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A Taste of Rory Gallagher

Foz looks back on the career of one of Ireland's finest exports.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the late, great Rory Gallagher’s recording career. His first commercial release came as part of the Cork blues-rock trio Taste. Their self-titled debut LP was issued in 1969 but within two years the band had fallen apart with Rory leaving to embark on what would become a hugely successful solo career.

Like so many music fans in Suffolk I have very fond memories of the Irishman’s shows at the Ipswich Gaumont. He first appeared there in February 1977 and returned in April of the following year. I was a teenager in those days and recall both nights as if they were yesterday. On both occasions The Joe O’Donnell Band opened up for Rory. Joe was formerly a member of the folk-rock group East Of Eden who you may recall hit the pop charts with the instrumental Jig-a-Jig.  Also present on both nights was Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs. In those days Tony lived in Haverhill and was invited on stage with Rory and the band for the encore. How exciting was that? Well, for a young rock fan like me, very!

Alongside Rory at his Ipswich shows were bassist Gerry McAvoy, drummer Rod de’Ath and keyboards player Lou Martin. With studio albums like Against The Grain and Calling Card as well as the concert LPs Live In Europe and Irish Tour ’74 rarely off my Garrard turntable I was very familiar with most of Rory’s repertoire in those days. Those albums and Rory’s shows in Ipswich helped shape my eclectic taste in music and I am proud to say I have every Rory Gallagher release in my collection.

I am even prouder to say I got to meet the great man a decade later in 1989. By then I was working at Radio Orwell and Saxon Radio and along with my good friend and colleague Nick Coady was invited to compere the 3rd Mildenhall Rock and Blues Festival held at West Row. It was a very long day. If I’m honest Nick and I did put away several beers and that was before the first band came on! We had already sorted who was introducing who and Nick being a great guy was more than happy for me to announce one of my big heroes.

A few weeks before the Mildenhall bash I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse : ”Would you like to travel down to London to interview Rory for your radio show?” I forget who asked me to do the interview but as you might expect I didn’t need asking twice.

During the previous few years, as presenter of The Headbangers’ Ball, I’d already done lots of face-to-face interviews with rock legends like Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant and Lemmy but I can honestly say I was still nervous at the prospect of meeting Rory. I needn’t have worried of course. I did the interview in a music store in Earl’s Court and Rory couldn’t have made me more welcome. We got on well and once we’d done the interview he suggested we retire to a nearby pub. Sadly I had to say no as I had a train to catch back to Ipswich.

By 1989 Rory’s band had a different look and feel. Bassist Gerry McAvoy was still there but he now had drummer Brendan O’Neill and harmonica player Mark Feltham alongside him. Tracks from Defender, the first album they made together, played a big part in Rory’s Mildenhall set.

Fast forward 30 years and to the exciting news of a 3 CD set which comes out at the end of this month. Simply called Blues, it pulls together loads of previously unreleased Rory Gallagher recordings from the vaults including a whole CD’s worth of acoustic recordings. It also includes some of his many collaborations with blues greats like Muddy Waters and Albert King. Ninety percent of the material has never been out before so for us Rory Gallagher fans it’s manna from heaven. It’s being released on the Chess label and how Rory would have loved that.