Jan 10 2015

Rory Gallagher’s Irish Tour de Force

Published by under Interviews

Irish Tour Deluxe Edition

Some albums are so powerful an experience that they forever change the way you look at music. And for me there was no bigger game changer than in 1974 when Rory Gallagher’s album Irish Tour ’74 was released. Not that I wasn’t a fan of Rory Gallagher’s music already, I had previously enjoyed his earlier solo releases such as Tattoo, Deuce, and his eponymous titled first album. But what changed for me that day was my attitude towards “live” albums.

Back then I thought any “live” rock album was just a mess of muffed notes, bad mixes, and way too much hand-clapping; destined for the record store cut-out section. I’d listen for that perfect solo memorized from the studio cut and mid way through the fellow would jig right where he should’ve jagged left, and I’d cry out, “Noooo!”. Live albums were just a way for a band to muddle their way through a 5-album record deal, right?

But then I listened to Rory Gallagher’s Irish Tour ’74 and it all made sense. With Rory, the studio album was just a launchpad, a jumping off point to what that song could be once fired in the crucible of a live performance. The live album was about the fulfillment of an idea. It was about the energy,the feeling, the power. God almighty, it was about the power! The power of Rory’s Strat could knock you back a country mile, like a lightening bolt slamming into your chest!

And it was about the ride, the long roller-coaster of a ride that Rory took you on, never knowing exactly where he was going or where he was going to end up, but always glad you came along for the ride. 40 years later, Rory is still taking me on those long incredible journeys. And Irish Tour ’74 is still the benchmark that I measure all other live albums against. I listen to a lot of live albums nowadays, and not just Rory’s, but it’s Rory’s live stuff that I always come back too. Rory showed me the way.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of this incredible album, Dònal and Daniel Gallagher, brother and nephew to the guitar genius , have released an expanded deluxe edition of that incredible album, including the complete recordings from all three Irish Tour venues: Belfast’s Ulster Hall, Dublin’s Carlton Cinema, and Cork’s City Hall. Because of technical difficulties the original IT ’74 album was largely the live recordings from the final venue in that tour, Cork City Hall. Now, for the very first time we get to hear Rory’s entire Irish tour; all three venues, plus even more material from an after hours “session” that we got a wee taste of on side 4 of the original IT album. The following is a recent interview I did with Daniel Gallagher about the making of this deluxe edition:

The Making of the IT ’74 Deluxe Edition

Shadowplays:   Hi Daniel, thanks for taking time out from your busy schedule to answer a few questions about this latest release. Can you tell us a little bit about what you were trying to accomplish with this expanded edition? After all, IT ’74 is arguably Rory’s finest hour. Were you a tad nervous “messing with the kid”?

Daniel Gallagher:  Hi Milo, yes I was very nervous. We knew the 40th Anniversary was looming and thought that we had to do something special for this album as for many, myself included, this is Rory at his finest. Which is what made the idea of remixing, remastering or re-ordering the album such a difficult decision, how can you alter something so loved?

Shadowplays:   What did you have to work with? Soundboards from the shows mixing consoles , mobile studio 8-tracks? Did you have the audio tapes from Tony Palmer’s IT documentary? His Nagra stereo tapes from all three venues?

Daniel Gallagher:  At first I thought there was only the 8 channel, multi track tapes in storage, which held the 2nd Cork show and the city hall jam sessions. So I dug those out and digitised them and started working out the set order and remixing the whole thing. While remixing I started to worry that the new mixes were too polished and were losing the rawness of the original album so we changed tact and decided to mix the previously unreleased songs only and to match them to the sound of the original album. I got in touch with Robin Sylvester to ask how he mixed the original record, what desk he used, what reverbs etc and he kindly thought back 40 years and sent me a good description of what they’d done. My engineer Martin Dubka had also guessed much of it and we set about ‘recreating’ Robin’s mix over the new songs such as ‘Hands Off’, ‘In Your Town’ etc.

Meanwhile I asked Tom O’Driscoll who manages our archive to have a dig through for anything he could find relating to the Irish Tour, anything from tickets to posters, news clipping etc. He found hidden under load of master tapes a wooden box full of Nagra tapes. I went through them and they had random bits of writing on them but after putting them in order it became apparent that it was all the audio recordings from the Irish Tour film. These Nagra reels held the soundboard recordings from all the shows through the tour.


Irish Tour ’74 Nagra tapes

Shadowplays:   What condition were these assorted tapes in? Had they deteriorated or been damaged after so many years?

Daniel Gallagher:  Amazingly not! The tapes were all in pretty good nick. They get ‘baked’ at the digitising stage to take out any moisture that may have seeped into them, which can make the tape sticky, after this they were all fine. One major problem though was that one of the multi tracks from the Cork concert is missing and this had ‘Laundromat’ on it. We had to use the version on the Nagras in it’s place.

Shadowplays:   Obviously the overall sound quality of the Cork City Hall tapes are the best of the lot since they were recorded on 8-track using Ronnie Lane’s mobile studio, but even the mixing console tapes from the Belfast and Cork shows are reasonably clear. Maybe a couple of times, during the Belfast show, Rory’s guitar might have gone missing, buried underneath Rod’s drumming or Lou’s piano playing, but overall you hear how it sounded to the audience, and to me it sounded pretty darn good. How exactly can you change what’s been funneled into the original mix and outputted to the speakers anyway? How does remastering help the sound from a soundboard?

Daniel Gallagher:  With the Belfast and Dublin recordings you are restricted as to what improvements can be made. For starters you can’t change the mix in any way so if the guitar is quiet in the original mix from the show you can’t suddenly turn it up. What can be done at mastering is to tweak the EQ to bring out certain frequencies or reduce others, this can help pull out the guitar that might be buried in a mix. At mastering there’ll also be compression and limiting added to the recording to bring it to a more standard audio volume level, which the original tapes aren’t at.

There are moments in those two concerts where for instance Rory’s vocal mic distorts as he shouts the opening lines to Bullfrog Blues or at the start of the Belfast set the guitar is low in the mix and the bass is too loud for the first track but this is exactly what the live mix in the venue was so it’s still pretty cool to hear what the audience heard that night heard.

Shadowplays:   For me, the highlight of the Belfast show was “Going To My Hometown”. The enthusiasm of the crowd was fantastic. It really shows off Rory’s ability to communicate and bond with the audience. I think too often blues-rock bands put up a wall between themselves and the audience, particularly back then in the late Sixties, early Seventies, but with Rory it was like he was playing directly to you, one-on-one.

