Soho, London, 1980.
I have been a big Rory Gallagher fan since I first heard Blister On The Moon in Year 11 at school in 1970. Five years later I saw him play on a Saturday night at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, then in Brisbane the following Tuesday night.
In 1980 my girlfriend and I found ourselves in Tokyo teaching English by day and exploring the Tokyo live house scene at night. We got to know some people and my girlfriend scored a job teaching English over long lunches to a record executive. I wrote about music and culture for RAM magazine. I rustled up ¥33,000 and bought my first Walkman so my Rory Gallagher tapes (and others) travelled with me easily. On high rotation was Top Priority which had been released in 1979.
After six months we made our way to London. Money was tight. My girlfriend got a job at the Na Na Club which basically meant encouraging Japanese businessmen to drink lots of alcohol and laugh at their jokes. I wasn’t so lucky and the track off Top Priority that resonated was At the Depot:
Well, I’m hanging round the depot boys,
Trying to get a job,
I’m so sick and tired of being laid off.
I worked for a labour hire company and scrambled for as many jobs as I could. I would turn up at 6am, try to keep warm, and hope for the best. After a few weeks some consistent work came my way, and I spent a lot of time moving carpets in a warehouse opposite Wembley Stadium.
On the plus side, when I wasn’t selected for a job I was free to indulge my Tokyo rock journalist persona and so I tried to track down Rory Gallagher’s manager. After many dead-ends, just as many 10p calls from red phone booths that in our part of London often doubled as urinals and advertising spaces for a variety of sexual services, I finally tracked down Donal Gallagher.
I made the call to see if I could get an interview at their London office, explaining that I was a freelance writer and, I had to admit, a big fan since an afternoon in September 10 years ago. I didn’t have high expectations, but things fell into place as Rory had just returned from a tour of Europe and was now staying at his apartment in London for a few weeks. Donal asked me when I could make it to the office on Berwick Street, Soho, for an interview.
All of a sudden, it is homework time. I write down everything I know: albums, early bands, band members, famous gigs, instruments played and anything else I could remember. You couldn’t record with a Walkman but I had kept my small cassette player/recorder and now made sure I had new batteries and a clean C90 cassette. I check that my camera is ready to go.
After a tube ride to Oxford Circus I find the address and make my way upstairs to Donal’s office. He shows me to a room and tells me Rory is coming in a few minutes. I set up the cassette player, look at my notes again, and take a deep breath as I hear a voice greet Donal. I turn towards the door to see Rory. We shake hands.
We talked for over an hour. I wasn’t looking at my watch and I did forget to turn over the cassette after the first 45 minutes so the second part of the interview was not recorded.
Me: How did the Australian tour go?
Rory: It was great. We did the Capitol. I like the stage there – it’s an old theatre so it was nice and warm, not like a sports stadium.
(At this point Donal brings in a bottle of wine and two glasses)
Rory: Haven’t got any Toohey’s.
In the decade leading up to this I’d read everything I could find about this artist. My first published music piece was about the breakup of Gallagher’s band Taste. My time waiting in the cold at the depot had made this moment possible. And what people had said about the man was all true. Thoughtful, attentive, humble, funny and generous towards an obvious amateur. I walked the 6km from Soho to our single room in a rundown share house listening to Top Priority on my new portable stereo.
Rory died 15 years later, aged 47, in King’s College Hospital, London.
Stereo Story #667