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Books | Entertainment | music

Donal Gallagher on Rory Gallagher, crime noir and Kickback City

Rory Gallagher kicks back with his brother Dónal

STILL wondering what to get that difficult relative for Christmas?

The Rory Gallagher nut, perhaps, who already has a full collection of the legendary rock guitarist’s records?

Well, the latest release from the Gallagher stable could be the answer.

More music:

Kickback City is a crime-noir-themed collection, by turns concept album, audiobook and art project, using Rory Gallagher’s music as its base.

The project is the result of an all-star collaboration. Ian Rankin, the Scottish crime writer, has contributed a novella, The Lie Factory.

The story is narrated by Irish-American actor Aidan Quinn and features design work from the artist Timothy Truman, who has also contributed a 44-page comic book.

That’s not to mention the music: a studio LP of crime-film influenced songs and a live LP.

Kickback City features a novella by Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin

It’s the brainchild of Dónal Gallagher, brother of the late guitarist who died in 1995. How did the idea for such a far-ranging project come about?

“I was asked to write the foreword for the American crime writer Harry J. Pellegrin,” explains Dónal.

“His detective was a session musician who played a style like my brother’s. He wanted a homage to Rory, but I wrote it linking the crime tracks.”

Shortly after, Dónal discovered that Inspector Rebus, the fictional detective of Rankin’s novels, was also a fan of Rory’s music — while Rory loved crime novels.

“Ian asked for more information about who he liked as writers,” he adds. The connection was made.

Kickback City took two years to complete, Dónal says. The cherry on top was securing Irish actor Aidan Quinn for the audiobook. How did that come about?

“I was working with his brother Declan, who’s keen to make a film on Rory,” explains Dónal.

He soon met Aidan in Midleton in Co. Cork, while he was shooting a movie. Quinn’s contribution was crucial to the piece’s effect.

“At the roots I was trying to create an album that’s a film in your head — particularly when you play the audio track with Quinn. If you close your eyes, it flows like a film,” adds Dónal.

Where was Rory’s passion for crime fiction born?

“I’d probably say the Matinée movies [we watched] as a kid,” replies Dónal. “[We] grew up with Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney in The Maltese Falcon (1941).

“The ‘B-movies’ and crime gangsters of that age.”

How did you choose the tracks?

“I selected 40 I felt you could thread a story through and sent Ian the lyrics,” explains Dónal.

“He whittled it down to the tracks on the album. His story dictates the tracks because they are fundamental to his story.

“We thought there were other [relevant] tracks, and put them on the live disc as a bonus.

“I was trying to highlight how Rory’s songwriting gets overshadowed by his guitar playing. I was highlighting a different area of his talent,” adds Dónal, who says having a tangible product was important.

“I’m a great believer — as was Rory — in artwork being essential to an album. In today’s download world you lose information about either who wrote the song or the musicians,” he says.

“It’s thrown the lot out. I could understand why people were getting fed up with CDs, with just a pin-up shot on the cover and plastic cases that break.

“The art of a cover is the reason I used to go to record stores to buy albums. Also, there’s a new generation who are actually switching back to vinyl.

“There’s quite a move from digital to analogue, when there was something more…  sonic about the quality of vinyl.”

One of this new generation is Winston Marshall, banjo player for Mumford & Sons.

It transpires that when Dónal isn’t in Ballycotton, Co. Cork, the pair lives close by in Fulham, south London.

“I’d hear the banjo being practiced at the back of my house,” reveals Dónal.

“Winston stopped at my front door one day. Eventually I put two and two together. I spoke to him about banjo players like Barney McKenna from the Dubliners — who he wasn’t aware of.

The collection includes three audio discs

“He also wasn’t aware of Lonnie Donegan. I found that hard [to believe] because I assumed from his style of playing and the roots of his music he would.

“He came back to thank me because, sadly, Barney passed away a week later and he [Winston] was quizzed by the press about Barney.

“He [could recount] some of it,” Dónal adds with a laugh.

Rory — who at 65, would have been a year older than Dónal today — is commemorated throughout the world.

Be it Cork Rocks and the Ballyshannon Festival in Ireland, or through awards and tributes as far afield as Tokyo and The Iridium Club in New York, where Les Paul used to hang out.

What does Dónal make of it all?

“It’s very satisfying. I like that they do live gigs and both young and old musicians perform Rory’s music in a gig setting.

“He was deemed to be a live artist. When the musicians come to town I get phone calls,” remarks Dónal. Recent callers including Johnny Marr and Brian May.

“I know they don’t want me to go along and say ‘Hi’. They really want me to bring Rory’s guitar!”

Kickback City is out now on Sony Records


James Martin

James Martin is a freelance journalist. Follow him @JamesIsMartin

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