To mark the 40th anniversary of its original release, Rory Gallagher’s greatest album, the Irish Tour ’74 “live double”, gets an Expanded Deluxe Edition released by Legacy/Sony Music. It’s a seven-CD/single DVD box set par excellence that trumps even the original...
Sometimes even the best things in life can be improved.
The original Irish Tour ’74 album, a two-million selling vinyl double, has long been thought of as Rory Gallagher’s best. The guitarist, who died aged 47 in 1995, first came to public attention beyond his native Ireland fronting the three-piece Taste, who toured the UK extensively in the late 1960s and famously supported Cream at their Royal Albert Hall farewell shows. In 1971 he began a solo career, going on to make 11 studio albums. The seven released from 1973 to 1982 are the best but – as good as he was in the studio – the quietly spoken man of Ballyshannon was transformed whenever he wore his sweat-distressed Stratocaster in front of an audience.
Fittingly then, Rory Gallagher’s catalogue is these days packed with live recordings – but Irish Tour ’74 has long topped them all. In effect it was three-sides a soundtrack to a Tony Palmer film of a tour that took him to the three biggest cities of the Emerald Isle, plus a fourth of “After Hours” jamming recorded on the Ronnie Lane Mobile Unit. Now, three sides become three 2-CD whole concerts (Cork from January 5, Dublin three days earlier, the third taped in Belfast on December 29)… and the fourth expanded to become CD seven, comprising 10 songs recorded informally on the mobile parked outside Cork City Hall a couple of days ahead of it being used to record the show. To those, this 10-inch box adds a DVD of the Palmer documentary that set this train in motion. For Rory fans this is beyond fabulous.
Although perhaps less celebrated, this is easily among the best 10 live albums in the history of rock.
What’s it up against? Well, depending on your taste: Deep Purple’s Made In Japan, Humble Pie’s Performance, The Allman Brothers’ Live At The Fillmore, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s One More From The Road, The Who’s Live At Leeds and (a belated contender) Led Zeppelin’s How The West Was Won. Plus, naturally, the live doubles from Thin Lizzy, UFO and Status Quo. Expanded versions of the first five listed have, broadly speaking, revealed that back in the day the bands got it right. The albums as originally released were as good as they could be and the best takes of the songs were used. In particular, The Who’s complete Live At Leeds (and its Live At Hull sibling) have distorted the original beyond recognition – but Rory’s Irish Tour is different. As revered as the original was, it has now become significantly better.
The original Irish Tour ’74 wasn’t, though, as “cosmopolitan” as we always thought…
The inside of the original double-vinyl gatefold sleeve carried only perfunctory notes. Other than the 10-song tracklist, the most significant read: “This album was compiled from ‘live recordings’ made at concerts on an Irish tour early ’74 at: Belfast Ulster Hall, Dublin Carlton Cinema, Cork City Hall.” The message, repeated on the 1998 CD re-master, is now revealed as something of a myth. The annotation on the box set’s lavish booklet reveals that, including the jams on side four, all songs were recorded in Rory’s home town on January 5. Nothing from the Dublin or Belfast gigs was included on the original album.
In the ’70s, length was everything.
The only real criticism that could be made of the original was that, although it was as much as three sides of vinyl could accommodate, eight numbers/66 minutes scarcely did Rory Gallagher justice: a typical show was regularly twice that long. Likewise, rather than duplicate anything fans had bought on his two-sided Live In Europe album (released two years earlier), it seemed Rory ensured Irish Tour omitted favourites Messin’ With The Kid, Laundromat and his house-downing encore Bullfrog Blues; and included only one number from his famous mid-gig acoustic set… Now, they’re all restored in setlists stretching to 14 or 16 songs (each including five acoustic numbers, among them Rory’s stellar versions of Blind Boy Fuller’s Pistol Slapper Blues and Going To My Home Town on mandolin).
The Belfast gig now included is very special indeed.
Playing Northern Ireland’s capital at the height of the “Troubles” was a brave and almost unprecedented move. Few bands from south of the border, let alone mainland UK or international acts dared go there. But Rory insisted, arguing (in Palmer’s film): “I lived there for a while and I learned a lot playing in the clubs there so I’ve a sort of home feeling for the place”. Additionally, although his drummer Rod De’ath was Welsh, the other two guys in the line-up of the time – bassist Gerry McAvoy and keyboard player Lou Martin – were both from Belfast. As it turned out, the Belfast show was recorded the night after a city-wide wave or bombings and many of the audience turned up only in grim hope, expecting the gig to be cancelled. Rory never considered that option and consequently CDs five and six crackle with the appreciation of an ecstatically grateful crowd inspiring Rory to play even harder. Sonically, all three gigs retain the original album’s mid-’70s atmosphere – the temptation to clean them up to modern standards was rightfully resisted – and while many titles are duplicated, no performance is. Each city inspires a unique take. Moreover, this shows some of Gallagher’s finest performances of the era have remained unheard for 40 years. All this for only £35? Sell your children, buy a copy.