A Rap On The
Pix By Colm
that I’m excited! When I collected my first ever pay packet
back in ‘74, I went straight out and flogged it on the complete
Rory Gallagher back catalogue and a couple of
Taste albums to boot! For the next week, I remember, I was hungry,
but very very happy!
has always declined to become involved in the excesses that often
seem to prevail in the rock ‘n’ roll market place. In his music,
and his public persona, he has steadfastly refused to make
concessions of any kind in the direction of either commerciality
or of fashion. He has remained his own man, doing his own
thing, doing it well, and being successful. And while other (often
less worthy and exalted) musicians have cut themselves off from their
followers – isolating themselves in an aloof cocoon of bodyguards
and hangers on Gallagher has always remained
approachable, familiar, touchable.
me, Rory has
always seemed to be the antithesis of the Star Symbol for this
reason, paradoxically, he has always been a hero of mine.
Yeah! You could
say that I’m excited. To see Gallagher playing live is always a
thrill in itself, but on this jaunt I’ll catch the final two gigs
of his 1981 tour of British universities, tonight at Birmingham
University, and tomorrow at Brunei in Uxbridge, London – and also
meet and talk to Rory. In addition, it’s my first overseas
assignment for The World’s Most Fortnightly Rock Paper and it will
also be my first time to fly in an aeroplane. To mark the occasion,
a colony of butterflies have organized an aeronautics display in the
pit of my stomach!
half an hour to lift off.
Later. Birmingham University:
a venerable, rambling building, with
huge, oaken doors, stained glass windows, mountainous staircases
and vast mazes of dimly lit corridors with
machines that never work! It’s the kind of building in which you
walk half a mile to find the toilet, only to discover when you get
there that it’s about twenty feet from where you started out!
his dressing room when we arrive signing autographs for a couple of
is engagingly scruffy, looking marginally more like an unmade
bed than I do. He’s wearing jeans and a T-shirt; his hair is
uncombed, his face unshaven. He seems slightly heavier than before,
his face is fuller. Apart from this he has changed little since
first I saw him, back in his Taste days.
suggestion, together with his brother and manager, Donal, we adjourn
to a nearby watering hole for a drink.
in the Gun Barrel, for that is the hostelry’s handle,
we talk about Irish bands – De Dannan, U2, Bagatelle, The Bogey
Boys – and it transpires that Rory’s as up-to-date on what’s
happening as I am.
Moving Hearts a lot, but thinks they’re beginning to be hounded for
their political opinions. He defends their right to hold such
beliefs and to state them in their music without constantly having to
justify themselves. Nobody, he points out, questions the
right of The Clash to state what are often much more superficial and
less passionately held viewpoints.
now pre gig
tension is mounting. Back in the dressing room, there’s a guy who
writes for the college magazine, who would like to interview Rory. His
name is Damien. He’s from Omagh, a definite plus! He’s
only heard of Taste from his father - a slight minus!
being interviewed, however, and Damien proceeds to interrogate him
about the lack of ‘Irishness’ in his material. Gallagher is
cautious, and also, I suspect, slightly hurt by the tone of the
knows where I’m from,” he declares. “And I’m proud of
it, but what are you supposed to do to prove it?”
fact, as it
becomes abundantly clear to me as the weekend progresses, any
criticism of Rory in the matter of consciousness of his Irish
identity is manifestly undeserved. Among the most abiding memories
of the trip is the way he would talk animatedly and knowledgably
about Ireland, about the political situation; about, for
instance, the performance of the Coalition or the lack of it;
about his disappointment with the seemingly unconditional support
which has been given it by the “independent” deputies
especially by Dr. Noel Browne, of whom Rory is a long time
was just trying to hinge on this business of writing the great epic
Irish rock song,” Rory says of his interviewer afterwards.
wonder, have a definite stance towards politics, and if so, does
he think it should manifest itself in his music?
about political parties or politicians generally,” he says. “I
hate the whole system and all the rest of it. But that attitude
gives you the great cop out. So that’s one side of the coin!
hand, if you have a serious discussion about the way history goes,
you tend to say, well, certain people were not as bad as certain
other people! Put it this way: I’m interested in modern
history, so therefore I’m interested in modern politics; but I
also know the baloney, and the crockery, and the jive and the crap
that goes on.”
think his music should reflect this view?
to say. Most rock ‘n’ roll music is pretty apolitical. I dunno,
I just do what I do. I’m not into proclamations!!”
much for the
politics, on to the poetry, the gig! Normally, I would say, a
staid, almost gloomy environment, tonight the university hall is
stuffed to its ancient rafters. The atmosphere is electrifying.
door to go in,” said Donal Gallagher afterwards, “and five people
he was not
Rookies, have been off the stage for about twenty minutes when the
lights go down, and a mighty cheer goes up. Gerry McAvoy runs on.
