June 9, 2023

Gary Moore’s label history is quite complicated. He had been with Virgin and/or its subsidiaries throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, but jumped ship to Castle Music for his mould-breaking 1999 album A Different Beat. Via a complex series of business acquisitions, Castle was swallowed up by Sanctuary the following year, with the rights now owned by German outfit BMG. Moore had migrated again by 2006, after having recorded four albums for the-company-that-was-Sanctuary, which have now been made available as a sumptuous CD boxed set by BMG, named Gary Moore – The Sanctuary Years 1999-2004. The albums are A Different Beat (1999), Back To The Blues (2001), Scars (2002) and Power Of The Blues (2004), which have been packaged along with an edited 5.1 mix of Back To The Blues on Blu-Ray, complete with some interview material, making this a 5-disc set – there is no option for a DVD version of the latter, sadly. The set includes a few stickers, a postcard and A3 poster, and a mock-up of a gig ticket from 2002, the whole thing packaged in a sturdy DVD-sized box. The set doesn’t include a stand-alone booklet, or indeed any notes of its own, but the albums are most impressively presented in full gatefold CD packaging, with all the notes you would expect on the covers, and each with a brand new 12-page insert with notes by Dave Everley and quotes from Moore himself, recounting the history of each recording. As such, even if the buyer decides to ditch the rather bulky packaging, the four albums stand out loud and proud as full CD releases on their own, rather than the stripped-down cardboard sleeves that would be usual in such cases.

Moore’s musical history is hardly less complex. He drifted in and out of rock bands Skid Row and Thin Lizzy, and jazz-rock fusion outfit Colosseum II, releasing his debut as the Gary Moore Band in 1973 and stumping up an impressive session for Julian Lloyd Webber on his proggy Variations in 1978. But Moore’s solo career really took off with Back On The Streets in 1979, his blisteringly fast lead guitar and hard rock riffing taking him through the next decade, when he suddenly and unexpectedly gave up hard rock for blues – OK, it was still electric, heavy blues, but mostly 12-bar, rooted in the work of the masters. This lasted for another decade, before his restless musical ambitions moved him to record Dark Days In Paradise, a lush, layered, melodic offering that undoubtedly presents some of his most thoughtful work, but contained very little of his screaming, rocking guitar.

And thus we come to A Different Beat, in which he went even further into left-field, attempting to marry his bluesy, rocky guitar style with electronic dance music, even dabbling with electronic drums and cut and pasted vocal samples. The set includes some rocky numbers, but laid over strident guitar sounds and jittery dance beats – the opener Go On Home for instance, and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Fire. It also includes plenty of blues-based material, such as the clearly John Lee Hooker-inspired Worry No More, and the front porch blues of Bring My Baby Back, in which the electronic features are included more as an adornment to the traditional phrasing, rather than underpinning the whole number. Highlights include the melodic rock of Lost In Your Love, with a chorused lead guitar tone that’s a dead ringer for The Isley Brothers, and a beautifully fluid, extended guitar solo that stands as one of Moore’s finest moments in any genre, and the ambient, bluesy ballad Surrender, which features one of the most tastefully restrained solos of his career. So there is plenty in there to please guitar fans, as long as they can also tolerate the out-and-out dance beats of Can’t Help Myself, (and its eight-minute remix by Suffolk drum’n’bass outfit E-Z Rollers, included as a bonus track), and Fatboy, an unashamed tribute to sample and remix supremo Fatboy Slim. Does it sound like an intriguing mix? I won’t lie, it really is, and hats off to the man for attempting it, but even Moore considered it something of a musical cul-de-sac, and reversed out with all speed for his next album.

Lest there should be any doubt, the next release was named Back To The Blues. The previous two albums had been a lot of work and took a lot of time, with Moore exploring new musical styles and feeling his way blind through unfamiliar territory. The avowed intention of Back To The Blues therefore, was for it to be as spontaneous as possible, with a stripped-back, raw sound. To these ears, he succeeded just a little too well – Moore was arguably the world’s leading bluesman at the time, but there are a million decent blues guitarists out there, and probably most of them could have made a decent stab at this album. Sure, it starts promisingly enough, with the Moore original Enough Of The Blues opening with a verse of down-home front-porch resonator guitar, before bursting in with powerful electric blues for the 2nd verse onwards, then following this up with a take on BB King’s rolling, jazzy You Upset Me Baby. The album is a mixture of originals and standard classics, but the choice of covers is so predictable as to be a little trite – Johnny Guitar Watson’s Looking Back, Jimmy Reed’s I Ain’t Got You, T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday. All great songs, but Moore could play these in his sleep. Even the promising ballad Picture Of The Moon, on which he reverts to the style of Parisienne Walkways or Still Got The Blues, suffers somewhat from under-production, with an absolutely dry lead guitar, with no reverb or echo. Again, this was a conscious decision, Moore saying of the album, “We didn’t use a lot of echo and stuff, we just kept it raw.” The three-minute playout solo follows the template of those earlier hits, but doesn’t really build or go anywhere, so despite being released as a single, it didn’t really gain traction. Of course, there are some excellent original numbers on the record: Cold Black Night and How Many Lies are both great, riffy, pub blues numbers; The Prophet is a weeping, six-minute instrumental with a howling guitar line and judicious use of volume-knob ambience in the extended playout. The album is extended by adding the single edit of Picture Of The Moon, and a couple of live cuts; this version of Stormy Monday is arguably better than the original album version. I can’t really rate it amongst Moore’s best work, although it clearly was a cathartic experience for him, as he said, “I stuck to the plan and I was so proud when we finished it; it was exactly the record I’d wanted to make.”

