The Rory Gallagher Interview
Prose By John Waters    Pix By Colm Henry

You could say 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!

Rory Gallagher 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.

To 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!

And it’s still 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 contraceptive dispensing 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!

Gallagher is in his dressing room when we arrive signing autographs for a couple of stray fans.

His appearance 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.

At Rory’s suggestion, together with his brother and manager, Donal, we adjourn to a nearby watering hole for a drink.

Down 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.

He admires 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.

By 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!

Rory agrees to 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 question.

“Everyone knows where I’m from,” he de­clares. “And I’m proud of it, but what are you supposed to do to prove it?”

In 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 admirer.

“I think he was just trying to hinge on this business of writing the great epic Irish rock song,”hotpress28.jpg Rory says of his interviewer afterwards.

Does he, I wonder, have a definite stance to­wards politics, and if so, does he think it should manifest itself in his music?

“I'm not mad 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!

“On the other 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.”

Does he not think his music should reflect this view?

“It’s hard to say. Most rock ‘n’ roll music is pretty apolitical. I dunno, I just do what I do. I’m not into proclamations!!”

So 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.

“I opened the door to go in,” said Donal Gallagher afterwards, “and five people fell out!”

And he was not exaggerating!

Support band, The 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.

From here on, it’s Blitzville!

It is nothing 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.

Nor 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!

His 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.

One of the 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.

The others come 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.

A thousand years 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.

Afterwards it’s 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!

I notice two 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.

When the last 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 the puncture.

Rory informs me 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!”

The restaurant, 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.

I 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.

“Well, I’ve 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!”

Speak of the Devil. Brendan and Gerry, who have been traveling in another car, arrive with Peter, the band’s road manager.

It transpires 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!

This 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.)

“Not really. I was extremely determined to get out, because after playing Jim Reeves’ numbers secula seculorum, you’d (shakes head)…naw!!

“Let’s put 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!!

“I was only 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 living!)

“And 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!

“You had good 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 showbands.

“But the band 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.

“Of course 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 frustrat­ing.

“That’s not 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?

“It’s up to 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!”

Brunel 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.

Unfortunately 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!

Thus, when Rory 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!

In actual fact, we’re bent over a tape-recorder, and what follows is a veritable valley of questions and answers.

His new album, he reveals, is to be called “Jinx.”

Rory: “Yeah, 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!”

Having heard a 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?

“Well, let’s 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.

“There’s the 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!

“There’s a 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!”

Immediate plans 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.

“But next year, our main aim is to try to get back to the States, and be a bit more active there,” he adds.

Gallagher 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.

As 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!

“They expected 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.

“It was a 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!

“The trouble in a situation like that is: if you get too much of the strong armed 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.

“People were 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.

“They all made it home somehow or other, but I think they burned down a few cafes on the way!! But that’s not in my fault!”

Were there any repercussions for the band?

“We had to 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.”

Would he go back there?

“Ah I would yeah. Sure. I wouldn’t go back if the junta were back in power, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”

Will he be let go back?

“Well the 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.”

Quick change of direction: does he listen much to current music?

“I'm all ears, 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!”

Has there been anything at all recently, that he particularly liked?

“Lemme see… 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.”

How did he feel about Costello’s recent foray into the world of country music?

“Well I’m a 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!

“Nevertheless 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 sound.”

What other music does he listen to?

“In any 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.

“I still like 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 that!”

Does he have an ideal rock ‘n’ roll person?

“Well I mean 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…”

What about Elvis Presley?

“Oh yeah, I’d 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!!

“No one’s 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 fict­ion!

“If Charlie 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 time, y’know!

“I think too 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.”

Is this why Rory has always ensured that he remained approachable? Or does he think about it at all?

“Ah not 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!”

Saturday night’s 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.

Afterwards Rory, 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 beverages.

I’m struck, as 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!

Much later, Donal drops me back to my hotel, where I should be able to grab about twenty minutes sleep before catching my early morning flight.

Packing a 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 well.

And it dawns on me again just how well that first pay packet was spent.

The Hot Press – Dec 18th 1981 Vol. 5 No. 25
Thanks to Brenda O'Brien for sharing and typing this article
reformatted by roryfan
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