Oct 05 2008

What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues

Published by at 10:30 am under articles

style=”text-indent:15px;”Of course, it is for his live performances that Gallagher is most often remembered. According to Fairport Conventions’s Dave Pegg, “he really knew how to manage a crowd” (Harper 232). Harper and Hodgett note:

Most people’s recollection of Rory Gallagher today is of a lean, frenetic figure storm-trooping around festival and city hall stages all through the seventies with a permanent checked shirt and archetypal battered Strat, flanked on one side by Gerry McAvoy, splay-legged, head-banging and writing the text book for the pummeling school of bass quitar. Rory’s live shows were high-energy affairs. “It would start with the encore–that’s what it was like,” says Dino McGartland. “We’d go home shattered.” Any number of Old Grey Whistle Test specials [on BBC], or his record number of Rockpalast broadcasts on German TV, bear this out. (232)

Gallagher toured tirelessly and world wide. His Irish concerts during the 1970s are particularly important, occurring at a time before Ireland was featured on the map for well-known recording artists. For many young Irish music fans, myself included, a Rory Gallagher concert represented a rare opportunity to witness a performance by a major international artist in Ireland. In addition, Gallagher was alone among first-rank performers, as is noted by many who have written on popular music in Ireland, who consistently played in the North throughout the troubles. One can be certain that his high-energy and no-frills attitude and mien influenced such bands as Stiff Little Fingers, whom Gallagher subsequently recorded, and the Undertones, who would emerge in the late seventies as part of the Punk-New Wave phenomenon.

As previously noted, Gallagher’s decision to forgo a radical change in musical direction meant that he had set himself the task of working within the narrower confines of a musical genre that had begun to recede from popularity. Of course, he himself would hardly have seen his future in this way; instead, he might have commented on the degree of continuity that had existed in his career from the first instant he’d heard the blues, that long moment that set him on his life’s path. In this respect, it is clear that to understand his aesthetic and achievement, Gallagher’s work is best discussed in the context of the blues of the Mississippi Delta and Chicago. Giles Oakley has defined the blues in this way:

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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “What in the World: Reading Rory Gallagher’s Blues”

  1. kathleenon 01 Apr 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Hmmm. Thank you for this, which I’ve just discovered.

    Your comments are astonishingly astute, intelligent, and very well informed.

    One of the (alleged) quotations from an interview with Rory in his last days is something like: “The checked shirt has become stigmata to me.”

    That, if true, says so much — frankly, for someone like me, who is of Irish descent and Roman Catholic childhood — and says pretty much everything. It’s uncomfortable, but revealing.

    I do wish that someone (and the most likely person is Donal) would write, or at least authorize, the definitive biography of Rory.

    Greetings from The States.


  2. Richard Day Goreon 01 Aug 2012 at 6:38 am


    I’ve been waiting for years for Rory to be examined at an academic level. He’s so much more than a guitarist or songwriter or uniquely lovable bluesman: he’s culturally important in a way that deserves serious, serious consideration.

    I’m sure many fans will read this piece and say “WTF” because of its dry academic-speak, but Rory’s music being part of an academic conference is a huge achievement! Even the intellectuals are waking up to the fact that Rory was, is, and will always be, relevant.

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