Rory Gallagher was a pioneer who paved the way for other Irish musicians as few in the UK could conceive of an Irish rock outfit when he and Taste began touring there to rave reviews in the 1960s, according to his brother, Donal.
Donal Gallagher said that the UK was a challenging place for an Irish rock band to try and make a breakthrough even in the late 1960s as few there associated Ireland with Taste’s brand of scorching blues influenced rock.
“Rory was the template for Irish musicians seeking to make it internationally – I remember going to London with Taste in 1967 and even trying to book digs, you would say you were an Irish rock band and you’d be laughed out of it.
“If you went to book a guesthouse outside of London, the minute they heard your accent, they assumed you were a navvy and you’ld say, ‘No, we’re a rock band’ – there was a kind of disbelief at the idea of an Irish rock band.”
A reflective mood
Speaking in advance of the 25th anniversary of his brother’s death on June 14th, 1995 at the age of 47, as a result of complications following a liver transplant, Donal recalled how Rory was championed in the UK by jazz musician, Chris Barber.
Barber was closely involved with Harold Pendleton, who ran the Marquee Club on Wardour Street in Soho, and he ensured Rory and fellow Taste musicians, Richie McCracken and John Wilson were properly looked after at the venue.
“Chris is now 90 but he was very good to Taste when they first arrived in London and were finding it very hard – he explained that he had family ties to Northern Ireland, including through his wife the jazz singer, Ottilie Patterson.
“He said ‘I know more about your brother than you think because I’ve been hearing the word back from Belfast of how good he is’ and that’s why he made sure Rory was looked after so we had guardian angels like Chris Barber.”
Donal, who has been back in Ireland since before the Covid-19 lockdown kicked in, is in reflective mood as he revealed he will visit his brother’s grave at St Oliver’s Cemetery in Cork on Sunday to mark the anniversary.
Rory often spoke about continuing playing into his 60s and beyond like his heroes, veteran bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Albert King, and Donal has no doubt that he would have continued playing and gigging if he had lived.
“I think he would still be on the road playing the blues – you look at the other musicians, the classic example is Bob Dylan – and in my time, Rory was never happy off the road – I don’t think he could have survived without performing.
“It’s like the line in Shadowplay – ‘a little bit of Jekyll, a lit Mr Hyde’ – off stage, his personality was very quiet but onstage, he was a different person – the essence of Rory was the performance, connecting with the audience.”
Passing the baton
Donal has been the guardian of his brother’s legacy for the past 25 years since Rory’s death and while he has cherished his role as keeper of the flame, he is also happy that his own sons, Daniel and Eoin are taking up the baton.
“I kind of work with the mentality that one day Rory is going to come back and ask how things have been minded in his absence so everything is done thinking ‘How would Rory like that done?’, be it an album cover or whatever.
“Keeping the integrity of Rory is paramount – I get terrified any time a new album comes out – I remember trying to do the first of the posthumous albums, Wheels within Wheels and almost living through this dream.
“It involved Rory coming back to his own apartment and asking me to put on the vinyl version of the album so I put it on the turntable and played it for him and at the end, he turned and nodded his head and said ‘Yeah, that’s okay’.
“But I’m passing the baton on to my sons, Daniel and Eoin – Daniel’s been very involved in getting out this new album of live material, Check Shirt Wizard – Live in 77 and it’s just spent three weeks at No 1 in the Billboard Blues Chart.
“I don’t think Rory ever thought his life was going to be shortened . . . since he died, I’ve been overseeing things but it’s gratifying to know the rest of the family have now picked up the challenge to keep his integrity intact.”