Rory Gallagher, former lead singer of The Revs, told David Hennessy about being championed by Bono when they emerged on the scene, returning to music when the pandemic saw him lose his Edinburgh bar and why he can’t use his own name when releasing music.
43-year-old Rory Gallagher, named after but no relation to the great Cork guitarist, may have thought he had had his success in the music business.
Joined by his Kilcar childhood friends John McIntyre and Michael O’ Donnell in The Revs, Rory would score top 20 singles like Alone with You and Turning Japanese as well as two top five albums after announcing themselves with the song Wired to the Moon in 2001.
Since the band called it a day, Rory has had a surprise and massive cult hit with Jimmy’s Winning Matches, his musical tribute to Jimmy McGuinness that would provide the soundtrack to Donegal’s All- Ireland win of 2012. He was also be part of Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 song that very same year with Sharon Shannon.
But having long since focused more of his efforts on a more stable lifestyle, Rory may have thought he would be busy with running an Edinburgh music venue around now. Instead he has just released the lauded album, Centre Falls Apart.
This all came after Rory and his wife Cara would relocate to Edinburgh after years in Lanzarote.
The couple would invest £20,000+ into leasing and renovating The Wildcat Bar in Edinburgh. But neither had reckoned on the pandemic.
Their planned launch day was 20 March 2020, the day all bars in Scotland were ordered to shut.
Left with no income and a city centre rent to pay, the couple had to hand back the keys, although it broke their hearts, to avoid massive debt.
Rory would take a job as an Amazon delivery driver to provide for his family during lockdown but when he started doing some online shows for some ‘escapism’, he found he could make more money by playing music for a few hours than all week driving the delivery van.
Now a full 21 years after The Revs first entered the Irish charts, Rory’s new album is RTE’s Album of the Week and his track Call My Name has been one of the most played tracks on Irish radio. I think it’s fair to say Rory hadn’t planned on any of it.
“I got trapped,” Rory laughs about how he has come to be in the Edinburgh area.
“Myself and my wife had lived in Lanzarote for twelve years, we ran music bars and stuff.”
But with children to look after, Rory and Cara looked closer to home and first tried Donegal but when an opportunity did not arise there, they decided to base themselves near Cara’s home city.
“We got the lease of a bar in Edinburgh city centre and we moved over to open that up. Three days later the pandemic struck. So that was a serious waste of money.
“It was tough, but it was tough on so many people.”
Registered as self-employed, Rory and Cara could not even sign on the dole when their bar dream died.
But used to painting on a smile for his customers, Rory did the same thing to play music for people during lockdown. It clearly worked and showed to be a more viable way of supporting the family than delivery driving.
Rory’s new album comes from Shea McNeilus asking Rory to record his new material for his Voices of the Sea label.
“I was like, ‘Okay, someone really believes in my writing’. That’s a nice compliment at this stage being 43.
“And obviously to get album of the week this week on RTE: That’s mind blowing.
“It is an honour.
“It was tough. I’m going to keep riding this wave until it crashes on the beach.”
Tipped for big things from the very start, the Revs’ live album SonicTonic would go to number five in the Irish charts in 2002. Their studio debut Suck would then go to number three in 2003.
The band picked up Best New Act at the Meteor Music Awards in 2002, the same year that U2 picked up Best Band and Best Album.
“It’s a lovely, lovely thing to have,” Rory says of his time in the band.
Rory says it was ‘absolutely amazing’ that Bono and his bandmates were very complimentary about their fellow winners.
“They were just like, ‘This is a great young rock and roll band and fair play to them for travelling around in a transit van and doing what we did in ‘78/’79’.
But while the band had success, Rory is conscious of how the band did not quite deliver on the ‘great things’ that were seen for them.
“It’s probably like any boxer that almost made it, or any footballer that would have been called away to Liverpool reserves or Celtic reserves: You’re on trial and everybody in your home town is getting very excited.
“And you’ve almost made it. And then it doesn’t work out.
“You get sucked into it yourself because you’re 21 years old, and you have the likes of Bono on TV saying, ‘The Revs are going to do great things’.