Daniel Gallagher:  “Going To My Hometown” is such an interesting track in this set because of the different audience reactions / participation to it, across the cities. In Belfast it feels quite spiritual, cathartic for the fans, in Dublin they’re a bit more boisterous and they chant every word. Interestingly it’s the Dublin audience that sing the infamous “Nice one Rory, nice one son, nice one Rory let’s have another one” which actually comes after GTMH as Rory’s switching from Mandolin to guitar. Not to ruin peoples memory of the main album I kept it on the Cork album but moved it to after GTMH in keeping with where the Dublin crowd had chanted it. In Cork, Rory sings an interesting line “Going to my hometown, the Queen of the South, you know what town I’m always talking ‘bout” I definitely think the song is about Cork (“got me a job from Henry Ford” is a reference to the Ford car plant in Cork) and in all the cities you can sense Rory working the song to fit the crowd.

Shadowplays:   I love the inclusion of “Just a Little Bit” in Rory’s Bullfrog Blues encore during the Belfast and Dublin gigs. Do we know the reason why there’s no Bullfrog Blues during the Cork show? Or was it just not recorded?

Daniel Gallagher:  I thought it was weird when I first got the multi tracks that there wasn’t ‘Bullfrog Blues’ on the tapes and thought maybe they just ran out of tape, but it seems it wasn’t played at either of the Cork shows after I cross checked the Nagra tapes. The only thing I can think of is that they had a strict time limit at the venue, it was the Cork City Hall, and as the set is already over 2 hours. Rory may have been obliged to end his set.


Stramp mixing desk used during Rory Gallagher’s ’74 Irish Tour

Shadowplays:   Looking at the set listings for each of the gigs, one thing immediately stands out as pretty unusual for Rory. Nearly identical track listings. Being a collector of Rory’s live recordings myself, I don’t recall ever seeing Rory do the same set list two days in a row. Was this a concession to Tony Palmer’s documentary needs? I understand he was suppose to dress identical so they could mix and match clips from all 3 venues.

Daniel Gallagher:  Yes I think Tony Palmer wanted to be able to cut between the various venues during the same song to show the different audiences across Ireland and their reactions to the music, so he requested that the sets were roughly the same. Though looking at the film Rory didn’t listen to him when it came to wearing the same shirt every night and in true Rory fashion none of the versions of the songs are identical in length or performance.

Shadowplays:   In the liner notes, you’ve listed 2 dates Cork shows and 2 dates for the Belfast shows. Did you have to cobble together the track list between the two dates for each venue?

Daniel Gallagher:  There were two Cork shows, one on a Thursday and one on a Saturday. The multi track recordings come from the Saturday concert and I used all of that bar Laundromat which comes from the Thursday night as far as I remember. Also I think the original ‘As The Crow Flies’ also comes from the Thursday concert. The Thursday night show Nagras were missing quite a few tracks from the set that’s why I didn’t do another disc with that show. Belfast there was only one night recorded but from Rory’s diary and an interview caught on the film audio there was another concert which was possibly a matinee show.

Shadowplays:   Listening to these shows in chronological order (Belfast, Dublin, then Cork) you get a sense of consistency but also variation in Rory’s playing. All three shows are such high energy treats, with incredible playing, and strong voice, but there’s also a lot of variation in his playing, never playing the songs, especially the solos, the same way twice. What’s your favorites from the Dublin and Belfast shows?

Daniel Gallagher:  Across all the shows I love when the band starts ‘In Your Town’ straight out of ‘Who’s That Coming’ and Rory tunes his guitar on the fly and joins in with the riff. I can’t think of any guitarists even back then who would do this, anyone else would have a guitar tech handing them a new guitar with the correct tuning for the song. ‘In Your Town’ is such a fun song especially with Rory riffing with the gangsters who are going to join him on his jailbreak.

Dublin was an interesting concert to put together because I felt like I’d heard it before but couldn’t realise how, then it clicked that a lot of the films audio comes from the Dublin concert. As you say it’s great hearing the variations of solos and licks Rory plays in the different versions of songs, ‘Walk On Hot Coals’ and ‘Hands Off’ have so many fantastic differences. The acoustic part of the Dublin concert is great, I love the reception ‘Unmilitary Two-Step’ gets. I think ‘A Million Miles Away’ from Belfast is pretty special, something about Lou’s keys being a bit louder in the mix really work with the vocals and then Rory’s lead lines and licks pop out really nicely. It’s cool to hear Rory sing ‘Just A Little Bit’ during ‘Bullfrog Blues’ as well.


Behind the scenes at Cork City Hall. Photo by Pat Galvin

Shadowplays:  The Cork show is something special though. Do you think because the Cork show was Rory’s last chance at recording with the Lane mobile that it spurred him on to greater heights? Certainly his back was against the wall and he just manned up and nailed it! Thankfully Ronnie Lanes mobile was set up to record that very special night.

Daniel Gallagher:  I can imagine it was a big disappointment for Rory that the Lane Mobile didn’t make it in time to record the other shows as he probably would have loved to have had the different crowd reactions on tape to work with and as Rory always played off the crowds energy he would’ve known what night had the best version of a particular song.

From a purely technical sound aspect it’s possibly fortuitous that the Cork show was the only one properly recorded as all venues have a different sound, the room reverberates differently due to the size, the amount of people crammed in etc. Trying to make three different venues sound like one night would’ve been quite difficult and would’ve involved adding a lot of reverb and other effects after in mixing. The amazing thing when doing the mixes to match Robin Sylvester’s is that of the eight channels (drums L, drum R, bass, piano, guitar, vocal, audience mic, film sync code) the majority of the mix is the room mic. The natural sound of the room with the band playing and the audience clapping, singing along etc is integral to the sound of the album, if you were trying to balance this across the three venues it might have led to a neutralising of the natural atmosphere.

I’m not sure what it is about the Cork night though that just is that touch more special, everything Rory improvises comes off, the way he segues between songs just works whereas on the other nights there might be the odd stumble. Maybe it was just the added pride of playing in his hometown with a highly respected film director filming him, the feeling of coming home and showing everyone that he’d really made it.

