Irishman in New York
was able to replace and even tune the broken strings of his guitar while still
playing and without missing a beat. Back in those days of the last century to
have a roadie on standby in the wings with a spare guitar at the ready was a
luxury that the down-to-earth and humble Irishman couldn't afford. Anyway, what
would he want something like that for? He didn't need it.
This is the image that is etched in my memory from the first time that I had the chance to enjoy one of his live performances, that short and marvellous time when Rory travelled the world with his chipped and worn Stratocaster on his back, his go-to axe that he would only put down for his trusty Telecaster or to go unplugged with his resonator. That magical decade between the mid '80s and '90s when the Internet and YouTube didn't exist but from which reels of footage of his performances has still survived. It all started in the tour of '74…
The Irishman in New York is one of a series of tapes that his brother Donald has regularly made available to the general public ever since Rory died following the ill-fated liver transplant that led to his death in 1995 at the age of 47. Some of them are dire, but others, like the one that has appeared in 2015, are a magnificent opportunity to once again enjoy Gallagher at his best and with the sufficient sound quality to be appreciated.
7th September 1979. Rory jumps the puddle at his musical zenith and with a new LP called Top Priority about to be released. It will be the last vinyl produced under Chrysalis Records. He takes advantage of this concert and plays some of the album's songs to see how his public takes to them. Gallagher is worried that the hard edge he has given his new songs will disappoint the purists in his fan base. Like all good bluesmen, he needs to sound out his creations with his people, to get their feedback. He is at the height of his career.
This recording has a certain something that can't be found in his 'official' records Irish Tour and Stage Struck. In these, he knew that he was being recorded with an album in mind and was therefore following a kind of script. In New York, you can sense that he feels freer, perhaps not with such an accomplished and clean sound but with the freedom to let it roll on a little, to let it hang out more. In the digital era, this isn't a problem – we can listen to the entire performance even though it constitutes a CD and a half.
He had the liberty to improvise, to rock out with his guitar, to see what he could do without today's special effects. All he needed was a couple of pedals, the knobs on his Strat and his voice to make the music, born of his blues origins and the traditional Irish music he grew up with in Cork, sing out. Rory played it bareback. No tricks, just straight down the line; honest rock and roll.
Irishman perhaps doesn't have the best version of Tattoo'd Lady, but certainly one of the most incredible (there is no other word for it) of I Wonder Who and Bought & Sold, which those who are looking to one day be authentic magicians of the six strings would do well to practice with. Just two of the amazing tracks to be found on the album, together with an acoustic interlude with a distinct country feel.