“And it just becomes this natural thing of thinking, ‘Oh, we must be only a couple of weeks away from the big record deal in Los Angeles now’.
“And it goes on and on and you realize you’re in the 99% of good bands that just didn’t make it because of the right break, timing, manager, single or whatever.
“I look back on it and it’s bittersweet because sometimes it’s harder when you’ve tasted it.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow, and it’s tricky on your mental health because a lot of Irish people especially will let you know that you failed.
“I know much happier musicians that never played at a higher level.
“When you get elevated for 15 minutes into the famous situation, whenever the rug is pulled from under your feet, it can be tricky.
“I wish I knew what I know now when I was younger. I should have lived in the moment more.”
Rory says that even an occasion like Slane saw the band determined to showcase themselves rather than just enjoying it for the moment it was.
“I mean, it was always about ladder climbing instead of actually living in the moment which is a huge regret.
“We didn’t realize how young we were and we were sprinting, instead of just maybe concentrating and taking six months longer with the music to make the best possible product.”
The band’s eponymous third album would be their last.
Although the 2005 album The Revs was their most critically acclaimed release to date, it was their least commercially successful album.
So what happened to the band in the end? “It fizzled out. The funds dictated the fizzle.
“We didn’t really want to slip into just playing large pubs and doing half covers/ half original.
“It just got to the point where we would be going around Germany and Belgium and whatnot and coming back after a month with about 50 quid.
“And you’re 27. You’re not 20, 21 anymore. All your friends are starting to get mortgages and they’re starting to have decent lives and they’ve got money when they go out.
“You just get sick of being broke.
“We started blaming each other then.
“And all of a sudden, that almost gets us into physical fights, and it becomes like The Police without the fame in the back of a transit van.
“It was just claustrophobia and probably just what happens to 99% of indie bands that don’t have a record deal.
“It just fizzled away to nothing.
“I knew I was taking a gamble when I was 20 to go, ‘Right I’m gonna go into the original scene completely and give it a really good shot’.
“But it spiralled out of control.
“And because I was hanging around with people that had no money and were artists and musicians, naturally you just slip into the world of drugs.
“And that started happening. There was maybe seven of us in a house and you just didn’t know if it was Monday or Friday or what was going on.
“It just got very, very messy and it was that ‘fight or flight’ type thing.
“That’s how I ended up in Lanzarote really.
“The Revs played a festival over in Lanzarote and one of the organizers of the festival is now my wife.
“I went over there and I was, ‘Who’s this gorgeous woman?’
“I ended up chasing her around the island for around three days and anytime I got 150 quid for a flight over the next month or two, I’d be back over for a few days.
“It got to the stage where she went, ‘Listen, there’s Irish bars over here. I know, you’ll have to swallow your pride but there’s a wage at the end of the week’.”
Since The Revs came to an end, Rory has released music under the moniker Rory and the Island. Rory and his wife would name their bar in Lanzarote The Island bar.
“I had been using the project name Rory and the Island- because I couldn’t use Rory Gallagher because it’s just a nightmare on Google with the Cork blues legend.”
Rory should have been long prepared for this problem though as he was actually named after the icon by his guitarist father.
“Actually he was going to christen me Rory Fender Les Paul Gallagher but my mother put the foot down.
“He called me Rory. It was great to a point. It was very easy in The Revs.
“It was a quick way of getting press, having the same name as this legend.
“But then when I was out on my own it was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is unsearchable online. I better not use my own name’.
“It’s like being called Noel Gallagher or Paul McCartney or something.”
You mention arguments and fights as the band came to an end, are you guys all friendly again now though?
“Everything’s fine between us now.
“It would have been dodgy enough two- three years after.
“Gradually we just got back in touch.
“We actually did a ten year reunion gig in Whelan’s in 2017.
“So we met up and that was just lovely.
“All of a sudden, we started laughing at the things that were going wrong.
“Then to actually be taking the piss out of each other and laughing about some of the things that went wrong in the past.
“That was a lovely two, three weeks of working towards that gig.
“We now have our own Revs whatsapp group, texting away through the pandemic.”
In addition to their success in Ireland, The Revs toured the USA and Australia (where they had a top 30 hit with Death of a DJ) and supported bands like Kaiser Chiefs and Muse.
