Rory Gallagher has been gone for more than twenty years now. His music however is rightly as present as ever though. Pick the title of any Rory album and there will, likely as not, be a power trio treading the boards with it and playing ‘Tattooed Lady’, ‘Bullfrog Blues’, et al. The true spirit of Gallagher is most likely to be found amongst those whose own sweat is mingled on the wooden stages of a million concert halls with Rory’s own – and no one sweated more alongside Gallagher than bassman Gerry McAvoy. He and drummer Ted McKenna have the memories, as my INTERVIEW with them some time ago proves. Do they still have the enthusiasm though? Harmonie, Bonn, on a Friday night is answer time and there is a big crowd to see Band of Friends who believe they still have it…
We all have one. An old cardigan that we can slip into at home at the end of a hard day in the office, on the road or on the street. An instant relaxant after a hard day’s work. Think of Band of Friends as your musical favourite cardigan. The big grin on the man behind the drumkit is a great warmer for starters, and it never leaves his face the entire gig. Whilst Ted McKenna seems to be relishing every single drum beat as if he fears someone might at any moment take away his favourite ‘toy’, on his left is a smiling man who needs no introducion to anyone here tonight and knows it. Gerry McAvoy. I always suspect that Marcel Scherpenzeel’s expression of nervous concentration is the product of inwardly knowing that even on his best night he won’t match the genial Irishman’s shoes that he has to fill. Tonight isn’t Scherpenzeel’s best night – he tells me later that he couldn’t hear his sound properly.
Scherpenzeel does crack a huge grin now and then though – especially I suspect when he plays something a little off the normal Rory wall that works a treat. The slightly jazzy undertone brought to ‘Do You Read Me’ for example or the experimental (= non Rory) moments of ‘Key Chain’. “A number we don’t do too often” as Gerry described it, and maybe that was the key to it’s freshness tonight.
McAvoy regularly goes over to join Scherpenzeel and exchange a word or two; not something he would have done too often when the G Man was on guitar duties I suspect. I wonder if he particularly enjoys having the artisitc freedom to play the old numbers as he perhaps always wanted to play them? Not that the fans would allow too much deviation anyway, but looking around me I see nothing but a hall packed choc-full of happy faces and hands punching into air to the beat.
I’m asked if a youngster in the audience can stand in front of me, and am more than happy to say yes and savour the enthusiasm that I myself had seeing Rory himself in the early 1980’s. Said youngster also gets to do a little dance with Gerry McAvoy onstage which sadly Rory never offered me all those years ago. McAvoy is obviously as pleased as I am to see that the audience isn’t completely aging rockers re-living their Rockpalast memories. Later on I discover this was a first concert for the said youngster – a pretty good start I would say.
Describing the set-list would be superfluous. If you know Rory then you know pretty much what went down and when. Outside of “A break for Marcel” that saw McAvoy take on vocals for the band’s own ‘Homeand’ and give others a break to the bar (sorry Gerry, but taking on the Rory classics with your own material and without incendiary guitar back-up is, well, simply messing with the kid). ‘Milllion Miles Away’ had everyone singing along and not a few I’m sure with a tear in their eye – this after all was the number sung at Rory’s funeral. ‘Philby’ lacked the jangly electric sitar sound of it’s original, ‘Heart & Soul’ was the blues as promised – no more and no less. ‘Moonchild’ and ‘Bullfrog Blues’ were made to be played live and loud – both of which a band of this quality deliver in a heartbeat.
Talking to Gerry McAvoy later I suggest that maybe his playing style has changed since those days when Rockpalast displayed him frantically rushing from fret to fret like a man possessed behind Rory Gallagher. “No, I don’t think so” he concludes, then, after a moments thought admits with a glint in his eye “Well maybe, but then I’m older!”
So the sheer intensity and speed is open to question, but the enthusiasm most definitely is not. When the band enjoys the music as much as the audience, well that truly is a Band of Friends – onstage and off. Gerry, Ted and Marcel I thank you all for keeping the music of Rory Gallagher alive in the most important way possible – the sheer enjoyment of the great Man’s music.