Shadowplays:   The extra tracks from that Cork show are so good, I’ve got to wonder why at least some of these tracks weren’t included in the original IT ’74 instead of using the After Hours session on side 4. The after hours stuff they did use is good, but to the exclusion of such gems as ‘Hands Off’? Or Going to My Hometown?

Daniel Gallagher:  I guess when Rory was compiling the tracks for Irish Tour he probably had in mind that the tracks that featured on Live! In Europe would be left off so Going To My Hometown, Messin’ With The Kid etc were excluded. Hands Off which is, to use the cliche, a tour de force I can only imagine missed the cut because of it’s length. Being geeky about it he could’ve structured it:
Side 1 Cradle Rock, I Wonder Who, Tattoo’d Lady.
Side 2 Walk On Hot Coals, A Million Miles Away
Side 3 Hands Off, Too Much Alcohol
Side 4 As The Crow Flies, Unmilitary Two-Step, Banker Blues, Who’s That Coming

Not sure where the idea to use the After Hours recording instead of live material for side 4 came from, possibly Rory wanted to have his version of ‘Just A Little Bit’ on the album but as they hadn’t played it (with Bullfrog Blues) in Cork they had to go with the jam recording. Back On My Stomping Ground maybe made the album as Rory might’ve wanted to have a new composition of his own on the album, as most of the set, bar covers, is from Tattoo.

Shadowplays:  Disc 7, the Cork After Hours recordings, were they done the day prior to the final gig? Checking levels? Running the sound through the mobile? That afternoon session seems a bit more than just checking out the Lane mobile though. It’s not just bits and pieces of songs, but full songs that seem very well polished as well. Was it a bit of a fail safe mechanism then? After all, this was their next to last chance at recording some material with the Lane mobile. Maybe Rory was concerned that they wouldn’t get enough material from the next day’s show?

Daniel Gallagher:  It was my guess and Donal’s memory that the City Hall Sessions / After Hours material came from the day before the last gig. We felt if the mobile unit was there prior to that, then it would’ve been used to record the first Cork show so our feeling is that it arrived on the Friday and they set about testing the studio out then. Some of the recordings are very much a sound check such as the acoustic medley and Dylan instrumental, just the band warming up as cables are plugged in, levels checked etc. The full song performances of ‘Treat Her right’ and ‘I Wonder Who’ that are so great might be because they were being filmed by Tony Palmer and Rory thought they might make it in the film, so he was aware of still having to really perform even at soundcheck.


Backstage with Rory Gallagher during the making of Irish Tour ’74, © Pat Galvin

Shadowplays:  I didn’t realize that Tony Palmer filmed the recording of these gems. A shame it didn’t make it into the documentary! Filming Rory working out how best to do a song would be a fun thing to watch. The bits and pieces of songs you’ve included in the After Hours session are interesting. Nice to hear a bit more of Maritime. The tune becomes a bit less Shadows and a bit more Rory towards the end, doesn’t it?

Daniel Gallagher:  Maritime strikes me as Rory starting something as a bit of a Shadows parody but he then gets caught in the moment of coming up with something new and suddenly you can hear him playing a bit more seriously.

Shadowplays:   And the short bit of Dylan’s ‘I Want You’ that Rory plays during the Cork session was beautiful, makes me wonder if he ever had ideas of including a Dylan cover on one of his albums. In later years he’d play a few Dylan tunes during his show; such as, ‘Don’t Think Twice,’ ‘Just Like A Woman,’ and even ‘Highway 61 Revisited’!

Daniel Gallagher:  I think I read somewhere that in the early Taste days they used to cover “Don’t Think Twice”, Bob Dylan was definitely Rory’s favourite artist, he references him so often and seems to have really followed and studied all of Dylans work. Of anyone he could’ve played with or alongside I’m sure Dylan would’ve been Rory’s number one choice.

Shadowplays:   And then there’s the playfulness of Rory’s playing in the Bill Justis tune, “Raunchy”, the exaggerated bending of the notes.

Daniel Gallagher:  To be honest I didn’t know the tune “Raunchy” and was trying to give the track a title till my Dad recognised it. It’s got a cool laid back riff and I love the rockabilly muted chord arpeggios that Rory plays in this and actually in quite a bit of the album

Shadowplays:   It’s nice to see both Stompin’ Ground version on the disc. It’s interesting to see the evolution of that song. Surprised the tune didn’t show up on Against the Grain. Same with the other complete songs from the After Hours sessions, though some were eventually used as CD bonus tracks.

Daniel Gallagher:  I think Rory might have been taking advantage of having the mobile unit spare on that day to put some new ideas down as the two versions of Stomping Ground have overdubbed vocals in certain places so I imagine Rory hadn’t finished writing the track and was trying out different ways to play it with the band. When he was mixing the album he recorded the new lines and added it to the track, that’s why there’s a weird slapback type sound to the vocals in certain places as the vocal overdubs were done on the room mic channel so sometimes double the vocal. Just to reassure there aren’t any overdubs on any of the live material!

Shadowplays:  Not always true with some other famous “live” albums, the Band’s “Last Waltz” immediately comes to mind, but with Rory what you hear on IT ’74 is how it sounded during the show. So is there anything else that wasn’t included in this deluxe edition? Any more bits and pieces of songs from the afternoon session? The “end of tour” party? I heard mention of an interview? Tony Palmer doesn’t have any footage lying around collecting dust, does he?

Daniel Gallagher:  I’ve edited together Rory’s guitar and music talk with Tony Palmer from the soundcheck which in the film is only a few minutes but runs to about 20 minutes in total. I couldn’t get Sony to let me include it in the package on a ten inch vinyl, in fairness 8 discs is quite a lot. I’ll try and find another way of getting this out.

There was some bits of recording from the Cork Boat House after party and a few minutes of the Dubliners with Rory in the bar at the Gresham Hotel in Dublin but sadly nothing really usable as a complete song as there is so much background noise of people talking, pint glasses clinking etc.

Live in Europe promo

Shadowplays:  With the deluxe version of Irish Tour ’74 in the can, is there a possibility of doing a deluxe version of LIE? Do you still have the recordings made from the Pye Mobile? Robin mentioned 3 English shows that were possibly recorded using the Pye mobile: Luton, Nottingham(Birmingham?), and Leicester. He also mentioned the Gerhard Henjes tapes from Germany and Holland.

