All Access Review: A-
Though he lived and breathed American blues and was beloved worldwide for his raw talent and fiery passion, blues-rock guitar god Rory Gallagher belonged to Ireland. And that meant Northern Ireland, too. At a time when the place was a battleground, when “The Troubles” were far more disturbing than that euphemism would imply and ethno-political tensions always seemed on the verge of exploding in violence, most artists avoided it like the plague, but not Rory. He went willingly, and for an all-too-brief period when he played, he brought a little peace and unity to a land most people considered a powder keg.
In 1974, Rory Gallagher made stops throughout Ireland, and the tour was filmed by Tony Palmer. Originally, it was a project developed for the small screen, but Palmer instinctually knew that the TV was too small to contain such an epic musical journey. Eventually, Palmer’s shootings were transformed into a movie that was played all around the U.K. and parts of Europe. It would then go with Gallagher on a tour of America, and now, Eagle Rock Entertainment has reissued the film on DVD and Blu-ray. Audio evidence, collected from concerts at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, Dublin’s Carlton Cinema and Cork’s City Hall, of Gallagher’s powerful magic was also captured and released on what many consider to be one of the greatest live albums ever, Irish Tour.
This reissue doesn’t do anything to alter anybody’s opinion of Irish Tour. It has the same track listing from top to bottom, with nothing new in the way of bonus recordings added, except new, laudable liner notes and chunks of historical insight to each song by Shu Tomioka and Charles Stanford. The music is spectacular, with Gallagher cutting through the swirling keyboard smog of the wall-of-sound opener, “Cradle Rock,” with piercing, penetrating solos and lifting Muddy Waters’ “I Wonder Who” to smoky new heights with arrows of bluesy notes of truth shot with conviction and sharpness that other guitarists can only dream of flinging. Shifting into high gear, “Tattoo’d Lady” drives along at an urgent pace, with Gerry McAvoy’s bass galloping hard, Lou Martin electric keyboard firing like pistons and Rod de’Ath’s drums providing the rhythmic horsepower and Gallagher soaring at the end. Gallagher and company give the J.B. Hutto composition “Too Much Alcohol” a mean blues workout, before Gallagher straps on a Dobro 1932 National guitar for the Tony Joe White number “As The Crow Flies” and holds an acoustic séance with ghosts of the Mississippi Delta that dances and moans with religious fervor.
And Gallagher and his mates are far from done. From his own Tattoo album comes “A Million Miles Away,” where Rory and his band exhibit patience in letting the song build and burn away at the same time. His touch and creativity are sublime, as are the fireworks he displays on a feverish “Walk on Hot Coals,” where the band simply lets it all hang out. As the audience grows more and more hungry, Gallagher feeds them a multi-dimensional meal of different guitar textures, stylistic virtuosity, fearless exploration and playful experimentation with the templates of hallowed songs. To immerse yourself in the full experience of Irish Tour, get the DVD of the film and save the CD, if you don’t already have a copy, for lonely reflections on a back porch or a study with a glass of fine whisky or a wild, belated Irish wake for one of the most reveredand brilliant musicians from a tortured country’s painful past.
- Peter Lindblad