Suddenly newest member Brendan O’Neill (whose recruitment
means that it’s now an all-Irish-band – he’s from Belfast)
is behind the drum kit. Last of all comes Gallagher, battered
Strat dangling, racing on hands aloft in salute.
short of incredible to think how many great songs Gallagher has
written. Apart from the as yet-unreleased material that he
performs, he has a vast repertoire of older stuff to draw from. So
much so, in fact, that while the old favourites like “Last Of The
Independents,” “Shadow Play,” Philby,” “Tattoo’d Lady,”
“Brute Force And Ignorance,” “Wayward Child” and “Bullfrog Blues”
are coming thick and fast – it’s only
afterwards that you think of all the equally good songs that he’s
actually left out.
has he lost
any of his flair for histrionics: grimacing, strutting and tearing
round the stage; or sustaining a note and tossing his plectrum six
feet in the air during “Moonchild", catching it and playing on;
or indulging in a bout of dueling guitars with Gerry McAvoy
during “Calling Card”; or stopping singing, now and then, when he
gets to a chorus, gesturing with his eyes - and the crowd comes in on
cue with the hookline!
song introductions are minimal, being confined to the occasional
“here’s a little up-tempo number, hope you enjoy this one, thank
you!” or some such understatement! There is a tremendous natural
empathy between Rory and his audience, which eliminates the need for
any explanations, introductions or other chitchat.
highlights of his shows has always been the acoustic set. Tonight is
no exception, and though unfortunately he no longer performs my
personal favourite “Too Much Alcohol,” nevertheless the two
songs featured – “Out On The Western Plain” and a Louisiana Red
song called “Ride On Red” maintain the high standard.
back on and it’s more rockers – “Philby” and a blistering
“Shadow Play” after which Rory unstraps his guitar, yells
the familiar “thanksamillion” farewell, shakes a few hands at the
front, waves goodbye and disappears.
later, he comes back (no snow rope encores here!) and launches
into “Last Of The Independents.” He disappears again, but comes
back for a thundering “Secret Agent” which explodes into
“Bullfrog Blues.” Then he waves goodbye again and is gone,
this time for good.
meet the fans time. It takes Rory the best part of an hour
to get through the long line of people stretching down the narrow
corridor leading to his dressing room. He’s in no hurry. Leisurely he
signs autographs, shakes hands, talks about guitars or
gadgets, greeting each new arrival with a friendly “howya
doin,” are ye alright!
Japanese girls standing near the dressing room. Later I’m informed
that one of them, Mitsumi, is the secretary of the Rory
Gallagher fan club. They both attend most of the band’s gigs:
“Anywhere from Tokyo to London” as Rory puts it. Each night they
bring along a little present for Rory - tonight it’s an exotic box
of chocolate biscuits.
hand has been shook, and the last album cover signed, we climb
into Donal’s Jensen and speed off through the night (do I sound
like Julie Boyd?!) in the direction of London, the scene of tomorrow
night’s gig. The plot is that I interview Rory in the car on the
way; but a few miles down the road, fate and a flat tyre
intervene, and as we discover the spare is also flat, Rory and I end
up in the nearby “Watford Gap," a late night diner,
while Donal goes off in search of a garageman to repair
that back in the old days “The Watford Gap” used to be a great
meeting place for bands in the early hours of the morning, after
gigs. Nowadays, he jokes, bands might not like to be seen here
“without their makeup!”
seemingly in the past a somewhat sleazy joint, has recently
been renovated. Rory jokes that he hopes the fact that it’s
been “Ritzed up” doesn’t mean that the eggs are less
greasy! (He needn’t have worried!) Like myself he’s a martyr for
the health foods I don't think!! He orders a big plate of
sausage, bacon, eggs, beans and chips. I do likewise (though
minus the eggs) and we sit down at one at one of the nice new tables,
to eat and to talk.
enquire how he
came across new drummer Brendan O’Neill, who replaced Ted McKenna
some months back, Ted, I understand, is now playing with Greg Lake,
as indeed is Gary Moore.
known Brendan for a couple of years,” explains Rory. “He’s
been living in London, and, in fact, he was the first drummer that
Gerry used to play with in Belfast, and he was working with this
jazz rock group called Swift, so I didn’t even know he was
into playing this kind of music, but as luck would have it we played
together and it worked out fine. He’d kind of gone through the
jazz rock thing phase, and seemingly was interested in playing …
(laughs) … whatever it is we play. I hate putting a title on
it any more!”