Daniel Gallagher:  I’d love to give Live In Europe the same treatment but as yet I haven’t come across tapes of the other shows.

Shadowplays:  Hopefully those tapes resurface!

Considering that LIE was taken mostly from one show, the Luton Town Hall gig and IT ’74 was mostly from Cork City Hall, I wonder whether the cohesiveness and balance that a single concert produces was perhaps the missing piece for the StageStruck Live album, still a great album, but perhaps it would have been even better if it had come from a single show.

Daniel Gallagher:  With Stagestruck you can hear the heavy use of reverb to cover the sound changes of the different venues and, for me, that’s why it isn’t as strong a live album as the other two. Of that era I think the Notes From San Francisco live disc gives a really good impression of what the much heavier and louder three piece line up with Ted and Gerry was like.

Shadowplays:  The Pye mobile unit not only recorded the shows for Live In Europe, it was also used for the 1970 Isle of Wight recordings. I understand you are now at work with the Taste material. Are you looking to do an expanded Taste Live at the Isle of Wight lp?

Daniel Gallagher:  On the Isle Of Wight album we’re looking to release the full concert in the setlist order but I’m not sure yet whether this will be part of a DVD package or as a stand alone release.

Shadowplays:   Are we any closer to getting the Isle of Wight video released then? What has been the biggest stumbling blocks with that?

Daniel Gallagher:The biggest stumbling block is the amount of vested parties and their varying degrees of interest in the project happening. Murray Lerner ,the film director, and Strange Music are in agreement to make the film but the latest issues are who owns what rights to the audio, but I’m hoping to start actual editing work on it very soon.

Isle of Wight

Rory Gallagher at the Isle of Wight © rorygallagher.com

Shadowplays:   I remember whining to Murray Lerner a few years back that I wanted to see a ‘Taste at the Isle of Wight’ documentary before I died. I’m not getting any younger, Daniel!

Will the entire Taste catalogue be reissued? Any more Taste video out there? I recall Ulster TV doing a special on Taste called, “An Evening with Taste”, and wouldn’t Montreux have videotaped Taste’s appearance too? Sad to think of all the television footage that has been erased, damaged or lost. Still, just when you think you’ve seen all there is, something new crops up. That clip of Taste at the ’69 Essen Pop & Blues Festival was a pleasant surprise, despite the unusual directorial style.

Daniel Gallagher:  Getting some Taste audio released for next year is on the agenda, it’s a different scenario for us than the solo Rory stuff where we come up with the idea for the next release and take it to Sony / Eagle Rock. Taste as a band is ‘owned’ by Polydor so we have to wait for them to want to do something but things are looking positive for possibly a 4CD set for next year.

We’ve been searching for Taste footage everywhere, sadly the ‘Evening with Taste’ UTV no longer has and we’ve checked with Montreux and they don’t think the concert was filmed as they have no tapes of it. It’s amazing the random clips that turn up such as the German old man shooting the poster of Taste and the recent find you sent me from the Essen Festival. Hopefully somewhere out there is a full Taste concert, focused solely on them.

Shadowplays:  Something else that merits a deluxe offering is Rory’s performances at the BBC — both audio and visual. The two disc BBC Sessions that Donal compiled is one of my favorite albums, but there’s much, much more from their archives, isn’t there? Not to mention the video from his performances at the Hammersmith Odeon and Middlesex Polytechnic!

Daniel Gallagher:  The beeb are pretty good, we’ve had good dialogue with their archive and licensing team and they actually sent us masters of all the footage they have. In the main it’s only what has been broadcast before so sadly no extra hour of unseen material etc but we can really work on the audio and visual so it’d be far better than the VHS copies that are currently on youtube. Then I’d need to go through all the audio concerts and sessions to see the magnitude of the set and then see which of our label partners would want to do the release and whether it’s an audio and visual set or two separate releases etc.

Shadowplays:   Sounds like we got some good things to look forward to, Daniel! Thanks for all your hard work with this latest release, the IT ’74 deluxe edition; it’s a wonderful addition to the Rory catalogue, and we look forward to more releases in the future. And let’s give a quick shout out to Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham for a wonderful job mastering the extended IT 74, and Pat Galvin and Eric Luke for some excellent photographs that were included in the IT ’74 booklet!

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Jan 21 2014

Between the Bombs

Published by under articles

The Blues Magazine

In the November 2012 issue of Classic Rock’s The Blues Magazine, Gavin Martin penned a wonderful article about Rory Gallagher and his rise to prominence in war-torn Belfast, his refusal to abandon the much-bombed city while other bands fled like rats from a sinking ship, and his triumphant return to the city for the making of his landmark album and film, Irish Tour ’74. Special thanks to Matt at Blues Magazine and author Gavin Martin for giving permission to re-post this excellent article. Be sure to check out Classic Rock Blues Magazine’s presence on facebook: The Blues Magazine, and writer Gavin Martin’s website, Talking Musical Revolutions and his facebook presence at Talking Musical Revolutions on FB



Returning guitar hero RORY GALLAGHER brought hope and musical inspiration to his war-torn spiritual hometown of Belfast. The Blues goes behind the barricades to bring you the story of the making of the landmark album and film, Irish Tour ’74




“While Ulster teetered towards the brink,Rory’s Rock hit with righteous affirmation”



Rory Gallagher

By 1974, Belfast, the Northern Irish city Rory Gallagher had, five years previously turned into a rallying point and springboard to international fame, had changed. Changed utterly — with a lot of terror and precious little of the beauty poet W B Yeats saw after the 1916 uprising, in Ireland’s other capital, Dublin.
  Dreams of glory and freedom had coursed through Belfast back in the halcyon 60s. But they had halted with the outbreak of the troubles in 1968, and the subsequent arrival of British Army on the city’s streets.
  But there were those who remembered pre-Troubles Belfast as a bohemian and musical hotspot. In the 60s, Dublin was far more under the sway of the show bands and pop. Belfast’s hardcore blues and jazz scene, steered by such characters as redoubtable record shop owner Dougie Knight and piano-playing blues supremo Jim Daly, ensured it to be the city where the action was.

Gallagher had gone right to the centre of the city’s heat with his new beat group Taste, when he arrived in Belfast in 1967, on the cusp of his 19th birthday. Even for the ‘look Ma, hair down to the collar!’ style of the times, Rory’s wild flowing locks stood out.

