Events in Cork will mark what would have been the late guitarist’s 70th birthday, writes Ed Power
GUITARIST Rory Gallagher, who died in 1995, aged 47, would have turned 70 this week. To mark the anniversary, classical guitarist, Jacques Stotzem, will perform a set of the Cork musician’s material on Thursday, in a ceremony in Cork Institute of Technology. A plaque commentating Gallagher will also be unveiled.
The event, at the 120-capacity Rory Gallagher Theatre, acknowledges not only Gallagher’s achievements as a musician, but also that his final hometown concert was in the West Atrium of CIT, in November, 1993, 18 months before his death from complications following a liver transplant.
“For his music to stand the test of time, and create a benchmark, is immensely satisfying,” says Donal Gallagher, Rory’s brother, who has worked tirelessly at safeguarding Gallagher’s legacy.
“Andy Heath, the chair of UK Music, was on the Tom Robinson Show on BBC 6 recently, and said that Rory Gallagher was the standard to aim for. Any time he went to see a musician, Rory was the bench mark. And he’s worked with everyone, from Rod Stewart to Jack White.”
Having an acoustic performer interpret some of Gallagher’s best-known numbers recognises his subtly as a songwriter, says Donal. His brother wasn’t just an axe-wielder — he had the vision and suppleness of a jazzman. Heralded as a foremost exponent of the ‘fingerpicking’ style, Stotzem is the perfect choice to translate Gallagher’s songbook.
“Jacques, being a classical guitarist, has a very different take to the standard, three-part covers group. Rory was not only a fine guitarist. Within the songs were these fantastic variations and themes. When someone picks up an acoustic guitar and does a song such as ‘Moonchild’, it’s absolutely mind-blowing. I’m not suggesting it gets lost in a band arrangement, with drums and bass. But there are subtleties there people may, perhaps, not be aware of.
“There’s also a certain energy about Rory’s music that comes alive in performance, particularly when there is an audience with which to communicate. It conveys a sense of what Rory was like on stage — the energy he gave out and the charisma. To have another musician replicate that will, hopefully, bring some fantastic chemistry.”
Old age would have suited Gallagher, his brother believes. One of his icons was jazz pioneer, Chris Barber, who remains a singular force, aged 87. “Rory and Chris worked together and I was just on the phone to Chris this week,” says Donal. “He’s recently returned from a German tour. He still driving himself. I venture to say that he would have been Rory’s model, had he lived. Rory always used the term ‘Rory Gallagher and band’ — that was in reference to the fact that he very much saw himself as emulating Chris Barber and his band.”
Universal Music has digitally reissued Gallagher’s catalogue and will shortly unveil revamped physical editions. Gallagher’s music was previously looked after by Sony. But the artist’s estate has struck a deal with Universal, which has remastered his 14 solo albums for the online market. “There’s a lot of technology today, which you have to embrace,” says Donal. “We were keen that it be of the highest quality.”
Off-stage, with guitar unplugged, Gallagher was famously shy. What would he have made of the fuss made over his anniversary?
“He never got above himself,” says his brother. “He was very much the man in the street. He lived to be on stage. When he was off-stage, everything was about getting from A to B, getting to the stage or to write. That’s what he was about.”
A plaque will be unveiled at CIT West Atrium at 1pm, Thursday, with a free performance by Jacques Stotzem to follow. A ‘Remembering Rory’ event will be held at Cork City Library, at 7pm that night, with another performance by Stotzem and a talk by author Garth Cartwright about Gallagher’s vinyl catalogue.
On Friday, which would have been Gallagher’s birthday, tribute band, Deuce, play Fred Zeppelins in Cork.
Gallagher’s solo catalogue is now available to stream.