Paul and I were, last week, again invited to join the TURNTABLE TALK chat on Dave Ruch’s blog, ‘A Sound Day.‘ This is an excellent site to visit and satisfy your musical curiosity on all genres of music, mainly focused on the 60s, 70s and 80s. Dave is a prolific writer and the articles are filled with fascinating facts and trivia.
The discussion surrounded ‘Live’ albums: how did we feel about them? Do the records live up to the experience of seeing an act play live? What were our favourites, and why?
I immediately volunteered for this one – I ‘bagged’ it as we’d have said in The Seventies, I knew where I was going with this … you probably do too, but please do read on!
ROARIN’ FOR RORY!
When Dave first suggested the discussion topic of ‘live’ albums, I knew instantly where I was going with this. There was no competition. However, it did prompt me to consider the reason this particular record is recipient of the unofficial ‘Once Upon a Time in The ‘70s’ Live Album of Eternity’ award.
Was it owing to the fact there literally was no competition within my collection?
Nope. A quick check revealed more ‘live’ albums than I thought I had: (in no particular order) Uriah Heep; Sweet; The Clash; Devo; Rolling Stones; AC/DC; Led Zeppelin; Slade; Lynyrd Skynyrd; Man; Guru Guru; Quicksilver Messenger Service; Cream, Dr Feelgood ….
And that’s just some from my ‘70s era vinyl. I now suspect there will be many more from more recent times hidden away in the CD racks.
This really surprised me. Confused me, too. I was primed to discuss how I was not a fan of ‘live’ recordings!
But here’s the thing ….. I’m NOT!
For me, there are only a few reasons as to why such albums work:
. I have myself seen that band / artist play live and can visualize / relive the performance, or;
. I haven’t previously enjoyed the sanitized, clean-cut versions of the songs on a studio album, and;
. The sound is well balanced and distinct, and finally;
. Any crowd noise is not overblown and intrusive.
Unfortunately, certainly so far as my collection is concerned, these criteria can often be a bit hit or miss.
There is one big exception, though – a ‘live’ album that is not only the best of that ilk, but my favourite album of all time, full stop:
RORY GALLAGHER: Live in Europe.
This is an album of seven tracks recorded on tour through Europe in February and March 1972 – later CD versions have two additional songs. At the time of recording, the band had retained the ‘power trio’ format of Rory’s earlier band, Taste, with Wilgar Campbell on drums and Gerry McAvoy on bass.
‘Live in Europe’ was the third release under Rory’s own name, and I bought it in late ‘72, via mail order, on the strength of having heard an early Taste album at a pal’s house.
(I was actually 25p short in my remittance to the record shop, but they still sent me the LP anyway, with a request I made up the difference in my next order. I didn’t order anything else, and some months later the store went out of business. I still feel the pangs of guilt to this day!)
The album opens with the sound of a rather polite, and not overly raucous crowd. After a few seconds the concert announcer simply utters the words, “Rory Gallagher,” and the crowd noise raises a notch.
Bump bump …. bump. Three final tune-up notes on Gerry’s bass, and that’s it. No nonsense, no fancy introductions; no frills; there’s absolutely no messing around – save on the opening song, a cover of the Junior Wells recording, ‘Messin’ With The Kid.’ This Blues standard sits perfectly in a set that combines covers such as this with Rory’s arrangements of ‘traditional’ Blues songs, and original compositions.
‘Laundromat’ from his debut solo album, follows. One of his own compositions, it’s an out and out rocker, before the pace is curtailed on the ‘traditional’ ‘I Could’ve Had A Religion’ – eight and a half minutes of slow burning, bass pounding, metronomic stomping, blues with added slide guitar solo.
Side One closes in lighter mood with a cover of Blind Boy Fuller’s ‘Pistol Slapper Blues,’ Rory, unaccompanied, picking away on an acoustic guitar this time.
Side Two features only three tracks, but still runs to just slightly under twenty-two minutes. First up is what was already, and forever remained a ‘live’ favourite with fans, Rory playing mandolin on another stomper – this time his self-written, ‘Going To My Hometown.’ The erstwhile reserved crowd do come through on this number with their rhythmic handclapping when the instruments are pared back. ‘In Your Town’ is next up, though I don’t actually recall him ever playing these two back to back in a concert. This is another of Rory’s own songs, this time about a prison break and highlighting some incredible playing.
The album’s final track is a really powerful arrangement of ‘Bullfrog Blues’ during which Wilgar and Gerry have their own solo spots. I can still envisage Rory, on this one, racing around the stage one moment, duck walking across it the next.
And this goes back to my earlier point regarding personal experience. I attended my first Rory Gallagher concert within a few months of buying this album. He wore a similar check shirt on stage that night to the one he sports on the album cover; he played all the tracks featured on this LP, and he adopted the same ‘no nonsense’ approach to the delivery of his music as I anticipated from just listening to the record.
What really struck me, even as a fourteen year old kid, was there appeared to be another ‘presence’ on stage in addition to the band members. Rory’s Fender Stratocaster guitar seemed to take on a life-form of its own, in the same was as does a ventriloquist’s dummy. Rory sings to his instrument, which in turn answers back, almost mimicking its master.
And what a master virtuoso he is too. Rory’s playing throughout is sharp and clear. Concise too. There’s no over complicating or unnecessary posturing. This Rock ‘n’Roll; this is Blues. This is what music was invented for!
Not only is Rory on top form with this recording, but mention has to be made of Wilgar Campbell (and subsequent drummers) who take instant cues from their leader and provide such a solid rock on which to build the overall sound. Gerry McAvoy on bass too – I rate him ‘the best.’ He stayed with Rory for many years, and often I can sense myself humming along to the magnificent, spontaneous sounding, driving bass as much as to the melody from Rory’s Strat.
Over the years Rory released several ‘live’ recordings. Two were with Taste, from circa 1971, and then, following his passing in 1995, a few subsequent LPs were licenced by his brother Donal who curates Rory’s musical estate and legacy. Of these, ‘Check Shirt Wizard – Live in ‘77’ runs this ‘Live In Europe’ close.
Each of Rory Gallagher’s studio albums are of the highest merit, especially so the first three, ‘Rory Gallagher,’ ‘Deuce,’ and ‘Blueprint.’ But Rory was in his element performing before a crowd. On stage was where he was born to be, and it’s hardly surprising that his ‘live’ albums come across, in my opinion, as the best out there. (Also check out ‘Irish Tour ’74’ which some would argue even better than ‘Live in Europe.‘
He just seemed so natural up there on stage, not requiring of any gimmicks or fancy backdrops. He had an effortless manner with the crowd, and came across as such a genuinely nice guy.
Perhaps it’s because Rory Gallagher had that ability to keep everything simple and completely natural that, he was better equipped than most to replicate that unique concert experience, and present the listener with either a lasting memory, or at very least, an exciting and accurate slice of imagery to accompany his music.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – May 2022)