"I'm sorry, you'll have to excuse me,” Rory announces. “I'm just having a bowl of soup and then I'm going to bed. You can go on drinking all night, but I have a tour to do.”
He's doing his boy-next-door stuff, see. The rest of the band greet this with knowing laughs and start telling each other, “Well I don't know about you but I have to get some sleep, I have a tour to do.”
A bowl of soup, six lamb chops and numerous beers later, Rory is still with us. “I always feel really hungry after playing,” he says between chews, reaching over to take another chop from Gerry McAvoy’s plate and resuming a lengthy discussion of Irish politics. He accepts a chop from me and tells us all again he's going straight to bed.
He's still sticking to that story at six a.m. This is after he's finished eating, discovered a piano in the cellar of the restaurant and hauled everyone down for a singalong taking in most of the band's considerable repertoire of Irish tearjerkers. He's also done a Maurice Chevalier song and dance routine to “Chattanooga Choo Choo" before being flung out at four and bundled shakily back to the hotel. “I'm goin’ to bed,” he insists, slurring. “I've ‘n ‘Merican tour to do.”
On to the brandy in
hotel bar. Rory’s mighty pale, but conversing knowledgeably about
films as the few of us left who think we're more sober slide even
under the table.
The Rory Gallagher Band are in Cologne, Germany to appear on the popular monthly television programme Rockpalast (Rock Palace) before zooming off to the States and undertaking the full British tour through Christmas and the New Year. Their consistently heavy touring schedule — which has taken them from Australia to Poland in recent months — has been broken up this year only by the time spent recording “Calling Card”. More care and time have gone into the album than Gallagher has usually been willing to spend, and it shows — from the strength and variety of the compositions and performance to the excellent production.
ON THE FLIGHT to Cologne, Rory expressed his satisfaction with “Calling Card” while reaffirming the attitude he's always taken, that of the hard-working, durable musician whose pleasure is in the playing and not in glorifying or intellectualising it.
“You do need that Top Fifty album in the States to ram home to people that you do mean something, but it's not worth having a hernia over. One shouldn't base one's career on obvious, written successes. It's just good to be playing.
“It's great too that I can get around to all these places, Copenhagen, Munich, Paris. It sounds naive, but still, there you are. It's better than joining the Navy, let's put it that way.
“I can't imagine why anyone would want to leave the road. As a youngster if someone had said “Look, you can play music tonight in Paris,’ I would have gone daft. The thrill is still there for me. I guess I can see why some people just go nuts, but I enjoy hotels and suitcase living.
“I'll keep on doing it as long as I can. I see people like Muddy,” (Muddy Waters, who is 61). “and it's really like the epitome for me to see some man of fifty or sixty still having that presence, and making it all sound like a 16 year-old. The youth's in the music”
Rory is deservedly well established as the people's guitar virtuoso, shunning trends and pyrotechnics, and he doesn't see anything diverting him from the direction he's taken.
“Of course, what it's going to be like in 2001,I don't know. It's never that far away. But I can't imagine people not ever wanting to hear blues and play it, no matter how disco-fied the world becomes. We might have a very supersonic 20 years, but then imagine it in the year 2001, somebody rediscovers the acoustic guitar and the blues. “You mean it all comes out of this box with just two hands."
While he could stay in his own niche forever, he's not impervious to what else is going on in music. He listens to a lot of things at home, from early rockers and, obviously, the blues greats, to Dylan, Segovia and avante-garde jazz.
“I think it's essential to remain a fan. People who have that enthusiasm and still have idols are healthy. I meet people who say nothing's happening, but it's just not true. People get lazy when their record collection’s got beyond a certain point, so they're jaded.
“After the gush of music in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, I suppose some people are bound to be a bit zonked out by it. But apart from the punk rock thing, which I'll reserve comment on at present, people are still waiting for the new Beatles: That's a waste of time. Nobody needs the new Beatles. There was one already and they were great and they've done their thing.
“There are always plenty of people around worth listening to, a lot of undiscovered people. And they keep waiting, too, for a whole new Frisco-type thing like the beads and kaftans — ‘What should we be wearing now?’ It's so unimportant. Like they pick Bruce Springsteen, a good artist, and try to make him the new saviour. It's a wonder he didn't go nuts.”
Something Gallagher does have in common with a lot of new young bands is his contempt for what he calls the “Olympic Games stage” when the music is peripheral to showbiz spectacle. But he points out that a normal-sized gig in Britain is the equivalent of a little gym show in the States, where there is no escaping big arenas. He doesn't particularly like doing them and still finds colleges and the occasional club gratifying.
