On the Road with Rory




RORY GALLAGHER (above) with back to audience goes through his paces at the Leeds gig.  disc2With him is Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilgar Campbell on drums.  Right, Rory in action again.

You see them everywhere.  Those uniformed peak ­capped gendarmes with sergeant stripes and an air of placid bewilderment.

“Now in my day…” you can almost sense the words taking shape behind the grim posture.  He was there at Rory Gallagher’s Leeds Town Hall show, emotionally uncommitted and sitting with legs and arms crossed in defiance of the manic hysteria that had enveloped the place.

What had got into these young people?  Nice kids basically.  Prob­ably polite to their mums and dads and did their homework.  And now they were acting like a bunch of savages ‑ yelling and jumping up and down, gyrating, undulating in waves of hysteria.  If it wasn’t for the nice Town Hall Sergeant they’d probably tear this Rory Gallagher fellow apart and grind the Hall into small pieces.  Can you imagine Leeds without a Town Hall?  (“On your right, ladies and gentlemen, what used to be Leeds Town Hall until Rory Gallagher came along.”)

Rory Gallagher.  It kind of sounds like a storm coming.  Yet when you listen to “Deuce” you think, O.K. I suppose.  And when you think back to Taste, the conflict and all the direc­tions they seemed to be pulling in, you still wonder what all the fuss is about.  But it all became clearer on Friday night in Leeds and on Satur­day in Manchester.

Muddy Waters knows.  When he came over to cut the “Muddy Waters In London” album he asked for Rory, along with Mitch Mitchell, Stevie Winwood and Rick Gretch (an album we’re still waiting on).

Have you taken a close look at those old bruised guitars he uses?  A Strato­caster for straight chording and most of the sweeter sounds.  He bought it second‑hand nine years ago.  The rust­ colored bodywork has been hacked mercilessly, as if he dragged it face down along Southend beach.  The fret board is grey with fatigue and he hasn’t bothered replacing the missing bridge cover.

His Telecaster is another piece of vin­tage woodwork from Fender.  It’s of indeterminate age and character.  Again no bridge cover and the body, bleached from sweat, is the color of milky scrambled eggs.  He usually tunes it to an A or E chord for slide work.

Also in his arsenal is a handsome Mar­tin D‑35 acoustic.  Off‑stage it pro­duces the mellowest sounds imagin­able but, zounds and curses, put it through a 400 watt p.a. and you might as well be inside an oil drum.  He tried a pick‑up, but in by‑passing the wood it was no longer an acoustic guitar.

His mandolin fares better.  Imagine mandolin a la Ravioli spiced up with lashings of red pepper.  He bends over the tiny instrument, holding it in an uncompromising grip and attacks the strings ferociously.  Not quite what you might hear in those better Italian restaurants.

Gallagher typifies the rock world’s new breed of anti‑heroes.  He looks like a paper boy in his plimsolls and blue jeans and sounds like a 45‑year‑old black bluesman.

He trots onstage straight over to the voice mike, throws his arms into the air heroically and gives his audience a double‑barreled thumbs‑up sign:

“Thanks very much. Thanks for com­ing” and for the next 1 3/4 hours he doesn’t stop moving.

Gallagher encourages the sort of scenes that only a handful of artists are cap­able of ‑ artists like Bolan, Sabbath and Purple.  His stage habits are un­deniably flash, the way he leaps around machine‑gunning his side­men.  But he still relies heavily on the music.  There’s no eye‑glitter and few crotch gestures.

Born in Cork, Southern Ireland, 24 years ago, he always fancied himself as a Lonnie Donegan or Muddy Waters, being something of a loner on and off‑stage.  Only brother Don­al gets close it would seem.

He began playing ukulele when he was six.  At nine, he bought a wooden guitar and began playing skiffle for socials and in talent contests.  Three years later he lashed out 12 gns. on a solid body electric ‑ a Rosetti Solid 7.

He tried to put a band together, but since there was no beat scene in Southern Ireland ‑ no audience or crowd ‑ he spent the next three years rehearsing.  Then came an offer from the Impact Show Band and dates as far a field as England, Germany and Spain, mostly ballrooms and army bases.  It was a sort of pub band with brass and Rory was the token young rebel.  The resident Chuck Berry.

When he returned to Ireland in 1966 the beat scene had taken shape.  He hired Eric Kitteringham on bass and Norman Damery on drums and formed the first Taste.

It was mostly rock blues in the Berry idiom, plus some original material.  They played all over Ireland and again in England and Germany but folded after two years over what is politely called “musical differences”.

“We didn’t click anymore,” says Rory.  Then came Taste Mark I I with John Wilson and Richard McCracken, two highly accomplished musicians who went on to form Stud.

It was a hard working rock and blues band with a knack of making instant contact with audiences.  Everything seemed to come to a head at the Isle of Wight ‘70 Festival.  The audience response staggered most observers who hadn’t acknowledged Gallagher or Taste as any sort of force.

