Don’t get me wrong: you should – no, you need – to watch every moment of the Rory Gallagher documentary Irish Tour ‘74, okay? But if you have any blanks that need filling in about Rory Gallagher, you should fast forward to the 45-minute-and-58-second mark (the song “Cradle Rock” on the main menu).
Be prepared to be pummeled for the next six minutes by a performance that didn’t need to rely on any special effects (I’m talking not even one single bucket of dry ice here, boys and girls) or cutting edge technology (lookit: even old-school curly-cue guitar cords) to knock the crowd on their collective asses. This is total heart and soul and sweat (a lot of sweat) and guts rock ‘n’ roll, pure and simple. And it’s amazing.
The segment begins with Mr. Rory Gallagher himself, all alone, doing a little testifying on his lovingly-battered Stratocaster, thumb choked right to the tip of the pick so that each biting note has just the shadow of a harmonic behind it. For a few seconds, the old Fender proclaims; it moans; it wails; it questions; and it answers. Watch Gallagher’s face – he’s feeling/living every note, every bend, every squeal.
Deep breath – then Gallagher fires off the core riff for “Cradle Rock”: a key-of-E flurry that combines the psychedelia of “Voodoo Chile” with the swampiness of “Born on the Bayou” and feeds it through a funnel that John Lee Hooker might have hammered out on an old stump. Again, watch Gallagher: he quivers and he shakes as the music rooted in his soul flows through his fingers/guitar/amp out into the air and back into him, igniting something wild as the circuit is completed.
WHAM! The hall explodes as the rest of the band (keyboardist Lou Martin, bassist Gerry McAvoy, drummer Rod De’Ath) pounce on the raw musical meat Gallagher has thrown down. McAvoy and Martin double-team, driving home the groove while De’Ath rolls and tumbles like he’s riding that drum kit down a bottomless flight of stairs, sounding both reckless and dead-nuts-on at the same time.
Gallagher’s moves are sharp and jerky, totally at the mercy of the music. He leans into the mic, all sweat and steam like a hard-run quarter horse:
If I was a cradle, then you’d let me rock
If I was a pony, then you’d let me trot
If I was the atom, you’d split me into three
_But when I want to see you baby _
You put your dog on me
A pause in the beat on the last few syllables of the verse; tortured bend from the Strat; then – WHAM! – the band is off and running again.
No rock star poses practiced in front of the mirror for these lads: De’Ath has a 5-mile stare going as he drives the thing with a psycho-Diddley beat; McAvoy is acting and reacting to Gallagher’s riffs; Martin is slinging out organ lines like they’re going to save the world; and Gallagher is riding the high of the music with a look on his face that morphs from shit-eating grin to near-religious rapture and back.
My God, but they were great.
Another verse, then a swing into the bridge: big, crashing chords and cymbals and growled-out pleads. The world – the whole damn world – freezes for a second as Gallagher slips a chromed slide onto his ring finger and then swooooooooooooooooooooops down the neck.
That’s it: the place is gone, gone, gone and it’s the greatest moment in the history of civilization or something like that: crazy floorpoundinghipshaking drum beat with the bass and keys whipping around each other, all topped by the wail of the beautifully beat-to-shit Strat. A shift back into the chords of the bridge, a glide back down to the earth’s surface, then off they go into the final verses. Martin is laying onto his keyboards like he’s playing the drums, for chrissakes; McAvoy is matching Rory lick-for-lick. When things come to a crashing, lurching halt just before the final chord crash, De’Ath takes a moment to tuck his hair back behind his ears, the look on his face that of a man who has just made a long, wild journey.
Would you let me rock?
Gallagher bellows with his voice, then does the same with his guitar. The crowd roars back; the Strat answers them, pinning them to the floor. The song ends in a joyous explosion of sound. The crowd goes apeshit.
And that, boys and girls, is the power and glory of Rory Gallagher and his music. You want to talk about working-class heroes? They never came any purer than Rory Gallagher.
Now you can wind the thing back to the beginning and settle in for a hell of a show.
Irish Tour ’74 not only captures Gallagher and band at the peak of their powers, it also does a wonderful job of giving us a sense of who the man was. There are moments of simple memories shared while taking a walk in the Irish countryside; grins of appreciation for a wall of beautiful instruments in a guitar shop; the smile of being just one of the boys at an end-of-the-tour late-night picking party. Never one for the limelight (he turned down gigs with both Cream and the Stones over the years), Gallagher was a private sort – director Tony Palmer and crew did an amazing job of coaxing without prying, being present without making themselves part of what was happening.
Some of the best off-stage footage in Irish Tour ’74 was shot in the band’s tiny dressing room just prior to one of the gigs. This was no life of wretched excess: De’Ath weighs up drumsticks by hand before powdering his feet on the linoleum floor. Martin attempts opening a bottle of warm beer on his belt buckle. Gallagher restrings his guitars, tuning them to a harmonica before huddling with McAvoy so they can sync with each other.
When it’s time to head for the stage, the band actually has to walk outside to get to the main building, knocking on a side door to be let in. Rory’s brother Donal, who was also the band’s tour manager, helps Rory lug his gear. Gallagher looks like he could easily turn around and bolt at any moment as the crowd’s chant of “Ro-ree! Ro-ree! Ro-ree!” washes over them. But the transformation from nervous-looking pale-skin little fellow to absolute master of his world is as instantaneous as the act of plugging in his Strat: pure magic … it truly is.
At the time that Irish Tour ’74 was filmed, Rory Gallagher was 26 years old. He died on June 14, 1995 from complications following a liver transplant.
As is the case with anyone who leaves this world long before they should have, it would be easy to sit and ponder what sort of music Rory Gallagher would be making if he was still alive … but that would be little more than an exercise in speculation.
The fact is, the man and those he played with made some great music while he was here … and Irish Tour ’74 is a fine documentation of that.