The brother of leading rock and blues guitarist, the late Rory Gallagher, has warmly welcomed the decision by Belfast City Council to erect a statue of the Donegal-born musician outside the Ulster Hall in recognition of his association with the venue right throughout the Troubles.
Donal Gallagher said that he was particularly pleased with the move as it was instigated by the people of the Wilgar Community Forum in East Belfast, who organise a blues festival in the city every year and who hold a particular affection for his brother ever since he began playing Belfast.
"I'm ecstatic because it shows the love from the people of Belfast for Rory. It's very much down to the people in east Belfast – the Wilgar Park grouping –and it's appropriate that it's going to be outside the Ulster Hall because it's synonymous with Rory in Belfast."
Donal explained that his brother had formed Taste in Cork, where he grew up, but early on in his career he began playing Sammy Houston's Jazz Club in Belfast and later Club Rado, which was based in an old Seaman's Mission on College Square North, where Van Morrison and Them also gigged.
"I think Rory immersed himself in Belfast in a sense because of the amount of visiting bands that played there. From '67/'68, Taste were on bills with John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, Cream, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac – they would come to the North but they never came south of the Border."
However, after the Troubles broke out, a lot of bands began bypassing Belfast on their tours in the early 1970s, but Rory insisted on playing there despite the fact that car bombs were going off on an almost daily basis and people were being killed.
‘Rory Rocks Belfast’
Rory featured on the front of Melody Maker in January 1972 under the headline "Rory Rocks Belfast" and in the piece, he tells promoter Jim Aiken just why he believes he should play Belfast: "I don't see any reason for not playing Belfast. Kids still live here. They can get tired of records."
According to Donal, Rory was conscious of the risks of playing Belfast, particularly after the murder of three members in Co Down of the Miami Showband in 1975 – whom he would have known from his days playing with the Fontana Showband – but he was determined to continue playing Belfast.
“Rory was horrified by what happened to the Miami, but I think that he genuinely felt that he would have failed the fans if he had not played Belfast, and in an inverted political way he was making his statement simply by turning up – so be it if something happens to me, it highlights the issue.
“Rory was synonymous with the Ulster Hall through the 1970s and he stayed with the Ulster Hall rather than going to the larger King’s Hall; he preferred to do a run of nights at the Ulster Hall rather than do one big night, which would have been easier, but he had a fondness for keeping it intimate.”
Donal has been in regular touch with the Wilgar Park group and is hopeful that the image of Rory they choose as the basis for the statue is one of the guitarist, exhausted but ecstatic, raising his arms to take the acclaim of the audience after playing the Ulster Hall on New Year’s Day 1972.
"It's based on the photo that appeared on the front of Melody Maker on the cusp of 1972 – it was used as a mock-up for the planning purposes and it shows Rory at the end of the show and you can see the joy on his face and the bond with all the fans. It really captures what Belfast meant to him."