As did his extraordinary talent. Brandishing his 1961 paint-stripped, Sunburst Fender Stratocaster, Rory fronted the Cork-originated Taste at Belfast’s Maritime, an old Seaman’s Mission turned rhythm and blues club mad famous by Van Morrison and his band Them.

With Morrison preparing to leave for America to record Astral Weeks – his historic, melancholic farewell to ‘the old’ Belfast – Gallagher arrived, set to be crowned Ireland’s multi-instrumental electric guitar warrior king. And so it came to pass, after Belfast Rory moved onto London, then the world.

By 1974, Gallagher was a star touring the world’s venues, regularly upstaging arena headliners on coast-to-coast American tours; and admired by Clapton, Hendrix, Lennon and Bob Dylan. But, unlike the great and good of rock’s emerging aristocracy or the exiled Morrison, Gallagher played annual Belfast shows.

History recalls the early 70s as the time when Jimmy Page made America shake to its knees, when ‘Clapton Is God’ graffiti was pated on gable walls and Townshend windmill-mapped the world between Tommy and Teenage Wastelands.

Rory at Ulster Hall, Melody Maker

But for a snapshot of The Real Rock Blues as a communal healing ritual, the January 1972 cover picture on the now-defunct Melody Maker, showing Rory onstage with jubilant and sated fans at the end of his Ulster Hall ’72 New Year show, was hard to beat.

During that run of shows, the now solo Gallagher and his new band became the first group to play in his adopted city since the Troubles began; at a venue on the notrious ‘bomb alley’, also home to The Europa, soon to earn the title of the world’s most bombed hotel. Others had ceased playing the city, arguably when their music’s power was most needed. The passionately wrought piece by the late Roy Hollingworth that accompanied the Melody Maker cover photo perfectly summed up the importance of Gallagher’s shows.

“It was something bigger, more valid than just rock’n’roll,” Hollingworth wrote. “I’ve never seen anything quite so wonderful, so stirring, so uplifting, so yours as when Gallagher and the band walked onstage. The whole place erupted. As one unit they put their arms into the air and gave peace signs.”

Small wonder that in 1974, with the Troubles lurching towards what would be one of its most perilous and murderous periods, Gallagher decided to call on film maker Tony Palmer to document that year’s tour of the country where he was born.

Certainly before (and pretty much after) booze and prescription drugs put him on a downward spiral to early death, it is impossible to find anyone with a cross word for Gallagher. The shy, thoughtful, gently spoken man who turned into the most dynamic performer onstage was hardly the archetypal guitar god.

But Gallagher, the people’s guitarist, was well aware of his power to unify the community. In the film Cork and Dublin would feature but it was in his adopted city of Belfast that Rory would make his most notable stand. That surely was uppermost in his mind when he decided to capture the Belfast performance for posterity.

“Belfast had a special place in my heart,” recalls Gerry McAvoy. “I’m a ‘Beal Fearstian’ and Rory regarded it as his second city, his second home.”

McAvoy was foot soldier on Rory’s bass-line, from the making of his 1971 self-titled solo album until 1991, his departure coming three years before Gallagher’s early death caused by complication after a liver transplant in June 1995.

“Rory loved Belfast. Just loved it,” continues McAvoy. “Anytime we hit the stage after 1971 you were aware that, apart from the odd cabaret turn at the Abercorn (site of a 1972 bomb blast killing two and injuring 130), none of the bigger bands would come back to play Belfast, it was starved of music. Obviously after The Miami Showband tragedy it just got worse. We’re professionals. We play as well as we could wherever we played but it was a special situation in Belfast, something you could never acquire or attain at any other gig.”

The horror of the Miami Showband Massacre in 1975 – the cold-blooded murder of three and maiming of two members of the Miami, then the most popular showband in Ireland — on a country road in the dead of night after a gig, plunged the prospects for music in Northern Ireland into the abyss.

Even by the atrocity standards of the time, the horrible callousness of the attack was dumbfounding. Attempting to place a bomb on the groups minivan after stopping them at a bogus checkpoint, two gunmen died when the bomb exploded unexpectedly.

The two more opened fire on the band. Such was the horror of the times.

But Gallagher still remained, returning to play Belfast each year, the bristling performances captured on the Irish Tour ’74 film and accompanying live album, a testimony to his valour and persistence.

Gallagher seems almost predestined to take on the role of music warrior fighting the good fight with his six-string, while the weapons of war raged all around. A calm and meditative Piscean, he was born near a river where his father laid electric cables. Right up until before his death, when he resided in London’s Chelsea Harbour, Gallagher favored living by the water.

His birthplace, Ballyshannon, is in Donegal, the most northerly county in Ireland (although, in a curious ‘joke’ played by the British partition of Ireland, located in the southern Republic after the country’s 1922 division) but, befitting an all-Ireland hero, he was raised in Derry and Cork.

Quickly finding his fingers as a teenage guitar-playing dynamo, he transmuted the influences of Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy and many more to become an instant musical hero for Irish youth.

He caused equal amounts of sensation and outrage when he had first appeared, wild locks a-flowing and the licks flying, on local RTE TV fronting The Impact.

In Belfast, The Maritime’s former status as an old seaman’s mission chimed well with Gallagher’s preference to be near water. And, true to form, he turned the room into a sea of sweat-drenched blues glory.

Taste at Club Rado ©Blair Whyte
Taste at Club Rado ©Blair Whyte

During the time Taste played The Maritime, Gallagher and the band lived down the coast in Ballyholme, near to where I was growing up. In the morning, mysterious sounds, great arcs of electric guitar, were heard over the neighborhood. My six-year-old self was simultaneously confused [this was the same instrument that played on the records at home?] and excited beyond all reckoning. Not least when my father and sister told me that this local star was going to become to the electric guitar what George Best was to football.

In the evening, more than once, there was Gallagher, perched on the wall by the promenade in his check shirt. Just sitting there, looking out at the sea. Perhaps he knew that, for Celtic mystics of old, meditation on water was a pathway to define future intention. Perhaps he was just planning his next move.

Cream Live at the Albert Hall

It was a year later, in 1968, while filming Cream’s Farewell Albert Hall concert, that director Palmer had first seen Gallagher. The guitarist had formed Taste in Cork, but the lineup had changed during the time he spent in Belfast. Coming under the wing of manager Eddie Kennedy, Gallagher was persuaded to axe original drummer Normen Damery and bassist Eric Kitteringham in favor of John Wilson and Charlie McCracken, the ace rhythm section from Belfast’s acclaimed band of the moment, Cheese.