Was Rory surprised by the reaction?

“Not really. We’d been used to that sort of thing on a smaller scale.  It just happened to be the first time we were announced as a success.”

There were a number of reasons for Taste souring.  It’s said that Rory, browsing through the accounts one day, discovered that Wilson and McCracken, whom he’d always understood to be his side‑men, were re­ceiving an equal cut of the takings, which by this time were into three figures.  He doesn’t intend making the same mistake again.  Gerry McAvoy on bass and Wilgar Campbell, the drummer, are under no illusions as to their function.  They are paid to back Rory Gallagher.

Rory says of the first Taste: “Every­thing went fine until the last couple of weeks.  Then they decided to form their own band.  They were obviously fed up with me and my material and I was fed up with them being fed up with me.  They weren’t happy playing slow blues numbers.  But I hate going over the supposedly lurid details.  You get fed up to your teeth and you have to do something else.  I was tied up in contracts and it took a while to break loose.

“From October 1970 until he made the ‘Rory Gallagher’ album in March the following year, he shuffled between London and Ireland, untangling the contractual mess, thinking, writing and practicing.

“Gerry and Wilgar were playing in Deep Joy, a nice little band and pro­gressive as the word stood at the time.  It folded a couple of months be­fore I approached them.  They were fed up with the way things were going for them so I asked them to make an album with me.”

They toured in England in May last year and then Ireland, plus gigs in Denmark, Germany and France.  In October they played the U.S. then came more British and European dates, plus the recording of “Deuce,” which he cut in not very trendy Dal­ston, London.

He organizes the whole thing, taking about ten days to record and then presents tapes and a bill (modest by all accounts) to Polydor, his record company.

Leeds Town Hall, like most things in the city, is in need of repair.  Canvas awnings hang and flap from its walls.  Inside, the place is like a huge bell, held together by pillars and tresses and embellished by angels, cupids and colored mauve, pink and olive green.

Byzantium were rounding off their set as Rory tuned up guitar against harmonica, against mandolin and Gerry’s bass.  Wilgar warmed up on a table, tapping out rhythms against a pink towel.

And as the cries of “Rory, Rory” built up Wilgar, Gerry and then Rory took the stage.  It took just the few opening chords of “Used To Be” to shake loose any remaining inhibitions.

He starts off on the Stratocaster with numbers like “Toredown” and “Should Have Learnt My Lesson.”  Suddenly he drops the pace and switches to acoustic for “Pistol Slapper Blues” by Blind Boy Fuller and “Don’t Know Where I’m Going.”  But because he can’t manage anything like a half decent tone it’s a bring down.

The pace builds again with the mandolin number “Going To My Home Town,” one of the most attractive in his repertoire.  He works into the song gingerly via a sensitive intro but soon opens up, all the while pounding his foot against the creaky stage.  And by the time Gerry and Wilgar come in the mood is one of pandemonium.

By the evening’s end two girls have fainted on their feet and Rory narrowly misses getting split down the middle.

“The whole idea is a sort of jungle instinct,” he says afterwards. “It’s the beat.  What would bring me down is if they were raving and not listening to the music.  Some musicians knock their audience if they sit down and knock them when they rave.  They shouldn’t have to dictate.  It should be done with the music.

“I try not to analyze the hysteria because then it becomes premeditated, almost manufactured.  That’s something that happens with artists that come from the promotional stables.  You must be able to control and understand it to some degree otherwise you wouldn’t know what’s good and what’s rubbish but the thing is to keep the ear on the music and not get involved with all those other aspects.  That’s what can get you messed up.

“The sort of reaction we got at the Isle of Wight we were getting years before in Ireland.  But you always have to keep it in your head that it could go either way.  Once it becomes a matter of course you start disintegrating.

“Tonight it was like playing for a bunch of relatives.  Everyone was really happy and at the end I felt like going round and shaking everyone’s hand.  You could walk off stage with a long face and get yourself a new sort of reputation.  Good luck to the groups that feel that way.  They’re probably like that every day of their lives.”

He hasn’t yet released a single and has no intention of changing his policy.  “I’m afraid of what that whole scene does to people.  The Stones and Canned Heat have put out some nice ones.  But in England it involves a lot of unnecessary ballyhoo.  In America it’s just another piece of music on plastic.

“But here it becomes a big phobia about what color suit goes with what color scarf and the whole thing gets out of hand.  It’s O.K. to wear a sharp suit.  But even the jean thing can get out of hand.  It all depends on your attitude.

“Groups like the New Seekers supply music for people who want that style.  And they get tired on the road just like us.  They have the same worries as we do and there’s really no point in knocking them as people.”

From Disc and Music Echo April 8, 1972
Thanks the Brenda O'Brien for sharing & typing this article
reformatted by roryfan
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added 5/15/05