Life with last year’s model
Carol Clerk gets happy with Rory Gallagher.
Pix: Barry Plummer

THEY were in Manchester.  It was 8:30 in the morning, and the hotel was quiet.  The Rory Gallagher Band and their crew were peacefully sleeping off a heavy night.

mm91281a.jpgThe low rumble of noise grew louder.  The crunch of workmen’s boots filled the corridor.  And then all hell broke loose.

Crashing hammers and screaming drills woke up every living soul on that floor.  Rory jerked open his eyes to find a drill boring through the wall of his room, inches above his head.

Donal Gallagher, Rory’s brother and manager, sprung out of bed and into action.  He rang for the manager; asked the workmen to stop; rang the manager again, pleaded with the men.

So he resorted to a last desperate course of action.  He searched his bin for the remains of the previous night’s Kentucky Fried Chicken.  And he pelted the workmen.  The workmen charged at him with their drills.  And then the police came.

“They were going to charge me with assaulting the workers with bits of chicken!” he said, still incredulous, as he poured another drink, now safely ensconced in the bar of a hotel in Newcastle. The booze flowed as fast as the anecdotes.

Outside, the night sky was beginning to lighten, the fog steadily lifting from its traditional position on the Tyne to make way for a clear morning view of the river.  You could’ve heard the first few early birds scaring the life out of the worms if it hadn’t been for the clinking of glasses and the banter of voices within.  When the Rory Gallagher clan have a drink, they have a drink.  And this one had been going on for hours.

There was Rory, engrossed in the conversations of the road crew.  And drummer Brendan O’Neill, looking forward to his first major gig with the band at their imminent festival appearance.  Bassist Gerry McAvoy was entertaining a party of relatives, apparently recovering from the indignity of his earlier eviction from a Newcastle night club.  And the beat went on …

“ROCK On The Tyne” was to be Rory’s first British appearance in a long while aside from a small surprisemm91281b.jpg warm-up gig at the Canning Town Bridge House the previous week.  It had gone well, the crowd responding gleefully to the intimate atmosphere and a roasting set that included a brace of new numbers scheduled for release on the next album.

The festival was a different matter altogether, conditions being necessarily more difficult in the great outdoors.  And the band was using two sax players onstage for the first time.  Rory admitted he was “jumpy.”

He needn’t have worried.  He pulled bigger crowds than Costello and Dury, the day before.  He won a more tumultuous reception than those two artists put together.  The crowd started up a “Rory” chant before Dr. Feelgood had even left the stage.  And their reaction to Gallagher swept the site in great waves of emotion that intensified as the set neared its conclusion.

A response like that for a man intentionally ignored or scorned by the media for several years is little short of a miracle.

“Any popularity I have is from gigs or records,” he’d said earlier.  “It has kept going by word of mouth.  Even the most in-vogue acts can find that after their honeymoon with the press is over, the press can turn against you, but you just have to survive that.  It’s lovely to be this year’s model, but next year you just have to keep on.

“It’s all very well to be the darling of the press and the fashion of the day, but you have to do what you feel, and    play what you feel, is best and most enjoyable for yourself.

“They’ll criticize you for not keeping up with the Joneses, but if you do try to do that, they’ll laugh at you for being the wrong man in the wrong job.  You have to hang on to whatever gives you the best kick.

“I don’t work in a very programmed fashion, and you can only expect a certain kind of success that way.  I don’t have the rock ‘n’ roll mentality, so I’ve only myself to thank or blame.  It’s not a big ‘How many times has he been on the telly this week?’ kind of popularity.  It’s a slower, longer kind of career, and in the end it seems to be better.”

So what is it about Rory Gallagher’s music that people still love?  He’s hesitant to say.

“It’s hard for me to analyze what we have and don’t have,”  he said.  “People like us because we give them a mixture.  We still have a bluesy feel and a lot of the music is improvised on the night.  There are no programmed dynamics.  It’s not a big smoke bomb show, but if you go to one of our concerts, whether it’s good or bad, it will still be spontaneous.  It won’t be like watching television.

“I’d hate to be seen as a one dimensional bash-bash band.  We rock hard, but there are ideas behind what we do, and we try to keep our songs interesting.  I don’t see myself as a guitar hero.”

In answer to allegation of guitar hero postures in last week’s review of the festival, it seems worth pointing out that any postures there are, are presented with a generous dash of humour - another important element in the Rory story.

mm91281c.jpgBut most vital of all is that feeling.  You know it.  Starts like a thump to the heart, floods the arteries, chokes the throat and squeezes the eyes.  A feeling that’s better than anything.

And Rory Gallagher’s still capable of giving you that, be it in the Bridge House pub or the Newcastle Festival grounds.  His fans know that.  That’s why they stay with him.  And that’s why they refuse to listen to the intolerant, trend-ridden, self opinionated peacocks who try to tell them that Rory Gallagher’s last year’s man.

The new material showcased at the Bridge House and the festival shows no signs of flagging on Rory’s part.   Romping rock ‘n’ roll with irresistible riffs and hooks and the fluid, intelligent guitar work of a true craftsman.

He’s been working on the songs since the start of the year; now they’re in the process of being recorded.  A new album should be out by January.

“The ideas are still coming very fresh and easily,” he said.

“Lyrics are always harder for me than the music.  “An awful lot of writers seem to think they’re the conscience of the world.  I don’t try to be a poet.  But when I’m on form, I think I can write a fairly good set of lyrics for the right sort of rock song.

“My influences still come from the R ‘n’ B and blues sources, although I do keep pretty much in touch with the new bands.  I’m not particularly interested in the synthesizer bands… its soulless stuff and disco completely went by me, but I don’t think there’s anything old fashioned in that.”

One quality that’s admirable in Rory is his lack of complacency.  “I’m not totally satisfied with things as they are for me at the moment,” he said.  “I’m looking forward to the album and to playing with this band, but I’d like more progress in America, I’d like to sell more albums and I’d like to be musically better.”

Back in the bar.  The atmosphere was more relaxed this time, the gig and the cheers of the crowd still ringing in the ears.  Bottles were emptying as fast as they were opened, and Donal was in exuberant form, singing and returning now and then to his inexhaustible supply of anecdotes.

“Listen,” he says, “Did I tell you the one about the Japanese Guinness incident…?”

From MELODY MAKER of September 12, 1981
Thanks to Brenda O'Brien for sharing & typing this article
reformatted by roryfan
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added 01/02/05