Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

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Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby Jay Jay » 01 Oct 2012, 23:28

Garth Cartwright meets the brother for whom Rory Gallagher’s death is still raw to him

Cork City has the blues. An air of deprivation lingering across the city’s Celtic Tiger-era edifices may explain why Cork strongly embraces the memory of Rory Gallagher, its most famous son and a bluesman of extraordinary talent.

Rory Gallagher (1948-1995) was the Irish Republic’s first rock star. With his blazing guitar and beatific smile Gallagher was the Gaelic guitar hero. And in his humble manner very much a musician of the people. Yet by the 90s Rory was a reclusive paranoid, his torso swollen by steroids. When he died (from complications following a liver transplant) an outpouring of grief followed: Van Morrison, U2, Johnny Marr, Brian May and Slash all saluted Rory’s musical brilliance and personal generosity. Now, with a comprehensive reissue of his solo albums underway, Gallagher’s legacy is finally being celebrated. Thus I’m walking the streets of Cork with the man who knew Rory best – his brother Donal Gallagher.

“Talking about Rory can get a bit heated,” says Donal, noting how football fans in Cork and Donegal recently clashed over which team “owned” Rory’s allegiance. Such are the tribulations surrounding a local legend. “I’m constantly encountering fans from all around the world,” he adds. “And they’re often youngsters. You-Tube’s introduced Rory to a new generation.”

Donal and Rory grew up sharing the same bedroom above a Cork pub. A year Rory’s junior, Donal became Rory’s roadie. Then tour manager. Then manager. And now he looks after the estate. He truly is his brother’s keeper. Fortuitously, Rory owned his solo recordings and Donal and his son Daniel are overseeing the reissue of Rory’s first eleven solo albums (1971-82). Listen to the young gun – strong songs, warm vocals and the guitar playing . . . the guitar playing is just in-cred-i-ble. Outside of Jimi Hendrix and Peter Green no other rock guitarist has managed to convey such warmth, finesse and wild excitement. Yet like Hendrix and Green, Gallagher’s talent could not protect him from the storms of life.

“Rory could build a guitar but he couldn’t boil an egg,” says Donal. “Music was everything to him. Once he started playing guitar as a boy he ignored everything else. Just stayed in his room practicing and practicing.”

Thus Rory’s social skills remained underdeveloped.

“Rory found it impossible to form lasting bonds with people,” notes Donal. “He was his own worst enemy. Playing music was his all. Off the road he didn’t know what to do with himself.”

Rory showed a propensity and passion for music as a child. In his early teens he convinced his mother to buy him a second-hand Fender Stratocaster on hire purchase. Aged 15 he joined the Fontana Showband, working dances across Ireland and England before heading out to Hamburg’s Star Club. The pimps, prostitutes and merchant seamen who frequented the Star hailed Rory as the most exciting rocker since The Beatles learnt their trade there. Forming Taste, he based himself in Belfast. Word quickly spread of the teenage prodigy. Management, a contract with Polydor and the inevitable shift to London followed.

Taste lit up London – John Lennon described them as “the only band worth seeing” while Eric Clapton invited Taste to support Cream’s Royal Albert Hall farewell – and their two albums proved international hits. Yet after playing 1970’s Isle Of Wight Festival Rory quit: the band’s manager had him on £15 a week wages and Gallagher chose to walk away rather than fight.

“We were living in Earls Court bedsits,” recalls Donal. “Taste were in the charts, headlining major festivals, but not seeing the proceeds. Later, when I became Rory’s manager, I insisted we go to court to get the royalties. Even then Rory was reluctant. He didn’t like conflict.”

Rory’s gentle nature made him an icon of peace and goodwill in a divided Ireland. As The Troubles worsened Rory became the only major musician willing to tour Northern Ireland, his concerts cathartic events where Catholics and Protestants could gather in a conflict-free arena.

