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Rory Gallagher: Irish Tour '74 - Album Of The Week Club review

Recorded during The Troubles, Irish Tour '74 finds Rory Gallagher at his electrifying best

Rory Gallagher - Irish Tour '74
(Image: © Sony)
Rory Gallagher - Irish Tour '74

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Cradle Rock
2. I Wonder Who
3. Tattoo'd Lady
4. Too Much Alcohol
5. As The Crow Flies
6. A Million Miles Away
7. Walk On Hot Coals
8. Who's That Coming?
9. Back On My Stompin' Ground (After Hours)
10. Just A Little Bit

By 1973 Rory Gallagher was also growing increasingly frustrated at not being able to capture the energy of his live shows in the studio. During one session, he threatened to “chuck the tapes in the dustbin”. It was no ideal threat – he would go on to shelve whole albums in the future.

“He was a live performer,” said keyboard player Lou Martin. “He didn’t like the studio because he was playing to the walls and wasn’t getting any feedback from the audience. But he had to do the albums for the record company.” 

Onstage, it was another matter entirely, and Gallagher understandably jumped at the chance to record another live album. But this one would be different: it would be recorded in Ireland. 

“We were one of the only bands to play Belfast,” says Lou Martin proudly. “Thin Lizzy wouldn’t do it because of the aggravation. But Rory insisted on it. I was from Belfast, Gerry was from Belfast and there was co-operation from ‘The Organisation’ to make sure the concerts went OK.”

“We were taken care of very well,” said drummer Rod de’Ath. “The hotels that we stayed at were carefully chosen, without going into too much detail.” (Neither man was willing to go into more detail about ‘The Organisation’, though we can presume that they’re not talking about the British government).

The resulting album, Irish Tour ’74, remains the highlight of Gallagher’s career. Recorded in Belfast, Dublin and Cork, it finally nailed his live performances on vinyl. 

While the sound quality is variable – partly due to the fact that they couldn’t get insurance for Ronnie Lane’s Mobile Studios in the more troubled areas – the album never loses its primal, raw urgency. It’s the sound of a band leaning out over the precipice – something Gallagher deliberately encouraged, making up the show as he went along. 

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Other albums released in July 1974

  • Another Time, Another Place - Bryan Ferry
  • On the Beach - Neil Young
  • Rock Bottom - Robert Wyatt
  • 461 Ocean Boulevard - Eric Clapton
  • Avalanche - Mountain
  • Close Up the Honky Tonks - Flying Burrito Brothers
  • Learn to Love It - Jesse Winchester
  • Miami - James Gang
  • Mirror Image - Blood, Sweat & Tears

What they said...

"Irish Tour captures some of his finest known live recordings and, while it's impossible to tell which songs were recorded where, across nine in-concert recordings (plus one after-hours jam session, Back on My Stompin' Ground), the energy crackling from stage to stalls and back again packs an intensity that few live albums – Gallagher's others among them – can match." (AllMusic)

"Unlike many other of his contemporaries, he lived long enough to see his legacy and influence take hold and flourish in the musical world. This display of one man’s ability to unite a people and a country in turmoil through his music is an essential listen for all rock fans, young and old, and is a crucial part of Irish musical history as well as the very legacy of blues rock." (Sputnik Music)

"From the moment the music starts, Rory Gallagher: Irish Tour '74 more than justifies itself. Gallagher played like his guitar was plugged straight into the universal source, and it probably was. That Gallagher was on his home turf for this tour only increases the sense of some sort of direct connection with his sound. Every note played, every string struck and every song sung vibrates with all the passion and intensity of a spiritual experience, which this surely was." (Pop Matters)

What you said...

Nigel Lancashire: Although his previous live album Live In Europe has a more raw, one-take sound, Irish Tour ‘74 showcases Rory’s growth as a songwriter and shines where he explores his then-most recent studio album, the very musically varied Tattoo. Opener Who’s That Coming, Tattoo’d Lady and the lengthy, looser version of Million Miles Away show a man who’s enjoying his talent to the fullest musically.

Rather than the slightly unbalanced, crammed feel of Live in Europe The double LP format allows Rory to jam a little, stretching his material where he wants, yet rarely feels as meandering or indulgent as many 70s blues rock recordings could be. The band had grown to a four piece with Lou Martin on keyboards, a move that gives their sound at times a delightfully honky honk edge.

The album recordings were made in the midst of a sustained IRA bombing campaign, but you wouldn’t know it for the exuberance of the music, or maybe it was a burst of relief in spite of the fear and devastation being caused (Belfast had been bombed just 24 hours before that show and Gallagher was expected – but refused – to cancel). 

If there’s a criticism of the album (listening to the original, version) is that it ends on a whimper rather than a scream with the lengthy, mid-paced Just A Little Bit. Something along the lines of actual set closer Bullfrog Blues would have been stronger, but understandably would have duplicated the previous live album’s ending just two years previously.

Considering the closeness of the previous two ‘live’s, Rory wouldn’t release another live album until 1981’s Stagestruck” – slamming in with another great, yet much more tight, uptempo affair, wisely concentrating on his more song-based material rather than being ‘just another’ blues workout that many might have expected – and would also be his last official live audio release during his lifetime. Just listen to the man here though. No-one sounded quite like Rory Gallagher.

Bill Griffin: Hot and sweaty, that's what this is. A perfect party album; I am unhappy and astonished that none of my friends from those days had this album. It is easily as good and rocking as Foghat Live which got played at every party.

Mauricio Telles: It took me while to discover Rory Gallagher, but I was completely hooked since the first song. He is now one of my top favourites of all time. The guitar here is flawless, brilliant, creative and aggressive.

