Singin’ The Blues

Yesterday was the fifteenth anniversary of the death of the Irish guitarist and singer Rory Gallagher. From the late 60s, as a member of the trio Taste, and as a solo performer throughout the 70s, he was one of the first Irish rock musicians to achieve recognition outside of Ireland. He was born in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal in 1948, but grew up on MacCurtain Street in Cork city when he moved there with his family. His first musical instrument was a plastic ukulele which he received from his parents when he was seven and he graduated to an acoustic guitar a couple of years later. In his early teens, he bought his first electric guitar (on hire purchase) from Crowley’s music shop. He earned his spurs by playing in Irish music halls as part of a showband and this set him up to form his own trio called Taste in 1966. Various incarnations of the band toured around Europe and North America before the group disbanded in 1971. This allowed Gallagher to pursue his own musical interests, which were strongly influenced by American blues. He continually resisted record company pressure to write and release his songs as singles. Instead, he saw himself as an albums artist and this approach along with his constant touring allowed him to build up a strong cult following. It is estimated that he has sold over 30 million albums to date. In 1975, he played and recorded with The Rolling Stones following Mick Taylor’s sudden departure from the band, but didn’t join the group and continued as a solo performer

Throughout the 80s, he kept on touring and releasing albums, but he became addicted to prescription drugs and developed alcohol problems to counteract the drugs. He had a liver transplant in 1995, but died on June 14th that year. His story and music are brought together in a wonderful documentary that was screened on RTE One last week. Rory Gallagher: Ghost Blues is a 50-minute film that features interviews with Rory, his brother Donal, band members, family and fellow musicians. It also features Rory in concert and I found it interesting to contrast his energy and power on stage with the quietly-spoken, humble man off it. The documentary also features testimonials from many of his fans, including such established musicians as The Edge, Johnny Marr and Slash. It is available to view on the RTÉ Player until the end of the month, but only for viewers in Ireland. It will be released later this year on DVD along with a second disc of live performances

In addition to the testimonials provided by the many musicians in Ghost Blues, Rory Gallagher has also been commemorated by a sculpture in Cork, a statue as well as a theatre named after him in Ballyshannon, a street named after him on the suburbs of Paris and Rory Gallagher Corner in Temple Bar, Dublin (pictured). He has also been the subject of a couple of songs by Irish musicians. A Song for Rory Gallagher by Cork’s John Spillane appears on his Hey Dreamer album from 2005. From the same year, The Ballad of Rory Gallagher appears on Wexfordman Pierce Turner‘s The Boy to Be With album. Finally, Rory duets with Ronnie Drew on his own Barley and Grape Rag from The Dubliners’ 30 Years A-Greying (1992)

A Song For Rory Gallagher – John Spillane

The Ballad of Rory Gallagher – Pierce Turner

Barley and Grape Rag – Rory Gallagher & Ronnie Drew