Ridin' Down a Country Mile
by Niall Stokes

The scene in the town of Macroom the night before the gig most closely resembled something out of Fellini's Satyricon. Not Woodstock, nor any other peace'n'love charade out of a Coca Cola Ad. There were real people here, coming together in all their strangeness. No these weren't all, or by any means all, pampered kids from the UMC of the country coming down for a candy floss 'n coke afternoon stroll.

Rory Gallagher gets to the gut of a whole spectrum in audience terms. His appeal is wide. But most definitively, he gets to the gut of the kind of urban inhabitant, industrial worker and dole-queue card carrier who forms the core and kernel of the overall rock'n'roll audience.

These guys are essential. To have achieved a position of  respect in their collective book is not just a mighty achievement in the first place, but is virtually a life insurance policy in itself as well. But bring the best part of ten thousand of these into the one place at any one time, particularly around that delicate hour when public bars shut up their doors and put the drinker in the street whether he is ready or not - there's bound to be an element of tension in the air.

But the cops were handling it like all this was their natural environment. No aggro, no unnecessary nastiness, no coming the heavy. If we'd assumed that the security for Ireland's first fully fledged open-air rock festival would be shot through with a real grain of intelligence and good humour, we couldn't have anticipated a more hassle-free management of the elements. Dublin cops may have learned far too much for their own and everyone else's good from American T.V. shows, but the same don't apply to this contingent in Macroom.

The kids were strung out, in a lot of cases, after a hard days travellin. They were high on the experience of getting away from the confines and pressures of home, school, job and the conventions that apply in each and every case. And they were filled with the expec­tancy that coming into contact with so many others brings. After all, it was summer. After midnight people strolled around in T-shirts with short sleeves and slumped on the pavement to rest. The odd character carried a guitar slung over his shoulder, like a symbol of hope I'd forgotten. Identities were being created for the scene that would have neither meaning or reality in another two or three months time even.

Drifting by in a car made you feel old.

Back in the Coolcower Hotel, the final organisational threads were being put together. Back stage passes and crew iden­tifications were being passed out. The sound man was getting his briefing.
In between, humourous scenes developed as the accom­odation limits of the place were stretched with the arrival of additional personnel. Nobody minded doubling up rooms on the night. Two official personnel ended up sleeping in a bunk, one above the other. It was nearly as Felliniesque as the scene in the streets.

The word came through that the cops had agreed to bust people only in the case of ultimate necessity.
The people were here for the music and a good time and, sure a few were going to let it all hang out. But why let that spoil it? People caught with small amounts of dope were'unlikely to be arrested. Minor indiscretions wouldn't be turned into matters of major consequence.
The signature of the festival was being put onto cassette,  a fan fare from an album of trumpet favourites. 'The nearest thing I could get to the Eurovision theme tune', Donal Gallagher quipped. And the theme was to be "The Teddybears Picnic" - "That should give the heads a good laugh".  It did.

Downstairs members of the Gallagher band and entourage drank late. Visiting personages played lousy pool. It didn't matter. The weather forecast was good. The morning would bring sunshine, the afternoon is music.

By the morning the tension had seeped out of the streetscene and was replaced by a carnival atmosphere, which was highlighted by the pres­ence of a showband blaring on in the town square, in front of the Castle gates. Quite a laugh if you were in to it.

At the security check on the way into the grounds, there were moments of amusement too, as various potentially (but just potentially) dangerous implements were wrested from fans. The banter was only ninety, one guy going as far as insisting that a camping axe was a family heirloom, so he couldn 't part with it.

But it was all, apart from one flick knife, bona fide camping gear. Nobody was booked for carrying an offensive weapon. A few careless words on the part of a security man, however, would later give some of the National Press the meat for a meal on the 'Weapons' story. The facts' were totally misrepresented.

Once inside, there was a genuine feeling of relaxation. The openness of the surrounding countryside and the good weather were sufficiently calming for most people to immediately fall in the spirit of the thing. The action would take place on stage.

And make no bones about it, the music was fine. Fears that there mighten't be the necessary depth of strength in the bill were dispelled early when Nutz turned in a towering set, radiating enjoyment and drawing a great response from the audience. So, early on, they defined the spirit of the festival as Hard Rock.

It was an afternoon on which Nutz commitment on the road came to fruition. They still may not be a band of virtuosos but they pull together. And they also so obviously enjoyed themselves on stage that the spirit is infectious. The honky interplay between members of the band is a sight for sore eyes.

As for highlights, "Down on my Knees" and their metalloid version of "One more cup of Coffee" stand out. And yeah, they got an encore - the only one of the afternoon aside from Rory's. We'll be seeing 'em again.

Not to forget - Sunset, from Cork, featuring Eric Kitteringham, of the original Taste, on bass opened the show, and while hazarding nothing spectacular, they were no downer.

