“You are a moonchild and pretty soon child, I’ve got that feeling that I’m going to make you smile forever,” – little could Irish rocker Rory Gallagher have realised how aptly Moonchild captured the joy his music was to bring to one of his biggest fans, Vatican astronomer, Br Guy Consolmagno.
The Director of the Vatican Observatory based at the Pope’s Summer Residence at Castel Gandolfo, Br Guy is a Jesuit but also a huge fan of Gallagher for over 50 years since first discovering the Cork-reared rock and blues guitarist as a teenager in his native Detroit in the US in the late 1960s.
“It was the summer of 1969 and my friend Mike Timmreck went to see Blind Faith who were playing in Detroit and when I asked him what they were like, he said they were a disappointment but the support act, a band called Taste were spectacular and that was my introduction to Rory,” he said.
Already a keen fan of both rock and blues after seeing acts like bluesman, John Lee Hooker, an up-and-coming young rocker called Bob Seger and Detroit legends, the MC5 play at his high school, Br Guy began the task of tracking down Taste’s two albums when studying in Boston.
“Originally, being young at the time, it was Rory’s guitar virtuosity that attracted me but also the songs – not only did they have this raw power, but they also had something else – after you had something really powerful, it would be followed by something that would tear your heart apart.
“Really for me, it was the first [self-titled] solo album, Rory Gallagher, that sold me on Rory – there are so many sweet songs on it – I Fall Apart has always been a favourite for me from the time I first heard it. When I heard it as a kid, I saw it as a love song, which of course it is,” he explained.
“But now as a Jesuit, I see it now almost as religious song – a song about any relationship between a lover and one who is loved and that’s sort of anxiety – ‘Do they still love me? Do they not still love me?’ and in a curious way, that’s the beauty of great music – it can speak to you on so many levels.”
“A sputnik kid”, fascinated by the space race between the US and the USSR, Br Guy studied at MIT and the University of Arizona where he specialised in the study of asteroids and meteorites which was what first brought him to Cork in 2009 to give a lecture at Blackrock Castle Observatory.
Br Guy mentioned to the organisers of his lecture at the then newly opened observatory, then part of Cork Institute of Technology and now part of the Munster Technological University, that he was a Gallagher fan and calls were made so he got to see some of the places associated with his hero.
“Sadly, I never got to see Rory play live but when I came to Cork in 2009, I visited his grave which was a rare and special moment – I had no idea that he was so big here in Cork or that there was a music library named after him, so I got a thousand-dollar tour of places associated with him.
“We walked on the stage at Cork City Hall where he performed on the 1974 Irish Tour – I even got to chat with Eric Kitteringham, the original bassist with Taste, who was sadly dying at the time, and I visited Crowleys Music Store where I met the guy who sold Rory his famous Fender Stratocaster.”
“And then Leo Enwright, the Irish space journalist, who is a big Rory fan – he fixed me up with Rory’s brother, Donal – Donal wasn’t around at the time but later when he came to Rome to promote one of Rory’s albums, I invited him to the Vatican Observatory and we’ve been great friends ever since.”
Indeed, Br Guy and Donal have become such good friends that Br Guy has stayed with Donal at his home in Ballycotton on this latest visit to Cork when he gave another lecture – this time in the Rory Gallagher Theatre at Munster Technological University – on why people chose to study astronomy.
“One of my favourite Rory songs is A Million Miles Away which I discovered he wrote during a visit to Ballycotton with its very evocative line about ‘sailing like driftwood on a windy bay’ so to know that I am standing in the spot, where he wrote that song, makes it feel like sacred ground,” he said.
“But the whole theme of that song also relates to me as a Jesuit and an astronomer – that we have this nostalgia for something beyond the noise of the bar to remember a deeper time and a deeper place and a deeper calling that we all have, so it really resonates to me as a very spiritual song.”
For more information on Br Guy’s work as an astronomer, please visit his blog, brotherguy.livejournal.com