At full throttle

By Sergio Ariza

Rory Gallagher was just like how he seemed when he played the guitar; he didn’t have any side, he could do anything with his instrument but he was against any unnecessary showiness and theatricality. What Rory liked to do most was to play, if possible with an audience in front, and forget all the rest. That said, when Rory started to play no one have eyes for anyone else; he was pure magic and his audience almost fell at his feet when faced with the outpouring of strength and humility that he displayed, together with his most faithful companion, his utterly spent 1961 Stratocaster.    


It is impossible to speak about Gallagher and not about his guitar - it would be like talking about Arthur without Excalibur. There have been other guitarists who have been loyal to a model but in Gallagher’s case his loyalty to his guitar was total. It was bought in 1963 for 100 pounds, and it is said that it was the first Stratocaster that came to Ireland. Rory used it during almost every concert in his long career, meaning that in the period which he recorded Irish Tour in 1974 it had lost almost all its paint. But Rory didn’t give a damn how it looked, he knew that he could trust in it as if it was his best friend. And it never let him down. 

In January 1974 he took off on a small tour through his native land, Ireland, but in contrast to the majority of the stars at that time, he didn’t avoid Northern Ireland (an area that was going through one of its worst moments in history due to the conflict between Catholics and Protestants). Gallagher was not interested in politics; only the fact that it appeared to him stupid for people to go on killing each other. He was received at this live concert as a real hero, with people standing and making the peace symbol. The ambience was perfect for an unforgettable performance and Rory, as always, did not disappoint. From the initial attack with the riff of Craddle Rock people were aware that they were attending an historic event, the audience was in ecstacy and Rory displayed his magic again.

The band comprised the loyal Gerry McAvoy on bass, Rod de Ath on drums and Lou Martin on piano. These latter two had joined in 1973 and had recorded Blueprints and Tattoo that same year, the albums from which came the original songs that appear in this historic live gig, Walk on Hot Coals from the first and the four great classics from the second: Cradle Rock, Tattoo'd Lady, A Million Miles Away and Who's That Coming?. The album is completed by covers of his adored Muddy Waters, J.B. Hutto and Tony Joe White, besides Back on My Stompin' Ground (After Hours) and Maritime.

Tattoo'd Lady
is another of the great tracks on the album. It is one of Gallagher’s best compositions and is played with brutal strength and conviction. The last solo is capable of transporting people to guitars’ paradise, if something like that exists (listening to Rory, one would say so). Too much alcohol has a great introduction with the slide, which gives way to a song that could only be written by an Irishmen who is in love with the blues - one hundred per cent alcohol and feeling. On As the Crow Flies he gives his Strat a rest and employs his 1932 National Duolian Resonator to offer the flavour of the Mississippi Delta, and a little harmonica, to green Ireland.


Then comes my favourite song by this artist, A Million Miles Away, with an introduction that has a celtic feel that recalls the acoustic work of Bert Jansch, who for good reason was a favourite of Gallagher. This version provides one of the best interpretations with multiple harmonics and a unique feeling. Walk on Hot Coals is the longest song on the album, over 11 minutes, but it is not even one second too long. And Who's That Comin' shows that, Duane Allman aside, there is nobody who could put him in the shadow with the slide.

If this album and Live In Europe continue to be the most remembered albums of his career it is because Gallagher always gave the best of himself when he was on stage, as he found recording studios cold places to be. The Irishman needed audience contact to feed off, and bring out the best of himself. His pianist, Lou Martin, explained it like this: "With Rory, if he didn’t have somebody to look at then he couldn’t feed off the energy. That’s why Irish Tour is such a good bloody album because it was recorded live, he got the crowd there with him singing along and sort of like urging him along… without the presence of an audience the recording process for Rory was a bit of a strain". On 2 March Rory Gallagher would have been 70, and Guitars Exchange would like to pay him our most heartfelt tribute. Lastly, remember that there is a magnificent extended version of this album with 7 CD’s and a DVD released in 2014, on the 40th anniversary of the concert.