In June 1995 I had been living in Germany for about five years. After arriving in Germany and taking one dodgy job after another I’d finally found a job with a future in the accounts department of a major bookshop in Düsseldorf. It was my habit during my lunch break in those days to walk around the corner to Düsseldorf’s premier location The Kö. It was where all the top fashion shops were, but more importantly for me it was also where there was a small booth selling international newspapers. It was the cover of the local Rheinische Post newspaper that caught my eye though – Rory Gallagher’s picture was on it. Rory was dead. A Liver Transplant that seemed to have gone well had led to complications… I bought The Sun and the Daily Mail and headed back to my office with a heavy heart.
The English newspapers turned out to have zero about Rory’s death in them. Many years later I mentioned my amazement at this during an interview with Rory’s long time bass player Gerry McAvoy who just shook his head and said he too heard the news first via the German colleague of a friend: “It was our old Tour Manager Phil McDonell. His brother-in-Law Klaus heard it on the radio in Stuttgart. It took three or four days until the English press caught on to it. He was popular in England as well but he was very popular here (in Germany). The Band was very popular. We’d been coming to Germany for years and he got to know the German psyche.”
Two years earlier I had been on a regular trip from my new home in Germany back to Portsmouth. On the bus from our local train station to my home, I saw a sticker on the window Announcing a Blues Festival on Southsea Common. Several local bands were on the bill, followed by Blues harp legend Snooky Prior, what caught my eye though was the headliner – Rory Gallagher. Sometimes the Gods are on your side in life.
So it was that on May 28th 1993 I found myself unexpectedly in a windy tent on Southsea Common on the south coast of England seeing Rory Gallagher, not for the first, but although I didn’t know it then, for the last time. No cameras were allowed and Rory seemed to be chaperoned onto the stage, and again off of it afterwards, in a way that was designed to avoid him meeting anyone at all. He was clearly unwell and the show was, by Rory’s standards, nothing special. I have no idea who was in the band for the show. There was a harmonica player that may, or may not, have been Mark Feltham. The evening left a hollow feeling. I was glad to have seen Rory some years earlier at Southampton Gaumont on a tour promoting his ‘Jinx’ album. But then I was angry with myself for not having seen him live in the late ‘70’s. For me, Rory’s music was a late discovery.
Fast forward in time. It’s January of 2018 and I’m interviewing a promising Blues newcomer from Croatia, Vanja Sky, for my website 3songsbonn. Vanja’s debut disc features Rory’s ‘Bad Penny’ and I stupidly ask Vanja if she ever Saw Rory onstage. Stupid because I immediately realised that when I was walking back from the Kö in Düsseldorf with a heavy heart Vanja was a mere two years old.
The lesson learned from my tale is not to be angry about what you missed in life, but thankful for what you were lucky enough to see. There will never be another Rory Gallagher. The music industry didn’t make them like that then, and it certainly doesn’t make them like Rory now. On this 25th Anniversary of his passing there really is only one way to remember Rory Gallagher – through his heartfelt music. Find your favourite track from Rory on YouTube or wherever. Listen. Share. If you can, remember. If you missed the shows it really doesn’t matter – 25 years on, the music can still take you away to another place – A Million Miles Away. RIP G Man.