Surprisingly then, Moore went off on another tangent with his next project, putting together a power trio named Scars to produce an album consciously inspired by Jimi Hendrix, specifically in his Band Of Gypsys era. The only musician he retained from Back To The Blues was drummer Darrin Mooney, best known from Primal Scream, while adding Cass Lewis from Skunk Anansie on bass. The idea was to create a hard-rocking blues album, but Moore said it veered way more into the rock arena than he intended – no matter; it’s a worthy addition to the canon, sporting a much rawer, almost punky edge than the highly produced rock he was doing during the New Wave of Heavy Metal. It starts with a few bars of heavily Hendrix-inspired wacka-wacka wah guitar, much like the intro to Voodoo Chile, before launching into When The Sun Goes Down, featuring a simmeringly angry vocal line over deep bass. The guitar is heavy on the fuzz, more trebly than we are used to from Moore, but it manages to avoid mushiness.

Wasn’t Born In Chicago references the blues of course, but Mooney’s frenetic drumming and the electronic bass stabs underpin a completely clear-toned guitar solo, which bursts into electronic fuzzy noise towards the end. Stand Up is another groovy, angry, punky rock song with Chilli Peppers drumming and low-slung bass, with synthy sounds that hark back to A Different Beat. There are more blues throwbacks in the slow, almost maudlin, end-of-evening Just Can’t Let You Go and the mid-tempo, riffy pub blues shuffle of My Baby (She’s So Good To Me), with the heavy 3-4 rhythm of World Of Confusion bringing early ‘70s proto-prog to mind.

The 13-minute Ball And Chain is the kingpin of this album though, and it’s blues all the way – a chugging, thudding slow blues shuffle that opens with the line, “My baby gone and left me…” Moore follows his own vocal line on a barely-controlled overdriven guitar, and it’s executed perfectly; the two are in perfect unison. There is a definite flavour of Rory Gallagher about the vocal phrasing, but the guitar work – and the general structure of the song, all on one chord – could easily be Robin Trower. The album finishes on another epic, the 10-minute ballad Who Knows (What Tomorrow May Bring)? with its super-tasteful clear-toned soloing in between loud, jagged sections. A lot of credit goes to Chris Tsangarides, who produced both this album and Back To The Blues; both sets were based on a stripped-down and raw premise, but it’s surprising just how different the ambience is between the two. Scars was supposed to be a different band with a different style, but the album cover is cleverly (and rather cynically on the part of the label, in my opinion), designed to come across as a Gary Moore solo album, with Lewis and Mooney’s names in tiny print.

The final album of the four is 2004’s Power Of The Blues, which is basically Moore’s return to electric blues rock, but this time done right. It’s largely a cross between Back To The Blues, which was supposed to be stripped-down raw electric blues, and Scars, which was supposed to be a bluesy power trio, so he retained the power trio format, but attempted to stick closer to the blues paradigm – and this time he squarely hits the coconut. Moore’s guitar work is more strident and unrestrained than on either of the two previous sets, although the blistering speed of the past is gone, as he has virtually given up playing fast by this time, preferring to concentrate on the feel of the piece. Darrin Mooney is retained on drums, but Moore’s old mate Bob Daisley is brought in on bass, and it proves to be an inspired choice, as Daisley simply gets it. They also allow themselves the luxury of a keyboard player in the shape of Jim Watson on three of the songs.

The set open with the 2½ minute title track, which comes in immediately on the vocals with no intro at all, then changes tempo a couple of times in the short time allotted to it. Moore indulges in a short harmony guitar overdub in the screaming There’s A Hole, and brings out the wah pedal again for the rolling blues of Tell Me Woman. The version of Otis Rush’s I Can’t Quit You Baby was recorded on the fly more-or-less as soon as they got to the studio, and that first rough take is the one that went on the album – there are a couple of other, more obscure covers, but for the most part these are Moore originals. Howlin’ Wolf’s Evil is given a nice treatment, with a wacky touch-wah staccato rhythm, some beautiful walking bass during the solo, and a discordant final crash like a guitar falling downstairs, accentuated by Moore’s evil cackle. The highlight for me is probably the slow shuffle of Getaway Blues, with deep bass and a lovely bit of overdubbed guitar answer-back, but Thin Lizzy nerds will appreciate the cover of Percy Mayfield’s Memory Pain, which Lizzy also recorded, as the non-album B-side to Trouble Boys during Snowy White’s tenure with the band. The album concludes with Can’t Find My Baby, an up-tempo shuffle with walking bass and organ backing that sounds like the Gary Moore we know and love, and the slow, minor-key blues of Torn Inside, which could have come straight from the Peter Green songbook. In short, this is Gary Moore back on form, and for all the interesting variations in the other three albums, Moore fans are likely to enjoy this one the most. Kudos too, for the interesting urban art on the cover, created by two graffiti artists from Brighton named David and Alex.

Moore’s ever-changing band would continue with Mooney on drums for one more album, before he landed the coup of having Brian Downey play on his 2007 album Close As You Can Get. Sadly, one more album after that would see an end to his career, as we lost Gary Moore at just 58 years of age. For any fans who weren’t really keeping up with the changes towards the end of his life, this boxed set is an excellent way to catch up.

Gary Moore – The Sanctuary Years 1999-2004 will be released on 23 June 2023 via BMG