Rory Gallagher

douglas1.jpg Peter Douglas sneaks behind the
and tape machines as
‘Sight and Sound’ is recorded…

“Donal ‘oo?”  The old man at stage door of the Hammersmith Odeon eyed me suspiciously.

“Gallagher”, I replied.   

He turned and scuttled into the recesses of the building.  Seconds later a muffled voice was shouting: “Anyone ‘ere called Donal?”  A number of confused voices wafted back; a few doors slammed.  After awhile, the breathless Donal appeared, shepherded by the uniformed ancient.  I was allowed through.

Donal is Rory’s brother and also his manager.  The occasion tonight was a Sight and Sound broadcast in which (you will recall) a concert is not only filmed and recorded by BBC Television, but by BBC Radio as well, who send it over the airwaves in stereo for the benefit of those with stereo receivers.

The mix is taken from a 16 track recorder which, during the gig, is stationed in one of the many BBC sound trucks parked at the back of the theatre.  The man responsible for the radio stereo sound is Chris Lycett, a young man who sits calmly and cheerfully in a small truck whilst haggard looking men climb all over him, trying desperately to locate “that noise”.  When they started climbing over me I decided it was time to leave.

douglas2.jpgDonal and I went back into the theatre to have a look at the set up there.  There are two stacks of PA per side - one just above stage level, and another about 20 feet above, on a platform supported by scaffolding.  As for cameras, there are two peering down from the Circle above us, two in the pit right in front of the stage, and one roving unit at the back of the stage.  This one is kept well out of the way, however, in order not to obstruct the audience's view.  The whole emphasis is on making the show as much like an ordinary concert as possible, and in the same way, Rory’s band are not going in for props such as separation screens, although some bands are beginning to use these in live recording.

“The thing is,” said Donal, “if we started putting them up tonight they'd be very obvious.  The priority tonight is the people who've come to see the show.  We're forced into putting the radio and TV second because, even though it's probably more important in the long run, you can't cheat the people who've paid to see the show.  They don't want to have their sightlines blocked.  You just have to work around it.  We've already done balances and we're very happy with what we've been getting in the sound trucks, because we do use small amplification on stage anyway, and with the stage here in the Odeon, the sound is inclined to go up into the ceiling and get lost. In fact, if we were to use any kind of barrier, we'd fly an overhead partition, so it would reflect the sound straight down, because it isn't helping the monitors any that the sound is going straight up.”

There were special circumstances for this particular edition of Sight and Sound.  The shows are normally filmed at the Hippodrome in Golders Green.  But “it seems that within the BBC they were using this whole Sight and Sound venture as an opportunity to have a strike, or get a rise or something like that.  We had it scheduled for tomorrow, and they've had to cancel the Golders Green gig, so the only alternative way of doing the programme was to have their Outside Broadcast unit do it.  Typically as it goes, they resolved the situation this morning!”

I had been at the previous evening's concert, which had received the sort of rapturous response Rory must surely have got used to by now (although by his own reaction to the applause, you wouldn't think so).  There had been problems with buzzes, however, and the monitors had been playing up.  “Well, last night it was recorded for Capital Radio, so there again we had a 16 track mobile in, and there seemed to be interference because of the splitting of the microphones, which in fact sapped some of the volume from the monitors.  It seems that the VU's were showing full volume, the road crew were getting full level, but that wasn't a true indication of what Rory was hearing.”

Another problem with the monitors had been the noise emanating from Rod De’Ath’s drum kit, which was now positioned at one side of the stage.  Explain, please, Donal: “Before, the set up was that the drums were directly behind Rory.  Rod is a loud drummer - he's got great strength - and  he's got those Paiste cymbals, which are extremely loud, and so's that Autotune kit; they were pouring over into the vocal and any time Rory’d move away from the mic he'd just get a cymbal crash right through… Rod just got that drum kit recently - and the cymbals - so it's the sheer volume.  Rory then couldn't hear the vocals because of the pressure on his ears, so he was asking for more guitar and more vocals on the monitors and then the drummer couldn't hear the keyboard, and the keyboard player couldn't hear Rory that well!  And Rory couldn't hear the keyboard, because he was on the opposite side of the stage.  So it was like an equation changing the formula a little so that it worked out.  It's worked out well now, and I think we'll keep it.  You get great separation now with the drums being off on their own.  It's more of a recording studio set up than anything else.”

