An Irishman in Paris!
by Hervé Muller
Rory Gallagher, this child from Cork, succeeded with little fanfare in mapping out his road towards success. Always the anti-star, dressed up in the same plaid shirt, toting the same peeling guitar. And God bless him, always performing the same sticky blues-rock, with plenty of joy.
He’s the anti-star. Without pretension or glitter, without arrogance or ostentation, he is reserved and timid, of such discretion that it nears self-effacement. His hair today is nearly short, as he wears his eternal jeans and one of his never-ending plaid shirts. He is not the type that we’ll be seeing including lyric sheets on double or triple album sleeves anytime in the near future, neither does he claim to give his albums any philosophical significance, nor would he dedicate them to any guru. In fact, he doesn’t package his music with any discourse: he plays it, and it suffices on its own. Because when Rory Gallagher, this little Irishman, so gentle and natural, is on stage with his guitar in hand, he extricates the ardor of a great rocker. This is what struck the fans at the Olympia straight in the face, right from the opening chords of Messin’ with the Kid: “What’s this I hear that’s goin’ all around town…”
A hard-working band
With a not-quite-awake-yet air about him, Rory comes to greet me in the hotel room where I’ve been waiting for him. He tells me that, the night before, he and his band were playing in Holland and only recently arrived at their hotel, late during the night.
They are –what is commonly referred to in England as– a hard-working band. In as far as his reputation and his success are concerned, Gallagher attributes them to no grand spectacle-like promotion, to no supersession-type albums or fanfare or to any advertising blitz. He simply tours incessantly, first with Taste, then under his name. He has played throughout the United Kingdom, and it’s his on-stage reputation that garnered him, a consistently expanding fan-base over there, a fan-base who, after having seen him perform on stage, turned to purchasing his recordings. And it is a testimony to that feat that Taste baptized its second LP, On the Boards. And therefore, it’s only fair that the album that indelibly marked Rory’s discography was his Live in Europe LP.
Gallagher never ceased to tour indefatigably. This success was followed through in the United States, where he toured several times without brouhaha, each tour imposing a slightly stronger presence than the last.
“For the first tour over there, back in ’71, we were at the bottom of the bill. This time around, we were second on the bill for the bigger concerts, and the next time, we’ll be the headliners… We played with people like Freddie King and John Hammond. For me, Hammond is one of the best bluesmen around, and he’s a swell guy. We jammed together back at his place… On the other hand, I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to see Doc Watson…”
Finally Rory decided to do in France what he had done in Great Britain and in the United States: a tour is scheduled for March. And I doubt he’ll ever consider denouncing this errant musical lifestyle, which is often back-breaking and for the most part, has very little in common with the general public’s perception of glory. The last time that I saw Rory was in an airport…
Breakfast, a restaurant. It’s essential to make the waiter understand that Rory needs a coffee to begin with, then a beer to continue. Many more beers will follow, he isn’t an Irishman for nothing… We order Guiness, Murphy, those thick, brown beers from over there, products which we consumed copiously during the tour of his country, a tour during which time I accompanied the band.
“We’ll be back in Ireland around Christmas for a tour that will be the pretext for the recording of a new live album, an album on which we’ll preserve all of the audience’s reactions. I think you remember to what extent the Irish public unleashes itself during my concerts! We’ll play, amongst other places, Cork, my hometown, and of course Dublin. But, in that city, we won’t be playing the largest boxing arena: after what happened last time, they don’t want to see us anymore!
“And of course, this time, we count on playing Belfast. Last year, the situation was such that the scheduled show had to be cancelled, but this time I think that it could be held. It’s dear to my heart…”
His nationality in itself forces Rory to be regularly submitted to questions on his attitude towards the situation in Northern Ireland. He takes an equivocal position on what he seems to consider a rather personal affair. He never seriously considered, like Lennon and many others, to write a song on this theme. Even though, playing over there is so dear to his heart, he remains lucid concerning his role as a musician. “We can only bring to the people what the music brings”, he responds.
The truck, with the gear and the roadies, hasn’t arrived in Paris yet, but Rory isn’t worried. It’s his own brother that takes care of it all, with the help of two trusty Irishmen, and, as always, everything will be in place on time.
