Taste’s set at the Isle Of Wight Festival in August 1970 had all the makings of a car crash. Broke, bitter, bickering with management and stuck in traffic on the way to the site, Rory Gallagher, drummer John Wilson and bassist Charlie McCracken were a trio hanging by the thinnest of threads. As the guitarist’s tour manager and brother Donal Gallagher remembers: “Rory kept saying, ‘Look I just want to get on stage. Let’s make this the last gig…’”
Somehow, that cocktail of venom and exasperation brought out the best in Taste, spurring the band to a seven-song thriller that represented their last great live performance (even if they technically soldiered on until New Year’s Eve 1970). Fans who already own 1971’s Live At The Isle Of Wight album might think they’re all set, but What’s Going On has plenty more juice, coupling director Murray Lerner’s unreleased live footage with a new documentary that explains how a lumberjack-shirted everyman rose up to hand Hendrix and The Doors their asses on the world stage.
The deal is further sweetened by a supple Beat Club performance from 1970, which finds Gallagher playing alto sax on It’s Happened Before, It’ll Happen Again.
The doc is short but excellent, with big names giving the Rory backstory a little fairydust. Bob Geldof is caustic on the guitarist’s escape from the showband circuit: “Van and Rory were the lucky ones. The showbands destroyed Irish musicians. Ireland was such a small country, these guys couldn’t make a living without doing that crap.”
U2’s The Edge evokes the sense of hometown pride as Taste form in 1966 (“Rock’n’roll was this very exotic thing that was going abroad. Taste had basically done the impossible: come out of Ireland and gone all the way”). Describing the trio’s touchdown in London, Brian May channels his inner hyperventilating fanboy: “We hung around and hid at turning-out time at The Marquee, then we strolled over as if we ought to be there, and I said, ‘How do you get that sound?’”
Rory appears a few times, and though he’s a shadow without the Strat, he tells a sweet tale of touring with Blind Faith: “We stepped onto the stage in Philadelphia – and it started revolving! The promoter didn’t tell us! I thought, ‘This has got to be a bad trip…’”
All of which leads to the Isle Of Wight footage, and the performance that made Geldof “proud that an Irish band had done something”. You see his point (likewise, as Gallagher manipulates a howl of feedback during What’s Going On, you understand the comparisons to Hendrix). A stompy Sugar Mama is disjointed, but the gorgeous fingerpicked section of Morning Sun – from that year’s On The Boards album – is a highlight, as is the rasping electric slide of Gambling Blues.
As the band walked off stage following a stabbing Catfish Blues, they should have been set for stardom. Instead, Melody Maker screamed the valedictory headline a few days later: “Taste Fight Split!”