Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Rory Gallagher, a brilliant Irish blues/rock/folk musician and lyricist who has only in the past couple of decades been discovered by many outside of Ireland and Europe. I could write a full bio, but others have already done so, and done a better job than I could. What some have failed to mention (though not all) is one of the most important things Rory ever did in his brief life.
He not only entertained; he brought hope.
During the height of “The Troubles” (trouble ain’t over), many bands (and/or) their management, avoided performing in the northern six counties out of security concerns.
Rory was not only willing to play up north; he was insistent upon doing so. And so he brought some fantastic music to young people who, if they were lucky, had previously had only the television or radio to listen to their favourite tunes. Rory was special, though, because he was not American or British (not knocking anyone here, I’m a huge Jimmy Page fan), but a home-grown, Donegal born, Cork-raised Irishman. This fact, along with his exceptional musical abilities, brought a lot of people together at his shows who might not have otherwise associated with one another.
Rory played a wide variety of instruments, but was most well known by his Fender Stratocaster.
So everyone wanted a Strat. I was lucky enough to get one of my own, largely by nefarious means. Others, not so fortunate, had to wait. One of whom had to wait a long time.
I’ll call him Gerry. He had aspirations of becoming a famed musician, but his time and place prevented that from happening. Like many young men in his community, he was unable to find work, was a bit angry, and took to rioting as a means of expression. Music would have been better, but he did manage to garner a bit of fame.
During a riot in Derry in the 70’s, Gerry got into the thick of it, and aside from throwing various objects (which I’ll not mention), at the RUC and British military, he had armed himself with a slab of a white picket fence.
The opposing side taking the worst of it; some British soldiers secured themselves inside of a Saracen armoured vehicle, deciding to wait it out. But Gerry was waiting too.
And so when the fighting died down, Gerry, flat against said vehicle, waited until one of the soldiers opened the back door to have a peek, and raised his piece of picket fence like a spear in an attempt to stab him. The image was caught by a photographic journalist, and was on the front page of a rag of a newspaper the next day with the headline “SAVAGES!”
Naturally, Gerry and his friends went out and bought and/or stole every copy of the paper they could lay their hands on.
Times went on, and times changed, at least a little. Decades later, in a shop in Donegal town, Gerry was finally able to buy the Stratocaster he’d always wanted to have; a friend of mine (actually Gerry’s closest friend) was with him. When he’d purchased the guitar, he stood there, staring down at it, as if he were in a trance. My friend became a little concerned and said, “It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?”
“It is,”Gerry said, still looking at his Strat. “But where the hell was it when I was fifteen?”
Rory Gallagher was by all accounts, a shy, kind, and humble soul; something you’d never guess from watching his live performances. He inspired and entertained everyone he ever played for, including Gerry.
I just wonder how different Gerry’s life would have turned out if he could have gotten his hands on that guitar when he was fifteen. Maybe different; maybe not. But I’d wager that he’d never have been labelled a “savage.”
But it’s not such a bad thing to be called. “Savage” means indomitable, unable to be tamed. That’s what all music is about; that, and hope of all kinds, and for all his trials and tribulations, at long last, Gerry got his wish. To be free.
It’s a little late in coming, but rest in peace, Gerry. Yourself and Rory as well. Peace is all any of us have ever wanted.