There are a lot of Rory Tribute bands out there who play the songs but the way we treat it: Ted played for four years with Rory and I did for twenty so we also try to put our own little stamp on and change things slightly
That’s how long-time Rory Gallagher Bassist Gerry McAvoy described the music of Band of Friends to me at an interview last year. Try Googling Rory’s name on YouTube and you will find almost as many ‘tribute band’ versions of the Gallagher classics as you will find originals. Many of them are excellent, but can you get closer to the G Mans sound than his old bassist and drummer? I think not! Last weeks Harmonie show was proof that not only Gallagher’s music but also his musicians were and still are a special breed indeed.
If I was given a seat directly in front of Ted McKenna’s drum-kit and unable to look at anything other than his face for the entire show know what? I would come out with a big and happy grin on my face. This man has been laying down the backbeat for top rockbands since the early 1970’s with Alex Harvey. How can he have this enthusiasm after more than forty years?
Out front there is a Delboy-ish show delivery from Gerry McAvoy, and yes, I would buy a ‘dry-clean only’ raincoat from this man. Of course what he’s ‘selling’ this evening is a bit special indeed – the music and memories of William aka ‘Rory’ Gallagher so he doesn’t need the hard sell – but it’s in his nature to perform obviously and I’m left wondering how much McAvoy was busting to step into the spotlight all those years ago.
Watching a blazing version of ‘Last of the Independents’ I see McAvoy stride over to the microphone of Marcus Scherpenzeel and join in on the chorus. You will dig in vain to find a similar moment on the YouTube Gallagher archives. McAvoy’s is the permed head that never stops bobbing, and the foot that never stops tapping but always stage right to Gallagher. In 2015 Gerry McAvoy is very much the frontman.
Right from the rocking intro to first number ’Cradle Rock’ the pace barely drops. I jokingly ask Ted McKenna later if he could still handle the pace of a Gallagher gig today and he replies in a friendly but slightly annoyed tone that tonight’s show is still pretty energetic – not just for the band but for the audience too. It’s an exhausting but immensely enjoyable trip down memory lane for most of the listeners (a predominantly male and 50 something clientele, many of whom have quite a few original Gallagher shows to compare to this one). Great music of course.
From stage front I don’t realize what a giant of a man Marcus Scherpenzeel is but later from the side He is often taller than Gerry McAvoy even when McAvoy is standing several feet in front of him. It’s a mark of Scherpenzeel’s musicianship that despite his height he doesn’t dominate physically but does manage to dominate musically just as Rory did. After all these years there is no set-list to be seen onstage. I wonder if they even had one in their heads before walking out.
There are of course some numbers that scream for inclusion. The frantic ‘Shadowplay’ has me expecting Marcus to start duck-walking across the boards at any moment. There is a sobering pause before ‘Million Miles Away’ as Gerry recalls those band members lost now – Lou Martin,Rod D’Eath, Wilgar Campbell…
When I spoke to Gerry last year there was talk of an album of self-written material by the band. It’s now available under the title ‘Too Much is Not Enough’ and a couple of the new numbers ‘Sing it with the Band’ and ‘Succubus’ get an airing this evening. I have to say that, although the song is a great boogie number, the latter nudges a little too deeply into ‘Last of the Independents’ territory for comfort.
Far and away the best track on the non-Rory CD is paradoxically the Rory penned ‘If I Had a Reason’ sung in a shiveringly stark way by Gerry McAvoy with Ted McKenna taking over on the bridge. They didn’t physically do the song onstage, but if you want to get at the heart of this and probably EVERY SINGLE concert these guys do give this song a listen:
“Well it’s only an old song but it serves its purpose well,
By the cry in your voice I can tell
When you sing there’s a feeling behind all the words
That brings it all back again”
…and there’s no better way to bring it all back again where Rory Gallagher is concerned than with ‘Bullfrog Blues’. “Well did you ever?” It’s a song that when it roars to a close you know the show is over. There is nothing coming that could even pretend to top it. Lights out, sound off, and is that a ringing in my ears from the amps, or is Mr Gallagher giving us some feedback from a gig up in heaven? Hope you liked it Rory, we did for sure.