How Rory Gallagher showed he can still rock
It was an older and more concerned Rory Gallagher who took the stage at Cork Opera on November 4, 1987. At 39, Cork’s greatest rocker had lost some of his previous leanness and intensity. He looked tired around his eyes, that war horse that had spent so long at the front.
But it took 30 seconds for the woes and wrinkles to disappear as he plunged into Continental Op, one of the strongest tracks from his 1987 summer album, Defender. Backed by the longtime stalwarts of bassist Gerry McAvoy and drummer Brendan O’Neill, Gallagher soared through this blues blitzkrieg. It was as if an earthquake had hit Emmet Place.
“Rory wasn’t that fiery. Much of the fire had gone out of him – because of one thing or another. His illness or whatever, ”explains Barry Barnes, leader of the Rory Gallagher Sinnerboy tribute group. “But the structure of his guitar solos was amazing. Maybe not as wild as before. Each solo told a story. It was so well put together – a beautiful, beautiful concert.
This Cork spectacle, which in many ways sparked a Gallagher comeback, was captured for posterity in a live video (which can be viewed in full on YouTube). And now his spirit is to be evoked at the Opera as Barnes and Sinnerboy – named after Gallagher’s 1971 Belter Sinner Boy – recreate the concert from start to finish on Friday, October 29.
“I think Cork woke up a bit to Rory in ’87,” says Barnes, a true authority on his hero’s music. ” I do not know why. It must have been a good year. It was just a really good concert.
Gallagher died in 1995 at the age of 47 from complications from a liver transplant. But the idea that he had peaked in the ’70s isn’t really confirmed if you listen to his catalog, says Barnes. With each new record he has progressed as a songwriter, musician and artist. And if he wasn’t quite the rock’n’roll superman of 10 years before, Cork 1987 nonetheless saw him operate at the peak of his musical abilities.
“People say he was the best in the ’70s. For me he was better with every album,” says Barnes. “Every album he released, I thought it was better than the last, until Fresh Evidence [Gallagher’s1990 swan-song]. ”
Gallagher had gone through a rough patch in the years leading up to the Opera performance. He had quarreled with his label Chrysalis. This is why Defender has been self-released. Becoming independent was a huge blow for Gallagher.
He was also frustrated to see his no-frills blues-rock milieu fall out of fashion in the ’80s. It had been replaced by the pantomime genre of “hair metal” – a style of music he hated. He wasn’t kidding when he said he’d rather play with old The Shadows than cool kids from the Bon Jovi neighborhood.
He had started drinking and taking drugs (he looks visibly bloated on stage at the Opera). And yet this old genius has lasted. And Defender was regarded by aficionados as one of his best.
“Defender is his most primitive album in a decade and a half, based on his love and faith in the blues, his encyclopedic knowledge of elementary American music,” writes Julian Vignoles in his Gallagher biography, Rory Gallagher: The Man Behind the Guitar.
Defender was sort of a concept LP. Gallagher was a huge fan of black detective novels and the project was his homage to the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett (Continental Op, the first song he played in Cork, was named after a novel by Hammett). He had developed his love for hardened detectives in a 1987 interview with Hot Press’s Bill Graham, in which he compared detectives to traveling bluesmen.
“Guess I’m not a big fan of the law or the detectives because they’re not always the nicest people – but in the movies they’re always interesting because you don’t know their background,” had he said to Graham.
“They just come to a town and set up an office. I am not interested in violence, it is the characters, the words they say and the loyalties: in particular the code of honor between police officers and thieves in French gangster films. I mean there’s plenty to eat and drink in all of this.
Live at Cork Opera House 1987 leans heavily on old blues. Gallagher performs three Defender songs and five covers, including numbers by Lead Belly, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson.
“Cork’s setlist was pretty bluesy,” says Barnes. “What we’re going to do is do the Cork thing but sprinkle it. If you look at the length of the Cork concert, it was one hour 27 minutes.
“Now Rory would never go on stage for just one hour 27 minutes. He wouldn’t have been sweating by then. They will have done other things that weren’t filmed. The other thing is, if we go to Cork and take the stage and don’t play A Million Miles Away and Tattoo’d Lady – we won’t get out of Cork. These will be the blows.
Gallagher is recognized today as one of the greatest virtuosos in rock. And new light was shed on key moments in his career, like his invitation / audition in 1975 to play with the Rolling Stones. Gallagher had been summoned to Rotterdam as he was about to fly to Japan on tour (before he developed his chronic fear of the plane).
Mick Jagger believed Gallagher could be the perfect replacement for Mick Taylor, who had drastically left the Stones. Gallagher went jamming with Jagger and drummer Charlie Watts. But Keith Richards, in one of his drugged phases, had failed Gallagher’s test because he was in a chemical haze. By the time he had reached the land of the living, Gallagher had left for Japan.
“It wouldn’t have worked,” says Barry Barnes of Rory Gallagher as Rolling Stone. “Rory is not a sideman. Ronnie Wood is perfect for that and Rory wouldn’t have been. He wouldn’t have just followed. He had too much to say for himself to just play rhythm guitar. for someone.
Barnes discovered Gallagher after going to Rare Records in his native Manchester in 1969 to purchase the last Led Zeppelin. He was sold. So he bought a record from Gallagher’s band Taste instead. Enamored with Corkman’s game, he made sure he was in the crowd when Taste made headlines at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall several weeks later.
“I walked in and was really disappointed,” he says. “Instead of the amp wall I was used to, there was just this little Vox amp on a kitchen chair. And I was like ‘oh no I’m not gonna like this’. It won’t be like Hendrix. And sure enough, Rory ran, plugged his guitar in that box, and blew my brains out.
In Cork this week, Sinnerboy won’t try to recreate the 1987 concert note by note. They see the evening as a celebration of Gallagher and his legacy rather than an attempt to cover his music.
“This is the spirit of it. We try to recreate the atmosphere, ”says Barnes. “No one can play the guitar like Rory. We want to try to recreate the memories. What I’ve always said about Sinnerboy is that it’s not a band on stage and an audience watching. It’s a bunch of Rory fans coming together. It is a celebration. It turns out that some of us have learned to play the songs and some of us are in the audience. It does not matter. We are all family.
- Sinnerboy to recreate Rory Gallagher’s Live at Cork Opera House concert at Cork Opera House on Friday 29 October