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Ex-Taste drummer reflects on Rory Gallagher’s ‘essence’

After combating cancer, John Wilson back on road with own version of seminal group

Sam Davidson, John Wilson, Alan Niblock, of John Wilson’s Taste, playing Cork this Friday night. Photograph: Brigitte “Bibi” Lehmann

“Rory despised everything to do with show business – in my time in Taste, we never had any big equipment, no huge PA, no big lighting rigs – it wasn’t a show, it was just three guys playing music and that was the essence of Rory. He was just a guy who played guitar and loved doing it.”

Former Taste drummer, John Wilson is in reflective mood as he recalls the heady days of the late 1960s when, together with bassist Richie McCracken, he provided the rhythm section for guitarist Rory Gallagher as they played venues all over Ireland, Europe and the US to popular and critical acclaim.

Recruited with McCracken after Gallagher broke up the original Taste, featuring fellow Corkonians Eric Kitteringham and Norman Damery, Wilson and Taste Mark II opened for Eric Clapton and Cream and later Blind Faith, and they also played the Isle of Wight in a bill that also included Jimi Hendrix.

‘Working musician’

“I had already played in Them and knew what it was like touring – I’ve been a working musician all my life and I only play one way and that’s the best I can, so it doesn’t matter to me if it’s Eric Clapton or Joe Soap on the gig or 20 people or 20,000 – and that was the way Rory approached music as well.”

Out of commission for almost five years after combating throat cancer and three aneurysms in his neck, Wilson (69) is back on the road with his own version of Taste. Later this week the trio bring their show to Cork, where Gallagher grew up and honed his playing style.

“The band now features Alan Niblock on bass and Sam Davidson on guitar, but I have to make it very clear to the audience at the start of the evening that it’s not a Rory Gallagher tribute band – Sam Davidson does not play like Rory or look like Rory, play a battered Strat or anything like that.

Alan Niblock, John Wilson, Sam Davidson, the members of John Wilson’s Taste, playing Cork on Friday night. Photograph: Brigitte “Bibi” Lehmann

“We take the music Rory had written in the early days, stuff he had written when I played with him and when Norman and Eric played with him, and we perform it the way we play today and hopefully if Rory were still alive, he would be doing the same thing because he always liked experimenting.”

Coming to Cork will offer Wilson the chance to meet up with his predecessor behind the drumkit in Taste, Norman Damery, and he is very much looking forward to that reunion as he believes neither Damery nor bassist, the late Eric Kitteringham in the first Taste, got the credit they deserve.

“Norman and Eric never get any acknowledgment for what part they played – they gave Rory two or three years of their lives to let Rory try and find Rory, and then when Rory was handed over to Richie and me we just took him to the next stage to let him develop and become what he became.

Old material

“We’re just going to play a lot of the old material and if you listen to the music Rory wrote during the Taste era, it’s different from his later work because it has a lot of country influences and jazz influences, and I may get a chance to explain where Rory was when he wrote a certain thing or why.

“Rory just loved being creative and we never played anything the same way twice – it was always different every night, and when Rory played with Taste, he was able to do whatever he wanted. In my time with him, Rory never wanted to be famous, he just liked being a guy who played guitar.”

John Wilson’s Taste play The Everyman Palace Theatre in Cork this Friday night, November 24th.