Cathal Byrne pays tribute to rock guitar legend Rory Gallagher
whose back catalogue has been re- released on CD.
Frustrated at not being able to increase the volume on his first amp as he lived above his grandparents' public house, 15- year old Rory joined a professional showband known as Fontana. The showbands played throughout the country, with stints of six or seven hours. This served to give young Rory the stamina and variety of material he employed in later times. Working from the inside out, Gallagher transformed this outfit, changed its name to Impact and pared it down to a long-haired six piece dressed in black.
from Rockpalast 1979
They played R&B and supported visiting acts such as The Everly Brothers, The Animals and The Byrds. With the arrival of Lent in Ireland each year, work for musicians became scarce as the churches were disapproving of fun and entertainment during this period of self-denial.
As a professional musician you either took the boat to England or hid for six weeks. Gallagher didn't want to keep a low profile and he was loathe to pretend to be headlining the dance halls of North London. He convinced his disciples to accompany him to the then sin capital of the world, Hamburg; 'Where the dices roll and the music flows till dawn'. When Impact reached Germany, three of his followers had fallen by the wayside, taking safer gigs in London. Rory told the infuriated club promoter that the remaining trio would entertain at the club until the arrival of the others. The owner soon forgot about the other members when he saw the reception the group got.
The metamorphosis was now complete. Gallagher realised his heart's desire. This was the blues trio which was to become Taste. Change was rapid. By 1966 the band was based in Belfast as a springboard for accessing London.
Their popularity grew and a tour of the U.S. with Blind Faith in 1969 ensured the massive success of their second LP, On the Boards. At their moment of glory , with a triumphant appearance -including five encores overshadowing the top names of the day at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival- the group split.
Setting legal hassles to one side, Rory got on with the music and returned to the studios to produce the first of a new six album deal with Polydor. By '72 Rory was voted the top instrumentalist by Melody Maker readers and by '73 was back in the top ten album charts with the third album, Live in Europe. In the States and at home, Rory was considered to be the man to carry the torch for blues and rock & roll. He was invited by his heroes Muddy Waters and Jerry Lee Lewis to play on their London Sessions albums. Other guest appearances included Albert King, Lonnie Donegan and Alexis Korner .
When news broke that The Rolling Stones had lost another good guitar player, the industry opened a book on the likely replacement. As ever the media overlooked the dark horse, Gallagher. The Stones' own first choice was the quiet, shy Strat player from Ireland. Following a number of lost recording nights (Miss You, Black & Blue) in Holland in January '73, Rory opted instead to fly to Tokyo with his band and not let fans down by canceling his own Far East tour.
By the end of the '70s Rory had become one
of the hottest tickets in the U.S, but Chrysalis failed to capitalise on
this and his radio play was sparse. Rory continued to tour the world relentlessly
but he never forgot to return regularly to the Ulster Hall in Belfast,
where the community would be united at his sell-out gigs.
Rory slowed the pace of his touring and founded his own independent label Capo in the late '80s. He always relished his time in the studio and released Defender which saw him top the independent album charts. This was to be followed by his swan song, Fresh Evidence, in 1990.
Having crammed so much into his short life, it was bound to take its toll. He had left no time for a private life and found it lonely without the camaraderie of his touring companions . Illness became Rory's partner and he died in Kings College Hospital on June 14,1995.
Appreciations poured in from everywhere in the world. These can be seen on the home page set up by Queen's University in Rory's honour. In the Paris suburb of Ris Orangis, the Mayor named the street which housed the venue of Gallagher's last French appearance after him. This gesture was quickly followed in Cork City by the naming of a central location, Rory Gallagher Place. A plaque has been placed at the site of the demolished Star Club in Hamburg, putting Rory's name alongside The Beatles and others who had brought their music to that city. Fender Instruments in California are currently producing a Rory replica Stratocaster guitar to honour the master. Rory left few statistical milestones to measure his career by as he declined to release singles, but his anti-pop star, independent approach had an enormous influence on not only rock, blues but on punk and new wave. Rory is still revered by the new generations of guitarists Johnny Marr, Slash, Noel Gallagher and Paul Rose, and was respected by all, as the man who wouldn't sellout.
Belatedly, Gallagher was given credit for his efforts by U2, Bob Geldof, Thin Lizzy , Gary Moore and Christy Moore, who wrote a song called Rory's Gone. In 1993, when The Dubliners asked to be allowed cover his song Barley & Grape Rag, Rory was so pleased he asked to play on the session with them.
Rory's musical legacy in the form of his
Capo label has been placed with international music company BMG, and his
14 mostly self-penned records have been remastered for the benefit of his
many fans throughout the globe.
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