Taste: I’ll Remember

New four-CD box set of Rory Gallagher’s seminal first band, reviewed and rated.

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Finally, the band that the teenage Gallagher formed in Cork in late 1966 then went on to conquer much of the world with gets a retrospective.

While Rory’s solo albums have been remastered and reissued – with the brilliant Irish Tour ’74 getting epic box set treatment in 2014 – Taste have always languished in the shadows of Gallagher’s legend. This is not because Gallagher was embarrassed by the material he recorded with Taste or the public overlooked these albums when first released: Taste enjoyed major continental European success with their eponymous debut album and then wide international acclaim and chart success with 1970’s On The Boards. What has really blocked Taste ever being given the treatment of other major late 1960s bands is, tragically, the music biz: Taste got shafted every which way, dodgy contracts and nefarious management leading to a bitter inter-band split that never healed.

Indeed, Rory Gallagher found the Taste experience so distasteful he refused to even play songs from those albums in his concerts from 1971 on. Yet Taste took the shy Cork teenage guitar-slinger from showbands to the verge of superstardom. The young Gallagher made blues-informed rock music in the late 1960s that marks him as the equal to Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jeff Beck and even Jimi Hendrix. Yet discussion of late 1960s blues rock tends to forget what a major player the Irish teenager was. Now, with the Gallagher estate’s full participation, I’ll Remember provides four hours of Taste in the studio and in concert. The recordings here demonstrate Rory’s creative arc rising with great speed and intensity.

For those who first came across Gallagher via Taste, this box set will prove an absolute feast. For the many Rory fans who have never paid attention to Taste, there are revelations to be embraced here. Taste cut two studio albums – 1969’s eponymous debut album and 1970’s On The Boards – and, following their 1970 demise, saw several live albums and a shoddy album of 1967 Belfast demos repackaged. I’ll Remember remasters both the studio albums (and adds outtakes from both sessions), gathers all the Belfast demos and adds never-before-released live recordings (from Woburn Abbey in 1968 and Paris and Stockholm in 1970). What we have here, then, is the definite Taste. All the serious fan might find lacking is the 1970 Isle Of Wight performance, but as a DVD of that concert is also being released this year then we’d imagine this is the excuse for its absence.

How do Taste – a band whose two studio albums consist of just 77 minutes of recorded music – hold up under the scrutiny of four CDs? Surprisingly well, yet, like football, this box set is very much a game of two halves. The halves divide between their pre-and-post 1969 recordings: Taste’s 1969 debut album is a solid, at times exciting, album of blues rock, but 1970’s On The Boards is a record of wild beauty and creative flights. Everything included here hangs around these two albums: the Belfast demos and Taste’s 1967 debut single Blister On The Moon (released on Belfast label Major Minor) show a promising garage band with a potent guitarist. The Woburn Abbey live recordings demonstrate Taste, still to record their debut album, but with a lot more experience and confidence, playing a driving, if somewhat predictable blues boogie (Rock Me, Baby, Baby Please Don’t Go, You Shook Me) that was fast attracting serious attention. As the original Cork rhythm section of Eric Kitteringham (bass) and Norman Damery (drums) were replaced not long after Woburn Abbey with Belfast’s Richard McCracken and John Wilson, this box marks the first time that anything by the original Taste line-up has officially been released.

But it’s 1970’s On The Boards that demonstrates just how remarkable Taste were. The album opens with the ripping What’s Going On and quickly moves into jazz territory (Gallagher on alto saxophone), touches on pastoral psychedelia with If The Day Was Any Longer and If I Don’t Sing I’ll Cry and offers an acoustic meditation worthy of Nick Drake on See Here. Rory plays extraordinary blues guitar on It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again. Across this album McCracken and Wilson provide supple, fluid, imaginative support, suggesting they might have been the finest rhythm section Gallagher ever worked with. Experimental but never indulgent, the fusion never sounding forced, Rory’s guitar painting all kinds of hues, On The Boards is possibly the best studio album Gallagher ever made. The 1970 live recordings (from Stockholm and Paris – neither officially released before – with John Peel as compere for the latter) don’t suggest an unhappy trio: on stage Taste sound incendiary night after night. And while Rory’s lyrical singing and harmonica playing are a joy, it is his guitar playing – whether guttural blues or shimmering patterns of sound – that surprises, inspires and delights.

Will anything here disappoint the serious Taste fan? The newspaper cuttings of young Rory (including one of him still at school but working with showbands) are wonderful, but the sleeve notes are somewhat scanty: no new interviews (with surviving bandmembers, producer Tony Colton, tour manager Donal Gallagher), so little light is shed on the band’s rise and fall. And the 1970 live CD serves up near identical heavy blues performances of Catfish and Sugar Mama in both Paris and Stockholm. Still, these are minor complaints. Here is the sound of Rory Gallagher coming of age, all the time playing with a fierce beauty and imagination.