Rory Gallagher fans, of which there are plenty – as evidenced by this excellent release already being No 1 in the Billboard Blues Chart – have been spoilt of late with this collection following hot on the heels of last year’s exciting release of ‘Blues’, a bunch of unreleased alternate takes and live performances, that for fans was a real treat, especially so coming 25 years after his untimely death. I remember my first teenage encounter with his music, a version of ‘Bullfrog Blues’ on an Old Grey Whistle Test collection, which immediately made my ears prick up and whetted the appetite for more. This was followed soon after by the purchase of ‘The Story So Far’ after flicking through a rack of albums in a record shop (that simple but marvellous pleasure) and being captivated by the cover illustration on the LP showing his trademark look, the proverbial check shirt and jeans. I’ve been a lifelong fan ever since and my shelves are full of Rory Gallagher vinyl albums, CDs and DVDs.
Listening to the latest offering, and thinking about how to describe it, I pondered the question about what it is about his music that continues to attract fans, including myself. It’s certainly not his voice; every line he sings is as if he just about manages to get the words out, his hoarse bark sounding strained. His communications on live recordings are similarly delivered, as if he’s just finished running the 100-metres in record time and is attempting to deliver his stage chat in equal record speed, while breathless. Despite this, there is still an indescribable charm about his effective vocal style. The songs themselves, whether covers of old Blues or originals all sound original in his hands and of course the simple fact is that he was a fantastic guitar player with a distinctive style, who played with an energy and honesty that reflected his down to earth and unpretentious personality.
These previously unreleased recordings, a 20 strong set taken from four shows in London, Brighton, Sheffield and Newcastle during 1977, demonstrate again his fluid skills on his battered Strat, and stand comparison to his own classic (up there among the best from anybody) live albums from the 70’s, ‘Irish Tour ’74’ and ‘Live in Europe’. There are of course some songs from those albums in the new collection. Like crowd favourites ‘Walk on Hot Coals’, ‘Tatoo’d Lady’, and the aforementioned ‘Bullfrog Blues’. It is interesting to compare versions; with his free flowing and exuberant guitar playing, he throws in all sort of freshly improvised tricks amongst the melodic power chords that make many of his songs stand apart from the predictable 12 bar structures often found elsewhere.
Listening to these tunes with reviewer’s ears made me realise just how much of the fretboard he covers in each song; each tune is a masterclass for aspiring guitarists on how to fill out every inch of a song with supremely tasty soloing and licks. There are plenty of classic songs not on the other live sets from the same era, like ‘Used To Be’ and (one of my long time faves) ‘I Take What I Want’, not forgetting the Jazz tinged Blues of ‘Calling Card’. They are all amphetamine charged versions with the band collectively playing as if their lives depended on it. There is also room for an extended acoustic section, kicking off with another favourite, ‘Out On the Western Plain’.
This is a really fine addition to the Rory Gallagher canon; every number is a real gem of a performance and reflects the tightly honed skills of a band playing at the top of their game led by a wizard of a guitarist. You could drive yourself crazy with these sort of reflections, but, listening to these stonking performances definitely made me feel deep regret that I wasn’t there to witness the shows in person. At least, we now have this release to enjoy, again and again.