“Rory emphasized that he would not take sides in the dispute,” says Donal. “He insisted we tour there because he believed in the positive power of music. While Tony Palmer filmed his 1974 Irish tour he tried to push Rory into taking a stance but Rory refused. He was there to bring joy not politics.”

Palmer’s film Irish Tour ’74 remains one of the great concert movies while the resulting live album captured Rory at his most exciting and inspired. No wonder The Rolling Stones, then searching for a guitarist to replace Mick Taylor, invited Rory to join.

“Rory flew to their base in Holland and stayed three days,” says Donal. “But Keith was too stoned to play and Rory had a Japanese tour lined up. He left without even a ‘goodbye’. At the time Rory was outselling the Stones across Europe so it’s not like he needed the gig. But, in retrospect, I wish he had communicated more with them as it could have worked. He and Charlie Watts would have got on very well – both being consummate musicians and jazz fans.”

Rory certainly didn’t need The Stones for money: he sold over thirty million albums and innumerable concert tickets. Yet perhaps the camaraderie of playing in The Stones would have helped calm his anxieties. A fear of flying fed phobias that developed, in the 80s, into hypochondria. Amoral GPs wrote him prescription after prescription. Addicted to pills and liking a drink, Rory’s health collapsed.

“Rory wouldn’t smoke a joint,” says Donal, “but he self-medicated with prescription pills. And that caused so much damage. On tour I once went through his baggage and found a hornet’s nest of pills. I checked with a German pharmacist who said ‘if he’s mixing these with alcohol it’s the devil’s brew’.”

Donal’s had a long time to deal with losing Rory but his frustration and grief remain palpable.

“Rory got more and more paranoid. He played Montreux Jazz Festival with Bob Dylan in 1994 and Dylan, who had always been a fan, came up after the show and said how he would love to record with Rory. I thought ‘manna from heaven!’ and that this would be the fresh start we needed. That night Rory locked himself in the hotel’s penthouse and wouldn’t come out for three days.”

Donal swapped Rory’s prescription pills for homeopathic placebos. He confronted the GPs. He confronted Rory. He sent Rory home to mum in Cork. Too late: a liver transplant in early-1995 appeared successful but Rory’s rare blood type and shattered immune system lead to rejection. Like George Best, another Irish genius of the same generation, Rory Gallagher would die before his time.

“My wife wonders if Rory was autistic. That’s a possibility,” says Donal. “Anyway, what Rory achieved can’t be taken away. People love his music. Across the USA they’re rediscovering Rory for the first time since the 70s. In Paris there’s a Rue Rory Gallagher, Hamburg has a plaque, Dublin and Ballyshannon have statues. Fender’s Rory signature guitar is one of their best sellers. There’s a biopic in the works. It’s a bit like those old black bluesmen Rory loved so dearly – he’s more appreciated now than when he was alive.”

Garth Cartwright —

(published in the Sunday Times, September 30, 2012)
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Re: Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby loulamb » 02 Oct 2012, 03:54

Hi great interview,
one point about Rory being autistic i strongly disagree with knowledge of autism, those with austism CANNOT improvise, they do not have great eye contact. Rory was very very tactful and demostrated this over the irish situation in one interview he handles it so sensitively. It is also said he was very calm those with autism find it hard to hide their temper. If Rory had autism it would have affected him musically and most of his set was improvisation, it was emotional and creative . In one French interview he improvises whilst watching a film.