“But you know I don't think about it that seriously. When you're there you judge by the gig itself and how you're playing. It's an experience to play the big places; we just try to treat them like a festival.”
AS THE PLANE descended over Germany, Rory started reminiscing about the days in the ‘60s when he took to the Hamburg clubs.
“It was so amazing. Jimi Hendrix came, Cream were there, and there were all these Gene Vincent characters still hanging around. Back home I had to play showband stuff and then when I hit Germany I could play anything I wanted, rhythm and blues, rock . . "
Gallagher is very big
in Germany, a favourite ever since the Taste workouts in Reeperbahn
and the reception he received from the small studio audience at
shook the floorboards.
“God knows what this TV show's going to be like,” he'd said. “At least it's live, warts and all.”
There weren't any real noticeable warts apart from the slight muffling always evident in a television studio and apparently rectified in the sound recording room.
Rockpalast has an interesting format, featuring one live band and dividing the show into three sections. The band in the studio does one or two numbers, followed by a few minutes of introduction from compere Albrecht Metzger on the group's development before the main set of three numbers. The second part is a special interest feature, perhaps a bit of historical rock film footage, say. The last few minutes are spent answering viewers’ queries, along the lines of “Hello friends, can you tell me where to buy the double LP ‘Beck, Bogart And Appice Live In Japan’?” Fred Dellar, they could use you, man.
Producer Peter Ruchel readily admits Rockpalast only presents artists he and the director, 25 year-old Christian Wagner, really like.
“We are not looking at the charts, it doesn't interest us. Sometimes we have even had to remind an artist's German record company that he is with them — that happened with Nils Lofgren
Since the programme started early this year the live spot has included Lofgren, Procol Harum, Frankie Miller, Ted Nugent and now Rory. Some Germans have questioned the programme's nearly total involvement with foreign acts. Ruchel’s response is: “In principle it doesn't matter to us where a group comes from, but there aren't many German groups of the quality of Rory or Nils or Frankie. They have each come from strong musical traditions and developed them.
"German traditional music has been destroyed by fascism because it was used by fascism, so it is difficult now for German groups to develop their identity.”
GALLAGHER'S IDENTITY is ecstatically embraced by the kids in the audience, despite the shaky English many of them possess. In the warm club atmosphere Gallagher builds up, the set climbs excitedly to nearly two hours in length, although the final programme will only use about twenty minutes. I can hear occasional frantic translation between friends of lines like I'm gonna be like the measles, I'm gonna be all over you,” but most of Rory’s quick, friendly chatting between numbers is greeted with laughter and applause, while his initial solo acoustic set of Leadbelly, Lightning Slim, Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Boy Fuller numbers provokes enthusiastic whoops and hollers and vigorous clapping along throughout. In his element, he lets out cat yowls and cuts crazy on slide with the guitar laid across his lap.
The band swings on in “Going To My Hometown” and tears into some of the best material from “Calling Card” with as much energy as if it were a big concert. “Calling Card” itself is taken slow and Lou Martin spinning piano runs off Rory’s famous vibrato licks. Thrashing the audience up with “Secret Agent”, Rory duckwalks as best he can on the carpeted stage and Gerry McAvoy flails at his bass like he's gonna kill it.
By “Do You Read Me” Rory looks like he's seen the Holy Grail, his face screwed up and exalted as he wrings out those spiddley-diddley top register spins. By the end, in the spirraling break of "Jackknife Beat" he's jumped off the stage and into the audience (with the cameraman desperately racing in rings around him) where he does the splits and shouts “Au wiedersein”. If that wasn't good rock television in the end, nothin’ is.
By the time it's all over the band have been in the studio for nearly nine hours since lunch, and everybody's crying for dinner. But Rory meekly agrees to do another few minutes of interview with Albrecht for a later programme. Back in the studio in his baggy old cords and battered jacket, the proverbial nice guy patience begins to wear surprisingly thin under the "How To Play Guitar In Ten Easy Lessons" questions .
“What is this guitar? It is metal?” A hunted look comes into Rory’s eyes as he explains about National steel guitars. . "
“What is this on your finger?
“Er, this is a bottleneck.”
Finally, clutching his empty stomach he actually gets a bit snappy in response to a question about his development that makes him sound like he's seventy years old. “I'm not Fred Astaire!” he protests. After a moment's reflection — possibly on the lamb chops to come — he says what, ultimately, is all he ever really needs to say.
“Whatever I may
an interview may be relevant, but it's not that relevant. I don't
myself; I just do it. Just wanting to play is the important
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