Devil. Brendan and Gerry, who have been traveling in another car,
arrive with Peter, the band’s road manager.
that Brendan once played with an Irish showband, The Real McCoy,
and this brings forth a store of showband stories, which we
swap happily for half an hour. All of them unfortunately are
unprintable due to the laws of libel! Sorry!
conversation prompts me to ask Rory later if there was ever a time
when he could have been sucked in irreversibly into the showband
trap. (He did, after all, spend a couple of years playing with the
Impact Showband at home in Cork, while he was still at school.)
really. I was extremely determined to get out, because after playing
Reeves’ numbers secula seculorum, you’d (shakes head)…naw!!
it this way,” he adds. “Mathematically it’s possible I
could’ve ended up playing in a showband, but knowing myself it
wouldn’t have happened. I had my fill of them up to here. When I
left the showbands for good, I said ‘that’s it!’ No Way!!
there really about two years, but in that two years I got around the
country, and did the Lent tour of England a couple of times. (Note
for English readers: the Lent tour was a traditional annual part of
Irish showbands life. The dance halls were closed during the six
week’s preceding Easter, a “penance”, you see, which was
strictly enforced by the Catholic hierarchy – and consequently the
bands had to go to England for the duration in order to make a
I was in
Spain once too, so it was an experience and I was stuck in school, so
I couldn’t complain!
“It was still
a thrill to actually plug into an AC 30 Vox amp, y’know (laughs). It’s
only when you start getting more serious about the music you
want to play and don’t want to play, y’know. You don’t want to
be going around doing covers of ‘Hucklebuck’ or covers of
Jim Reeves, or covers of anything, really!
showbands and bad ones of course. You had a good brass section
with The Plattermen, good singers with The Freshmen, or a
certain band would be terrible, but the sax player or the
guitar player would be great. You’d always get that in
I was in, I mean I tried to push them into doin’ as much Chuck
Berry or R ‘n’ B ish kind of things as possible. We used to
do things like ‘Slow Down,’ ‘Nadine,’ ‘Johnny B. Goode,’
all those sort of things. So that would keep me relatively happy. But
then we’d still have to do the stuff in between, a couple
of pop ones, a couple of country ones, y’know.
there’s a certain amount of crack in the showbands. There’s an
amazing amount of fun that goes on and carry on. But if
you’re playing five hours a night and half the time you’re just
plonking away, it gets claustrophobic! And if the other
musicians don’t relate to the sort of music you’re fond of its
to say that you can be too high ‘n’ mighty. I mean the
showband players have every right to work in a band like that, and
they’re happy doin’ it. And you can be very cynical about it but
by the same token, you have to give them credit. They’re playing
music – they’re playing dance music, and they’re entertaining
people, and I’m the first one to knock them for six but y’know,
who am I to dictate?
yourself whether you want to go off and starve in Hamburg, or starve
in London for a while, and wait for a break that is a long time
coming. That's the way it goes!”
University, Uxbridge, the scene of Saturday night’s gig
is a fairly modern complex (or at least what I saw of it was) on
the outskirts of London, in fact it’s just a plectrum’s
throw away from Heathrow Airport.
the night is marred straight away by an instance of bureaucracy gone
wild. Because they’ve got a bee in their bonnet about some
previous visiting act doing damage to the dressing rooms, the college
authorities are refusing to allow the band to have the use of
this facility. As a result, Rory, Gerry and Brendan must change in
of all places - a squash court!
and I sit down before the gig to conduct, as he puts it, the “meat
and potatoes” of the interview, ensconced in two armchairs
placed by a Super Ser in the centre of the court, and dwarfed by
the sheer vastness of the environment (not to mention frozen), we
could be two forlorn characters plucked straight out of some fanciful
Beckett scenario, bent on some surreal existentialist spree!
we’re bent over a tape-recorder, and what follows is a veritable
valley of questions and answers.
he reveals, is to be called “Jinx.”
we’ve got it recorded, it just needs mixing. It was supposed to
have been released in late autumn, but we were too late in
finishing it. And then the tour came up, so trying to rush it out
for Christmas, type of thing, would’ve been silly, because it’d
just get lost in the shuffle, and you mightn’t even have done it
properly, y’know. So this way is better!”