After Nutz came Sonny Condell with Supply, Demand and Curve in support, previewing material from Condell's latest album "Camouflage". And while Condell found some difficulty getting across to the kind of audience present, he turned in a workmanlike set, remarkably free of the gaucherie he's sometime been guilty of in the past.

Left to stand on its own merit, his material gains a new strength, Indeed there were moments during "Moondust" 'which were positively spine-tingling - when the music and the lyrics and the instruments met and fused, it was great. And I also like the opener, Down in the City. Watch out for his album.

By the time Roland came on, the strain of the particular exertions I'd been involved in were getting to me so I can't offer a complete comment. From what I did hear, and I'm remembering his surprise encore "Jumping Zebra", (Or is it dancing'?), he's a fine fingerpicker in the white folk-blues tradition. It's obvious why he and Rory mix it well together.

Finally, the Kingpin, racing on stage complet with straw hat and cowboy gear. And it's straight into "Moonshine" from "Calling Card". Screeching, bending notes - always moving, it's clear that Gallagher is out to knock 'em cold from the start.

macroompic2.jpgThe song is extended with Gallagher excelling on a series of breaks before it builds up to a final cut. The Cork Cowboy (why not?) takes final leap, legs split, before shuddering to a halt amid wages of cheers.

And if that seemed like a blistering pace to start off with, after a while the feeling was put into perspective. There are few others threading the boards who could have done so, but Gallagher maintained the heat throughout. For two and a half hours in other words. You'd have to laugh at Punks thinking they're high-energy and retiring off-stage after thirty minutes.

If there has been a significant shift in emphasis in Gallagher's playing over the last years, it's his increasingly subtle feel for jazz. Suitably, this development has been enshrined in the title track of his last album, "Calling Card". Again in Macroom, the smoother, mellower feel came through with Gallagher's melodic touches being counterparted by Lou Martin's lightly dancing keyboard fills. And underneath, Gerry McEvoy on bass and Rob deAth on drums, keeping it clean and steady, provided the perfect springboard. No messin' with these kids, either.

They rode a mighty roller coaster of sound down through "Do You Read Me", "Tattoo Lady", "Secret Agent ", the sensitive and lyrical "I Fall Apart" with its beautiful image of a cat playing with a ball of twine, till Rory took out the acoustic.

It's sheer magic what Gallagher can do, just himself, and the battered-looking National. It's always gotta be a major risk, doing away with the 'rock solid backing of the band midway through a gig and cutting the decibels by such a substantial amount, but inevitably he makes it through.

"Barley 'n' Grape" was first, like "Don't Mess With the Kid", its quintessential Gallagher, expressing themacroompic3.jpg loser's blues, the cry of defiance from the guy whose been down before and knows he'll go down again ... but whose got the guts to keep on comin back. Woman trouble, out of work and on the dole, gettin pissed as a final assertion of the right to be oneself -  ­Gallagher howls the workin man's blues like few other white men can. Through "Statesboro Blues", "Too Much Alcohol", "Western Plain" and the great, and rapturously received "Goin to My Home T0wn': They were bouncin in the Press enclosure.

A slow blues led into the home stretch as the band triumphantly pumped out "Country Mile" (lovely slide work on the Tele) , "Bullfrog Blues", (including Gerry McEvoy's showcase bass solo) and the finale "Don't Mess With the Kid". No stoppin 'em either, it was rock 'n' roll of the finest shape and hue, lifting the audience into other dimensions.

It was a festival victory, a celebration. Two and a half hours of undiluted energy and it was appreciated.
And I don't care if this final comment sounds like a rotten cliche 'cos it's true: the band gave everything they've got and dug deep to pull that little bit extra out of the hat.

It's hard to make a set in the open air intense and dramatic but they did.

High praise.

In the aftermath of the event a couple of side issues stand out. One was commented on during the course of the gig from the stage: the fact that RTE weren't there with an out­side broadcasting unit was an apt comment on the general shortsightedness prevalent there.

The lighting was laid on. The sound recording could have been taken directly from the 24-track mixer. Cameras were all that were required.

And when previously have 10,000 people (the official attendance, though there were reported to be a number of no­shows, possibly on account of the Belfield killing the previous night) gathered in a single place for a musical event in Ireland? Not worth covering, huh?

Finally, the treatment of the festival . by the National Press generally was similarly inept, apart from David Brazil's excel­lent front page Evening Press job. For him, the music was what mattered most.
And it was.

Niall Stokes

This article comes from the very first issue of Hot Press Volume 1, No.1, June 9th, 1977
Thanks to Brian Rochford for sending me a copy of the issue! More articles from this issue to follow
reformatted by roryfan

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added 2/17/08