Belfast Telegraph


As the ninth anniversary of Rory Gallagher's death approaches, Neil Johnston pays tribute to the Irish guitar genius who sold over 30m albums ... and remains revered among blues fans today

By Neil Johnston
11 June 2004

The enduring memory of a much loved Irish rock musician drew hundreds of his faithful fans to a town in Co Donegal last weekend.

They travelled like pilgrims from all over Europe to Ballyshannon to pay tribute to the blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, the late great Rory Gallagher.

For it was there, on March 2, 1948, in the appropriately named Rock Hospital, that Gallagher was born.

And although his family moved to Cork when he was two, Ballyshannon has always been proud of its most famous musical son.

A commemorative plaque was unveiled at his birthplace some years ago, and there is a second monument to him in East Port Road near the site of his parents' original home.

And last weekend, many musicians who had either worked with or were influenced by him, gathered in the town to honour his memory at the second annual international Gallagher tribute festival.

It was held to coincide with the 9th anniversary of the guitarist's death.

He died in London on June 14, 1995, at the sadly early age of 47, from complications which followed a liver transplant.

To his local followers, who remember in particular his pulsating concerts in Belfast's Ulster Hall, it will scarcely seem like nine years since that potent and much battered Stratocaster guitar was silenced forever.

And it is a measure of the lasting appeal of Gallagher's musicianship that many of his admirers today are too young ever to have heard him play live in concert - and that includes most of the organisers of the festival in Ballyshannon last weekend.

They just have his records to enjoy and marvel at - he sold over 30 million of them in a 30 year career.

A more fortunate generation of ageing rockers (including this writer) can treasure both the albums and the memories of the gifted kid in the trademark jeans and checked plaid shirt on the stage, blasting out the blues which were his passionate and life long personal statement to the world.

Among the musicians who gathered in Ballyshannon last weekend were the Band Of Friends, a bunch of Gallagher veterans who prefer to be known "not as a tribute band but as a celebration of Rory's music".

They include Gallagher's long serving sideman, the Belfast bassist Gerry McAvoy, who toured with him for nearly 20 years and is now with Nine Below Zero, who also performed at last week's festival.

He recalled how he and local drummer Wilgar Campbell joined Gallagher in 1971 after the guitarist's original band, Taste, split up.

Gallagher, with whom he had jammed informally, asked him "if he fancied coming over to London and doing a couple of gigs". Their association was to last somewhat longer than that, and they had chart success in 1972 with the release of what was to be the band's biggest selling album, Live In Europe.

McAvoy vividly remembers Christmas 1971 because that was when he made his first trip home to Belfast as a member of the Gallagher band.

"It was unbelievable." he said. "Because of the Troubles, nobody was playing Belfast at that time, and I remember the night we played, a couple of bombs went off around the city. It made the front page of Melody Maker.

"We did the Christmas gig in Belfast for quite a few years, always starting in the Ulster Hall and ending up in Cork for the New Year."

"My favourite gig? I admit I'm biased towards Belfast because its my home town, but I think it was probably my last Ulster Hall concert with him in the 80s.

"I remember going onstage and he got a standing ovation which lasted for about five minutes. It was an amazing reaction, and it's one that sticks out in my mind.

"We toured America about 28 times, and on one occasion, in South Carolina, our support band was ZZ Top! They were massive in Texas, but in certain other places, Rory was bigger than they were.

"Looking back on it, I was lucky, as a 19-year-old kid, to have learned my craft from someone as skilled as Rory - how to play, how to control an audience, stage culture. It has stood by me all these years.

"The sad thing is that he left us so early. I'd still love to ring him up and meet him for a pint of Guinness."

But nine years on, as last weekend's gathering in Ballyshannon showed, Gallagher lives timelessly on through his music.

In fact, a quote from an old Doc Watson country blues song (which Rory probably knew well) fits the bill perfectly:

When I'm gone, don't you hang crepe on my door,

For I won't be dead, I just won't be here no more.

• The annual Rory Gallagher commemorative gig will be held at the Empire Music Hall in Belfast on Saturday, June 19. Tickets & 0870 243 4455. Next week's Starter Kit in Twentyfourseven will feature Neil McKay's selection of the four greatest albums recorded by Rory Gallagher.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?