That’s also part of his personality. He knows what has to be done, and does it simply, with honesty and efficiency. On and off-stage, he keeps the situation under control and we can be sure that the band will always be there when they need to be there… No flip-flops to worry about from this well-adjusted, lucid, Irish head. And he doesn’t need a De Fries for manager, or a Don Nix to produce him, he manages quite well on his own.
The discussion goes back in time. The Marquee in ’68. On stage, the very first version of Taste: a more nervous Gallagher, with a thick head of black hair that covers his face and falls back onto his guitar, and behind him, a rhythm section with the weight of lead (Eric Kitteringham and Norman Domery). They play Rock Me Baby as Rory vocalizes in harmony with his guitar… “It was a very heavy group”, he comments on that day. He recorded one single (on Major Minor), and then the bass player and the drummer were replaced by Richard McCracken and John Wilson. New souvenirs from the marquee: the group becomes more cohesive, if not in finesse, and this time, he’s on the top of the bill. The first Taste opened up for everyone, more specifically John Mayall.
“Mayall…Did you hear the album that he recorded with Don Nix as producer, Ten Years are Gone? It’s really good. You know, John is a really sympathetic fellow, despite that egocentric side for which he has been often reveled. And, once upon a time, he really was the founder of the blues in England…”
It was during this famous “blues boom” from 1967-68 that Taste first evolved. Following the Bluesbreakers, a virtual breeding-ground of bands playing 12-bar blues was launched. Some (musicians) aligned themselves with former Mayall musicians, such as Peter Green, that fabulous guitarist…
“It would appear that Pete has finally decided to come back to music. He signed a contract with Warner Bros, for which he has to record two albums per year: it would astonish me if he could respect such a rhythm! But there’s still serious talk about him going back to Fleetwood Mac. The band just split up from its guitarist, Bob Weston.”
Starting with the blues
“They say that I’ve drifted from the blues, starting with the album Blueprint, but I believe that I was never a prisoner of the 12-bar structure. For me, the blues is a much larger reality that covers the gamut from Leadbelly to Doc Watson…”
In the latter’s style, on-stage, Rory occasionally interprets a very lovely version of the old traditional folksong, The Cuckoo, which I would love for him to record one day. It’s not out of the question, he promises me. The mark left by traditional country and American folk music on Gallagher is very profound, he also displays fond admiration for Woody Guthrie? And Irish folklore then?
“I’ve been very marked by music from my homeland, and I believe that it can be felt in what I do. There is a certain musical approach to my playing that is typically Irish and is clearly found in my style. On the other hand, I can’t envision recording an old Irish song: it would sound forced. Yet I know many of them, and it happens to me quite often that I’ll sing some of them, usually amongst friends, at the pub for example. That’s why those songs are written!”
Olympia, Sweet Olympia
In the room at the Olympia, the excitement in the air is at its’ zenith. The fans have been well warmed-up with the solid, but insignificant hard rock of Traider, as Rory takes the stage, greeted by an enthusiastic clamor.
Messin’ With the Kid, then Cradle Rock. His attitude between the songs may be a bit awkward, and his on-stage presence is nothing special, but he never forgets his audience. A tare?
His music is much like his image: direct and simple. It’s rock music, for which the impact is very visceral, ostentatious-free, natural, and it’s felt as such by that evening’s audience. Apparently, there are still quite a few people (in Paris) that are sensible to such an on-stage simplicity, a simplicity for which I’m convinced, doesn’t prevent them from being taken as well by Blue Öyster Cult or Bowie. But, at least, Gallagher is sheltered from snobbism…
This public, in any case, is probably the best audience that I’ve ever seen at the Olympia. The vibrations remain consistently good, and when Rory goes to get his acoustic guitar, he’s greeted by enthusiastic screams.
He plays Pistol Slapper Blues, but for this piece, and for several to follow, he now uses a National Steel guitar, instead of his Martin acoustic. It’s a recent acquisition from his latest sojourn to the States, and it creates a new impact on the old chestnuts from his repertoire.
Later, he’ll take out his acoustic guitar, and later, more importantly, (he’ll take out) his famous mandolin for the no less fabulous rendition of Going to My Home Town, which nearly brought the full-house at the Olympia to a boil.
