Rory Gallagher: Leaving a Taste that’s bittersweet

Despite a stunning performance at the Isle of Wight that’s about to be released on DVD, Rory Gallagher had a mixed time in his seminal early band, writes Ed Power

THE relative obscurity of Rory Gallagher’s first band, Taste, has long been a cause of frustration among hardcore fans of the Irish blues icon. Though Gallagher’s preeminence as one of the most important guitarists of the past 30 years is today widely acknowledged, Taste seemed for many years destined to languish as glorified footnote.

Even among Gallagher devotees, the power trio’s legacy was often misunderstood and under appreciated.

“Among major labels there’s a tendency for bands such as Taste to fall off the radar,” explains Donal Gallagher, Rory’s younger brother and custodian and curator of the late musician’s legacy. “There were also all sorts of legalities and licensing issues. It was easier [for the majors] to neglect the situation than do something about it.”

But now this situation is set to be rectified with lavish box set I’ll Remember bringing together Taste’s two studio long players (along with a selection of outtakes) and a new documentary, premiering in New York this week, chronicling Taste’s acclaimed performance at the 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival, a bill they shared will the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and Leonard Cohen.

Watching Gallagher, bassist Richard McCracken and drummer John Wilson proceed, loosely and louchely, through a repertoire of rollicking blues numbers at Isle of Wight, it is clear you are witnessing an outfit at the very height of their abilities. At the time, they were regarded as peers of Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin — Live At The Isle of Wight makes clear why this was so.

TASTE IGNITE THE FESTIVAL

Yet the documentary, by respected director Murray Lerner, is more than merely a concert movie. It follows Gallagher and his crew in the days preceding the festival, providing a revealing snapshot of a young artist shortly to claim an enduring slice of rock immortality. For admirers of Gallagher — and students of early 70s rock generally — it makes for fascinating viewing (a DVD is released later this month).

“When Taste hit the stage the festival ignited,” recalls Donal Gallagher. “Murray Lerner had come to the Isle of Wight planning to shoot one of two numbers per band because he had a limited quantity of tape and he wanted to save it for The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell. When he saw Taste, he kept the cameras rolling for over an hour, which was extraordinary and speaks to the impact they had. They electrified the festival.”

Rory Gallagher being filmed on stage at the Isle of Wight concert in 1970.

Donal served as Taste’s road manager through that time. His memories are vivid and, in view of Rory’s premature death in 1995 at age 47, bittersweet.

“It wasn’t particularly glamorous,” he recalls. “The band travelled in a small Ford Transit with me. Half the road network in Europe had not been built, communication was extremely primitive. It could be a slog. Everything was done on the hoof and by word of mouth. You received very little pay but got to meet all of these fantastic bands. If you were a fan of the music of the time it was wonderful in that respect.”

Taste had formed in Cork city in 1966, originally comprising Gallagher, Eric Kitteringham on bass and Norman Damery on drums. They toured Ireland and Germany and came of age creatively in Belfast, their frequent gigs at the Maritime Hotel R’n’B club winning a loyal local fanbase.

By 1968, they were regulars on the UK blues circuit. With the new line-up of McCracken on bass and Wilson on drums, the band relocated to London and signed to Polydor. High profile bookings saw them open for Eric Clapton’s Cream at Hyde Park and tour America with Blind Faith, a supergroup consisting of Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ric Grech and Ginger Baker. Greatness seemed to await.

Alas, the wheels came off shortly after Isle of Wight as Taste split suddenly. Ambitious but also loyal and decent minded, Gallagher was scarred by the experience, his brother reveals. He’d never had any interest in a solo career. For him, Taste had been the vehicle by which he hoped to make his dreams reality.

GROUP FALLS APART

“They broke up for managerial reasons,” says Donal. “Rory was keen to get out of his management contract. It was a conflict between Rory and the manager. Rory knew exactly where he wanted to go. The other two sided with the manager and formed a band called Stud, which was very short-lived. They found out the hard way what Rory was trying to tell them.”

With his group fallen apart and a rosy future plunged into sudden uncertainty, Gallagher faced the biggest crisis of his short career.

“At the time he felt as if the world was falling in,” says Donal. “Here was a band that had stolen the show at the Isle of Wight. And yet he felt his hands were tied contractually. He felt betrayed — and never looked back at Taste again. He worked hard at putting it behind him.

“Whenever I flagged doing something with Taste again he kept pressing on. He did have the good fortunate of one night running into Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s manager. Peter had heard tales of the difficulties Rory was in. He offered his assistance and helped Rory negotiate a new deal for himself.”

Time did eventually bring closure. By the mid-90s a Taste reunion seemed a distinct possibility. Gallagher’s death as a result of liver failure on June 14, 1995 brought an end to such plans and Taste faded into the historical murk. But the guitarist’s profile has risen lately, with prominent figures such as Johnny Marr, ex of The Smiths, and Slash from Guns ‘n Roses voicing their fandom. Curiously, they were not necessarily aware of Taste, however.

“If you ask Johnny Marr about Taste – it’s not a band he got into. Tattoo [Gallagher’s 1973 solo LP] was his avenue into Rory. You had people like [Queen guitarist] Brian May who would have seen Taste and got his sound from the set-up Rory was using with that band. In a way Taste are a revelation to a lot of these guys. Johnny Marr, for instance, said he wants to check out Taste and is looking forward to the box set. It’s going to be a new discovery for him.”

The concert DVD and documentary, What’s Goin’ On / Taste at the Isle of Wight ‘70 is released on Sept 18. The CD boxset I’ll Remember is out now



Breaking Stories

Peter Casey stands by remarks on Travelling community in presidential debate

Woman accused of murder ‘feels safe in prison’

Maurice McCabe ‘owed hefty payout by State’

Peter Casey refuses to back down over Traveller comments

Breaking Stories

A question of taste: Sinead Dunphy

Ten to see at Cork Film Festival

Women’s Enterprise Day: Go forth and be successful

The devastating consequences of alienation for children

More From The Irish Examiner