Those with autism musically demostrate echolalia which is a mechanical process using the mehcanical, mathematical left side of the brain like a parrot repeating an example;
origional song;

and the example of echolalia the music is copied regurgitated and repeated inflection for inflection identical no improvising or even wavering from the origional;
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Re: Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby vasdis » 02 Oct 2012, 08:57

i Have a nephew who is autistic ,he is very much a loner and will only do what he wants to do ,very set in his ways and very much in a world of his own .A
comparison i would make with Rory though is that what he lacks in some respects he makes up for in others, i.e. he has a photographic memory, tell him a
phone number and he will remember it forever.His sister, my niece is a schoolteacher.He was pretty much set back by having to attend a special school
where most of his classmates were far more mentally handicapped than he is.He had a bad habit of putting his finger in your beer,but since i did the same to his
lemonade (he is 22 and doesn't drink) he has stopped.
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Re: Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby RobertaSparrow » 02 Oct 2012, 11:45

Thanks for posting the interview- it's something we'd never have a chance to read over here without the internet, and Donal's perspective on Rory is fascinating.

loulamb wrote:Hi great interview,
one point about Rory being autistic i strongly disagree with knowledge of autism

I don't think Rory had autism. I have mild Asperger's, which is a type of high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. People with autistic spectrum disorders generally are not good at reading or interpreting social cues, are uncomfortable in social situations, and so tend to avoid situations which would require social interaction.

I believe Rory was born to be creative, he was definitely a prodigy, probably a genius musically. That part of him was dominant, and so as soon as he got his hands on a guitar- found an outlet for that need to create, he focused on it to the exclusion of other important aspects of life. Any parent knows as a child grows they learn certain skills at certain ages in their development, they learn to sit up before they crawl, crawl before they walk, they learn to babel and mimic language before they actually learn to speak whatever will be their native language, and can easily learn a second or third language at a young age- preschool level. If a skill isn't learned during the optimum stage of development, then it becomes much harder to learn it later. Rory became focused on music as a child, creating music became his passion, so as a pre-teen and teenager, when most kids are learning all those painful lessons on inter-personal relationships, learning how to fit in to the social network, it sounds like Rory was busy pursuing his own muse, so he never subjected himself to those hellish teenage social entanglements. It almost sounds like he didn't take the time to be a child, and if you don't learn that stuff in your teenage or young adult years, it's a lot harder to learn it as an adult when everyone else has already studied that chapter and moved on. Maybe his parents should have made him "go outside and play" for an hour or so each day, but most kids don't need to be told.

I've seen Rory in interviews- if he had autism he would not have been able to connect with interviewers as he did. He may not have liked it, but he didn't shy away from it either. If he was autistic he would not have been able to relax enough to "go through the motions" in interviews like he did- to question his interviewers when he wanted clarification on their inquiries, or to so eloquently expand on the topics. He made eye contact with people easily, was physically demonstrative to people around him- and seemed empathetic to the people who came to see him play. There are videos of him walking down the street and fans walk right up to him- he doesn't look at all uncomfortable, and when he wants to walk away he does so assertively but politely. When he was on stage or among his fans he was very approachable- watch some of his performances on YouTube- people would come up to him while he was playing, put their arms around him or pat him on the back and it didn't phase him. In one of the Belfast videos a woman runs up to him after his performance of Out On the Western Plain, embraces him, guitar and all, and kisses him- he isn't rattled at all by it. If he had autism that would have been intolerable.

Within the first 25 seconds of this video you can see in Rory's face his compassion for someone in the audience whom he knows who was ill:

Autistic people who are musical are more like savants- able to mimic or reproduce something they have heard or seen, even note for note, but they are not creative. We've all seen Rory play guitar- he isn't mimicking, when he plays he is creating. His hands are so fast on that guitar it's as if his mind knows the instrument as well as it knows his body- you can see as he creates in his mind his hands produce what he's creating through his guitar. He almost never played the same song the same way twice. When he wanted to add the saxophone to his repertoire he bought one, closed himself off from distractions, and learned it in a heartbeat. No, he wasn't a savant- he was a musically gifted genius.

