Regular consumers of these pages will be aware that this year sees the 50th anniversary of Rory Gallagher’s first solo album in 1971. The world lost Rory in 1995 at the age of 47, but his popularity continues to grow, and in fact the Donegal bluesman was voted Ireland’s Greatest Music Artist of All Time in a recent listener poll by Dublin radio station Newstalk. When you consider that includes such luminaries as Thin Lizzy, U2 and Van Morrison, as well as the cream of Ireland’s folk music tradition, it is some accolade.
Last year saw the 25th anniversary of his premature demise, and the tributes and compilation albums have been flying thick and fast – but the 4CD + DVD reissue of that first album, including a full John Peel radio session, a DVD of his first-ever solo concert in Paris, and a 32-page hardback book, surely sets new standards in deluxe re-releases.
Much more personal though, is the tribute paid by former band members and friends in the live-streaming event that took place on September 9th, on both the RoryGallagherOfficial YouTube channel and the RoryGallagher Facebook page. Under the name Band Of Friends, bassist Gerry McAvoy, who played on every one of Rory’s solo albums, and Brendan O’Neill, his drummer from 1981 to 1991, got together with some mates to perform six tracks from that first album in a 30-minute wave of pure nostalgia. It’s called a livestream, but in fact it is all pre-recorded, and begins with McAvoy’s spoken intro, which showcases the vinyl version of the new boxed set. Still socially-distanced and recorded in their own homes, McAvoy and O’Neill were joined by Paul Rose on vocals and lead guitar and Jim Kirkpatrick, also on lead guitar, and kicked off with the opener from the album, the up-tempo blues-rocker Laundromat. Rose’s singing hits the spot between Gallagher and Hendrix, while he and Kirkpatrick co-operate on answering Strat solos.
After this rocker though, it’s surprising just how much of Rory’s early material was introspectively understated; with both guitarists sitting down for a take on the country ballad It’s You, Kirkpatrick on an acoustic. McAvoy’s smooth, creamy voice takes the lead vocal on this one, while Rose plays some heavily-reverbed slide reminiscent of a pedal steel. After a brief interlude showcasing 30 seconds or so of original Rory, they start into a great rendition of For The Last Time, which starts with some atmospheric chords on a deep tremolo setting, before building to a raucous climax, probably the best number for this reviewer.
Fall Apart is a minor-key ballad, whose relatively complex descending guitar line requires both guitarists to fit capoes at the third fret – this is fine for the rhythm work but can become a bit of an encumbrance when soloing; nevertheless both guitarists handle their solos with aplomb. McAvoy comes back to the mike for Wave Myself Goodbye, on which he and Rose both sit and play acoustic six-strings, and are joined by David Cowan playing some great honky-tonk piano from his living room. The tempo rises again for the last number; Hands Up is a staccato rocker with a lot of complex stops and starts. After this, the credits play out over Rory’s original recording of the bluesy ballad Just The Smile, which is probably my favourite number from the record, with its melodic chord pattern and subtle bongo rhythm.
Rory’s music generally plays down the complexity and relies on the heart and soul. Truth to tell, any band of friends could probably give it a fair go. But this band of friends is a different thing – two of them were essentially Rory’s backing band for ten years, and the remainder are clearly into the whole thing. At a bare half-hour, open to anyone who wanted to see, it was easy to tune in and watch, and share comments with fans from all around the world – quite a few tuning in from Scandinavia by the looks of it. The event is still there on YouTube and the Facebook page if you scroll down the list to 9th September, and it’s half an hour well spent.