Eric Clapton later credited Gallagher’s exuberant and anguished, vibrant and visceral tone for getting him back into the blues. John Lennon had spread the word on Gallagher’s brilliance after attending an early Taste show at London’s Marquee. After the group laid waste to the 1970 Isle of Wight festival (captured on a subsequent live album), a below-par Jimi Hendrix, drolly but pointedly, remarked “ask Rory Gallagher” when queried what it felt like being the world’s greatest guitarist.

Palmer recalls being brushed aside by Cream’s manager Robert Stigwood when he suggested filming Gallagher at the Albert Hall in ’68. It’s hardly surprising that Stigwood, an impresario with no financial interest in the young Irish comet, wanted the job in hand, guitar god Eric rather than warrior king Rory, to remain the director’s focus.

Still, Palmer’s interest was piqued.

“I just went back and introduced myself, he was very nice and very polite. I said ‘I want to congratulate you — what I heard on the first set was really extraordinary and I’d love to meet up some other time’.”

By 1974, Palmer’s status as a pioneering director of rock music on screen was well advanced, with the Cream film and the John Lennon favorite, All My Loving, Irish Tour ’74 and his Leonard Cohen documentary Bird On a Wire show how he was seized by the momentum of rock’n’blues in a period where experimentation, individuality and transcendental artistry intersected.

Departing his BBC staff job in 1971, Palmer increasingly looked to rock musicians to examine the great themes and practicalities of performing music explored in his earlier classical and opera-themed documentaries, including a look at contemporary composer Benjamin Britten.

“Out of the blue, about mid-1973, I had a call from Donal [Gallagher’s younger brother, confidant, manager and now custodian of the legacy] saying Rory was going to do a tour of Ireland.

“He said ‘Ireland’ very pointedly, did I think that would make an interesting film? I said yes and asked where he was playing.

Irish Tour
Backstage during the making of Irish Tour ’74. Photo by Pat Galvin

“The answer came he was going to play Dublin and Belfast. This was right at the height of the Troubles. I though ‘this is a very interesting proposition’.”

Interesting enough for Palmer’s former employers at the BBC to jump at the chance to have first screening rights. Palmer met Gallagher to talk about the project soon after Donal’s call.

“Rory was at pains to point out he wasn’t active in any sense politically. But he felt very strongly that he should be allowed to play in Northern Ireland and the Republic because to him there was no real difference, except in terms of government.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to make a movie with any political content but it will be self-evident’.

“I said ‘fine’, I wasn’t’ going to be making a political film.”

McAvoy remembers Gallagher downplaying the size or nature of the project to the band in rehearsal. “He was pretty flippant, he didn’t want to make a big deal of it — ‘we might bring a couple of cameras along’.

“But we knew we were going to record it for an album, or an LP, as they said in those days.”

The film crew arrived in Belfast just weeks after the country’s ruling Unionist politicians and associated paramilitary factions met at the Ulster Hall to advance plans for what would become that May’s Ulster Workers’ Council Strike.

During it, my father and other non-sectarian trade unionists pleaded with the Secretary of State Merlyn Rees, then in charge of day-to-day running of the country, to provide protection for intimidated workers. It was all to no avail.

The strike would bring the entire country to a standstill during its two-week duration; succeed in its aim of toppling the power-sharing Sunningdale Agreement; and result in the deaths of 39 people (including 33 killed by UVF bomb lasts in Monaghan and Dublin, dramatically bringing the Irish conflict to the Republic).

May’s Ulster Workers’ Council Strike.
May’s Ulster Workers’ Council Strike — 1974

Such was the perilous climate under which Gallagher’s New Year Ulster Hall performance took place. As without he 1971 shows, certain informed sources had always given a broad indication that, even while bombs exploded around the city, Rory’s gigs would be spared unwanted incursions from the terror campaign.

“It was pretty heated,” says McAvoy. “There was a little fear there, but once you got into the swing, it was, okay,”what’s going to happen is going to happen’.”

Perhaps, but when Palmer’s flight landed in Belfast it was made clear that he and his crew were of interest to the British authorities. “We were met by Special Branch officers who came up to us and said, ‘We know why you are here’.

“I said, ‘jolly good’. They said, ‘We are here to make sure you are okay. I said, “Well, fine, I don’t think we’re anticipating any trouble’. He said, ‘No, but better to be on the safe side.’ As far as I know, they tailed us all the time we were in Belfast.”

McAvoy recalls the making of Irish Tour ’74 as a high for the band as a unit with Rory having a relatively relaxed attitude. But Palmer noted signs of nerves, in line with the fastidious, eventually neurotic, disposition that would — in tandem with the self-medicated toll taken by prescription drugs and Too Much Alcohol – characterize Gallagher’s later years.

“Rory was quite worried about the concert in Belfast. There had been a very nasty explosion two weeks previously, probably the work of the IRA, and he though he might get the back end of that when he went on stage.

Backstage with Rory Gallagher during the making of Irish Tour ’74, ©Pat Galvin

“Some of the scenes that you see in the film in the dressing room, that’s the reason — it wasn’t just the general nervousness of going on stage. He wasn’t quite sure what the reception would be. I think Rory was more nervous than we were.”

The next year, Palmer returned to Dublin to film rebel songs in a hard-line republican hostelry.

“After we’d finished, this guy came up and said, ‘It’s great to meet’cher again.” I said, “Wait a minute, we’ve met before?” He said, ‘Oh yes, when you were filming Rory Gallagher in Dublin we were looking after you.’

“I’m glad I didn’t know,” chuckles Palmer.

Backstage in Belfast and on stage at rehearsal in Cork, Gallagher displays his musical weapons of war, including a steel guitar and his paint-stripped 1961 Fender Sunburst. He explains how harmonica holders worn round his neck have scratched the paint off the bodywork of the Fender. But the paint-stripping process was, and over the years ahead would further be, compounded by the high alkaline content of his sweat acting on the instrument. The perspiration was itself a function of the rare blood group that made it difficult to locate a liver for the transplant operation that would lead to his death.

Gallagher’s music was his heart and soul; he literally put his blood and sweat in it.

“That was the nearest to a political statement he got,” ventures Palmer. “By that tour he was trying to say something politically, ‘You lot have got to get yourself together and stop bombing the hell out of each other. That’s not the way forward.’