Most people with autism tend to be lacking in physical coordination and grace. Rory was very agile, very graceful on stage, a joy to watch-

In this version of Bullfrog Blues he not only interacts with his fans, he also jumps up onto his amp while playing his guitar and doesn't miss a beat-

As I mentioned earlier, I have a mild form of Asperger's, and I have had chronic depression all my life. Depression tends to be hereditary, and it runs in my family. That type of depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain- no amount of talk therapy can cure it (I tried that for a couple of years). It is treatable with SSRIs. They are psychotropic drugs- they chemically affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. They are a lifesaver if you have an actual imbalance that is the root cause of the problem. If you don't really need them, or you are taking the wrong one, then your brain chemistry may be affected in a negative way. I took setraline for years and it kept me sane, but my dad was given the same drug in the hospital years later and he had nightmarish hallucinations from it- the same drug.

I've watched Rory's interviews and performances in chronological order, and if you watch his demeanor as the years go by you can almost see the point where his life takes a hard turn. IMHO he worked himself very hard from childhood, he missed out on the lessons that children learn in their teens, and passed that milestone when it should have happened. I think as he got into his adult years he began to realize that he had missed those things- I think he was overworking himself, and perhaps because he was so adamantly opposed to "recreational drugs" he saw physician-prescribed drugs as being safe- after all, doctors know better don't they? And they wouldn't prescribe a drug unless they knew it was safe? Anyway, if you watch the video record of Rory's life you can almost see when these prescribed drugs entered into his life- You see the light in his eyes replaced by a sadness, a self-doubt. He was being given the wrong drugs, he was not being treated for his fatigue and stress- he was being medicated. He was being poisoned. I think there was a tipping point somewhere in the early 90s- a point where his body and mind were so overwhelmed by the chemicals he was being given that he could no longer rally his strength to fight them off. I think he wanted to get well, he just wasn't strong enough- too much damage had been done.

I wish he had found someone to settle down with- I think if he had fathered children that may have saved him. He would have refocused his life. And I think he would have made a good dad.
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Re: Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby SUBY1974 » 02 Oct 2012, 14:57

I think children would have made a huge difference to Rory's life. Its clear he loved children and would have made a good father. Subrata.x
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Re: Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby brokenstring » 02 Oct 2012, 15:24

I'm a lurker because English is'nt my mother tongue and I can't express myself correctly. I find it offensive to suggest that Rory could have been autistic especially from people who earn their living owing to him. Psychological terms are often misused but to say things like that in the press makes me understand why he preferred to confide in his doctors.
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Re: Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby JimLED » 02 Oct 2012, 15:32

There's a couple of missing words, I think:

“Rory got more and more paranoid. He played Montreux Jazz Festival with Bob Dylan in 1994 and Dylan, who had always been a fan, came up after the show and said how he would love to record with Rory. I thought ‘manna from heaven!’ and that this would be the fresh start we needed. That night Rory locked himself in the hotel’s penthouse and wouldn’t come out for three days.”

Bela Fleck played with Rory in 1994. The story about Dylan... Did he came up after the whole show, right?
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Re: Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby loulamb » 02 Oct 2012, 17:26

I personally think Rory was a highly sensitive person The sensitivity is so high you cannot be around people because you are so easily hurt. Many highly sensitive people have social anxiety but are in fact extroverts or introverts or both. Highly sensitive people feel colour affected by colour, sound , negative people many highly sensitive people are musicians or artists hence the high sensitivity to colour and sound. In an interview I read that Rory found it hard to sleep because he could even hear the slightest noise coming from a few rooms away. It is a gift to be highly sensitive obviously in Rory's case. Although he missed out on the family aspect of life he certainly did what he loved and has great family carrying on his legacy.
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Re: Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby RobertaSparrow » 02 Oct 2012, 20:25

JimLED wrote:There's a couple of missing words, I think:

“Rory got more and more paranoid. He played Montreux Jazz Festival with Bob Dylan in 1994 and Dylan, who had always been a fan, came up after the show and said how he would love to record with Rory. I thought ‘manna from heaven!’ and that this would be the fresh start we needed. That night Rory locked himself in the hotel’s penthouse and wouldn’t come out for three days.”

