RORY GALLAGHER changes out of his striped tee shirt, folds it neatly and places it in his zipper case, exchanging it for an equally familiar lumberjack shirt.
Two seats away, his new drummer Rod de Ath looks embarrassed ducking behind a couple of guitar cases as he changes from one pair of leather patched Levi’s into another sweaty pair of jeans. His skinny arms are covered in an orange tee shirt and then look like they’re never going to be able to keep the beat going.
Two hours earlier, Rory had been sitting in the same Maidstone technical college dressing room re-stringing his Fender guitar from a pile of crumpled guitar string packets, while the guitarist from one of the support bands had sat tuning and gently playing to himself through a small practice amp.
Now that same guitarist offers Rory the use of the amp, as he stands up against tile wall tuning his battered old Fender and blowing in a harp.
Rory declines, with thanks, explaining that he’s been doing it that way since he came to Britain from Ireland a few years back now to launch Taste , and he’s not going to change his ways now.
It’s the same old Rory. Affable, easy going, the one rock and roller in Britain with a right to he called the people’s guitarist.
In a nearby pub, people are tucking away pints while the little support band blows away. People make their way over to Rory, offer him the customary pint of Guinness, perhaps ask him to play one of their favourite numbers. Some hand him scruffy pieces of paper for his autograph.
He sits down at a table and talks about the problems in Ulster in his slow friendly Irish accent, often turning down the offer of a pint, but more often getting it anyway to add to the tidy collection of jars on the windowsill.
Back in the dressing room, Rory is ready to go on; guitars in tune, Gerry McAvoy slicked up in green trews, tee-shirt and patch leather waistcoat, with his bass slung over his shoulder with an old leather belt….
A great cheer breaks the air as Gerry and Rod dart through the doors and scramble their way through the packed hall towards the makeshift stage. Rory follows on behind, gets up on stage, quickly retunes to make up for the intense heat that has altered pitching, and lurches into “Cant Get Used To Being, My Used To Be.”
Gallagher and his band work hard on an audience, playing blues in the tradition of the music as an entertainment rather than an artform. Rory is not much interested in being flash and showy, but just in laying it down the line and turning people on; playing his Fender guitar to the best of his ability.
His stage strength is that he knows he can play as good as the best, and the people know it too. They don t go along to watch the speed he plays the notes, and they certainly don’t go along to see him because of his stage gear.
“This is a working band,” says Rory. You just know exactly what he means, watching him standing on stage, sweating and playing, hardly taking a break from song to song unless it is to get the guitar back into tune as the heat stretches the strings.
The audience are enjoying themselves. Around the stage a hardcore of fans stands clapping along with the beat, but a far larger crew dance, wildly flapping across the floor in temperatures more fitted to a fiesta in Mexico.
The show stopper in the act is definitely the mandolin stomper, “Going To My Home Town,” a number which is stabbed home by Gerry and Rod beating one hell of a rhythm. It could almost be a Ray Dorset-Mungo Jerry hit tune, and if Rory was to cut it down to three minutes and release it as a single he would have a hit on his hands. But although Polydor in Germany have asked him to release it as a single, he is adamant and won’t do it.
Later in the car on the way home, he explained that although a hit single would bring him a whole new audience, having to compete to get into the singles charts with all the other three minute ditties is not really his scene. Anyway, he doesn’t need a hit single to make him more popular, for he and promoters know that Rory is always going to sell out a hall by pure hard graft.
The following night in one of the bars in the beer-orientated entertainment complex at Dagenham’s Village Roundhouse, Rory stands at the bar explaining what he means by Port wine to the barmaid while he signs autographs and declines numerous pints of Guinness. Kids crowd around him.
We retire to a smaller public bar to talk, but people still try to talk to him. One reminds him that they were at the same school together offers him a pint and asks if he may sit with us to listen to the interview.
Gallagher’s music is mostly blues-based but, he says: “ I’ve never pigeon-holed myself into blues. I don’t consider all my material is blues. Let’s say I’m a blend of blues, rock, and folk music. The blues has its influence on me: some nights I’ll feel more of a jazz thing. For the last few months I’ve been into blues. Blues is simple music but complex soul-wise. I like a lot of the old rock and roll things, but while Cochran Is simple, it doesn’t have that same complexity in the feeling.
