Review Summary: A classic and crucial documentation of one of the most talented and influential men to ever pick up the six-string.LepreCon presents: Rock Legends
Legend in Focus: William Rory Gallagher
For much of the mid to late- 20th century, the island of Ireland-its Northern Province, in particular- was in a state of political and social upheaval that was unseen elsewhere in the western world. While most of the time it was nothing more than a simple matter of Catholics versus Protestants, conflict was in the blood of Ulster’s inhabitants and it was depressingly often that this very blood was seen flowing in the streets. Needless to say, such violence made many musical artists wary about playing in the Northern capital of Belfast to the point where most would not entertain the notion of going anywhere near the place. However, one man with his band in tow was brave enough to face the fury of the North and bring both sides of the conflict together, using his very music as the common ground between two factions baying for each other’s blood. That man’s name was William Rory Gallagher.
Even as early as the 1970s, the Donegal-born and Cork-raised Gallagher was already regarded as a living legend in the world of blues-based guitar rock. A long-running rumour has it that upon being asked what it was like to be the greatest living guitarist, Jimi Hendrix allegedly replied “I wouldn’t know anything about that. Ask Rory Gallagher.” Even his first band, the Irish blues band Taste, made waves internationally and earned Gallagher worldwide renown. His skill was second to none for his time, taking every lick, riff and variation of any scale you could think of and making them his own. Although he had great critical and commercial success with his myriad solo releases, it was his live performances that got him the most attention.
Gallagher proved that it took more than skill with an instrument to make one an accomplished musical performer. Another crucial element was charisma, and Gallagher had it in spades. With both his incredible guitar skills and distinctive bluesy baritone, he successfully presented himself as the middleman between the audience and the music, creating a unique and powerful connection and conveyed emotion and soul so perfectly that it was no wonder he was voted ‘Top Musician of the Year’ in 1972, ahead of the likes of Eric Clapton. Anyone who saw him play or who had bought his previous classic live album, Live in Europe
, would testify to Gallagher’s distinctive greatness.
Irish Tour '74
was an ambitious project, filmed by director Tony Palmer and made into a movie that had mass appeal, played extensively in the U.K., Europe and eventually the United States. The soundtrack performances are a milestone in blues rock history, a crucial documentation of the musical prowess of the Rory Gallagher band. The wondrous atmosphere is created from the get go, with an energetic and powerful rendition of Cradle Rock
, a hard rocking number from Gallagher’s own Tattoo
album. The atmosphere lingers even as the band takes things down a notch with a soulful cover of Muddy Waters’ I Wonder Who
. So expressive is his playing that there are times when the listener would be forgiven for thinking that Gallagher’s guitar is actually another voice rather than an instrument. The band are also more than mere backing musicians, however. Everyone is audible and distinct, with Lou Martin tearing it up on the keyboards as much as Gallagher does on his guitar and De’Ath and McAvoy providing a solid, driving rhythm section. The passion the band shares for the music is evident, with everybody maintaining the mood and flow of the music perfectly.
Of course, Gallagher’s variation of guitar tone throughout is a major point of interest, as is his skill and versatility. An acoustic rendition of Tony Joe White’s As The Crow Flies
perfectly demonstrates Gallagher’s eclectic musical fascination, whilst the slide playing of numbers such as Who’s That Coming?
and Back On My Stompin’ Ground
are electrifying, to say the least, as evidenced by the enthusiastic response by the audience. The sheer schizophrenic guitar salvos in A Million Miles Away
and Walk on Hot Coals
display Gallagher’s extreme dexterity with his instrument. However, his improvisations never come across as self-indulgent musical masturbation. Rory Gallagher’s guitar was an extension of his soul. The music came from his very being, conveying a wide range of genuine skill and emotions that made the pretenders want to pack it in and the ambitious to try and emulate him.
Irish Tour '74
displays a maturity and dedication unseen and unheard in most live performances even today, and perhaps stands as Gallagher’s definitive release. The vast range of emotions and styles conveyed makes it a perfect collage of his various personas throughout the years. Though it may take more than one listen for one to truly appreciate it, anyone who allows this genuine piece of work to captivate them will be left in no doubt of Rory Gallagher’s skill and charisma, which set him apart as one of the greatest musicians to ever pick up the six-string. Sadly, Gallagher passed away in 1995 from complications after a liver transplant. However, unlike many other of his contemporaries, he lived long enough to see his legacy and influence take hold and flourish in the musical world. This display of one man’s ability to unite a people and a country in turmoil through his music is an essential listen for all rock fans, young and old, and is a crucial part of Irish musical history as well as the very legacy of blues rock.
The Irish Tour '74 lineup was:
Rory Gallagher- guitars
Gerry McAvoy- bass guitar
Lou Martin- keyboards
Rod De’Ath- drums
RIP William Rory Gallagher, 2 March 1948- 14 June 1995...