- 02 Mar 18
Today, the late, great Rory Gallagher would have been 70 years of age. Here, his genius is remembered by Hothouse Flowers guitarist and broadcaster, Fiachna Ó Braonáin
I’ll never forget walking into the bar of the Sebel Town House Hotel, the rock n’ roll hotel of choice in Sydney back in 1991, only to find Rory Gallagher in front of me, like an apparition from blues-guitar nirvana. Hothouse Flowers were on tour opening for Dire Straits, so my immediate thought was, “Jesus! Rory Gallagher! Can we get him up to jam tonight?!” He was sitting quietly at the bar, having a drink to calm his nerves before his flight home, his own tour of the Antipodes had just finished up as ours commenced.
We were ships passing briefly in the night, but we had a chat I will never forget. My abiding memory is of a gentle sensitive man who, despite the pre-flight nerves – and no doubt end-of-tour exhaustion – gave generously of his time for our quiet-but-warm conversation. I was delighted to meet him, and he made me feel it was a mutual thing. It was a mark of the man really; he had no airs or graces.
Rory Gallagher first caught my attention through the television as I flicked around between RTE, BBC and HTV, wiggling the rabbits ears towards a decent picture, landing on this guitar genius performing at the Rockpalast in Germany. I sat transfixed. I had already caught the guitar bug from Hendrix, or BB King, or the Rolling Stones, infecting me, like so may others, through, across the airwaves, but this was different, this was one of our own.
I never had a huge record collection, so I wasn’t that au fait with Rory’s albums, but the songs were still familiar: ‘Bullfrog Blues’, ‘Calling Card’, ‘Bad Penny’, ‘Edged In Blue’, ‘What’s Going On’ from his Taste days. They were all stored in my psyche somewhere, somehow. Later on, presenting radio programmes, I delved deeper, and got turned on to other stuff. Wheels Within Wheels is a beautiful, posthumous collection of mostly acoustic material, lovingly curated by his brother Donal; the title track is particularly transcendent.
Then there’s the Montreux Festival jam, where Bela Fleck appears unannounced and they kick-off a ten minute session with ‘Amazing Grace’. They then carefully set the scene, gathering everyone in, before breaking into Son House’s ‘Walkin’ Blues.' They finish with a great version of Bill Monroe’s ‘Blue Moon Of Kentucky’, with Mark Feltham providing some inspired harmonica. Thank goodness the Montreux Jazz Festival record everything, because this is what it’s all about; musicians transforming the space, making anything possible.
It’s the magic of the musical conversation, and, in a way, my chat with Rory was like that – the space we were in was transformed. It would have been something to see him growing into an elder statesman of the blues, but I guess that – despite his relative youth – he was all of already that, and more. RIP.
Fiachna Ó Braonáin presents Late Date on RTÉ Radio 1, Fridays and Saturdays from 11pm.