“I’ve done things that might get me classified as a folk singer. It doesn’t really worry me what I’m playing, it’s just the emotional hold the blues has. Then I can get the same thing off a white folk singer like Jack Elliott.”
What about the set structures of the blues. I suggested that maybe he found limitations in the music?
“Occasionally if I happen to be listening to something that uses orchestras, It’s only very occasionally I get that feeling, but there would be something wrong with me if trying something with an orchestra had never occurred to me. I used to listen to people like Fats Domino and people with small groups; occasionally they came up with things with orchestras for the commercial market.
“At the time I resented them doing it. I think it was the Beatles who were the of first people to do things that I enjoyed with strings.
“I wouldn’t mind experimenting with things like that on the next album, perhaps some brass or strings.
It’s been said that Rory picked Gerry and Wilgar Campbell, now replaced by Rod deAth, because they were not that good as musicians so that Rory’s talent would shine through. But after watching them numerous occasions it obvious they both compliment Rory’s playing perfectly. I asked Rory how much say they had In band’s musical policy and how replaceable they are him.
“They’re definitely indispensable; they’re very important. How can I confirm that? Just listen to the way they affect my playing. I don’t play acoustic guitar on my own throughout the set so the musicians have a lot effect on me. If they’re enjoying themselves I can feel it.
“People are always saying to me that I could have any sidemen, Buddy Holly needed the Crickets more than anybody. Musicians aren’t cartridges you plug in.”
Gallagher is probably of the few artists in Britain at the top of the pile who continues working all the time, going back to the little Village Roundhouse rather than concentrating on concert halls.
He says he wouldn’t be satisfied with just playing a few concerts every so often or doing two British tours a year. His music needs smoky rooms and poky little dressing rooms to get over that working man’s feel that is so important to Gallagher.
“Sometimes I feel like taking a break for a while, maybe just stopping and taking it easy for a couple of months. Sometimes l feel like I just have to stay bed the next day, but think in my whole career there have only been a couple of gigs I haven’t turned up for.
“I just like working a lot. Obviously you can’t always keep going like a machine. But the thing is, If you’re sitting at home you pickup an acoustic guitar, if you pick up an electric one it doesn’t mean anything without musicians and people around you.
“Some people seem to think I work 365 days a year, I suppose, come to think of it, I do work a lot more than some of the other artists in the charts. Perhaps working so much helps to sell my albums. if I wasn’t working and I’m not making singles to keep my name around. I wouldn’t be selling so much.”
Always talking to people about anything that they happen to want to talk about, it’s rare to pin him down and get him talking about himself. He’s aware of his image of being a friendly sort of fellow who usually dresses kind of rough.
“I suppose that’s a big obsession with people. I wouldn’t really enjoy doing a gig if I was rushed from the car straight into the dressing room. I don’t think it hurts your image to sit at the bar and have a drink. Some people would say that it makes you more of a human. “Mostly people come up and shake your hand and ask you if you would play a song for them. It means you have an idea of how people are reacting to certain songs. If you hear how things are going down first hand it’s better than having a manager telling you how you’re going to down in Dagenham.”
Back in the dressing room, gig over, Rory, Gerry and especially Rod look completely wasted. Outside in the hall the last of the people are slowly going home talking about the set. They’re dripping with sweat, too, from dancing and clapping. One set that I passed fighting through to the bar to get a beer to cool off with, were singing along With “Going Back To My Home Town.”
They knew every word, every chord, right to the way he phrases it. Rory noticed that too, little batches of people standing by the stage singing every word with him, and then throwing themselves completely when he changes the way he sings a word.
Tonight it’s hot, even hotter than the night before. Rod sits in the corner saying that he’s certain he’s lost two stone, wringing his teeshirt until the sweat drips off it onto the floor The tap doesn’t work and everybody could do with a good wash down.
Never mind, the next night he’s playing in France.