“But he didn’t want to make it propaganda. It was a film about him as a phenomenal musician, contrasting the bravado and bravura of him on stage with the completely self-depracating guy who you’d pass in the street and not think twice about. He was so diffident personally and incredibly self-effacing about his incredible skills. He didn’t think there was anything unusual about it, he just though ‘that’s what I do’.”

Palmer’s movie, and the accompanying Irish Tour ’74 live album, captures the outfit comprising McAvoyu, Belfast keyboard player Lou Martin and the splendidly named, skin-shredding Welshman Rod De’Ath at a towering peak.

Only McAvoy remaind from the band featured on Rory’s listening 1972 Live in Europe album; the addition of Martin’s keyboards highlight Gallagher’s growth as arranger and band leader.

Tantalising excitement reigns on the dynamically blistering Walk on Hot Coals. Alongside crowd-rousing triumphs Going To My Hometown and Cradle Rock, Tattoo’d Lady, Rory’s song of faith in and commitment to the minstrel troubadour life, rings with the clarity of a mission statement.

Walk on Hot Coals – from the documentary Irish Tour, directed by Tony Palmer

The euphoric freak-out Who’s That Coming and the lambent shimmer of the majestic A Million Miles Away compare with similar jazzy progressions on 1974’s Out of The Storm by Gallagher’s old Albert Hall Cream sparring partner, Jack Bruce.

Watching the movie or listening to the album now is to grasp the full flavor of an outfit instinctively attuned to travel in any direction Gallagher fancied… be it the meanest, dirtiest blues or expansive exploratory Celtic modal tunings.

“It was what was going on. From ’71 ti ’74 we were touring the states almost non-stop. That really tightens you up as a band,” McAvoy recalls. “You’re going out there playing clubs and arenas with the Faces and Deep Purple, but after your gig you’d go down to a club and hear more great musicians.

“In Chicago we all went down to see Otis Rush, then we saw Willie Dixon playing one night. You’re looking at the music that made you want to play in the first place… in the city where it was born. How could it not affect you?

“We’d go and see these fantastic musicians who were inspirational to us. The next night you go on stage and you wanted to be like these guys.

“We were getting tighter and tighter and tighter.”

Two years after Irish Tour ’74 was filmed, my father took me to see a Chuck Berry concert at Belfast’s ABC cinema, where a periodic security forces-imposed curfew, and higher than usual ticket price, helped account for the meagre crowd. It was amazing to see Chuck Berry but the lifelessness of the atmosphere was completely at odds with the fearless fascination and community unifying glee I experienced when, unchaperoned, I went to see Gallaghe at the Ulster Hall in the same year.

Growing up outside Belfast, the city had become a place of considerable foreboding to me. But the elation experience in the Ulster Hall was something else. Gone were the horrors of sectarian conflict, the pure sense of feeling, of basking in — and being part of — greatness captured on film in Irish Tour was , in the flesh, magnified, many times over.

Irish Tour '74
Screen shot from Irish Tour documentary

There was nothing more I’d ever really want — or could ask for — from music than the sense of purpose and righteousness that night in Belfast offered.

While Ulster, as ever, teetered towards the brink, inside The Ulster Hall, Rory’s rock hit with righteous affirmation. The effect I felt would be widespread. The same night I saw Gallagher, a young kid by the name of Joby Fox, let into the venue as the show climaxed by a kindly doorman, also felt the transformative power and embarked on a life of music making.

Thirty-six years later, Fox is still a professional musician based in the city and, in wisecracking Belfast style, remembers the evening as “fitful”.

Gallagher easily bridged tribal divides, inspiring regular Ulster Hall attendee Jake Burns, later front man of Belfast’s premier punk band Stiff Little Fingers, to pick up the guitar. Gallagher would later guest on albums by SLF and Fox’s former band, Energy Orchard. It is understandable that his reputation has increased since his death, so profound was the effect he had during his lifetime, not just in Belfast but all over the planet.

As a film buff and a perfectionist who fun it hard to cede control to outside forces, whether manager, director or producer, Gallagher was an inevitable presence in the editing suite when the time came for Palmer to cut the movie.

“He was fascinated at how the editing worked. At that time we were using celluloid and kept saying, ‘So it’s all held together with Sellotape?’

“He’d seen the Cream film, 200 Motels (Palmer’s Frank Zappa movie) and All My Loving.

“What he didn’t want was a straight concert picture like the Cream film, which I didn’t want to do either. It would have been too much like hard work.

“He just wanted a film that demonstrated his skills but he wanted to know how we could make it different.

“I said to him, ‘Rory what is different about it is you. You ain’t Mick Jagger… and thank God for that.

“You ain’t as stripy as my friend Lennon. Thank God for that. You are you. And this film is all about capturing you.’

“One thing he was worried about was filming in the dressing room because, he said, ‘nothing ever happens’.

“I said — exactly! On stage you’re all up and at ’em — backstage you’re trying to find some way to open a bottle of Guinness, tuning your guitar, looking knackered.

“He was quite happy to have it done but didn’t see the point of it until he saw it put together and then he realized. What it showed was a working practical musician who was just like you and me.

“Only he could play the guitar off the fucking planet.”

And, of course, it was that ability and its concomitant effects that Palmer captures most vividly in the film.

“Rory had two incredible qualities — he could play like nobody else, and somehow his personality was something the audience responded to in quite a loving and open way.

“They thought he was on their side. It’s one of those indefinable things you immediately sense — if a performer is on your side or in your face — they just knew he was one of them.

Who’s That Coming – from the documentary Irish Tour, directed by Tony Palmer

“The other thing is that there was absolutely no bullshit about him, it wasn’t that he was rude but he wasn’t there to talk to the audience. You didn’t want to hear, and you didn’t get, funny stories from him or the history of the universe or the meaning of life. Audiences respect that because they get fed up with people yakking at them.

“The real feeling at the end of every concert was an absolute joy of music, making real uplifting joy. It just lifted your spirits. You felt completely elevated by it.

“It’s not for me to say if I succeeded or not but that was certainly the quality I tried to get across.”

Palmer’s approach to filming Gallagher was markedly different to the method he’d deployed with Cream.