The band have been using Stramp gear for some time, leaving aside Rory’s amps and Lou Martin's Leslies.  Later I asked Rory about his amplification as we stood in his dressing room.  “I ditched the AC30 about two years ago. It  was very good, but with keyboards you need something stronger.  What I've got now is a Fender Bassman and a Fender Concert linked together.”  His instruments consist of his old Strat, the black Telecaster, a Martin acoustic, a mandolin and a National Steel guitar.  For those who don't know, National Steel guitars are not the sit down type used by C & W players, but roughly conventional guitar shaped instruments made from a single sheet of steel.  They are extremely rare, and thus highly sought after.  The sound they produce is, as one might expect, jangley and metallic.  Rory’s is a National Aeolian model, made between 1932 and 1935.  It cost him just £100.

douglas3.jpgI had noticed the previous evening that his acoustic instruments were not only being “aimed” at a microphone, but also had contact mic’s stuck to the body.  What was the advantage of this dual miking?  “Well, with an ordinary mic you get a sense of dynamics.  The bug is very one dimensional, very compressed sounding.  So what happens is that you get it all in one tone and lose out on that rounded feeling which is what acoustic instruments are supposed to sound like.”

The overall sound of the gig had not been entirely to his satisfaction partly because of the monitor trouble.  “I was getting all tweeter and no bottom.  And another thing we've moved the drum kit back to the left hand side of the stage now, which is how we had it before.  It was just a sort of mad gamble last night to try having it on the right.  I couldn't see the audience either.  That makes things a bit difficult - I like to see a few heads sticking up, at least.”

In the room at the same time was Jeff Griffin, the BBC Radio producer, and I casually left the tape-recorder running whilst Jeff attempted to pin Rory down to a firm sequence of songs.  It wasn't that easy.  The idea was to get the balance right whilst the band played three or four numbers, and then begin the recording.  Rory was naturally anxious to do as many of the newer songs as possible - chiefly off the “Calling Card” album.

“The best thing”, Donal suggested, “is to take your cue after the third number, do two fast ones, run through the acoustics, and get the changeover as smooth as possible.”

Jeff: Shall we work on that basis?  You would play three numbers which we're not taking, right?  Do you know what they are?

Rory: The first one will be Moonchild; say, Tattooed Lady second, then Slow Blues or Calling Card.  After that then you can come in and start off with something like Do You Read Me, or something like that.  Secret Agent …

Jeff:  Are these fairly likely?  You see, the more titles we do pin you down to, the more chance Tom (Corcoran - TV director) stands, because they've been through some of them and got the words and music cues written out.  Obviously he likes to be able to cut from one camera to another … he doesn't try and make it all flashy, but the cuts are smoother if he knows where he's cutting them and to what instrument, and obviously he'll shoot wild on the ones he doesn't know, or he'll do overlays or fade in and out.  But it's nice to have some which actually look right.

Donal:  Unless I sit in the TV truck and just stick around.

Jeff: Yes. I'm sure he won't mind that.  The only thing is, it has to be so quick.  I'm sure you know that.  You have to get in really on music cues, and in fact Tom is doing his own vision mixing out there.

Donal:  Well before I was cueing him a couple of minutes beforehand.

Jeff:  Oh, when you did the Whistle Test thing?

Donal:  Yes.  But I know what Tom means, because, for instance, last time we'd just taken on a new light man and I had to cue that.

As the discussion went on, Rory continued to be uncertain about what to play, or in what order.  His set takes the form of three sections: the first is a series of quick paced electric songs, followed by about twenty minutes of acoustics, ending with Going To My Home Town, which puts the crowd back in a raucous mood, ready for the final section of fast electrics.  But the actual tunes chosen would depend entirely on the pace of the show, on the degree of hysteria in the audience.  In the end, the band played Do You Read Me, Secret Agent, Calling Card, Slow Blues; on acoustic, Out On The Western Plain, Barley & Grape Rag/Pistol Slapper Blues, Too Much Alcohol, Goin’ To My Home Town; the show ended (very conveniently for the BBC men) during the applause which followed Souped Up Ford.  Thus all Jeff Griffin's fears that they would either a) have to fade out in the middle of the acoustics, or b) run out of material too quickly, proved groundless.  If there were any hitches, the viewers didn't see them, and that's what counts.

This article comes from the March 1977  issue of BEAT INSTRUMENTAL
Thanks to Brenda O'Brien for sharing & preparing this article
reformatted by roryfan
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added 9/10/06