donegan, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and Eddie Cochran, that was important.
There were only three of them in the band, really, but you weren't accepted in the ballrooms unless there were six in a band, so they added three tambourine players to make the numbers up. “We were,” he says, “regarded as a beat group masquerading as a showband.” Still, they played “Walking The Dog”, with one sax player putting a lead round the neck of another sax player and walking him round the ball, and if you look zealously enough around the second-hand shops you might bump into a couple of Pickwick albums that bear witness to this wondrous group.
In the mid Sixties Rory had an out-and-out rock trio, but by then promoters were only interested in four-pieces. In order to gain a residency in Hamburg they enrolled a non musician friend to pose with an organ for publicity shots, and on arrival explained to the bemused promoter that their organ player had contracted appendicitis, but they would nobly carry on without him.
Even Taste starved quite frequently when they first came to England, before scoring with two hit albums. People still ask about Taste, though they split nearly eight years ago. “It was a couple of steps,” is Rory’s practical summary of their career, though he adds, wIth marginal wistfulness, “I think had we stuck together with the right variety —we could have done well in America, because that was around the time bands were breaking over there.”
But then he's never been one to calculate his career coldly. “It was a more naive world in those days, I just wanted to do as well as I could. But then I still do. I’d still like lots of hit albums and a bigger audience. It sounds fairly mundane, but it's what I hope for. I just enjoy what I'm doing. Some people get worried about that — they say I should be changing hats all the time, doing reggae when it's in fashion and changing my image week after week, that it's the normal rock thing to do. But the people I like don't do that . . .“
RORY finally collapsed into bed around 9.30am. A crowd of girls patiently waiting in the hotel foyer to see him off that morning looked to be in for a long wait. His chances of catching the afternoon flight back to London didn't seem too bright, and the Swedish journalist who had an interview arranged for lunch-time looked to have no chance.
“You don't know Rory" says Peter Collins, the tour manager (who, it might be said, had also been up until 9 am). “He'll be there. If I went up now and said he had to get up and do an interview this minute he'd get up and do it. He's like that, Rory."
He does, too, and greets the journalist politely though he's looking rather pale and dazed. “The only time I've ever seen him lay into a journalist," says Donal, “was in America one time. This reporter said the show was a bit dull and did he have plans to make it more exciting? Rory said yeah, next time he was gonna have laser beams and dancing girls strobe lighting, the lot. And of course, this journalist wrote it all down and next day there it was all in the paper .
One frequent press comment that upsets him is the description “hard-working.” “As a youngster,” he says, a shade testily, “I thought that being a musician was going around and playing to people, This ‘hard-working’ name came about when acts were making statements like ‘Peace In Our Time’ and doing two gigs a year and living off their record advance. Some people sneer and say ‘This guy's crazy’ but I just like being on the road, and if you don't do it, then you lose contact, It's as simple as that.”
“But then you get to be
philosophical about criticism” - - - rueful now. - . .“I don't get very
much publicity anyway,” Certainly he's conscious of being the man without
an image, a man devoid of the imperative “angle” on which reporters can
hang a story.
WHEN Mick Taylor left the Rolling Stones there was some talk of Gallagher becoming the replacement. Gallagher isn't all that sure whether they wanted him or not. They certainly asked him to go and sit in for a blow, and he duly went alone, explaining that he had to go off on a tour of Japan in three days’ time.
He found the sessions somewhat disorganised. “It was very loose, just a jam, y’know, but very pleasant. A good experience. But I don't know whether they were really thinking of asking me to join — they didn't say anything — and after three nights with them I went off to Tokyo and heard no more about it.”
Would you have accepted?
“I don't know. I wouldn't mind being in a group like that. It's a difficult
thing. . . . if I could work it so that I could do my own thing as well,
I wouldn't mind,”
There was also the time another idol, Jerry Lee Lewis, wanted him on the sessions of an album he was recording in London, That, seemingly, was another weird one.