“We only had one camera. That confused Rory quite a bit. At the Cream concert we had four colour video cameras, but they were so clumsy and difficult to move. One of the problems was that I had given each of them their own camera and said, ‘Eric, please don’t turn your back, I can’t move the camera if you do’, and of course he did, not on purpose, it was just what he did.

“With Rory in concert I wanted it to feel as if you were actually there. We could film the same number in four different venues. I said to Rory, ‘As long as you don’t change your shirt it will be okay.’

“He said, ‘but it will be very smelly’.

“I said, ‘Don’t worry, you can’t smell on film,’ and for the most part he kept the same shirt on.

“What I was trying to do was make it as fresh as I could, which meant long takes — not lots of cuts, swooping over the audience and all the rubbish you see now.

“I wanted to shoot it up close and personal, so that the viewer would feel what I was feeling, sat on stage.

“That intrigued Rory. After the Belfast concert we had a discussion and he said, ‘I didn’t notice until after 10 minutes where you were’.

I said, ‘I was right alongside you on stage’. He said he’d realized but it han’t worried or affected him at all, once he was aware.

“You can’t take that awareness away but it han’t affect his performance.”

As a display of guitar rock theatrics and dynamics, there is no greater teacher for an aspiring guitarist than Gallagher. The unbridled emotion captured in the heat of performance on Irish Tour ’74 remains eternally inspiring.

“What young guitarists — or anyone watching the film today — can take away is the joy of making music for its own sake.

“There’s an audience reacting volubly but, this isn’t a show in the putting on a performance sense, the players are focused on each other, listening to each other, making music because it’s a wonderful thing to do,” says Palmer.

Irish Tour captures the dichotomy of Rory Gallagher, too. Away from the crowds, the on stage avenger in full valiant flight, galvanizing the feeling of fresh excitement and “open, loving” quality Palmer felt, becomes a lone meditative figure, keeping his own thoughts and counsel.

“This was a shy man who was cast into a spotlight he didn’t exactly feel comfortable with. He knew it was his destiny– but it didn’t make it any easier for him to accept.

“I think loner is too strong a word but he was, like all great musicians, like all great artists. they are on their own and they know that is part of the price they pay to do what they do.”

Ten years after Irish Tour, in the summer of 1984, Gallagher’s second Belfast performance on his first Irish tour in four years coincided with six IRA bomb blast across the city. Economic depression and a heroin epidemic now added to the cruel divisions wrought by violent sectarianism. Creem magazine writer Bill Holdship found a still music-starved country being given sustenance by the ever-faithful returning here.

Rory at Ulster Hall 1984
Rory Gallagher at the Ulster Hall in 1984, photo provided by Stephen Loughins

“He’s a national hero here because he’s out there playing for the farmers and people who don’t normally get to hear live rock music,” road manger Phil O’Donnell told Holdship, as the tour headed out from Belfast to more obscure and forsaken rural outposts.

Gallagher was in good spirits, with The Clash and Elvis Costello among his muddy Waters and Bo Diddley tapes, forwarding the tantalizing idea that Dylan (a professed Rory fan) should record a Highway’61 for the 1980s — offering himself up to play the Mike Bloomfield role.

As approachable as ever to fans, Gallagher was the primal warrior at pains to stress the need for the music that had propelled him to be sustained, unimpressed by the newly fashionable wave for synthesizing music and feeling.

“I don’t believe in computer glorification or the electronic age because, in the end, it’s going to be our source of destruction,” he told Holdship. “The press about what’s going on over here has frightened people and I suppose, if I were English or American, I’d think twice about coming here.

“The sad fact is there a new rock fans growing up and they need to hear live stuff. So I suppose you could call it a service in a very small way, but I feel it’s the least you can do if you grew up playing in these areas and you have a sort of following here.”

Two years before the guitarist died, Palmer once again met up with Gallagher with a view to shooting a follow-up documentary.

“He wasn’t very well but playing again, trying to put Humpty Dumpty together.

“It was very much along the lines of ‘The last film was such fun, let’s do it again’. I said, ‘Of course, but there’s only one problem. I haven’t made a rock film since 1976 and I didn’t want to make any more, but you will be the exception.

“He laughed and thought that was very funny but the idea never got anywhere.”

McAvoy’s last contact with Gallagher, a Christmas phone call a year after he left the band, was strained. Gallahger wasn’t in great shape. At what would be his last London show the same year, visibly the worse for wear, he was taken off stage by his brother Donal.

“It’s a shame the audience didn’t realize the pain he was going through,” says McAvoy. “But maybe he shouldn’t have been on stage in the first place, although that’s easy to say in retrospect.”

Palmer adds: “Since he died, Rory’s reputation has gone up by leaps and bounds — and thank God for that.

“It went through a terrible slump and decline, partly thorough his own making, in the 80s.

“His moment in the sunshine was the few years before we made the film and the three or four years that followed.

Rory Gallagher Band
Rory Gallagher Band June 1972-May 1978

“He did his best to keep his feet on the ground but sometimes it gets to you and it got to him. I think he felt quite depressed about it. In the end it takes you away from the thing you know you should be doing — playing the guitar. Once the record company and PR mating gets going you are on the road to nowhere. I don’t think he got the support he needed.

“When De’Ath left that was trouble for him. There were antagonisms in the group. There always are but they were his family. That was true for a lot of bands but it was particularly true of Rory. I witnessed some pretty cross scenes between him and Gerry McAvoy, but in the end they had a bond which was, ‘We’ve got to get out there and play like hell’. the were bonded together, no question of that. When your family fractures it can leave you not knowing what to do. I think that left him lonely, and loneliness brings other things along. In Rory’s case, I thin that was drink.”

But Rory’s great work — and there’s a wealth of it on Eagle Rock DVD, the Donal-curated album reissues and YouTube — endures, laying down a challenge and inspiration to future generations. Surprisingly, in today’s new-fangled history celebrating Ulster Hall, the pivotal importance of Gallagher’s remarkable run of shows there is underplayed. There’s a plaque, but more fashionable UK names played there get prominence. A shame. At least in Ballyshannon they have a statue to celebrate his memory.

But Gallagher was only in Ballyshannon for a few months at the start of his life. It was within the walls of the venue on ‘bomb alley’ that the tender-hearted, soft-spoken, dogged determination and captivating presence of Ireland’s guitar warrior poet and people’s hero found its fullest flowering.

Gavin Martin, The Blues Magazine, Nov 2012

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