number of the songs last night, the stomping ‘Double Vision’,
the bluesy ‘Ride On Red’, to name but two, I can vouch for
their quality, but what about the other songs which have not, as yet,
been assimilated into the set?
see. There’s a song, called ‘Loose Talk’ which we haven’t
done on stage. There’s a song, called ‘Signals’, which you
haven’t heard it’s a spacey, kinda fast one.
song ‘Jinxed’ itself, which is quite slow kind of Latin
blues type of feel to it. It has a kind of Latin American beat,
but it’s actually a blues number. It’s quite interesting y’know,
with tom toms and stuff, and it’s got a couple of saxes on it
as well... it’s got quite a spooky atmosphere, that one!
song we’ve been doing called ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’, a
very fast Eddie Cochran sort of thing, not quite rockabilly, but a
very fast sort of driving one. And then there’s ‘Easy Come, Easy
Go’ which is a kind of a minor … I’d call it a ballad, really,
but it’s a blues ballad something in the vein of ‘A
Million Miles Away’. That type of stuff!”
involve mixing the album and hitting the road again in the New Year.
There’ll be continental gigs, some in Britain to coincide with the
release of the album and in Ireland around Easter, if current
projections are met.
year, our main aim is to try to get back to the States, and be a bit
more active there,” he adds.
obviously has lost none of his commitment to touring, in fact,
he spends on average, between six and eight months on the road each
year. In the past twelve months, for instance, the band has visited
Australia, New Zealand and France, and also played two dates in
Greece, one an open air gig in Athens, the second
indoors at Salonika.
Greece - what
with the repressive junta regime that existed there up to the recent
election, has never exactly been on the beaten track as
far as touring rock bands are concerned (the last band to perform
there were The Rolling Stones... in 1967!!), one might have
expected some enthusiasm. In fact, at the Athens gig, there was a
full scale riot!
fifteen thousand people,” explains Rory, “and that’s serious!
And I said ‘well, they must be kidding!!’ I didn’t realize that
you could have that amount, but as it turned out, there was twice
that many, or thereabouts, but half of them were outside, and
either they supposedly gate crashed, or else the police
over reacted because the audience were all up on their feet.
great gig really if I say so myself and, all of a
sudden, the police started getting a little heavy with the audience,
things started getting a little bit hard, y’know. We were just
playin’ away it really only all happened after the encore. The crowd
were grand, but y’see they don’t have all that many big
shows like that, and I suppose the police were nervous. There was
the election coming up, as well, in two weeks or something, so I
think they used the concert as an example to show how they could keep
control of a crowd, or something like that!
in a situation like that is: if you get too much of the
approach towards a couple of fans, it’s seen, and it goes through
the auditorium or the arena very fast. Naturally enough, when the
word gets out, it gets very nasty, and if you’ve got guys there
with riot gear on, and stuff like that, it makes matters seem worse.
hurt (300, in fact), I dunno, I only heard the reports afterwards. A
couple of the police were hurt, and quite a few of the audience.
it home somehow or other, but I think they burned down a few cafes on
the way!! But that’s not in my fault!”
repercussions for the band?
move lightly on our feet, because there was a hint that I might
be held as some sort of a trouble maker. They were talking of
putting off the show in Salonika, after Athens, but that went of
fairly well, there was no problem.”
he go back
yeah. Sure. I wouldn’t go back if the junta were back in power, but
I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”
he be let
Socialists actually won the election out there, so I think it’ll be
all right. I think it was just a nervous situation, y’know.”
direction: does he listen much to current music?
all the time! I could reasonably claim to be fairly aware of all
kinds of music. I can’t say I’m all that switched on by a
lot of recent stuff, but if I’m going to criticize something, I
like to actually know what I’m talking about!”
anything at all recently, that he particularly liked?
