- 14 Jun 20
As great as Rory Gallagher was on record, the stage was where things really got going. Join us for just a few of his legendary performances.
It’s been a hard couple of weeks in Hot Press HQ. It is only our strict adherence to social distancing guidelines that has prevented us from coming to blows as we argued the toss over which was the greatest Rory era. You can perhaps picture the scene: Niall Stokes, sat on his gilded Editor’s throne, banging a fist on his resolute desk, shouting “The Blues, THE BLUES!” while I stood looking out the window and repeated, yet again, through gritted teeth, the real truth, “Hard Rock.” “What about Taste?” demanded our glorious leader. “It’s blatantly obvious you don’t have any!” was the rejoinder I lobbed towards the desk. I slammed the door as I left the office in triumph, all aglow at my witty, if fallacious, syllogism.
Of course, and as usual, we were both right. Here are just some – and let me stress this is in no way claiming to be definitive, you could spend the next six months looking at Rory clips, and that would not be six months wasted. If you have any issue with these selections, Niall loves, and appreciates, personal correspondence – of the clips out there, which illustrate the power of Rory Gallagher’s presence and playing. Let’s start at or near the beginning – and let me keep the boss happy – with Taste.
The fact that the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and The Who were higher up on the posters for 1970’s Isle of Wight festival didn’t seem to phase Taste one bit. They’re taking no prisoners here. Big names weren’t anything new to these lads, they’d travelled across America the previous year with Blind Faith. Did Gallagher blow Clapton off the stage every night? Probably. Rory was playing like this when he was only 22. 22! When I was that age I couldn’t find my own arse with a map.
An early example of Rory’s brilliant slide playing here from German television in 1972, playing that owes a not inconsiderable debt to Muddy Waters stinging attack, and Rory’s on a Telecaster too. ‘In Your Town’ is one of the highlights from Rory’s second solo album, Deuce, and – of course – the monumental beating he gives it on Live In Europe.
Speaking of Live In Europe, we couldn’t leave out ‘Bullfrog Blues’, the song Rory took from a 1920s William Harris record. There are many versions of this out there, and they’re all pretty spectacular. Here he is in 1979 on the rightly legendary German TV show, Rockpalast. They love a bit of Rory in Germany. This version has a bass solo, which is normally the cue to send in the lads in the frocks with the holy water, but this is Gerry ‘The Fuckin’ Rock Upon Which I Will Build My Church’ McAvoy, so no argument shall be countenanced.
Bottles of warm Guinness in the dressing room, Rory grinning as he leans in over the drums, and the “RORY, RORY, RORY!” roar. It’s got to be Irish Tour ’74, the record that everyone’s older brother had when I was a lad, along with Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous. If you even thought about touching either one of them, you got a justifiable hidin’ from which you wouldn’t quickly recover. As I said elsewhere earlier, if you don’t own this record, you need a good kick in the arse.
Here’s Leadbelly’s ‘Out On The Western Plain’ from an acoustic set that Rory did for RTÉ in 1977. The whole half hour is here, and we recommend you sit back and dig the whole thing – there’s a particularly great version of ‘Secret Agent’ for a start. Being a flash bastard with a Stratocaster is one thing, but if you can throw shapes on acoustic instruments that would leave Eddie Van Halen weeping into his rum and coke then you know you’re onto something. It was seeing a performance of this song on some Eighties TV show that sent me off raiding my Uncle’s record collection.
More German TV. RockPop Show were hardly ever likely to get done under the Trade Descriptions Act. Two songs from what, for my money, is Rory’s finest studio record, Photo-Finish, the arse-bruising set he put together after throwing the first version in the bin, in front of his poor brother/manager, Donal. He even manages to balls up a chord in the middle of ‘Shin Kicker’ only to laugh it off and then pull a load of tricks out of his (overnight) bag. Class. Stick around for ‘Shadow Play’ after the interview.
Talking about the kicking of arse, what about this from 1980, on English regional telly this time. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks, that is a young Billy Connolly doing the introducing, with John Bloody Bonham sat beside him. Did Rory kick out all the jams so Bonzo could go and tell Jimmy Page to hang up his spurs? Probably. Look at the audience – many of whom would sadly perish in the great hair conditioner shortage of the early Eighties – going bananas right from the kick off, and Rory with the Strat over his head before the song even gets started at all.
From Rock Goes To College in 1979, included here because ‘The Mississippi Sheiks’ is a monster of a song that perfectly combines Blues Rory and Hard Rock Rory and allows Niall and I to smoke the auld peace pipe, something I rarely need much prompting to do. In case you were wondering, The Mississippi Sheiks were a fiddle and guitar band back in the Deep South of 1930s. Their most popular number, ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ has been recorded by everyone from Sinatra to Jack White, although you are expressly directed to Howlin’ Wolf’s version, because it has Howlin’ Wolf on it.
Any sign of Rory calming down as the years went on? Not if this– can you guess which central European country has provided the clip? – is anything to go by. ‘Continental Op’ comes from 1987’s Defender record (“Don’t do that DeGibson joke again, Carty!” – Ed). Fender Guitars should just use a picture of that Strat for their ad campaigns. The thing is a tank.
He was rockin’ right up until he could rock no more. This is from Montreux in 1994. Less than a year later, he’d be gone. Luckily for us, he left stuff like this behind to marvel at, twenty-five years later. Wasn’t that a man?
Bonus Ball: We mentioned Rockpalast earlier, and all the footage from Rory’s many appearances are worth your time. This is a full performance from 1976 which will melt your face and kick your bottom, all at the same time. The first half is acoustic, then the full band come out for part two. It’s all dynamite, but try Rory’s cover of Sam & Dave at 51:46. This was posted by Rockpalast themselves, so our learned friends can take the wigs off, and just rock out with the rest of us.
Need more Rory? Of course you do! Here’s The Rory Gallagher: 25 Hot Press Playlist. Put it on repeat, and turn it all the way up.
One last thing. Don’t come crying to us because you didn’t pre-order the Hot Press Rory Gallagher 25th Anniversary Special Edition. “Ah sure, I’ll get it next week,” says you. Get on it now!