“We’ve got a jack-knife beat, killer of a backbeat, sounds like an iceberg rolling down a back street.”  Not quite, but Rory playing live at the peak of his career is a blistering and majestic sound.

Label: Chess /UCM
Time: 20 tracks / 60 + 61 mins

Rory Gallagher has made some superb music, reaching its studio peak in 1976’s Calling Card, closely followed by its predecessor Against the Grain.  He has had some remarkable posthumous compilations out too, including acoustic collection Wheels Within Wheels and last year’s excellent-value triple CD Blues. But this live release is a new favourite, not least for including all but one tracks of Calling Card.

It is a wonderfully-curated album. Tragically, this immensely-loved guitarist died in his forties over 20 years ago, but his brother Donal has diligently looked after his catalogue and his nephew Daniel has carefully culled this set from four English shows in 1977.

Although Rory (and yes, he was just ‘Rory’ to everyone) generally released a live album for every two studio albums, unusually none document this pinnacle period (he released another five studio albums up to 1990, but never reached these heights again) so this is a real treat and probably – given that the four shows were recorded – an album he intended to release. It might as well be a greatest hits selection.  

The Irish guitarist was at his freest live. He would sometimes record tracks immediately before or after shows to capture that emotion, and to get an idea of what he is like here, watch him live the previous year.

At this stage, Rory was between power trios, and although keys player Lou Martin was a bit of a one-trick pony, that extra piano or organ certainly added a layer of variety to the sound – not that Rory was repetitive: here his songs can be riffy (“Secret Agent”), bluesy (“Calling Card”), rocky (“Souped Up Ford”), stomps (“Going to my Hometown”), or just ones to get you moving (“Jack-Knife Beat”).

In the latter, he sings, “We’ve got a jack-knife beat, killer of a backbeat, sounds like an iceberg rolling down a back street.” He does have the beat and the backbeat on this one, but the sound isn’t as rumbling and grungy as the line might suggest.  Rather, it is sharp, full and electric.

Other great tracks enhanced by that live electricity include “Take What I Want,” where the solo is quite different from the studio version and he adds some potent licks, and an adrenalized “Secret Agent.” On the double length “Bought and Sold,” he adds some scat singing, some pizzicato-sounding plucks and other tones very similar to ones used live by fellow Strat-player Richie Blackmore (one of many leading guitarists inspired by Gallagher, including Slash, Clapton, Brian May, Johnny Marr, Joe Bonamassa and even Ed Sheeran, whose first song learned on guitar was “A Million Miles away,” a wonderfully moody version of which is on this release).

More simply put, they are virtually all better than – or highly complementary to – the studio versions.

One nice touch in the compilation is ending the first disc with the singer stating, “Gonna make a quick switch over to acoustic.” That usual acoustic set then comprises the first half of the second disc, showing how his playing is equally dextrous on very different material. It’s as if he was one with whichever instrument he picked up. His distinctive Irish vocals are a rich part of that, too.

Nineteen of the twenty songs here are excellent – proper songs, played from the heart – and the other one isn’t bad, either. Add that to his technique and the live atmosphere, and you have something more than special. Recommended.

Derek Walker