It was in ‘72, around the same time he did the Muddy Waters sessions. Unlike the Waters recordings, the Lewis sessions occupied merely an afternoon. Somebody suggested Jerry Lee should record “I Can't Get No Satisfaction”, though he said he didn't know the song and had never heard it. Rory was elected to teach him it.
“He had trouble with it, he couldn't get the timing of the song, which I couldn't understand because he was a perfectly good musician. Then he started sending the song up and he was fairly rude about the lyrics. He couldn't understand how anyone could write lyrics like that. But it was great. The best cut of the day. But they didn't put it on the album. I never knew why.”
On another occasion he played on stage with Albert King. King's band apparently resented the presence of a white guy on stage with them and declined to give him too much assistance, with the result that when the time came for Rory to take the stage he was at a loss to know what was going on. “What key is it?” he hissed to one of the band members. “B Natural, man,” came the reply. He was edged to the spotlight and played out of his skin. “That” asserts Donal, “was the best solo I ever heard him play.”
ON the plane, we talk
some more. About the new album and the troubles surrounding it.
“It's been frustrating. People think you've been sitting at home lazing around doing nothing. It's a neurosis. You want to get out in the fight, but it had to be right — records are there forever. It had seemed the right thing to do, to go to the scene of the crime, America, to record the album. It was the right studio, the right place, the right producer, but there was something not quite right in the end. It was hard, but I'm glad I did it again.
“When I had done it again, I knew I was right, it was so much more urgent. It's not me being a prima donna, I don't have standards that are pie in the sky, I just wanted an album that was clean and efficient. And I don't think I'm the type of artist you can take and reshape all that much. You can't give Rory Gallagher the Johnny X production sound. I don t like albums that get the standard LA strings and LA brass. This album has a rhythmic fist to it, it kicks. It's funky and it makes its point. It's an Independent album.”
He has enough faith in the album and the strength of the “more open-sounding” new band to talk optimistically of a new lease of life and a major impact in the States — though he's adamant that he has no wish to conquer the States by directing all his energies there and sacrificing his European following.
Acclaim and media attention in themselves hold no appeal: “I don't want to be the next Frampton.” he says.
We talk, too, of Ireland and politics in music. He naturally feels deeply about the country, as that 1972 concert showed, but has never made political comment in his music.
“I'm just a musician and most Irish people understand that. I don't think making extreme comments about the situation will help. I spent a lot of time in Belfast with Taste, and I suppose there were one or two question marks deep down about playing there — something could happen through being in the wrong street at the wrong time — but it's been great whenever I've played there.
‘Politics and show business sometimes work. Rock Against Racism is okay. Lennon came up with some interesting angles, and Woody Guthrie could express it through songs. But a lot of times the music suffers.”
“All these bands who're supposed to be against the system and everything, and then you see them, all trooping on to Top Of The Pops, posing for two-and-a-half minutes. I don't actually think their attitudes differ all that much from mine. What leaves me cold is the spitting — that's taking audience contact a bit far. It's not even new — all that was going on in Van Morrison’s day in Belfast.
He actually saw the Sex Pistols on their final gig at San Francisco Winterland. “An interesting night,” is his most positive comment about it. “It was funny, the audience just didn't know how to react. They were all Grateful Dead fans and boogie fans, and I was expecting something different musically. But it was just like a rough-and-ready Who.”
Yet his main vitriol is reserved for disco — “machine music and proud of it is the attitude” — which is abhorrent to his principles of audience contact, and a sense of values that have no place for uniformity and the growing domination of mechanics.
He talks scathingly of the “computerised world” and speaks urgently of “getting rid of bingo and disco”. And warmly of the traditional music still played informally in pubs in Ireland, “the one natural honest thing we've got left,”
Such philosophy sees us through as we come hurtling into Heathrow, and we both hold our breath. “I think,” says Rory finally as we scream to a halt, “I’ll have a few jars tonight.”
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