I’m thinking too hard so obviously there hasn’t been
anything. I like the Stray Cats, I liked their first album – I’m
not that daft about the second one though. Costello I like a lot,
but I don’t regard him as being that new at this point.”
did he feel
about Costello’s recent foray into the world of country music?
country fan myself, but not of the sweeter stuff. I like Johnny
Paycheck and Waylon Jennings, and I thought he was gonna do something
like that, but in fact he went for the sweet stuff, the strings
and voices. And the producer, Billy Sherrill, even though that
TV programme (recent ITV documentary about the making of Costello’s
album in Nashville - shown as part of the “South Bank Show”
series) gave the impression that he was into orchestrations and all
that sort of thing, on the other records he just doesn’t have
all that stuff!
it was a worthwhile project –you’d wonder though whether he’d
have got a better result by just goin’ into a studio with Nick Lowe
and a steel player, and just goin’ for more of a honky tonk
does he listen to?
particular week, I listen to … I could be listening to rhythm ‘n’
blues tonight, and tomorrow I could be listening to fairly
contemporary stuff. I used to listen to a lot of jazz, but not
so much any more.
music that sounds fairly human, I suppose that’s a corny way
of putting it. But I’m not keen on – I’m not against
synthesizers, but y’know the current wave of bands, I’m not
keen on them, the New Romantics, and stuff like that, it
doesn’t appeal to me! I tend to still have lot of respect for the
more traditional names like Dylan and the Stones and people like
he have an
ideal rock ‘n’ roll person?
Keith Richard, might be the obvious modern day, ultimate rock
‘n’ roll figure or Chuck Berry, I imagine, or Jerry Lee. There’s loads
of them y’see (laughs) but I don’t really believe
in, this thing of making…”
personally strangle that guy (Albert Goldman) who’s written that
new book. I haven’t read it all, but I read the extracts in
Rolling Stone. He couldn’t have written that book if Elvis was
still alive, because of the laws of libel the dead can’t
come back and sue! Y’know? Hopefully though, Elvis will haunt him
yet with a bit of luck!!
above having their lives reviewed and written about, and so on,
but y’know, how can you sit down and say something like ‘as Elvis
lay on his bed, he thought to himself… Or, as Elvis said to himself
as he walked onto the Vegas stage for the last time’. That’s
Gillet had written it, or Greil Marcus, or one of those fellows,
somebody who likes rock ‘n’ roll, but this guy actually
likes Benny Goodman. He was on TV recently, being interviewed, and
he said that Elvis was only basically a good copyist of demo discs
and he just wrote him off! And that’s not on! I’d be surprised
if he even has an album at home. I mean that’s where I’d draw
the line. If Elvis did good things or bad things – well everyone
has gotta answer for themselves, but you must remember that Elvis had
to live in a very… there wasn't much allowance. It was a very
strict society. Keith Richard can get away with almost anything now,
or Jagger or any of these people. Society is going that way now, and
that's fine! But people expected Elvis to be perfect all of the
much has been made of turning rock ‘n’ roll figures into some
sort of deities, of elevating them too much. Everyone likes praise,
and everyone likes to see certain artists admired y’know, or held
in esteem. But if it’s taken too far I think it gets a bit
lopsided, particularly if you know one or two of them, if
that’s not a prim thing to say and you know they’re only human,
and they can only do a certain job.”
this why Rory
has always ensured that he remained approachable? Or does he think
about it at all?
really. I mean I don’t see myself as approachable all of the time. But
I just try to keep a wee bit of… I try to keep my feet
somewhat on the ground. I suppose I – I’m getting into
analyzing myself now (laughs) which I don’t really like, but
I mean, I have avoided certain trappings of the thing because I think
they ruin rock ‘n’ roll or whatever we play. They mess
people’s heads up, and it’s a hard enough business as it is! I
like to keep a certain amount of control of what I do, and you’ve
to make sacrifices for that you have to cut down your stardom
(grimaces) ambitions. At least this way you can attempt to make
fairly decent music - make decent albums, and play for the fun of it
without getting too carried away!”
gig goes off well. There is marginally more room to move than the
night before, but as the venue is at least twice the size of the
Birmingham one, there is probably in fact a larger attendance.
Donal, Pasquale (who handles the band’s continental promotions) and
I head into town to eat, and proceed to assault our respective brains
with consecutive bottles of Carlsberg Special and sundry other
indeed I was many times throughout the last couple of days, by the
wide range of Rory’s interests. For perhaps four or five hours he
talks about everything under the sun - music, venues, movies, tennis,
politics, Elvis, religion, spies and music. And they’re just the
things I can remember!
Donal drops me back to my hotel, where I should be able to grab about
twenty minutes sleep before catching my early morning flight.
suitcase, I reflect on what a special kind of person Rory
Gallagher is: what an amiable, interesting companion and what a
down to earth human being. And what a superb musician as
it dawns on
me again just how well that first pay packet was spent.
The Hot Press
– Dec 18th 1981 Vol. 5 No. 25
Brenda O'Brien for sharing and typing this article