After the split, Gallagher released solo albums like 2008’s God Bless the Big Bang and 2012’s Auntie-Depressant and Uncle Hope.
But Rory was not prepared for his song Jimmy’s Winning Matches capturing the mood of a county’s fans in 2012. Rory has confessed he welled up to hear the fans singing it as Donegal claimed Sam that year.
“That was just a lovely memory to take to the grave.
“I had dealt with a lot of mental health issues and I had had time to process.
“I was 33 when that was released so I was kind of in the right place and I really enjoyed that whole month of when it went into the Irish top 10 And getting to go back and go to Croke Park and play in front of the team and all the different towns and cities that they were taking Sam back to.
“I think it’s because I didn’t ever expect to have- and still don’t expect- to have a top 10 hit again.
“When something like that happens you go, ‘Well, I’m really going to enjoy this next few weeks’.”
The Revs were seen as controversial early on with their track Louis Walsh.
The Irish World wonders how serious this ‘attack’ on the music manager was and it turns out Rory was hurt by a rejection by the man known for being behind acts like Westlife and Boyzone and later fronting talent shows.
“I think that was really a very angsty gripe on my behalf.
“Believe it or not, three years before that I’d gone for one of the Louie Walsh auditions in Dublin in that pure panic of being 16 years old, wanting to get out of Donegal and out into the world and seeing all these people with a lot less talent getting into bands and getting onto Top of the Pops.
“So I went to a Louis Walsh audition and got down to the last five.
“There was another guy called Brian Ormonde who’s actually a television presenter on RTE now doing very well.
“It was me and Brian and he said, ‘I’m very sorry. I’ve decided to go with four girls’.
“And the four girls became Bellefire.”
Bellefire went on to record two albums and have top 20 hits in both Ireland and the UK.
“I was just so pissed off because obviously I had told friends I had got a record deal in Dublin with Louis Walsh and then two weeks later to be told, ‘No, this is not happening’.
“So I was like, ‘Right, f**k you. I’m going to do it my own way and the weirdest thing was Bellefire were in the category for Best Newcomers at the Meteor Awards in 2002 and the Revs beat them,” he laughs.
“It was like, ‘Yes, went around the long way and did it’.”
And what was Louis’ reaction to the song that took aim at manufactured music and also him in particular? “He was on the Dave Fanning Show and he was raging about it.
“But Louis is really not the worst.
“I met him on an airplane around 2003 and he was like, ‘Rory, ya little bollox. I hope you’re not writing any more songs about me’.
“He goes, ‘You’ll have to get a bigger record deal than that one you have. It’s not big enough’.
“He was right.”
Rory recalls an embarrassing moment when he ran into Foo Fighters singer Dave Grohl backstage at Witness Music Festival but was too overwhelmed to chat to him.
“Nirvana would have been my go to band at 13, 14. To actually be on the same bill as him was unbelievable.
“I just remember walking up the hallway where all the dressing rooms were, I saw him coming towards me and I couldn’t actually catch my breath, ‘Oh my God, this is Dave Grohl’.
“I decided I would try and get a friendly comment with him and hello.
“I went to chat to him and he’s just such a lovely man, he leaned back against the wall with his arms folded for a big chat.
“And he was like, ‘Oh, what do you do?’
“And I was like, ‘I play in a band from Donegal. Good man. See ya later’.
“Of all the chances that you had, it was probably what I was talking about 10 minutes ago that level of weird anxiety that was floating around the time of The Revs.
“I wasn’t living in the moment properly at all.
“If that was now, he would still be leaning against the wall chatting.”
The album Centre Falls Apart by Rory and the Island is out now.
Rory plays An Griannan in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal on 22 April, The Harp in Ballyphehane in Cork on 24 April, Lakeside Hotel in Virginia, Co. Cavan on 7 May, The Pack Horse, Leeds on 29 May, Hare & Hounds in Birmingham on 16 June, Malones in Glasgow on 1 July, Derry City Sports and Social Club on 16 July, Ulster Sports Club Hall in Belfast on 17 July and Caves Theatre in Edinburgh on 2 October. .
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