Rainbow Man 1972-75

They say there’s gold at the end of the rainbow, but I found it from the beginning. Here’s how it happened.

Not my ticket, but I was there too
Source : Rainbow History website

Rory Gallagher‘s album Live in Europe 72 had been passing from hand to hand at school, and I remember borrowing it from someone, so I knew his style. When the opportunity to see him at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park came up in March 1973 through Steve Colley, a close friend and classmate, I jumped at the chance. Somebody collected our cash and wrote away for tickets so we could have seats together – possibly Bill Pearmain who lived round the corner from Steve’s, because I think he also went to the gig. The Rainbow was in North London, just a 45-minute Green Line Coach ride away from Harlow.

Finally March 4th came around and, late on that Sunday afternoon, homework done or not, after an early tea, Steve, Bill, myself and couple of others met up at the stop near The Phoenix pub in Tumbler Road. Our coach dropped us magically just round the corner from the Rainbow.

We had 75p tickets, and were sitting way up in the heights of the circle in the back few rows of the theatre, giving us a dramatic view of the stage. It was completely new sensory experience. Greenslade, the support band, gave us playful keyboards-based progressive rock for about 45 minutes. Their music was so different from the person the audience had all come to see, that all we could do was listen politely.

Then Rory hit the stage with Messin’ with the Kid.

Suddenly it was all guitar. From our bird’s-eye view we watched him move like a cat and play like a lion, never putting a foot wrong. The music was so loud we had no trouble hearing every detail. He certainly played Walk On Hot Coals and Hands Off that night, because was promoting the album Blueprint.

The band had been expanded from the Live in Europe trio format to include Lou Martin on keyboards, giving the group a rounder, warmer sound.

Not only an exceptional performer, Rory also had a way of communicating with the audience by speaking through his guitar lines as if these were words. There were long, lilting developments to Daughter Of The Everglades.

He had an endless source of variations. Inspiration of the moment or just the usual ? Everything flowed so effortlessly, it was impossible to tell.

And when he talked between numbers, he was natural in the way he spoke. He hoped we were enjoying the concert. He thought we might like to hear something from the new album. Nothing was forced. This was particularly true during the acoustic numbers, mid-set, when intimacy reached unbelievable depths. That night he played Pistol Slapper Blues and Banker’s Blues, as if he’d written them.

Of course, he rewrote both songs by the way he played them. Nothing was rushed.

Years of concert-going would underline the fact that his was a rare talent. In comparison, other big name acts would often appear to be caught up in a persona, or else just posing, unable to be themselves. It seems that Rory’s persona was himself.

I had no idea that he was from Cork, where my mother’s family came from, because my own Irishness was not something I was aware of at the time. Now I can clearly see that he was a shanachie, a storyteller, speaking down through the ages. He had tuned into something timeless, had chosen blues rock as its expression, and the music simply came through him, and out to us,

Going to school the next day, I was literally buzzing from the concert and still high on the dopamine of the experience. My ears were also still ringing from the decibels to which we had been exposed, which was slightly more worrying. In fact, it took most of that day for things to get back to normal. That’s how Rory Gallagher became my first big theatre concert.

He released some solid studio albums over the next couple of years with great songs. The follow-up to Blueprint in 1973 was Tattoo, which had the lyrical circus song Tattoo’d Lady,

the steaming slow A Million Miles Away, and the creative vehicle, Cradle Rock, which would be so important in concert.  

Against The Grain came out in 1975, and was a well-crafted, wide-ranging album with the boogie Bought And Sold,  the plaintive Ain’t Too Good, and the unforgettable Out On A Western Plain. But all Rory’s best material found its fullest expression in concert, as the classic double live album Irish Tour 74 would confirm. The studio was his workshop, his laboratory, but it was on stage that Rory really made his mark, letting the music flow in the moment.

Source : Getty images

I would see Rory Gallagher live 5 more times over the next couple of years – twice at the Rainbow, twice at Reading Festival, and finally once at the Royal Albert Hall.

The latter was a particularly memorable gig being the 23rd December 1975, which was the eve of Christmas Eve. It was also the first genuine rock concert at the venue since a ban following riots by Mott the Hoople fans in 1972. Finally, it was a concert I shared with Sylvie, my partner in life, who had already seen Rory in her hometown Toulouse, France, in June 1975, and had come to see me for Christmas. Each concert had a different mood, but Rory was constant in his creativity. His work schedule was phenomenal and, as we now know, he finally paid the price for his commitment to performing, yet he made you feel that each concert was special and important for him. Rory Gallagher was definitely in a class of his own.

Still want more ?

Rory Gallagher, Live in Montreux 1975-1985

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