When it comes to Band names, every song, lyric and uttering from Irish guitar legend Rory Gallagher must have been snapped up by a coverband now. Fitting then that when Gallagher’s bass guitar sidekick Gerry McAvoy put a band together to commemorate his former boss it should not try to compete. McAvoy is adamant indeed that they are no ‘coverband’ when I speak to him. This is very simply a Band of Friends. Of course it’s not just any friends and certainly not any music that explodes onto the stage at the Harmonie; and when guitarist Marcel Scherpenzeel calls out “Let’s get to work” he’s plugging his Stratocaster not just into an amplifier, but into a legend.
At an interview before the show Scherpenzeel was adamant: „I don’t try to copy Rory“. When I pointed out that he was saying it whilst wearing a lumberjack checked shirt he was equally adamant that it was coincidence they shared the same fashion sense. By evenings end though it was equally evident that they also shared the same passion for playing guitar. Certainly it would be difficult to get closer to having the right tools for recreating the sound of Rory Gallagher than were on offer this evening – Gerry McAvoy was not only on all Rory’s recordings over twenty years but as a glance at photos from 1980 showed, still using the same Fender Precision bass. Drummer Ted McKenna joined to help rework the abandoned ‘Torch’ album and stayed on to complete it in the form of ‘Photofinish’ as well as other iconic Gallagher discs like ‘Top Priority’ and ‘Stage Struck’ between 1976 and 1981. His CV is a veritable who’s Who of 70’s Rock including Alex Harvey, Gillan and Michael Schenker. What though does it all add up to without the G man himself?
Scherpenzeel may not be aiming to copy the great man note for note, but he has been meticulous in putting together Gallagher’s foot-pedal board and plays a Fender Strat with a very similar construction year. I’m pleased to see that when he steps onto the Harmonie stage he isn’t wearing the check shirt anymore. This isn’t theatre, it’s Rock n Roll.
A fitting name for the Tour would have been called ‘Remembering Rory’ except that the name has already (you guessed it) been used. It’s an evening split between the great man’s music and anecdotes from the man who stood beside the great man for the best and most productive part of his musical career. Gerry McAvoy has clearly taken time and trouble with his between song anecdotes. He remembers Rory’s earliest shows in this area and those at Bonn’s Biskuit Halle, the WDR Rockpalasts of course, recording in Dieter Dierks studio near Cologne, and even that Rory’s only real holiday was probably a short one taken in Germany. Ultimately though, the description McAvoy gives of Rory in his book ‘Riding Shotgun’ as “A mystery wrapped up in an enigma” means that insights into the man himself remain out of reach even from a close colleague. His music must ultimately do the talking this evening, and the shy man from Ballyshannon ultimately did all the talking that he himself considered needed to be done with his famous ’61 Stratocaster. This evening it’s down to Dutchman Marcel Scherpenzeel to do it. He certainly looks the business, and has taken a lot of trouble to lock down Rory’s sound. I even notice that his guitar is worn out in exactly the same pattern as the great man’s was – but can he play?
The thankful answer is yes! In fact I get the feeling that Scherpenzeel and Gallagher share more than just a love for check shirts. The Dutchman also has a shy approach that lets his music speak. It’s a set that covers large gulps of Gallagher’s musical career from early favourites ‘Laundromat’ and ‘Tattooed Lady’ through ‘Off the Handle’ with it’s signature catscratch solo, on through the plaintive ‘Calling Card’, to the Hard Boiled detective strut of ‘Continental Op’. The spirit of Rory is most definitely in attendance. So much so that when McKenna’s cymbal and stand need rebuilding after a characteristically boisterous workout, McAvoy looks to the heavens at the crash and whispers “Sorry Rory – it wasn’t me!” McKenna isn’t struck down by a thunderbolt, so presumably the great man merely winked down, heavenly Guinness in hand, and maybe thought ‘serves you right McAvoy for trying to steal the show!’. I’m certainly sure that Rory would have been less than pleased with being directed around the stage the way Scherpenzeel was at times. It was only a small irritation though, that I put down to exuberance on behalf of McAvoy who in all other ways was quite amazing: The show reminded me how important he was to Rory’s sound. Much has been said that Rory could cover both lead and rhythm because of his showband training, but McAvoy virtually provided an additional rhythm guitar on his bass. What no-one could know then too, was that Gerry McAvoy is also an excellent storyteller – his easy control of background talkers in the audience would have put a few stage comedians to shame.
It goes without saying that, since we had two band stalwarts, the likes of ‘Moonchild’ and ‘Shadowplay’ were magic. ‘Million Miles Away’ was a good opportunity to remember band members sadly now lost like Lou Martin who passed away in 2012 and ironically was keyboard player on that very track.
I had a strange feeling as the last notes of ‘Shadow Play’ rang around the now empty stage and the crowd cheered for more – like it was 1980 and I was in Southampton Gaumont, a young student with a limited experience of concert going and the ignorant assumption that all concerts ended like this. I was as sure then though, as I was on Thursday, that the band would return, that they would play a blistering ‘Bullfrog Blues’ and ultimately that I would go home with happy heart and ringing ears. Some things never change.
Thanks for taking me back Gerry, Ted and Marcel – and thank you to everyone who has read this review. It could have been much shorter and gone like this: ‘Band of Friends spent the evening smiling and playing great music. The audience spent the evening smiling and hearing great music’.
… and if that isn’t what a great concert is, was, and always will be about, then what the hell is?!
+++ INTERVIEW WITH BAND OF FRIENDS COMING SOON +++