All songs are great, but after listening to this album so many times, I confess I'm now skipping Too Much Alcohol, I know, it's great to show audience participation, especially in those live albums from the 70s, but I would rather listen to Laundromat and Pistol Slapper Blues instead. Both songs could occupy the same space in the original record.

But anyway, now we have the box set to get delighted. Too sad he died too soon, could have recorded so much more great stuff for us. 10 of 10 easy.

John Davidson: Rory Gallagher is one of those much lauded blues rockers that somehow didn't end up on my turntable back in the 70s.

I was perhaps too caught up in the science-fiction and fantasy trappings of Prog and Metal to understand and appreciate the skills of the bluesmen.

In truth, while I now have more time for the blues and can admire and appreciate the skill , this record still doesn't really do it for me.

It suffers from the most 70s of problems – the live double album – which instead of presenting the songs, focuses on extended solos, jams, intros and outros that get in the way of the actual music.

When they get it right and just actually play the song - as on Tattoo'd Lady – it is fantastic. More of that and I'd have been on this, but the two extended blues numbers on sides one and two nearly put me off listening to the rest of the album. I'm glad I persevered though as A Million Miles Away and Walk on Hot Coals are simply brilliant.

The players perform well live with that tight-but-loose style that bands who are really in the groove seem to manage effortlessly.

The remastering also does a decent job of breathing life into the mix. The instruments are well separated, with the guitar taking centre stage, but leaving room for some excellent supporting runs from the Hammond organ. For a guitarist, Gallagher is a decent singer, and for the time perhaps this is a blessing as a more traditional rock front man might have been too tempted to scream and yell live rather than sing.

Overall I prefer his own compositions to the covers of traditional blues – though As The Crow Flies isn't bad. Having listened to a bit of the 40th anniversary set, I'd have preferred it if Messin' With The Kid was on the original version replacing either I Wonder Who or Too Much Alcohol.

Top track for me is A Million Miles Away which has an almost Doors'y feel to it. If he could have captured that live magic in the studio, who knows where he'd have gotten to.

Carl Black: Not too familiar with Mr Gallagher so a live album might be just what I need. Listening to it on a very basic, not expecting much, level, everything seems fine. Nice blues-drenched rock with plenty of effort. 

I couldn't help thinking of Hendrix whilst I was listening and also the Doors. Mainly because of the Hammond organ (nobody sounds like the Doors) but it became apparent to me that Rory lacks one thing: Songs. Songs that get in you head and your heart and stay there. 

Where's the Light my Fires? Where's the Crosstown Traffic? And then he goes unplugged. A world of difference. As the Crow Flies is the next level up. Great performance. Walking On Hot Coals is another example of a tidy song but just doesn't stick in the head. As is Who's That Coming. Experts in this type of music and playing may treasure this material but I can't help but think that Jimi and Jimmy did it a lot better.

Big statement time: Canned Heat did this sort of thing better than anyone including Hendrix, The Doors and... dare I say it, better than Led Zeppelin. Don't eject me from the group. 

A nice listen. Would have been more than happy to see this live. Would prefer a full on unplugged blues experience.

Billy Master: As superb as this album is, when the historical context of when and where it was recorded is taken into account, that raises it to an even greater plane.

Mike Ollier: Now you're talking! This is a great LP and soundtracks a great documentary. It has some of Rory's best songs and extended jamming which slightly lessens its impact.

I do think, however, it's surpassed by Live In Europe which is rawer and fierier. I personally think it's one of the top 3 live albums ever put out. But Irish Tour has got to be an 8 or 9, but anyone giving it a 10, I wouldn't argue with them.

Keith Jenkin: This is in my opinion the best record of its type ever made. Shall we just agree 10/10 and end the debate? Oh, and this year's archive release Check Shirt Wizard is pretty good too

Fred Varcoe: No surprise that the year before (I think), Rory was voted the best guitarist in the world over Clapton, Page, Blackmore, etc. Rory was an astonishing musician and a rare guitarist. 

Live, he was unbeatable because the energy in his shows was on a different level to most bands. I interviewed him in 1991 in Tokyo when he had flu and jet lag and the next day he put on a show that just defied belief. It was the first time I'd seen him live in about 15 years and it was every bit as good and full of energy as the first time I'd seen him 20 years before. 

He's not forgotten here in Japan with a festival and tribute bands. Live In Europe and Irish Tour caught him at his best, but you could have recorded any live show he did and captured a classic.

Jacob Tannehill: This guy. This album. I highly doubt that there are any “touch-ups” on this. Every song is a rocker and the band was super-tight. I just got the original vinyl of this a few months ago. I can’t stop listening to it. This is what live albums should sound like!

Chris Burkill: This is a special album. All members of the band are on fire musically, but Rory's playing is ferocious. His explosive intro into a blistering Cradle Rock - with a lesson in how to embed slide into a solo - is a great opener. 

Then (the highlight for me) is his version of Muddy Waters' I Wonder Who. Each solo that Rory plays is lyrical and expressive. Walk On Hot Coals is another highlight, it's an absolute firecracker. If you check out the repackaged multi CD version of a few years back, you'll also get the prelude to the original releases Too Much Alcohol, which was a great version of Hands Off.

Chris Webb: This was the album that introduced me to Rory and is still my favourite by him – and maybe my favourite live album ever (the only other contender would be Live At The Regal). Just a flat-out masterpiece.

Jonathan Novajosky: Not really my kind of thing. Live albums can be hit or miss for me. It's hard for me to get super-excited about excessive "jamming" and drawn-out solos. I thought Irish Tour '74 was fine, but nothing spectacular. There's a lot of energy and the songs are fun, but I can't say I would go back to it. 6/10

Final Score: 9.01⁄10 (233 votes cast, with a total score of 2100)

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