Bela Fleck played with Rory in 1994. The story about Dylan... Did he came up after the whole show, right?

Please forgive me for another post, I really don't mean to intrude on the flow here. Rory Gallagher has always fascinated me, ever since I first saw him play. The tragic path that his life later took toward the end has puzzled and haunted me ever since I started watching his later videos on the internet. The contrast between the energetic, self-confident, talented young man that I watched from the audience is the same person- exhausted, uncertain, sensitive man that I see in the videos of his last performances. He's the same man, every bit as talented and beautiful as he ever was, but he doesn't seem to believe in himself any longer, and he seems almost surprised that his audience still loved him.

The way I heard it, Bob Dylan was at the concert that featured Bela Fleck, and through a miscommunication Bela Fleck accepted an invitation to the stage that was initially directed at Bob Dylan. As I understood it, Dylan had wanted to cover Rory's version of Could've Had Religion.

And yes, I agree he was a highly sensitive person, very empathetic to the feelings of others. Sort of the opposite of autistic.

I do believe he may have had OCD though. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Others had said he became overly superstitious toward the end. Couldn't tolerate rooms where picture frames were crooked, avoided certain numbers, had to re-arrange shoes if they were set apart or left at odd angles. Had to have objects set in certain order. Quote:

"Gallagher admits to being extremely superstitious, a man who is tempted to stay in on Friday the 13th. 'I'm trying to cure it. If I throw a shirt on the couch and I should tidy up... I might look at it and think, No, I'll leave that. Even the position of a piece of paper at home, or where you leave your shoes... It's actually dangerous to get that psychotic about it, but I am. I'm also into the zodiac, unfortunately. I try to avoid it because that's bad luck. Numbers and stuff. I think it may be an Irish thing. It's a Druidic, pre-Celtic thing that creeps into Irish Christianity. It's something that you have to conquer because it is very unhealthy mentally. It can control your mind.' " [David Sinclair Interview, Q magazine, July 1990, n. 46] Note- Rory was later quoted as being very upset about this interview, and some of the observations by the interviewer do seem rather petty and unnecessary. I see Rory's point, but others have also noted his tendency to be overly focused on things.

And OCD is not all that uncommon. Millions of people suffer with it. My daughter suffers from it, and until she understood what it was she thought she was going crazy. The rituals and routines can become dominant, but half the battle is in understanding what it is and what it isn't. It has nothing to do with any one particular culture or religion. Ironically enough, we are a Hispanic, Catholic family. And the rituals in Catholicism can very easily be adapted into the rituals and obsessive thinking that dominate people with OCD. OCD cannot be cured, it has to do with the way the brain is wired, but once someone understands what is going on and why, it becomes much easier to control and much easier to live with. Periods of stress can easily exacerbate the episodes.

If he did have OCD he would be in good company- Some famous people who have or are thought to have had OCD: Michelangelo, Warren Zevon, Harrison Ford, Leonardo DiCaprio, David Beckham, Joey Ramone, Nikola Tesla, Howard Hughes, Marc Summers, Billy Bob Thornton, and Martin Scorsese.

I think Rory Gallagher was a genius. He was probably over-sensitive, and highly empathetic to the feelings of people around him, and it was too much. I think the drinking alone wouldn't have ended his life. The drugs the doctors were giving him were 99% of the problem. If he had come across the right doctor, maybe things would have been different.
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Re: Donal's ~ Sunday Times Interview

Postby Sinner Girl » 02 Oct 2012, 22:32

Maybe you think about this interviews,RobertaSparrow

Great to hear Rory speaking but I sense his bewilderment at the incredibly clumsy and badly thought-out questions, the German guy is obviously limited by his wooden English and doesn't seem to have a clue who he's interviewing or why. :D

Last edited by Sinner Girl on 02 Oct 2012, 23:17, edited 1 time in total.
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