But Gallagher, isn’t Rory alone…
From behind his drum set, Rod de’Ath beats his kit like a beautiful devil, his long hair flowing on his drums. His playing is a lot dryer than former drummer Wilgar Campbell, altering significantly the sound of the band.
“Rod’s playing is a lot harder and more direct. Wilgar played with more suppleness and would bring more flourish to his rhythm. Rod is more of a rocker. He’s just as good but plays with a different style. For Wilgar, it was too difficult for him to continue touring with such intensity, he’s a father and couldn’t stand being away from his wife and kids so often.”
When I followed the band throughout Ireland in ’72, Rod was there, but was only temporarily replacing an ailing Wilgar at the time. Today, here he is, a full-fledged member of the band, and he even brought with him the keyboardist from The Killing Floor, the band with which he was previously, laboriously trying to survive. Already at the time, I was sold on the merits of Lou Martin. And the rest of The Killing Floor? “I don’t know what became of them”, he answers, without much concern. He’s certainly become more self-assured, this little Rod, but of course it was the arrival of Martin that most radically modified the sound of the former trio. “His presence opens the door for larger possibilities. He’s now only a pianist not a keyboard man. He occasionally plays the organ… but not on stage. For the time being, I’m the one that still writes all of the material, but he may start composing too –less the music than the lyrics, but I don’t know… No, nobody else but me will sing.”
Which is a little sad, because we wouldn’t mind occasionally hearing some harmony vocals…
That having been said, the sound of the band is incontestably richer, courtesy of the piano, and Rory no longer bears the sole burden of modifying the harmonics, permitting him more liberty in his performance.
To begin with, he practices the rhythm fairly intensively, in as much as allowing a Lou Martin full of verve the possibility of expressing himself as well. And it’s in his rhythmic styling that we discover to which point Rory is a rocker.
Then, and mostly, he allows himself to explore sound with a verve for which he wasn’t known prior, but yet again, he has always had the desire for musical exploration (didn’t he play sax on On the Boards?). He plays under the bridge, uses his bottleneck to obtain particular sound effects, etc… Yet he never abuses these artifices, we feel that he has a perfect control of them and only adventures with these tricks circumspectly. This promises even more interesting things to come, since there are quite a few domains (feedback, wah-wah, etc.) with which Rory has yet to explore –not because of a lack of interest, but rather because his musical gait is always gradual and coherent, one thing after another.
Already, Rory’s style has diversified itself in an agreeable and unexpected fashion: it ranges from the fluidity of country (it even evokes George Harrison at times) to the staccato rhythms of R & B.
And to tie it all together, there is the steadfast bass work of Gerry McAvoy, in which we can almost feel his thick Irish accent… In general, it appeared to me that the band played louder than before, which according to Rory, was a habit he probably, unconsciously acquired while playing in large American music halls.
The pieces they interpreted were a mix of recent numbers and old favorites from Gallagher’s repertoire such as I Could’ve Had Religion and In Your Home Town, in which he improvised on the theme of I’m Back in Paris to the great joy of a (Parisian) public in full state of delirium.
The Olympia, swinging as it did in that fashion, has rarely happened to him to this extent… Rory goes back stage, trickling with sweat, and asks: “Was it good, did it please you?” But already the hall beckons him again…
It’s already late at night, and we find ourselves at Malibu, the restaurant where all the rock ‘n’ roll wreckage from the Parisian concerts of the night fall through these days. Not that we eat better there than elsewhere, not that the décor is particularly attractive, but such is the inertia of show-biz… The whole band is there, Rory’s brother, the Polydor crew and a few groupies, to Gerry’s great satisfaction, as he, as always, appears to be the only one attracted to them. Rod orders a glass of milk, to regain his form, before passing on to wine and beer. We shall eat, drink and make small talk before returning to the hotel in the glacial dawn of this hibernal Paris… An after-concert evening, no emptier than the next, for a band on the road.
Tonight, Rory plays in Brussels.
This article was taken from Deuce Quarterly #39 originally from the French magazine, Rock & Folk
published in 1974.
Translated by Marc Giguère in Winnipeg on August 31, 2002.
Thanks to John Wainwright for sending the article
background is a donman capture from IT74
reformatted by roryfan.
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